Learning the ropes

July 01, 2013 10:13 am

Mike Hanson, left, and Lacey Wilson attach ropes to a litter as Ralph Wilson looks on after setting up rope lines during search and rescue training activities Saturday afternoon. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Mike Hanson, left, and Lacey Wilson attach ropes to a litter as Ralph Wilson looks on after setting up rope lines during search and rescue training activities Saturday afternoon. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)

Close to 80 Eastern Oregon search and rescue teams attend weekend training in La Grande 

In a life or death situation, a half-inch rope may not be the lifeline one is hoping for.

But if one were stranded on the side of a mountain, that half-inch rope and a well-trained ropes rescue team would be a welcomed sight.

Close to 80 search and rescue team members from across Eastern Oregon were trained in ropes and other search and rescue techniques this weekend at the Union County Fairgrounds and Mt. Emily Recreation Area for the third annual Eastern Oregon Search and Rescue Conference. 

Union County Search and Rescue team member Grant Meyer said he simply enjoys being outdoors and using that to help people.

“It forces you out into the mountains, especially in bad weather,” said Meyer, who has been on the team for about a year.

He said Saturday that he was looking forward to learning about using cellphones to help find people who are lost.

“I enjoy practicing for the searches,” Meyer said.

Being relatively new to search and rescue, Meyer said he did not have a favorite subject or speciality yet, like some of the instructors at the weekend conference.

Glenn McDonald went on his first search more than 45 years ago while working for the Forest Service

“I organized a search party among the hunters we had out there,” he said.

After working more than 30 years with the Forest Service, McDonald retired and joined the Wallowa County Search and Rescue team in the mid-1990s.

“Soon after that, I had a chance to work with bloodhounds in Milton-Freewater,” he said. He is now the K-9 unit leader and incident commander for Wallowa’s crew. Saturday, he was teaching wilderness survival. Students were gathered in a parking lot at Mt. Emily Recreation Area building fires.

“Dogs are just one of the tools for search and rescue,” McDonald said.

Another useful tool, especially in mountainous terrain, is ropes. Mike Hanson, another Wallowa team member, said a half-inch rope has a breaking point of a little under 10,000 pounds.

The Wallowa team was recently trained in ropes. Some team members even opted for an extra two days of training for high-angle ropes training, which involves more vertical scenarios.

“That was real extensive,” Hanson said.

Hanson and his teammates were set up on the side of Mt. Emily, perched over a view of La Grande, teaching students how to set up rope lines Saturday.

Teammate Mel Byers said they set up a main line and a safety line, in case the main line fails.

“They all pull together. They all work together,” he said. The ropes run through a pulley and are anchored around a tree.

Byers said the training and practice is valuable to make sure everyone understands the techniques. Some EMTs even receive ropes training so everyone is on the same page.

“If we both know the systems together, we can work together,” Byers said.

During training, setting up the lines and preparing to raise the mock victim seems to take quite awhile, but Byers said once-a-month practice speeds things up since everyone knows their role.

“It doesn’t take long,” he said of real-life scenarios. “Everyone knows what they’re doing.”

Event co-chair Julian Pridmore, of Union County Search and Rescue, said turnout for the event was good and that everything went great.

“We actually exceeded our expectations,” he said. 

More than 1,200 hours of student training was conducted over the weekend, Pridmore said. Students had a variety of classes to choose from, including horseback classes and a compass course. Sunday morning, Life Flight prepared a landing zone at the fairgrounds for a briefing on proper patient loading techniques.

“I received a lot of positive feedback on the quality of instructors and the overall event,” Pridmore said.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.