Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (RMRG) does not charge for helping
those injured or lost in
the mountains. Experience has shown that fear of charges for rescue can delay or altogether
prevent legitimate calls for help. Delays may increase the risks for both the individuals
needing rescue and the rescuers. An example:
On the 26th of January 2013, three climbers were rappelling off the Third Flatiron (photo, right) around
sunset after climbing part way up the East Face route on an unseasonably warm winter day.
As they pulled their ropes from one of the anchors, their rope became stuck above them while
they were still about 200' above the base of the cliff (lower photo, right).
Third Flatiron, Click to enlarge
"After the rope got stuck we attempted to free it ourselves, and then asked for help from
nearby climbers. When neither of those solutions worked we discussed calling for help for probably
90 minutes", said one of the climbers. Rain started to fall, and despite being stuck 200 feet
off the ground and not having appropriate clothing and equipment for the now dark, cold, and
rainy conditions, the climbers still delayed in calling for help. They eventually called 911
and RMRG responded. Volunteer rescuers climbed above the stranded party on rain-soaked slick
rock, established lowering anchors, and used the anchors to assist the climbers to the ground.
While hiking out with the stranded party, RMRG learned that the stuck climbers were college
students who feared that they could not afford to pay for the costs of the rescue. The stuck
climbers had assumed that rescuers would charge for services. The climbers said "we didn't
know that the rescuers were volunteers and that they don't charge to rescue people."
It is likely that if the climbers had not delayed a call for help, the technical access
to the stuck climbers would have been achieved in dry conditions which would have been a safer
climb for rescuers and become a faster rescue. Temperatures that night fell to near freezing,
luckily the underdressed climbers were still able to function and assist in their own rescue.
The stuck climbers were reasonably equipped to complete the climb in daylight and with good
weather. They were not prepared for complications such as a stuck rope, darkness or deteriorating
First, they attempted to solve the stuck rope problem themselves, then they asked for
assistance from nearby climbers. These were appropriate actions in their situation. However,
even if self rescue is being attempted, RMRG still encourages calling for help early. If the
problem is solved before RMRG arrives, then rescuers go home relieved. If not, rescuers are
on scene earlier. In this case it would have meant the difference between a dry and quick
rescue; and a wet, cold, and more dangerous one.
Stuck climbers location, lower Third Flatiron, Click to enlarge
RMRG and the overwhelming majority of mountain rescue teams in the United States are comprised
entirely of volunteers. Volunteer rescuers enjoy using their skills and experience to help
others in need. Rescuers are excited to provide assistance any time someone is lost, injured,
or doesn’t believe they can safely get themselves back home.
RMRG would like to thank the three anonymous stuck climbers who volunteered to share their
story and who offered to help spread the word about the No-Charge-For-Rescue philosophy that
guides the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, the
Mountain Rescue Association (PDF), the Colorado Search
and Rescue Board, the
National Association for Search and Rescue, the
National Park Service
and the US Coast Guard.