I will be speaking at REI Knoxville again on August 31st and October 4th. The spots fill up fast, but sign up on the waiting list if you can’t get in and you will get notified of the next class. Hope to see you there.
Three years ago I was at a crux. I had resigned from my backcountry law enforcement ranger position, found out we were having a baby, and started planning our move to North Carolina. I remember reading a text from my MMA coach that he sent out to the team about training and priorities. I was in Florida on vacation, and he was right. I realized that I could no longer dedicate the time and energy to that sport, with new priorities entering my life. I left the gym, leaving part of me behind.
The same was true of my LE Ranger position. While I will never regret my decision to leave, there was a part of my soul that missed the most rewarding facet of that job…
Search and rescue.
I have been extremely fortunate to have a career filled with adventure, but there has only been one time in all those years that emotion has swept over me so strongly, I had to walk away.
Ten years ago, I was on a search for two off-trail hikers on the Spruce Flats Falls manway. I was just getting into the law enforcement division, but got teamed up with “Rambo” Ricky Varner who knew the area like the back of his hand. We located the couple, who were forced to spend the night out, and walked them out to Tremont.
There, patiently waiting, was their family, and what ensued was one of the most tender reunions I have witnessed. They don’t always end that way, but reuniting a family with their missing loved one will move the most calloused soul.
And so two years ago, fueled by a desire to be pushed by a group of hard-core guys, a penchant for the misery of off-trail rescues, and the aspiration to help others, I started recruiting a band of outdoor misfits to form an elite search and rescue team. Our mission would be simple. Prepare for the toughest missions the Smokies can offer..
With the promise of bad weather, long hours, no pay, and dangerous work, they started to trickle in one by one. First an adventurer racer, then a paddler and climber, then a helicopter pilot, a doctor, a flight medic, a Special Forces veteran, a neuroscientist, another wildlife ranger, and the list went on.
As diverse as the crew was, they all had in common the desire to help others in need and the ability to push themselves physically and mentally to build a professional team.
Every week for two years, in every weather condition, we have met at a local park to workout together, carrying our SAR packs and kettlebells, pushing the levels of fitness higher and suffering through grueling fitness standards. Every month, the team has assembled for some form of training, be it technical, swiftwater, tracking, land navigation, wilderness medical, rescue swimming, working with K-9 teams, or just a tough off-trail scramble.
Leaving the comfort of our homes and families to respond to missions, we have carried out patients on the icy Appalachian trail. Rigged up ropes to haul the injured hikers up to safety. Searched for a downed plane during hypothermia inducing weather. Assisted with joint technical rescue training. Responded to many calls only to get cancelled en route when the victim walked out. Searched the dark trails for a missing hikers. Assisted in the body recoveries of recent fatalities. And taken vacation days and cancelled personal plans to respond when called.
The team did all this, and more, to be an asset to the Search and Rescue operations of Great Smoky Mountain National Park and help those in need. The park is working constantly to overcome staffing and budget challenges. We hope to help them by pre-deploying on high volume weekends and holidays, which will reduce our response time and allow us to assist with the P-SAR (Preventative Search & Rescue) program.
The BUSAR Team is the finest group of professionals I have ever worked with. They are my friends, my mentors, my teammates, and they have helped fill that tribal void in my life. I am proud of all they have accomplished and all that they will going forward.
So today I am announcing our team website, Team BUSAR, and the exciting news that we got our non-profit status. For the last two years, except for three donors, we have paid for everything out of our own pocket. Our gear, our training, gas, meals, etc. We have done all that because we desire to help.
Now we are asking for your help.
With over 11 million visitors to the Smokies, there is a good chance that you or someone you care about may need help out there at sometime, so please consider helping us by the following:
To date, the BUSAR project has been one of the most fulfilling chapters in my life. This team would have never started without the hard work and dedication of those on the team and their support of their families. To all those involved, current and former, I give thanks.
