By Mary O’KEEFE
Once again the Montrose Search and Rescue team spent a weekend doing something most people would not normally be doing … they climbed the face of an ice mountain.
For about 10 years the MSR members have been traveling to Lee Vining Canyon near Mammoth Mountain to continue training in snow and ice condition rescues.
“It’s an annual trip,” said Robert Sheedy, MSR team leader. “Mike Leum [MSR member] started this in 2005 to sharpen and improve our skills and to [help us] be comfortable on ice.”
Before they even got to the ice mountain they had to face the winter conditions as they drove back roads to an isolated area where they put on snowshoes and began to hike.
“We snow shoed an hour and a half to the [mountain face],” Sheedy said. “The first day was snowy, windy and very cold. I think it was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit. They next day was crystal clear skies – perfect conditions.”
The hike is about a mile long at an elevation of 10,000 feet at Lee Vining Canyon, north of Mammoth Mountain near Yosemite National Park. The team not only dealt with the cold but the change in elevation as they approached the ice slope.
Having one day of extreme weather and the next day calm skies is typical of any rescue. At Lee Vining two guides were along to set the anchors. The team practiced setting ice screws and using the equipment. The guides gave the team tips along the way.
The training has been invaluable in the past and used on several rescues to help others – and even other team members. In 2007 during a climbing trip on Mt. Rainier, Sheedy slipped into a crevasse. He was roped to Leum at the time who stopped Sheedy’s descent by driving his ice axe into the ice. Sheedy was then able to use his ice axe to stablize himself and was pulled to safety.
“Mike reacted immediately,” Sheedy said.
That quick response is due, in great part, to the amount of training the team does in all types of weather conditions. Even before the Lee Vining training began team members had experienced the harsh reality of winter weather.
“It was about 10 years ago. A man and woman were climbing an ice chute,” Sheedy remembered. The man, for some reason, released himself from a tethered rope.
“He slid about 400 feet down the ice chute and [landed] on Angeles Crest Highway,” he said.
The fall was fatal for the man and left his female climbing partner stuck on the
ice cliff. Leum and Sheedy used their knowledge of ice climbing and were able to get to the woman and lower her to safety.
Although MSR’s primary response for searches and rescues are in the Angeles National Forest, they are often called to all areas throughout the state and beyond. Although the conditions at Lee Vining are not typically found in the ANF, it is important, Sheedy said, for the team to be trained for any terrain and any weather condition.
“There were three fatalities on Mt. Baldy [in February],” Sheedy said. The hikers had slipped in wintery conditions.
“Lee Vining gives us a chance to deal with a sheer ice face to assess it using learned techniques, skill and determination,” Sheedy said.
And although the training is not easy, Sheedy admits he feels lucky that he has the opportunity to train like this and to be a member of MSR.
Anyone interested in learning more about becoming an MSR member can attend a meeting the first Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at CV Sheriff’s Station at 4554 Briggs Ave. in La Crescenta.