GCSAR practices snow anchors
January 19, 2017
The demand of Search and Rescue members especially in large, remote counties like Grand County is tough. All members of Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) are volunteers. Many of them have families, and that can take a toll on them during periods when recues are in high demand, like this time of year. The members of GCSAR are arguable some of the most skilled residents of Grand County, and that comes with training and practice of skills they have learned throughout life. Whether through EMS, fire departments, climbing, mountaineering, or Ski Patrol, these citizens have unique skills that they use to rescue victims in most dire need.
Wednesday, Jan. 18 GCSAR used their weekly training to practice a very unique set of skills—building snow anchors. Snow anchors are improvised anchors used to raise or lower a victim using nothing but snow, and a few tools—some you may never think could be life saving. Snow anchors are usually necessary when a natural object, such as a rock or a tree, are unavailable to use as an anchor.
About 25 GCSAR members turned out to practice setting the anchors. The training was conducted like a regular GCSAR mission. Responders geared up with snowshoes and avalanche gear including a beacon, probe and shovel. After a short hike to a low angle slope each team began building a different style snow anchor to be tested. Snow anchors can be used to rappel, lower an injured person, or safely bring a victim up a slope in a sled using a system of ropes.
A snow bollard anchor is constructed by digging a teardrop shape groove, usually about 4-5 feet wide, into the snow and placing nylon webbing in the grove. If the snow is strong enough, using just the webbing and snow in the middle of the teardrop can hold a great amount of weight. If the snow is not strong enough, objects can be placed at the top of the teardrop to keep the webbing from slicing through the snow.
The "deadman" anchor is one of the most improvised types of snow anchors. Anything from a stick, to a backpack, to skis can be used. Whatever object the party sees fit is buried in the snow with webbing and girth-hitched to it. Another path is dug perpendicular to the object making the shape of a T in the snow. The attached rope sits in the latter groove. Then, everything is buried with snow and packed down as much as possible. It is best to let the snow sit for several minutes before testing the anchor. Keeping a low angle on the rope is crucial so the anchor does not pull straight up through the snow.
The T shape design and well-packed snow causes the snow to resist the object being pulled straight down and the anchor can hold a great amount of force.
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GCSAR members then tested the anchors.
Three members were placed in a sled at the bottom of the slope and using a 3:1 pulley system with ropes, other GCSAR members pulled the "victims" up the slope with the full weight on the anchors. Other deadman techniques use snow pickets—steel stakes that can be buried in the snow horizontally or vertically and can serve as an object for a deadman anchor.
After training, members were debriefed on what they learned. All members confirmed that the were confident in setting snow anchors. The night ended with a review of the week's rescue missions.