SAR Tech is the best job in the world. We are so fortunate to receive incredible training for the most diverse skillset in Canada. Not only is the training and experience phenomenal but we are part of a huge Canadian-wide system of search and Rescue.
For years it has been difficult for potential candidates or even just interested people to find information about us. It is our mission to close the gap on 2 major things:
1. Ensuring confidence to Canadians of our Search and Rescue capability,
availability, and priority of keeping people safe.
2. Making the pathway to becoming a SAR Tech more accessible to potential
3. This extends beyond SAR Tech to any career or goal you want to pursue
The content on this site was prepared or accomplished by Dylan Weller and Jonathan Kovacs in their personal capacity. Any views or opinions expressed or represented in this podcast are personal and belong solely to the podcast hosts and their guests and do not represent those of people, institutions, or organizations that the hosts or guests may or may not be affiliated or associated within a professional or personal capacity. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. The names, dates, or personal details may have been changed or removed to protect confidentiality.
Not too long ago we threw everything we had at an idea. We learned that we hadn’t thrown everything we had; we have more. The SAR Take podcast has begun to accomplish what was set out to do; sharing stories and learning about some incredible people along the way.
“Not everyone wants to become a SAR Tech”
There’s no truer statement. It doesn’t have to be 100% the subject, sometimes it is the principal. Replace “become a SAR Tech” with any goal and you have what we want to help with. There are specific things about becoming a SAR Tech, the paperwork for example, but there are parallels to any goal. Maybe you want to run a marathon, get a university degree, or simply point your life in some direction. We are building a platform that helps with any of this.
There is a gap in Canada we want to fill; Access to real, unaltered, un-bias information about joining the military, obtaining any goal, succeeding in your current career, options for your future career, or exiting the military.
There are recruit centers and you 100% have to seek this resource out but the reality is they have the job of recruiting you; there’s incentive for them. We are the third party, unbiased resource to ensure you make the best decision for yourself. But we are current members! We have real experience with the system and can put context to a lot of the information out there.
Already a member? Awesome! We want to guide you to achievement in your current position or new goals, even personal goals.
I met Alfred Barr on selection, but selection is intense and its all about survival so although you are technically working as a team, you’re really there for yourself and the pursuit of the best job in Canada. We then, of course, spent a year together on SAR course 49, and SAR course is where you get to really know your course mates. Now, there are a ton of things to know Al Barr, but one of the first things I learned about him was that he liked to run… like a lot. It was obvious too, within just a few strides of a run, could be 1 mile could be 10, he would instantly grow a grin from ear to ear. Al was almost always smiling, but when he ran it was different.
I remember once asking Al about running and it went something like this:
Dylan: “so like, how far have you actually ran?”
Al: “jeeze, ha I don’t know. I suppose I’d have to get out training logs, do some math, I’m sure I could figure…”
Dylan: “at one-time dude. what’s the furthest you’ve run at once”
Al: “oh haha. I ran 100 miles once.”
Dylan: “YOU RAN 100 MILES! dude that is crazy, and dumb.”
Al: “ha, ya it is. Don’t ever do it”
I would later come to find out, after his passing, that he didn’t just run 100 miles. He won the race. That’s just who Al is, he didn’t want to brag or add any unnecessary details, I asked a question and he humbly answered.
So when it came to deciding what I could do in honor of my friend, the answer came very quick and very clear. I had to run. Far. Further then I wanted, further then I thought I could, far enough that there was a possibility of not completing the run. 100 miles.
I decided on doing the Capes 100 race in Cape Chignecto Park Nova Scotia, a 100-mile unforgiving trail run that boasts nearly 14 000 feet of elevation gain.
Before the start of the race, Steffi sent me a post Al wrote about why he ran. It brought me to tears as I read it aloud to my wife, it affirmed I was doing this for the right reasons. I’ll share a small part of it that I kept coming back to in my head during the race;
“I run because it makes me feel alive like really nothing else does. I love the challenge running offers. The camaraderie and physical and mental benefits. I love to push myself and discover a strength I never knew I had. I’m building my mind to believe what my body can do.” -Alfred Barr
5am Saturday morning, finally, 1 hour to the race start. I made a coffee with my jet boil, crushed some oat balls and a few eggs and got my running vest ready. The hour flew by and next thing I knew I was standing at the start line amongst probably 300 people. And ill admit, I looked a little out of place. If you don’t know me well, I’m not much of a runner. 205 pounds, muscular build, 6 feet tall. Some of these attributes would serve me well, such as climbing steep hills as I had the quads to power through, but some proved to be a hindrance, these runner types could seemingly glide across the ground without making noise while my fat ass pounded with each step. meh, can’t have it all I suppose ;).
