Salt Lake County SAR preps for hiking callouts with fitness test

May 13, 2024, 11:02 PM

HOLLADAY Salt Lake County Search and Rescue spent Monday night prepping for an expected busy summer season, by putting the team to the test at one of the places they respond to frequently.

Giving a countdown, Todd Taylor checked his watch.

“You go 30 seconds,” he said. “25 seconds… are you ready?”

The hiker he was talking to, quickly took off on the Mount Olympus Trail as Taylor recorded the time.

As a Salt Lake County Search and Rescue Squad Leader, Taylor’s job was to keep track of the time it took team members to hike up the trail for a pre-summer fitness test.

“If you can’t do the fitness test, then you’re probably not eligible to be deployed on a rescue,” Taylor said.

Monday’s hike wasn’t about climbing all the way to the top. SAR volunteers needed to hike up the first two miles– which Squad Leader Alexis Abelow said is 1,800 vertical feet in under 50 minutes.

She explained that Salt Lake County SAR responds to Mount Olympus regularly, making it the perfect place to ensure team members can successfully go on rescues.

“It’s a great training ground,” she said. “We want to make sure we can carry the gear we need to get to anybody that needs assistance, and that we can do it in a timely manner.”

Squad Leaders Todd Taylor (L) and Alexis Abelow (R) keep track of times for the SAR fitness test (KSL TV)

“In addition to timing the hike, volunteers must wear a 20-pound pack as they simulate a real rescue,” Abelow said. “We definitely carry water, light, food. And then we may be having extra litters, extra wheels, things to make sure that we can get our patients down the mountain.”

Hikers urged ‘to do their work’

Just as the SAR team prepares, Abelow urged hikers to do their work, too. She said this time of year conditions toward the trailhead may be dramatically different from the top.

“If your route has a significant amount of elevation gain, make sure that you’ve brought traction devices. Make sure you’ve brought maybe an ice ax or anything that you might need,” she said. “It’s easy to forget when it’s summer down low, that there’s still snow and winter conditions up high.”

She also recommended hikers carry enough food, water, a light source, and a charged phone. Abelow said hikers should know the route and research trail conditions ahead of time, and try not to hike alone.

Taylor counted how many people embarked on Monday’s fitness test hike, saying there were 27 people from the team on the mountain.

One of the SAR team groups hikes back down after having passed the test. (KSL TV)

Every step counts

The team knows that when every step counts in saving lives, it’s important to be ready. One of the groups of volunteers hiked back down together.

“We did it,” one of them said, as they reached the parking lot.

Squad Leader Sean Tropsa, who was among the group, said, “this was not my fastest time” at 35 minutes.

But still, it’s well below the 50-minute limit.

“It just gives us a baseline so we can know about how quickly it’s going to take us to respond,” he said. “Most people that are going to be hurt are usually hurt within the range that we go up today.”

Having aced the test, he’s ready for when that first hiking call comes out.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of this with even more sun,” Tropsa said. “This is a good start to the season.”

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Salt Lake County SAR preps for hiking callouts with fitness test