Thanks to Chief Ranger Steve Kloster, who has been advising me since it’s formation, along with Jared St. Clair, TN District Ranger, who took over the SAR Coordinator role. Thanks also goes out to all the members of the Smokies Tech Rescue team, Kevin Moses and the cadre of B-TRTE for tech training, Chuck Hester of BLRI, and Brian Osgood and the BCRS crew for loaning us equipment for swiftwater training.
What was birthed two years ago, is now starting to stand on its own two feet. The feet wear muddy boots, the bodies are now hardened by countless workouts and training missions, and the spirit stands by waiting for the call and ready to help. The path ahead of us is clear, we are prepared, and ready for the journey. We invite all of you to join us in this mission to help others, by helping us…
I will be speaking at REI Brentwood at 7pm on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. The discussion will focus on mentally preparing yourself for wilderness emergencies, training, and gear that could save your life.
Event details REI “Reality of Survival”
There is no cost, so come join us if you are in the area.
During a recent search and rescue operation, I was launched off the trail, landing upside down 10 feet down the mountainside. I was grateful to be uninjured, grateful for years of falling in judo, and grateful I had started a new mobility routine several weeks ago.
I had heard about MovNat last year from one of their instructors, but it was only recently that I started to explore it as I was looking to add some mobility work into my fitness routine. The founder, Erwan Le Corre, describes the system in this article – MovNat Explained
The practicality of the system to my line of work is unquestionable and we have already incorporated some of the exercises into our weekly SAR team workouts.
Here is a video from the Youtube channel : MovNat Founder
After watching all 195 videos and reading everything I can find online, I was happy to find out that there will be a workshop on Saturday June 24 in Knoxville at Irontribe Gym. Needless to say, I am excited about training with them on that day and wanted to spread the word about their program.
Virginia SAR Conference –
The above picture was taken just moments after a glorious victory of Team Old School (my team) over Team Whippersnapper (Greg’s team). I am trying my best to teach the boy some humility, so let the record show that this is the second time I have soundly defeated him in a footrace to the control point when we arrived in the area at the same time!
In a welcome turn of events, I got to spend the first two days of the conference as a student in Rob Spieden’s land nav class. Having a break from teaching and getting to nerd out on land nav was great and Rob humors all my nerd session questions as I plan out BUSAR’s land navigation test.
The next two days for me were spent in various classes such as Advances in SAR, Training Officer Roundtable, and Supplementing USGS Maps.
Greg and I taught a SAR-Fit classe – “Creating a culture of functional fitness for SAR teams” and led morning and afternoon workout sessions throughout the 4 day conference.
On Sunday morning, I taught an emergency firestarting classe. Team “Best in Class”, headed up by the director of training for VDEM, won the firestarting challenge after a solid weekend of rain.
Networking, classes, vendors, new friends, old friends, twice a day workouts… what’s not to love about the VA SARCO. Rob Blevins, one of the coordinators and vendors, has a great deal of P-MAG’s as well, for all the shooters that read this site. Check him out at A&L Outfitters
BTRT-E – The following AAR is from Doc Cobra. He, along with Morgan, Grieco, and Benjamin attended the course in New River Gorge.
AAR: National Park Service Basic Technical Rescue Training – East (BTRT-E)
New River Gorge National River, West Virginia April 24-28, 2017
East Tennessee was well represented at the 22nd annual BTRTE in New River Gorge, West Virginia. Attendees included NPS Rangers from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Jim Cannon, Greg Grieco, Joe Kahrnoff, Ryan Rhor), Obed Wild and Scenic River (Little Bret Painter, Ricky Ryan), Big South Fork NRRA (Lauren Kopplin) and BUSAR members (NPS VIP) Doc Bill Campbell, Jason Benjamin, Andrew Morgan and Ken Miller.
Stormy, cool weather gave way to warmer days and nights with light rain, and eventually to sunshine for our concluding scenarios and group photo. Everyone camped at the Burnwood Ranger Station. The venues were the cliffs at Burnwood, the Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department and the Endless Wall.
Instructors arrived on Saturday to begin final planning and rigging. Students checked in Sunday.