My wife and I spent a lot of time discussing the race, and what the best attack plan was that would give me the best chance of success. Since I knew quitting wasn’t a thing I was going to do, all I needed to make sure was to meet all the time caps. At each aid station (there were 15) I had to meet a 21.6min/mile pace, at 100km I had to be less than 22 hours, and 36 hours was the total cutoff. The plan was to bank lots of miles while I was fresh and “early” in the race so if anything would happen, time would be on my side. The max I had ever run prior to this race was 20 mile, so there’s a lot of uncharted territories. I started the race by walking the first mile, this would ensure I didn’t go too hot and get caught up in the moment. I would then do an interval of 2 miles running, 1-mile power walking, for as long as possible with the exception of hills. Walk fast uphill, run downhill. This worked for the first 12 miles except most of this was on sand/rocks on the beach, very annoying to run or walk on, but stunningly beautiful.
At 12 miles I saw my “crew” a.k.a Becky. She had a giant cut out head of me which was hilarious and gave everyone a morale boost. I changed my clothes, took a poop, and ate some food as I would now not see Beck until mile 50! nearly 12 hours later.
The next 38 miles were through Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, I completely underestimated the terrain. I guess I don’t really know what I was expecting, but this trail was gnarly. huge downhill sections with lots of switchbacks followed by huge sections of uphill with NO switchbacks, straight uphill. Heres a picture of the Cape:
The trail goes all the way down to the water, then all the way back up to the top about 6 or 7 times. It was crazy, all single-track trail with roots and rocks that I found so difficult to get a good pace through it, slow down, speed up, slow down, ugh.
Eventually, it was the halfway mark, which meant I got to see Becky and change my shoes… it also meant I had another 50mile to go, and at this point, I was hardly running anymore, it was more of a shuffle, followed by walking…
The halfway point was awesome, Beck shared with me the support I had been getting throughout the day and it blew me away. I was sore, I was tired, I had hours and hours ahead of me. Al’s family members had sent videos thanking me and giving encouraging words. It was overwhelming, I cried, even as I write this now I’m choking up because it was so obvious how special my buddy Al was to so many people, and a simple act of doing something in memory of a friend can mean a lot to people. It was surreal. I hugged Becky, and she whispered “relentless forward motion”.
Those 3 words, which I had learned from Al, have become so meaningful over the last few years. Well over the next 20 hours they would become paramount to my forward progress in the race.
The next checkpoint really challenged the “why” of this race. It was the 100km checkpoint, and it was back at the start/finish line. Got here about 18 hours (4 hours ahead of the cutoff). It was midnight, getting a bit cooler, but the worst part was I was 200m from my tent. I could just call it, go to sleep, 100km is no joke, and honestly AL would have been stoked I did 100km, but he would have high fived me an then ran another 60km. So I got out of my chair, turned the headlamp on, and got to work.
It was insanely hard to get over the fact that although 60% of the race was done, I had about 14 hours to go. It even got to a point where I didn’t count the miles I just went by hours, what a crazy concept, 3 hours to next aid station.
The last 60km was a 30km out to a turnaround and then 30km back on the same trail. And although we had already gone through the crazy hills of cape chignecto, this leg of the race had the biggest ascents of the race. I’m talking miles, rather hours of uphill. My plan? power walk the whole thing. I had to just place a foot in front of the other and I would finish. This is where I went to a dark place and had to persevere. I was a wreck. One moment I would be motivated and stoked that I was “almost done” then next I’d be holding back tears. I just kept visualizing the finish line, and how good it would feel, and how proud Al would be.
For about an hour into this leg I could hear a group behind me slowly catching up, it took them probably another hour to catch up but I knew that meant they were moving a little faster than me but probably not so fast that I couldn’t match their pace. When we finally met I recognized one of the people immediately, Lisa! she was a friend of Becky and use to work out in our garage! how cool. So I asked if their plan was to power walk too and if I can join them. It was so nice to be with a group and it pushed my pace which kept me ahead of the cutoff. We were getting roughly 3 miles every hour.
I was still doing relatively well at the uphills, but going downhill was increasingly more painful. My left shin began to take a lot of the load as I was trying to ease tension from my knees. As the sun started coming up I decided to back the pace off and let them go ahead. This brought me to 1 Aid station before seeing Becky at the turnaround. I sat down briefly and saw someone doing the same, I hadn’t seen this guy before. Turns out he wanted to quit and had been sitting here for over an hour. “no, you’re not quitting dude, let’s go. stand up and we’ll walk this thing out”. He reluctantly stood, filled his water and we set off.
