It was hard not to react to Dick Hall’s letter to the editor in yesterday’s weekly edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide. Dick comments on a recent observance he had with some ranger driven snowmobiles near the popular backcountry ski run, Wimpy’s, in Grand Teton National Park. While my initial, knee jerk reaction to Dick’s comments was inline with his views, thinking there might be a double standard going on, after thinking about it on the skin track for a bit…I came to my own conclusions.
Taken from the Jackson Hole News and Guide, March 11, 2009: In light of all the raised hackles over Stephen Koch’s recent snowmobiling incident in the park, it was provocative last week to encounter Park Service rangers using snowmobiles to conduct an avy rescue scenario two and a half miles in from the popular White Grass trailhead at the base of Wimpy’s. Two of the three machines were two-strokes (not legal in the park) and were being used to tow people (one of Koch’s infractions). The rangers were sheepish, actu- ally stopping to apologize and let us know “it wasn’t their call.” We endured getting off the trail and out of their way four times as they hauled gear and people back and forth. I understand the need for two-strokes in a true rescue situation and I value and appreciate the hard work and efforts of SAR and the park rangers on behalf of backcountry users. But couldn’t this exercise easily have been run in a location less-trafficked and where the Park Service did not have to disregard the important laws it recently enforced? –Dick Hall, Wilson
First, it is very unfortunate the park service doesn’t have access to BAT (best available technology) snow mobiles for their use in trainings and rescues. This could be because they are drastically underfunded, or because they have found that the four stroke jobbers just don’t have the juice they need to get the job done. I guess I don’t know the answer to that one, but it’s probably a combination of both. They would probably buy a new $15,000, four stoke beast if they had the cash. Maybe Obama’s stimulus package can help them out with that. I know, not really a shovel ready project, but…
Second, during my time on search and rescue, I learned that you should always “train how you rescue”. Meaning, if you are going to use snowmobiles to help access and stage for an emergency situation in the backcountry…then you should probably do the same thing during training. Not necessary to make things easier, but to practice riding skills (something tells me the Jenny Lake rangers aren’t sled-necks), as well as techniques for hauling gear. As many of you know, for some reason, gear just never wants to stay on a snowmobile, so a good system of lashing ans strapping is imperative.
Thirdly, honestly….I can’t think of a better place for the rangers to hold a training exercise other than at the bottom of Wimpys. It’s not like it’s in the middle of the town square and there is a good probability that in the event of an actual emergency, the Death Canyon/Whitegrass trailhead would most likely be the access point they would use. Many skiers access the mountains out of this trailhead and it is probably more likely they could actually use a snowmobile in the terrain out of this trailhead…as opposed to that near Bradley/Taggart Lake. Also, there is probably more likely a need for a rescue in the Southern Teton’s as opposed to the Northern Range, so again…”train like you rescue”.
I ski Wimpy’s alot. In the past, I have seen snowmobile tracks on the approach. Mostly in the early season and I’ve waved it off as rangers finishing up some pre-winter maintenance on the facilities around the summer trailhead, or the guys from the electric company working on the meter or power lines. I know all of us users of the park are thankful to have such a well trained and prestigious crew of rescue personal there if we need them, and I know this probably wouldn’t even have been a topic a month ago. I guess the one question I do have though is, if it wasn’t the ranger’s call to use the sleds…who’s was it?
To learn more about the Jenny Lake Rangers and to hear about the rescues they’ve been involved with over the past 30 years, listen to Renny Jackson speak at 7pm tonight at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Click here for more details.