Day 1 We were welcomed at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center by IC Kevin Moses who read a welcome message from Andrew R. Hower, Deputy Chief, Emergency Services Branch, Law Enforcement, Security, and Emergency Services. The first day’s training was dedicated to basic skills and began with a gear lecture by veteran climbing guide, Instructor Andy Nichols. Andy, a climber since age 12, covered the details and safety factors of hardware and software used in rope rescue with a historical perspective. We were then split among 6 teams of 5-6 students and introduced to our Instructors who reviewed the assigned knots and ensured that each student could tie them properly. We practiced building anchor systems: wrap 3 pull 2 (webbing), high-strength tie off (rescue rope) and load sharing (cordelette). The Instructor to student ratio is an incredible 1:2.
We hiked to the cliffs for the afternoon session on basic rappelling. Our Instructors demonstrated and explained the anchors and belay systems which they had pre-rigged, then educated us in proper edge safety, protection, and rigging procedures. Each student was required to first rappel with a Recue 8, then allowed multiple repetitions with the descending devices of their choosing. Available devices included carabiners for Munter (Italian) Hitch, ATC, Grigri, brake bar rack and Scarab. Our belaying skills were honed as well.
At the bottom of the cliff we worked on our Rapid Ascent Descent System (RADS) technique.
The rain held off while we concluded a full ten-hour day of training, bagged the ropes and hiked back up to the Gazebo.
Day 2 We traveled to the nearby Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department for our second day of basic skills training. There our instructors had rigged many ropes for multiple skills stations on Sunday before our arrival. The stations included:
1. Ascend, changeover, descend, changeover, down climb using Prusiks
2. Ascend, changeover, descend, changeover, down climb using the Texas or Frog System
3. Ascend, changeover, descend, changeover, down climb using Rapid Ascent Descent System (RADS)
4. Knot passes, going up and down, using students preferred method
5. Clearing a jammed ascender using students preferred method
6. Line changes, going up and down, using students preferred method
7. Outstanding litter rigging, patient packaging and care, litter attendant skills primer by Doc Campbell
During our lunch break, IC Kevin Moses taught us everything there is to know about Task Books (except for a sure fire way to actually get one signed off). I did learn from off-line discussions that the emphasis placed upon them varies among National Parks.
We clocked about 8 hours of intensive skills instruction and practice with a multitude of devices and techniques, greatly expanding our knowledge and enhancing our “tool boxes”. After supper and the Instructors meeting, Clark Howell and Marco Yurachek (undoubtedly THE toughest man alive) regaled us with incredible tales of human error and amazing endurance.
Day 3 Day 3 began with a superb and comprehensive presentation on Mechanical Advantage by Bill Cardwell, retired Shenandoah Ranger and the only person to have attended every single BTRT–E course. This was beautifully demonstrated at multiple stations where raising and lowering systems had been rigged around the gazebo. This included his elegant twin tensioned line system which is used by Shenandoah Mountain Rescue and has been included in the 2017 Petzl Verticality catalog. Bill also presented the results of drop tests conducted at New River Gorge, displaying the actual Petzl IDs and Prusiks containing the damaged ropes from the tests. Those punctuate his compelling argument for a twin tensioned system!
Litter rigging, raising and lowering were then demonstrated. Teams rotated through the following skills stations:
Pre-tensioned Back Tie Radium Release Hitch Tandem Prusik Belay
During the afternoon session, we learned the technique for a BC (Better Control) Pick Off of a subject stranded on rope. It is the NPS preferred method of lowering the rescuer, resources permitting, as it avoids over-tasking the rescuer who transfers the subject to his/her system with the aid of a jigger.
After three solid days of training, the team members had developed strong bonds.
At dusk we headed for the cliffs where our tireless Instructors had rigged a multitude of rappel and belay ropes over the hundred foot cliffs. Prior caving experience had prepared me for long drops in total darkness; but for most students, it was their first time to rappel in the dark. That was a very impressive achievement for those who had experienced their first rappel just 48 hours earlier! Many stations of varying difficulty were available. The gear cache now includes Petzl ASAP Mobile Fall Arrestors which conserved manpower at the belay stations and safely streamlined the process. The number of repetitions possible (3-6) depended upon the length of time one was willing to stand in line for a choice drop and how quickly one could climb back to the cliff top. Rappelling beside the New River Gorge Bridge on a starry night was one of my best times ever on rope.