All I focused on for the next few hours was seeing Becky at the turnaround, I was giving everything my body had to move forward and I had 30+km to go. But Al always said you have 20x more then you think. Relentless Forward Motion.
Me and my new walking pal Shawn talked about our “why” for the race, we talked about finishing, and sometimes hours went with no talking, it was nice. During the last little bit before the turnaround, it was silent and I was thinking about Becky and what an incredible wife I have just sitting at a point waiting for me to round the corner. I’m so lucky to have someone that would give up a weekend just to support a project of mine. with about 400m to go (all downhill) I saw Beck. She had walked up the hill to meet me and walk together. I immediately broke down into tears, she gave me a huge hug.
I spent as little time at the turnaround as possible, took me 7 hours to get there from the 100km mark and I wasn’t getting any faster so absolute BEST I would be 7 hours to the finish. Also whenever I stopped it took a minute or two to get walking again. But now I’m walking to the finish. And the sun was coming up which meant the night was over, ahhhh.
There was so much uphill on the way to the turnaround I was dreading the downhill, it was agonizing. I learned that walking backward was slightly better, so every time we were going downhill I turned around and walked backward. It also started raining and would rain for the next 5 hours. By the next aid station, my downhill was so painstakingly slow that my bud Shawn pulled ahead and carried on, I don’t blame him. He wanted to be done as much as I did.
There are things positive about walking alone (for me anyway) I felt I complained less about my pain, breath, step, breath, step. I didn’t really want to talk anymore, and I was starting to hear and see things so I spent a lot of energy ignoring that. The other incredibly difficult thing was I hadn’t eaten anything really solid since the 100km, I was just drinking ginger ale and water. Had absolutely no appetite and I was crazy exhausted and tired.
At the final aid station before the finish line, there was another guy, he was having some foot problems and I was able to convince him to walk with my sorry ass. He agreed and we shared some miles together. Every now and then I would get a bit ahead, then he would, then we’d walk together. Either way, it was nice to share the misery with someone. The only easy part was reminding myself why I was doing this, which would put a smile on my face.
Out of nowhere, Becky came up the trail. I almost thought I was imagining it. And briefly thought ‘i must be nearly there!’ that is until she told me she had been walking for nearly 2 hours. Again! what a support crew, she came all the way up those crazy hills to help me through the finish line. what a wife. For the next few hours, we talked (mainly Beck while I tried to listen and ignore my shin pain) about our little Boy, we talked about how proud AL would be, how proud people back home are. It was an unreal moment, and something I will never forget. Every 30 min or so I would stop, Beck would hug me, I would let out a few tears, and then carry on. Relentless Forward Motion.
The last mile of the race is in the marshy wooded area, I knew this because the first mile of the out and back was in the marshy wooded area. So I just kept looking for that turn, and envisioning it, and thinking about the finish line… its right there…
Some wooded areas, a bunch more hills, and a few flat uneven spots later we came around a corner to a hill. At the bottom of this hill, i could see the turn to the marsh. There it is, 1 mile to go.
Id like to think I picked up my pace but I doubt I did. The one thing for sure is that I had a huge smile on my face, I was going to finish. Beck walked with me for another 15 minutes or so and then sped ahead so she could watch me cross the finish line. That gave me the last 10 or so minutes alone. I relived the previous 160km in that 10 min. I thought about all the people I had seen, talked to, I even had met a few people that knew Al. I came to realize why Al like these challenges, and I finally understood what he meant by what I quoted at the beginning of the article “The camaraderie and physical and mental benefits. I love to push myself and discover a strength I never knew I had.” Al liked to feel alive, he liked to test what the human body was capable of, he ran because he could. It was in those moments I realized how lucky I was to be out there because AL would have done anything to go through what I just did. I had just “Carried the Fire”.
The final corner I could hear the cheers of someone ahead of me crossing the finish line, my turn next. Just before exiting the woods I saw Lisa again. She had arguably a bigger smile then I had “Dylan! you did it!” I gave her a hug, it was so nice to be back at the farm. There the finish line lay 200m ahead with a huge line of people clapping and cheering. It filled me up inside, I was so shocked, proud, happy, every emotion fled through my body. With about 50m to go, I sort of jogged, my legs were crazy heavy.
I immediately hugged my wife. It was the most sincere, true, loving hug I had ever given. She never waivers and is the absolute rock of our marriage. She knew how much this project meant to me and wanted me to fulfill it more then I did.
I can’t thank my friends and family at home enough for the kind words, messages, and cheering from home. I truly thought of everyone during this adventure and you guys helped me more than you can imagine. Don’t hesitate to ask the same from me if you ever need that little boost.
