Lessons Learned
  1. Always get a death code before leaving base camp.
  2. If circumstances arise on the search where the team decides to split up - make sure each team has MAPS (what we forgot to split), radio, compass, GPS and other essential gear. Also, in general, don't split up if the sub teams well be less than three and then the sub teams should stick together as a team.
  3. Always actively search. Scan the sides of the trail and head of you. Stop frequently and look behind you. Call out. At one point Mike, who was out in the field when we arrived at base, sat down in plain view in the shade (full moon) of a tree ten feet off the track we were following. We almost walked right by him. The only reason I saw him was because I was scanning the field off to my side and saw some fresh tracks heading toward us. I followed them with my light right to Mike. So on full moon nights don't rely on the moon totally, use your light to scan shadows.
  4. Don't be too hasty to get on the radio when you find something. Analyze and collect thoughts first.
  5. GPS units work painfully slow in the cold.
  6. Don't assume you know where a set of tracks lead. Follow them to an obvious conclusion if possible or relay the info to incident base and suggest they send another team to check them out. We almost assumed that one set of tracks looped around and came back to a spot we had found further down the road. But we decided we needed to make sure. The tracks we decided to follow in fact did not loop around and led us to the subject. Remember to always bring enough stuff to Incident Base to stay out overnight and operate in the worst possible situations. You can consolidate and leave behind equipment to more closely match the mission once you know what the mission is. For example, if you find out you are going to be doing line searches within a mile of Incident Base, on a nice day then a day pack with snacks, water, ten essentials and a shell maybe adequate. However if the chop, chop, chop of a Huey is in the distance and you are about to get on board and be dropped off into four feet of fresh powder 9 miles from Incident base one hour before sunset with a snow storm coming, then certainly more equipment is needed. This is not the time to find out your warm sleeping bag, bivy bag, extra fuel, favorite snowshoes or ski poles are at home. Remember that you should NOT get on a snow cat or helicopter if you are not prepared to stay out and then walk out! There is a list of recommended equipment on the website.
  7. Speaking of equipment: At least one ski pole with snowshoes is essential and collapsible ski poles are nice. Collapsibles are easier to get on the helicopter or snow cat. If you have to have both hands free to manage a rope, sled or other equipment collapsibles can be lashed to the pack out of the way.
  8. Fuel: In winter I have found that at least one third of a pint per person per day of white gas for a white gas type stove is adequate. I cannot comment on butane or other type of fuel stoves.
  9. Food: Take snacks that you will eat while actually out in the field. For example, one individual said that Power Bars are full of energy, but the thought of trying to chock one down at 1:00 a.m. while trying to thrash up a steep, snow covered hill kept him from eating enough.
  10. Weight: Sometimes there is no choice but to carry alot of stuff, but try to keep the pack weight down anyway. Not everyone on a team needs to carry a stove, GPS and radio, however, at least two of each of these items per team is a good idea. An aluminum snow shovel is lighter than a steel one. A mountaineering friend of mine once told me that once your pack weight gets over 30% of your body weight your ability to travel starts dropping exponentially. This assumes you're in great shape. The value is less as fitness level decreases.
  11. When breaking trail in the winter, mark the trail with trail tape often enough so that you can follow it back out if it snows or the wind comes up. It is amazing how fast a trail that has just been broke by 10 searchers dragging a sled can completely disappear!
  12. Some chemical hand/foot warms would be handy to have in case toes or fingers get cold while standing around in the snow at 15 degrees waiting for a snow cat, snowmobile or helicopter ride somewhere.
  13. A HAM license might be handy to have even if you don't have a radio. A HAM radio can sometimes reach Incident Base when 155.160 cannot.
  14. Everyone should always pay attention to the other members of the team looking for problems like fatigue, hypo/hyperthermia or illness. If someone becomes seriously concerned about something they should speak up with sufficient clarity and emphasis that nobody can mistake your level of alarm. Other members of the team maybe so wrapped up in searching, managing a sled or rope, etc. that they miss the signs of a developing situation. Don't be afraid to stop and rest or go back if needed. At least two experienced team members should stay with the individual having trouble. Put the person having trouble out front to set the pace. Two or more pairs of eyes are now on this person. Don't let the person get away however and insist that the team stay together.

Last updated February 27, 1998

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