In late January I had the opportunity to complete the winter semester of University of New Mexico’s Diploma in Mountain Medicine, offered through their International Mountain Medicine Center. This is an intense program designed to offer the highest level of mountain medicine and rescue skills and is open to physicians, mid levels, nurses, and paramedics and is internationally accredited through ICAR, UIAA, and ISMM. The program consists of 200 hours of both online and practical sessions and is world class.
I flew into Albuquerque late Friday night and early Saturday morning I met up with the eleven other students in my class, a diverse set of physicians from across the country. Saturday morning we met on the UNM campus where we were tested on knots and had our gear inspected. Following some didactics we headed outside where we tested climbing gear and recorded failure forces on carabiners, ropes, prusiks, etc. From there we headed into the Sandia foothills for field airway lectures followed by education on using a Stokes litter. After a brutal patient scenario using the Stokes off trail through the cholla and prickly pears it was on to an end of the day gathering at the UNM Emergency Department Chair’s house.
Sunday morning it was out to the foothills again. We spent the day reviewing personal and rescue anchors, followed by rappelling and ascending. It was a good chance to unlearn some bad habits and to work on ascending, which I had never done before. We had the opportunity to use both prusiks as well as my favorite, using a Grigri and a ropeman.
Monday morning it was back out onto the rock, but this time for rescue rope skills. We learned to set up both lowering and raising systems. We became familiar with multiple rescue belay devices, but in keeping with a light and fast approach favored by the program we spent more time using a scarab. We built haul systems with mechanical advantage set ups, going from 3:1, to 5:1, and finally to 9:1 systems. We also learned systems for lowering two rescuers simultaneously.
Tuesday was on to southwest Colorado. We split into two groups, with six of us headed to Ouray and the other six to a cabin up at Red Mountain Pass. Much of the day was spent on the drive to Ouray. That evening we had a lecture on hypothermia followed by the infamous hypothermia lab. I was one of two volunteers for our group who had to first strip to a pair of shorts, followed by being doused in cold water to speed cooling, and finally buried in snow for 20 minutes. I was then placed in a hypothermia wrap, but didn’t truly warm up until a hot shower.
The following morning was a highlight of the trip, where we headed to the Ouray Ice Park for a morning of ice climbing. We learned how to climb with ice tools and crampons, place ice screws, v thread anchors, as well as raising and lowering from a top belay position. This day was truly a treat with beautiful weather and great ice. We then drove up to Red Mountain Pass to a cabin. We dug a quinzee as well as some trench shelters and several of us slept outside in these.
Thursday we spent the day in the field getting our AAIRE level 1 certification. We covered team and partner searches as well as learning to understand the snowpack by digging snow pits. We then ran a night multiple casualty scenario to wrap up the day. Many of us spent the night outside again.
On Friday we packed up and headed into Silverton to coordinate with their EMS/SAR group in the most avalanche prone terrain in the lower 48. A chopper equipped with an avalanche beacon came in and coordinated with us for a rescue scenario. From there we headed up to Molas Pass for another large, multiple victim avalanche scenario. Throughly exhausted, we then drove back to Albuquerque.
Saturday we went to the Sandia Mountain crest where we covered low angle rescue work and reviewed crevasse rescue. It was also a chance to review some of our techniques for the practical exam which was to occur the last day. I spent the evening reviewing rope systems before turning in.
Sunday was the last day of the semester. We were back into the Sandias onto the rock for some review in the morning followed by practical skill testing. Our skill testing required timed anchor building with a rappel, a timed rope ascent, building a rescue belay followed by converting it to a haul system using a 3:1/5:1/9:1 mechanical advantage progression, and then demonstration of the Kiwi Coil. We finished the day with our evaluation followed by dinner at the program directors house.
This was a spectacular and intense semester. I still have a midterm to take and then will be starting the online portion for the summer semester soon after. The class is top notch with outstanding faculty and I look forward to working on reps with ropes this spring so that I can head into the summer session well prepared.