And to Kate and Jules, thank you so much for looking after our baby boy while we were away for the weekend. You guys played a massive role in the success of this mission and I can’t thank you enough. It was the first time Beck was without TJ for more than a day, and it’s incredible to have friends like you that we trust and love.
As for my buddy Alfred, there you go bud. You told me to never do it, and I can’t help but think you’d laugh at me if I told you I did. I think about you all the time, and wish you could have seen me out there. Miss you bud. Rescue Brothers Forever 49.
Wow did this ever get away from me! We’ve been done para phase for a month now! Sorry for the delay.
Para phase was amazing! April 2nd we hopped into a plane and headed to Arizona, home of one of the best drop zones in the world. (Drop zone being the term for a place people skydive at). We spent a month here in really nice accommodations. For the first time on course we cooked for ourselves, what a nice treat.
Week 1 consisted of static line jumping from higher then normal altitudes. Static line means your parachute is attached to the plane in a manner that it will open immediately upon exiting the aircraft. Most the guys had never jumped before so how do we learn? We jump out at 5000 feet and hope for the best. Of course we did some in class theory on how to fly a canopy, but that’s pretty much it. The plan was for everyone to have a radio and the staff would guide us down. The radios failed and the 49ers landed all over creation spread across the desert.
After a week of this, and 20 or so jumps it was time to learn free fall (a.k.a skydiving). We all got an incredibly entertaining 6min each in the wind tunnel to get familiar with free fall. I’ve been jumping on my own for a few years so this was very fun to watch guys do it for the first time.
The 2nd week was all free fall. Everyone was assigned a coach who would jump with them for that day (it changed daily). And we did jump after jump all week. It was awesome! Some great stories/video of people tumbling through the air until everyone learned how to be stable. I was fortunate enough to finish my “B Cop” license while I was jumping, basically means I can jump anywhere in the world and I can work towards endorsements and coaching etc. I was pretty pumped.
Week 3 was half free fall and half static line. This is where the work jumps began. As SAR Techs, we don’t operationally skydive, so our meat and potatoes is static line equipment jumps in terrible weather. So we did it (minus the terrible weather). By the end of the week we were jumping from 1500 to 2500 feet with 50 pound kit attached to our front. These are real jumps, the heavy equipment makes the flying characteristics of the canopy different and jumping from so low leaves little room for error.
My kit bag and gear…
Week 4 continued in Arizona with more equipment jumps and the instructors continued to make the jumps progressively more challenging. At the end of the week we got an opportunity of a life time to jump out of a super old war DC3 aircraft. This was the last hoorah for Arizona. It just so happened to be my 100th jump, and probably the best jump ever. I did a 3 way jump with a course mate and my boss, it was insane! And of course I got a pie In the face when I got safely to the ground…
Before we knew it, we were back in Comox and started confined area parachuting. Now things got incredibly interesting. Jumping into smaller and smaller drop zones with bigger and bigger trees surrounding them. Sar Techs jump into the forest, the ocean, mountains, glaciers, you name it… and we train like we fight. 2 weeks of jumping into soccer field size drop zones surrounded by sometimes 200 foot trees. Crazy!
We also did an intentional water jump into Comox Lake. This was the most uncomfortable I have ever been. Drysuit on, personal floatation, parachute, tree let down device, and a 50 pound kit bag, oh plus fins… it was a unique experience to say the least.
Before water jump
After the 2 weeks of confined were done we headed off to Jasper Alberta for mountain phase. But not the end of jumping! Final ops (which is after mountains) consisted of even more challenging parachute situations.
Confined area “crusty”
Again sorry for the late post, and a long one at that. Thanks for reading…
The 49ers were split into 2 groups, half doing one thing while the other half does something else then switch for the afternoon. It’s flying ops!
Tuesday is when flying started, Monday we had a critical care paramedic come in and talk about treating patients in airplanes. This was very informative, we learned some stuff you’d never think about in terms of different equipment working weird and how patients act at altitude and with the plane/helicopter bouncing around ect. Tuesday the fun began.
Our group started in the Cormorant helicopter. We flew out to a remote area of the island and practiced hoisting in and out of the helicopter. What a cool idea! You’re standing on the ground with a 23000 pound (10500kg) helicopter floating 60ft above you and you hoist back into it. We also doubled up as if we had a survivor, so you throw a sling around your buddy and they hug you as you hoist up… pretty cool. The afternoon we learned about different equipment we throw out of our planes to rescue scenes. Different rescue kits and life rafts we throw to people, and some of the scenarios as to why we would throw different kits to different people. All the kits have parachutes so we learned about the different sizes of chutes for different reasons as well.