Day 4 Instruction customarily starts an hour later than usual on the morning following the night evolution; but thunderstorms were predicted for Thursday afternoon so the day began at 0800. Following a safety briefing and GAR analysis, Kevin presented a brief lecture on “how to organize a rescue”. The original six teams were then combined into three. Assignments were made within each of those combined teams for a Main Line Team, a Belay Line Team and a Hasty/Medical/Litter/Edge Team. We were transported to the Endless Wall Trailhead for a 30 minute hike with equipment and litters to our assigned task locations.
The Endless Wall
Under the careful observation of our instructor cadre, the teams rigged anchors for lowering and raising evolutions with a loaded litter. Edge safety lines and protection were placed and rescue load lowering and raising systems were constructed. All students rotated through each station in the course of three evolutions during which a litter was rigged, loaded, lowered with an attendant and raised with a 3:1 haul system.
Although not every student functioned as a litter attendant, each had a turn on the Hasty/Medical/Litter/Edge Team as well as lowering/changeover/raising on the Main Line and Belay Line teams.
Ahead of the coming storm, all gear was packed at 1600h and carried back to our transportation at the trail head. Back at the Gazebo, Bill Cardwell presented a new “Y Knot” for constructing a secure and atraumatic chest harness for patient restraint in the litter. Marco then demonstrated a secure patient packaging technique for vertical rescue. A litter was suspended from the rafters and tending was practiced.
Meanwhile, the three combined teams selected, organized and packed their gear in preparation for the final scenarios with mock rescues which would occur the next morning.
Day 5 Early morning mist gave way to a clear blue sky and fair weather for our final scenarios. Team Bloody Snow (combined Red and White) aka Winter Massacre was directed to a cliff where a witness told us there had been two accidents. Our subject had been heard calling from deep in the gorge north of our location. Our first action was to locate her. Once contact was established, safety lines were placed and rappel and belay ropes were attached with high-strength tie offs around a “bomber” tree near the cliff edge. Using ASAP belays a physician and medic rappelled to the canyon floor near the victim and began assessment. She had “fallen” approximately 20 feet while climbing and landed on her left foot. She was conscious with stable vital signs but very cold. Examination revealed an open left tibia fracture and back pain with normal circulation, sensation and motor function. She was wearing a helmet and climbing harness.
A litter and attendant were lowered while the Main and Belay teams were constructing lowering and raising systems for patient evacuation. There was no available road or water access to the canyon floor at that location. The patient was treated, packaged and secured in the litter for raising in a horizontal or vertical position.
The haul system was weighted and tested before raising began.
The edge is difficult to negotiate and we learn the value of a high directional!
We get by with a little help from our friends – edge attendants in action!
At last! Our patient said it was a smooth ride.
Mission accomplished in the nick of time!
Well done Team Bloody Snow aka Winter Massacre!
Two other scenarios were run simultaneously.The Course concluded with an After Action Report and awarding of Certificates.
This was one of the best training events I have attended and is a must for Rangers and Volunteers operating under National Park Service Protocols. The experience, expertise and teaching ability of the Instructor Cadre is truly remarkable. The opportunity for networking and information sharing is fantastic. If given an opportunity, I would attend again in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, we must all continually practice these extremely perishable skills, foster teamwork and training at every opportunity and be Semper Paratus…”That Others May Live”!
Respectfully, Ken Miller Backcountry Unit Search and Rescue
Team Workouts –
I asked Anthony how he felt after the BUSAR fitness test. Thumbs up!
Naked… Apparently the word “Naked” pulls more web traffic than anything.
According to my computer nerd buddy, the all time highest visitation on my blog came from the time I posted about training Melissa LeEllen for her Naked & Afraid episode in Panama.
Anyway, Melissa’s episode premieres this Sunday, April 23, at 9pm on Discovery.