By Chadwick Hagan
In the last few months, a rescue/ evacuation service the American Alpine Club provides its members has been used and tested a great deal. Global Rescue, a Boston US based global rescue services company, provides patients with worldwide medical transportation, evacuation and choice of destination should an evacuation occur. In order to activate this service, all you have to do is call the 24-hour hotline. You can also have them listed on your SPOT messenger, and email them should you need to.
On the American Alpine Club website, it states that “AAC members in good standing are automatically enrolled in a Trailhead Rescue membership with Global Rescue, providing the member with $5,000 of coverage for rescue and evacuation to the nearest hospital or clinic because of a serious illness or injury that occurs beyond the start of the trail. A myriad of backcountry activities are covered, including climbing, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking, and there is no elevation limitation”
No elevation limit? This is a massive undertaking, but they follow through with it. Two incidents have happened in the last few months, and both were at high altitudes in remote areas.
Chris Warner, noted climber and businessman, was thought to have developed HAPE while on Makalu, the worlds 5th highest peak. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a life threatening form of pulmonary edema – collection of fluid in the lungs. A 5500m he started showing signs of lethargy, shortness of breath and tightening in his chest, his team phoned Global Rescue, who then advised Chris on the next steps that should be taken. They sent transportation and he was eventually evacuated to Katmandu, where HAPE was ruled out after a series of tests, etc. Warner made a full recovery.
Moreover, world-renowned climber Steve House had a very serious accident this past May. House fell 80 feet while climbing in the North Face of Mt Temple in Banff National Park. A longline rescue was used to evacuate him to Calgary’s Foothills Medical trauma unit. He later consulted with Global Rescue and they helped organize and handle logistics and sent a medic to help asses House’s injuries and situation.
Steve noted in his post on the AAC blog, Inclined, “that same night a Global Rescue paramedic arrived and immediately began helping us make sense of the complicated diagnosis of my extensive injuries: two pelvic fractures, seven fractured vertebrae, nine fractured ribs (3 were pulverized) and a collapsed lung. I was reliant on the Global Rescue medic’s help, as I could do little clear thinking with all the pain and exhaustion that comes with such injuries.
As my healing progressed, Global Rescue’s medic was already thinking ahead, working out the best way to get me home to Oregon. The simple solution would be for me to stay in Calgary until I was able to walk out of the hospital, but that would force me to make a very long and very painful car-ride home. Recognizing this Global Rescue arranged a medically equipped lear jet staffed by a paramedic and a flight nurse. At noon on my seventh day in the hospital, Global Rescue had worked out the intra-hospital paperwork and I was wheeled out to the waiting jet. Two quick hours later, I was in my home hospital in Oregon, where my parents, friends, and the rest of my family awaited me. After a comfortable four more days in the hospital I hobbled out with my walker, largely under my own power”.
Membership in the AAC automatically provides each member with $5,000 of coverage for rescue and evacuation to the nearest hospital or clinic due to a serious illness or injury that occurs beyond the start of the trail. Global Rescue provides upgrades as well (with an AAC discount) and climbers/ backcountry skiers can have full coverage, up to $500,000 for the accident.
After reading about the longline rescue performed for Steve House, I was reminded of an article in the Alpinist on standby rescue in the Himalayas. There was a picture and it showed Simon Anthamatten (guide from Zermatt) hanging from an Air Zermatt Helicopter. Longline is a form of rescue that originated in the 1970’s in the Alps with a rescue by a mountain guide. It forever changed the way in which mountain rescues were orchestrated. It used to be that if you got into a real bind on a mountain you were dead – now there’s a chance that no matter how remote you go, you could get help. In the article, it talked about the recent partnership between Air Zermatt and Fishtail Air (Nepal).
The two parties first came together in Nov. 2009, combining their efforts to recover the body of Slovenian climber Tomaz Humar, who died on the slopes of Langtang Lirung. They have been operating this entire season in the Himalayas. As of April 29th the highest longline rescue was performed at camp 4, 6950M, on Annapurna. You have to wonder if plucking unlucky climbers off 7000m mountain will become commonplace. They are on standby in the Dhaulagiri and Khumbu region until June should mishaps occur.