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Foley: GCSAR members attend MRA conference

Last week my teammate Mike Blevins and I had the privilege to attend the annual Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) spring conference in Port Angeles, Washington. The MRA is an international organization of professional mountain rescue teams which represents its members and addresses mountain rescue issues on a national and international level. The MRA is also the only accrediting organization for mountain rescue teams in the US and Canada. There are about 100 member teams, including approximately 60 fully accredited volunteer mountain rescue units. Grand County Search and Rescue is fully accredited with the MRA in technical rock rescue, snow and ice rescue and wilderness search.

The spring conference is an opportunity to meet search and rescue professionals from around the country, learn about new equipment and techniques and discuss problems and issues common to all teams. The Port Angeles conference had representation from 54 US and Canadian teams with over 200 registered participants. Long distance travelers included team representatives from Vermont, Alaska, New Mexico and Alberta, Canada.

Port Angeles is west of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula and the jumping off point for most activities in spectacular Olympic National Park which features high glaciated peaks, temperate rain forests and wilderness ocean shoreline.

The conference was superbly hosted by Olympic Mountain Rescue, one of a handful of charter members who helped organize and incorporate the MRA in 1959.

There were several preconference activities the week before the main session including a technical snow ascent of Mt. Deception (7,789 feet) and two day seminars on wilderness aircraft rescue, swiftwater rescue and mantracking. Mike and I both participated in the mantracking seminar which was taught by Kathy Decker, a 30 year veteran of the King County Sheriff’s Department and a master tracker with the Joel Hardin Professional Tracking Service. Her knowledge and expertise made for a stimulating learning experience. We plan to teach a tracking awareness training for GCSAR members this fall.

Friday and Saturday were filled with classroom breakout sessions in the mornings and field sessions in the afternoons. Equipment vendors were set up and demonstrating all the newest rescue gear and equipment and there was plenty of time to socialize with new and old friends.

Classroom topics included mapping, software, social media, technical rescue, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for SAR and a variety of medical topics. Hands on afternoon sessions on Friday featured four different technical rope rescue stations and helicopter rescue demonstrations at Salt Creek State Park.

Saturday we drove to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park for field sessions on snow anchors and twin tensioned lowering and raising systems.

The banquet on Saturday night featured keynote speaker Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest. Whittaker shared stories and pictures about his 1963 expedition, his other mountaineering accomplishments and career as CEO of REI. Having been to a few MRA spring conferences, the 2016 event was definitely one of the best I have attended when considering location, content and participation. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference in Boise, Idaho.

Greg Foley is a member of Grand County Search and Rescue and has been a mountain rescue volunteer for 36 years. He can be reached by email at greg.foley@grandcountysar.com. The GCSAR website can be found at grandcountySAR.com or on Facebook/GCSAR.