Ranger post rescue prior to being portaged |
back to the trailhead.
I had been a volunteer dog walker at the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) for a couple of years while at the same time working my way up a few peaks with my fellow Mazamas. One day, I was chatting with one of the other dog walkers, describing the training I was going through in Intermediate Climbing School (ICS). She mentioned that it sounded a bit like what the OHS Technical Animal Rescue team (known as OHSTAR) does and encouraged me to check them out. Intrigued, I applied for a spot on the team and started to attend their training and got a look at their “3:1 mechanical advantage rescue haul system”. The hardware is different: bigger, heavier, and a bit more complex, but it still seemed like a fancy name for a crevasse rescue “Z-system” to me. I guess mountaineers are just in the habit of shortening everything, including the names of things, if they think it will lighten the load in their pack.
During their once-a-month trainings I melded with the team and “learned the ropes” (pun intended). OHSTAR uses rescue procedures similar to many SAR groups (the group’s technical advisor is a long time PMR member). The basic skills overlap a bit with some of the mountaineering techniques learned in the Mazamas: knot work, wrap three pull two, being mindful of your angles, don’t step on the rope, etc. Added to these familiar items is more complex gear and procedures such as mirrored rope systems, mechanical ascenders and friction devices. There is a lot of cool gear that would make a gear head’s eyes light up (at least until they realize that they would have to divvy up an extra 50 pounds of group gear amongst a climb team). Since dogs are not people (despite what many of their owners believe) there are also extra skills involved with animal rescue, such as animal harnessing, that go beyond the
A dark and stormy night: rescuer (center in white helmet)
makes final preparations before lowering down to Eagle Creek.
Once on the team I started to assist on a few rescues: scouting locations, schlepping gear, setting up, and hauling rope and a couple of times I got the nod to be the rescuer (i.e. the guy on the pointy end of the rope). We’ve done rescues both in the backcountry and within the Portland metro area. I’ve done technical roped ascents into trees to rescue distressed cats, helped capture injured geese for treatment at the Audubon society, and have done joint human/animal rescues with PMR and PNWSAR. There have been many memorable moments but a couple rescues stand out in particular.
Sandy’s Christmas Miracle
A Christmas miracle: Sandy is retrieved from Eagle Creek.
Coincidentally the dog had fallen only about 50 yards from a point where we did another rescue just a month earlier. That other site, at a bend in the trail with convenient stout trees for anchors and a good work space to set up the haul system, was a decent place to operate. This one, with a cliff down one side, a steep slope up the other, and a narrow trail in the middle… not so much. The team tossed around some ideas and eventually came up with a feasible plan based on some anchors I’d once helped build while assisting a BCEP class at Horsethief Butte. A teammate and I went back down the trail where the slope was a bit less steep and scrambled up above our rescue site. While trying not to knock loose rocks (or ourselves) down upon our teammates below, we rigged up an anchor with one of our ropes to a couple of fir trees. After rappelling down the rope back to the trail we made anchor points for the haul systems and were then able to lower J.T., the rescuer, who was then able to harness and secure the dog. That was the easy part (relatively speaking). We had a very narrow working space for our mechanical advantage setup (the “Z”) and it was a short hand over hand pull, pull, “reset”... over and over again until at last the dog and rescuer were back up on the trail. Miraculously (a Christmas miracle you might say) the dog was without serious injury and was able to walk back (now securely leashed) down to the trail head.
Ranger’s Happy Ending
It was neither dark nor stormy, it wasn’t even night. It was a rare occasion for OHSTAR as the usual callouts happen after a person and their animal out enjoying some daytime fun in the forest get into trouble. By the time someone can get to where they have phone reception and the call goes through the emergency response system and the rescue team is assembled at the trail head, night has fallen.
|Ranger, post-rescue and post-surgery stops|
by OHS to show the author some gratitude.
Once I reconnected with the dog I signaled to the team to bring me back up. Ranger was very compliant, harnessed up and hooked to the ropes, as we dangled beneath an overhang at the bottom of the cliff while waiting for the team to reset the haul system. However, I smelled trouble in the air.
More specifically, I smelled skunk in the air and started praying that the team would quickly reset and get us out of there before someone decided that we were unwelcome guests in their home. Luckily it turned out to be a non-event. We got Ranger safely to the top of the cliff and littered him back to the trailhead. His owner later told us that after about $10,000 worth of surgeries he was again a happy dog.
It is a very rewarding feeling being part of a team and providing relief not only to an animal in distress but also the people who care for them. The best advice I can give to people who travel with dogs in the back country is that if you are traveling in hazardous or unknown terrain keep your dog leashed (it’s like putting yourself in a position to be lucky).
Whether it is front country or back country, contact the Oregon Humane Society Technical Animal Rescue if your pet, or someone else’s, is trapped or stranded and needs help. Trained OHSTAR volunteers can evacuate injured pets from wilderness areas, retrieve pets stranded on cliff sides, river banks, and other areas and structures that can only be accessed safely using ropes, climbing gear and other technical rescue equipment or extricate animals trapped in enclosed spaces whose lives are in danger.
Monday-Friday, daytime hours: 503-416-2993
Evenings and weekends: 503-849-5655
In cases of emergency, please call your local police department.
About the Author: Bruce Wyse retired from the Army, returned home to the Pacific Northwest, and considers himself on permanent vacation. He started volunteering with the Oregon Humane Society in 2009. He joined the Mazamas in 2010. When not out with these fine organizations he can usually be found exploring in the wilderness with his Red Heeler, Sasha.