Though I never met Chris Spurgeon and do not know his crew I felt compelled to sit down and immediately pen a letter of support for Colin Chisholm and his ski partners. In addition, props to Alex Sakariassen for having the balls to write the article “A call for help” (see cover story, Aug. 26, 2010).
Criticizing a volunteer organization (emphasis on the “organization,” not the volunteers) is an inherently delicate task, but in this case it had to be done. The Search and Rescue (SAR) here is for finding lost hikers and elk hunters, period. Chisholm is spot-on when stating that most skiers and climbers want their friends called instead of SAR. It’s an unspoken rule in Missoula.
Senior Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Purcell’s statement that, “People are going farther back these days and getting themselves into worse situations than they used to because they can” misses the point. Sure gear is better and lighter but most people deep in the alpine are there because they have spent a lifetime learning how to be there. Throwing tags like “extreme” onto what skiers and climbers do is just a copout. Something ceases to be extreme when it becomes common. There is a large community of skilled backcountry users in western Montana. This community is just going to get larger. We need a SAR department (perhaps a separate unit) that knows what alpine climbers have known for 35 years. Light is right and speed is safety. If a grassroots group of people fills that need then SAR needs to work with them, not against.