An insider’s look at backcountry rescues |

An insider’s look at backcountry rescues

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One golden rule in journalism is to pick a strong topic for a story. It can overshadow mediocre writing.That formula works for the book “Playing for Real: Stories from Rocky Mountain Rescue” by Mark Scott-Nash. It recounts some of the more memorable recent rescue missions by the Boulder-based search and rescue group.The book gives an insider’s glimpse into mountain rescue operations that newspaper articles rarely include, mostly because the groups are tight-lipped or give sanitized versions of events. Scott-Nash has been a member of Rocky Mountain Rescue since 1999 and somehow got the organization’s blessing to write about some of its operations.He breaks the 150-page book into short stories on backcountry rescues involving every season and every type of activity, from a downed aircraft to an ice-climbing accident. In each case, the story is compelling enough to make you turn the page. Let’s face it, life-threatening situations in the wild make for interesting reading, particularly for the outdoor-oriented readers in the Roaring Fork Valley.

In a vignette called “The White Trap,” Scott-Nash tells the story of two young college students who undertook a hike up a 13,000-foot peak during the Christmas break. The winter had been mild but a blizzard hit the duo as they approached the summit and they were split apart. One got caught in an avalanche down a couloir but rode it out and survived. He assumed his buddy got buried and called Rocky Mountain Rescue.Scott-Nash’s strength is describing the thought process that a rescue member goes through. In this case, the overriding emotion was frustration over not finding the survivor’s buddy. The rescue group probed the avalanche debris but couldn’t find a body. Scott-Nash and colleagues returned to the area numerous times over the next few months, often on their own time.The following summer, the body of the young man was found. He hadn’t been caught in the snow slide. He was found a mile away from and 700 vertical feet above the avalanche site. Scott-Nash taps his vast experience as a mountaineer to speculate, with solid foundation, what happened when the man got disoriented, scared and ultimately hypothermic.”With no direction to go, he sat down on a carpet of snow and unwrapped a candy bar. He thought if he just ate the bar he would have the strength to continue. But he was so tired and felt the overwhelming desire to sleep. Maybe he decided to just take a nap so he could continue. He didn’t feel any fear now and could not think clearly, so he just lay down. He would finally rest. He never awoke.”At times, this book bogs down in details. Scott-Nash crosses the line from writing for the general public – explaining rescue procedures and terminology – to including too many mundane facts that only rescue junkies will appreciate.

Still, this book is worth reading for any backcountry adventurer or person interested in backcountry rescues.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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