Rescuers learn from ice waterfall climb

Members of the Montrose Search and Rescue Team and Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station spent last week climbing a frozen waterfall.

“Yes, a frozen waterfall,” said rescue team member Mike Leum.

The exercise was a continuation in the team's ice rescue training.

According to Leum, seven members of the team and station traveled on March 26-27 to Lee Vining Canyon, near Tioga Pass and Yosemite National Park. For two days they trained in vertical ice response. They were outfitted in boots with ice clamps, extreme weather clothing and all the equipment needed for the climb.

“It is pretty much one of the extreme winter activities,” Leum said of the training.

The frozen waterfall climb was about 150 to 200 feet. Climbing mountains, for which Leum and many team members are trained, is one thing, but a frozen climb is something completely different, he said.

Their group was a mix of members that had taken the training in the past and those that were preparing to climb the ice for the first time.

“We all practiced setting our anchors with ice screws into the ice,” Leum said.

The anchors are sharp hollow instruments that are screwed into the ice; ropes are tethered to him.

One of thoseto take the icy challenge was Deputy Jeff Martin of the Crescenta Valley station.

“”It is a different world, different than anyone would expect to climb an ice waterfall,” Martin said. “You are free climbing every 15 to 20 feet.”

Martin, who is the assistant reserve coordinator at the station, will respond to the search and rescue calls but does not usually participate in the hiking or climbing. He acts as the liaison between the team and the station. His job is to make certain team members have all the resources they require. New reserve coordinator Sgt. Ken Binkley joined Martin on the climb.

Leum said the fact that Martin and Binkley went on the training session was helpful in many ways, including getting a better appreciation of what the team goes through during a rescue.

“They know what we are up against and know what we need, it was a good thing to have them there,” said Capt. Janet Henderson, of Montrose Search and Rescue.

This was Henderson's first time climbing ice as well.

“It was different. I had never done that [type of climbing] before,” Henderson said.

She added that the team had to learn to move from rock to ice climbing in their thinking; they had been used to falling rocks during mountain climbs and now had to adjust to falling ice.

“We had guys hit by falling ice,” Martin said. Luckily the climbers had their helmets on but it gave everyone on the team a respect for what the environment they were in, he added.

Henderson, Leum and Martin said that this type of training is valuable for the Mt. Wilson area as well as calls from Mt. Baldy.


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