A few weeks ago, two trail runners were running on an 18-24 mile loop on the Salmon River Trail. They got split up due to not communicating correctly about the right meeting location. It didn’t help that one of the runners was slowed down to climbing over/under blown down trees. One trail runner had waited at the meeting location for forty-five minutes and became increasingly concerned. He had run back to his car drove to where there was cell phone coverage and called 9-1-1. The Clackamas County Search and Rescue (SAR) deputies activated the SAR team immediately. The other runner stayed at what was thought to be the meeting place and waited for roughly three hours and running a short distance up each trail calling for her running partner, to no avail. She then left some food and continued her way back to their car.
A new volunteer group called TRRT (Trail Running Rescue Team) and other ground team volunteers arrived at command in heavy rain and were given missions to find the lost runner. The ground team was tasked to come in at the end of the trail accessed by a road that was roughly 13-15 miles in by trail where the missing runner could be. The TRRT entered the trail at the same location where the two runners had entered the field.
After checking in with command and deploying with a radio and a Garmin InReach, the TRRT team moved toward its mission subject. They called out and whistled frequently just in case the runner had found shelter to stay warm for the night due to the inclement weather. The team was very diligent and did not want to run past her accidentally. The TRRT is only as fast as its slowest member so they maintained as steady speed while looking for the lost subject. It did not take long to find the runner. Only one and a half miles in, they found her running back. She was extremely excited to see the TRRT and even gave a team member a hug! The team escorted her out under her own power where she was embraced by her partner once back at command.
This was the TRRT’s first mission since it started two weeks prior at the academy.
How did the Trail Running Rescue Team came about? Once a SAR mission is called out to search by the sheriff’s office, many times there is a short window of time for volunteers to complete the mission. On such SAR missions in the winter for the subject, there are multiple teams out searching all the nearby trails and roads. However, there was a “cell ping” that was a distance away. In that area was Timothy Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail, a very “big” area to cover. Jamien Leckey and Robert Aberle offered to clear the area by running it with what Aberle calls the “hasty” pack and not a large backpack for regular ground searches. They cleared 17 miles that were documented by GPS tracking around Timothy Lake and the campgrounds, bathrooms, PCT (Pacific Crest Trail.)
“The Clackamas County Sherriff’s Office Trail Running Rescue Team (CCSAR TRRT) is comprised of Ultra Endurance Runners that have come together after meeting through various organized races where we’ve met,” says Aberle. “We’re able to run a minimum of 10 miles at any given time, with certifications ranging from CPR, EMT, paramedics, nurses, physician assistants, and medical doctors. The team is tasked to not only run known trails but roads and urban roadways. The team is cross-trained for ground support and low angle rope rescue.”
The OSSA states new personnel that have met the minimum training standards met by their training division can deploy with a type 1, 2, or 3 trainers. The TRRT must meet the Oregon State Sheriff Agency (OSSA) regulations which put everyone through an academy and continue training monthly throughout the year signing off OSSA standards. The team has a minimum standard that everyone must meet that is “reproducible” such as running to completing a 10-mile run either in training or an organized race.
“SAR teams across the globe should reevaluate their own teams on a consistent basis,” states Aberle. “Meaning looking at the different resources around you and are available to assist your SAR department. Search new ways to improve communication in your response area like using an “InReach” or “Spot” device that has texting compatibilities to satellites back to SAR base when normal radio comms frequently don’t work. Educating your SAR coordinators on what your team capabilities are. In our case, we have started a trail running team with similar capabilities as ground teams and training. However, now we have lighter, condensed, shared equipment, so we can move 3-4 times faster than hiking alone. Having a minimum running capability of 10 miles does not mean we are done at 10 miles, but we can be given another mission because of the ultramarathon endurance level.”
So far, TRRT has had two missions with two subject finds. “This means all the teams that were deployed played a critical role with the assistance of conquering multiple areas at the same time by clearing trees and brush and working together as a unified team,” remarks Aberle.
“If you are going out into the wilderness,” consults Aberle. “Please use the Spot or InReach when out into the forest and let someone know where you are and where you are going. Have a time frame and carry the ten essentials.”
For those interested in joining the Trail Running Rescue Team, go to the CCSO Website and contact Sgt. Marcus Mendoza by email or phone.