In Pictures: The Rocky Mountain Rescue Group’s 70-Year Story

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Photo: Rocky Mountain Rescue_toboggan practice
A rescuer practices evacuating a patient on an akia (toboggan) near Caribou, Colorado.

Tom Hornbein recalls one of the early trainings conducted by Boulder's Rocky Mountain Rescue group. Hornbein, who joined the group in 1948, says they were up in the Flatirons near Boulder.

"And [a] woman happened to be looking up and seeing a rescue going on up there," Hornbein says. She got confused and thought the training was a real emergency. "She called the sheriff's office, whom we failed to inform what we were doing."

The sheriff asked to be kept in the loop about future trainings and coordination between the department and Rocky Mountain Rescue became key.

Rocky Mountain Rescue is one of the oldest volunteer mountain rescue groups in the country. In the winter of 1947, a number of deaths in the wilderness of Boulder County, including that of a 4-year-old girl, had people on edge. That March, the sheriff's office met with mountaineers and some University of Colorado Boulder professors and students to form a specialized team. Hornbein says many of the early years were devoted to learning rescue techniques, which they often gleaned from European groups.

Photo: Rocky Mountain Rescue Tyrol training
Members of Boulder County' Rocky Mountain Rescue run through a training exercise on Oct. 22, 2017.

The Rescue has grown to about 75 members. And with the demand for trained teams on the rise across the state, it is one of the busiest groups in Colorado. In 2014, it received 156 calls for help. Last year, that number climbed to 194.

"The state park, the natural forest, all of these land managers are preserving these land areas and that draws people like crazy," Rocky Mountain Rescue spokesman Jeff Sparhawk says.

Photo: Rocky Mountain Rescue Tyrol training_2
Members of the Rocky Mountain Rescue talk through a training exercise on Flagstaff Mountain near Boulder. The group says they are a real team and try not to highlight one individual above anyone else.

The group encourages people to be prepared when they venture outdoors: bring a map, compass, a flashlight, sunscreen, and plenty of food and water.

Many of the volunteers have full-time jobs and families. But Sparhawk says they'll drop everything when that call comes in.

"That's just the way we live," he says. "We're ready to see each other at 3 o'clock on some mountainside. That's OK with us."

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A Rocky Mountain Rescue member demonstrates for a prospective member at an October training on Flagstaff Mountain.

Geoff Jasper is the operation supervisor for City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Rangers, and says he can't overstate the importance of the group.

"If it was left to local agencies like ours, the city of Boulder, we don't have the expertise or the number of people to be able to pull off these missions," he says.