Mountain Rescue Aspen passes accreditation exams with flying colors | AspenTimes.com

Mountain Rescue Aspen passes accreditation exams with flying colors

Scott Condon | The Aspen Times

The rigorous hours that the 50 volunteer members of Mountain Rescue Aspen spend annually in training, operations and education paid off last weekend when the team successfully passed an intense accreditation exam.

More than 30 evaluators from the Rocky Mountain region converged on Aspen to put MRA through the paces. The team earned accreditation for an additional five years from the International Mountain Rescue Association.

Mountain Rescue Aspen was one of the first organizations of its type to gain accreditation when it was first offered more than 30 years ago, according to Jeff Edelson, one of the rescue leaders. He said there are more than 50 mountain rescue teams in Colorado but only 11 have earned accreditation from the international association.

Edelson said it shows the commitment of the membership of MRA, which is limited to 50 men and women.

"The reason we go out there is that we want to help others," he said.

The exam focused on five disciplines: high-angle rope rescue (think rescues of imperiled climbers at the Maroon Bells), low-angle screen evacuation (such as when a cyclist tumbles over a steep embankment), searching for missing persons (like an overdue hiker), avalanche rescues and winter technical rescues.

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Edelson said Mountain Rescue Aspen has a role for all of its members in each of the disciplines.

"We pride ourselves on being a well-rounded team," he said.

In high-angle rope rescues, for example, there are so many different skills required and tasks necessary to pull off a mission.

"Maybe not everybody is the person that goes over the cliff," Edelson said, referring to the rescue team.

For that exam, the evaluators tested how MRA responded to a pretend scenario where a climber fell and injured his head while climbing on Turkey Rock east of Aspen.

For the low-angle screen evacuation, the exam imagined a cyclist flipped over edge of Highway 82 — at the narrows section of Highway 82 near Weller — and fell down the slope.

For the missing-persons exercise, the scenario was based on a missing hiker in Hunter Creek Valley. MRA members had to demonstrate their people-tracking skills.

The avalanche rescue scenario was based on three people getting caught in a slide on Independence Pass. Though the Aspen area was blessed this winter with no avalanche deaths, that's typically not the case. They were evaluated on locating and treating the victims.

"As you know, Pitkin County is the deadliest county for avalanche deaths in the United States," Edelson said. "It's something that's very prevalent in our area."

The winter technical rescue also occurred on the pass.

"Our team practices thousands of volunteer hours to prepare for this," Edelson said. The evaluators notice. The feedback MRA received from evaluators included congratulations for a "phenomenal job." Some evaluators even commented that if they were in trouble in the backcountry, they would want Mountain Rescue Aspen helping them.

MRA has a combination of members who have been with the team for 30-plus years and younger members who recently rotated in.

"We all consider ourselves a big rescue family," Edelson said.

MRA plans some education programs in Aspen later this summer. Classes on backcountry weather and navigation will be offered. Details aren't available yet.

The volunteer organization will also be the beneficiary of a fundraiser June 20 at Kenichi. Those who donate $20 or more at the door will receive 50 percent off their entire bill, according to Edelson.

scondon@aspentimes.com