Wednesday morning we flew in the Buffalo airplane. Not as exciting as the helicopter but still valuable training. We practiced throwing a pump to a boat (in case the boat were taking on water). We threw some training life rafts to a boat. This consists of flying at 300 ft above the water and at a precise moment you throw the kit out the back of the plane. We also did a message drop, so you have a small bundle with a message in it (sometimes a radio) and the plane fly’s at 150ft above the ground and you throw it at a precise moment and try to hit the target.
Wednesday afternoon, our helicopter flight was cancelled… but we more then made up for it Thursday Morning. Half of the group drove down to the sea school and hopped onto a boat and headed off into the ocean. The group I was with headed to the helicopter. After a crew briefing and gathering some equipment the helicopter started up and away we went. We flew out to the ocean to meet our buddies on the boat. With the incredible skill of the pilot he lined the helicopter up with the moving boat and held it there as we one by one hoisted out of the helicopter and onto the boat. This takes a lot of careful maneuvers and hand signals as both the boat and helicopter are moving and the weather/winds/sea are unpredictable. Our buddies on the boat hoisted back into the helicopter and went for a quick flight (since it’s us who were behind on flight hours). They then all hoisted back on the boat and we doubled back into the helicopter. Basically we paired up, one person on the hoist and the other person on the rescue sling we use to rescue people with.
Once back in the helicopter we took off and in flight had to put on all our dive gear. This means; scuba tanks, fins, buoyancy compensator, masks, gloves. On top of the lpy life vest and our hoisting harness. It was quite the experience… before we knew it, we were hovering 10 to 20 feet over Comox Lake with a slight forward speed. With all our gear on, one at a time, we stepped out of the helicopter and entered the water… this was really cool. Once we all gathered, we hoisted one by one back into the chopper.
Now it was off to Goose Spit (close to where we did our sea survival training)… remember, we’re catching up for our missed flight… this time it was a 80 to 100 foot hover and the gear we had on was a harness and some rope. We each repelled down to the ground on a rope… really cool. The helicopter landed this time and we casually walked back on a headed back to base.
We finished the week off with an exam (of course), cleaning up all the gear we used, sorting and drying our stuff, and a nice sunny barbecue for Friday Lunch to end the week and what seems like a marathon of training since Christmas.
Our boss and instructors shook our hands, and said “enjoy the week off, it’s well deserved, but when you get back it’s go go go until Grad week”. We still have a lot of work to do, but a lot of work is behind us. I get to spend the week with my beautiful wife and when I get back we’re off to Arizona for Para-Phase…
Stolen right from my buddy Barr’s blog, here’s a quick clip of sea survival.
This is typically a 4 day course taught to all aircrew in the military. The goal of the course is to teach pilots how to survive with the gear they have if they eject from an aircraft and land in the ocean… remember, they’re pilots not survivalists, so they’re not as comfortable in these positions… We jump out of planes into the ocean intentionally, so naturally the course had a little bit of a different feel to it… more “robust” if you will.
We showed up early on day one and the instructors walked us down to the ocean in our normal clothes. “Into the water! Ditching ditching ditching” We all jumped in to the frigged 8 degree water, hung out for about a minute before being told to hop out… “see how much that sucks?” ask the instructor… “now lets learn how to do this properly and survive”… Great start to the week!
The first day was land instruction all morning, getting familiar with all the sea survival equipment we carry as well as look at some off the stuff we might send out to distressed boats ect. We learned about the theory of sea survival and the pattern to follow that gives the best chance of survival. One of the more important things we did was read over a mission statement from a fellow SAR Tech who actually did get stranded at sea and was left surviving all night in a terrible storm in the Arctic. We lost a brother on this mission, so reading a story from a surviving SAR Tech of his accounts of the mission made it very real, and definitely made everyone pay attention.
In the afternoon we practiced in the water with the 10-man life raft as well as different techniques when you’re surviving with multiple people. One of the things we did was swim together. Everyone lines up with their feet/legs wrapped around the person in front of them and everyone strokes there arms together to move. We swam about 300m, it was quite effective.
The next day was multi-man survival day. They took all 11 of us out to sea and kicked us off the boat with a life raft. With a quick head count we were missing someone, so we inflated our raft and did a quick search followed by a rescue swim to recover him. Once all 11 of us were in the 10 man craft, we carried out our survival pattern. Bailing out water, trying to make fresh water, tying down the raft. I spent the time bailing out water, the waves were pretty decent and the boat would come by to splash us every now and then. A few people didn’t handle the sea as well as others and ended up puking but whatever, the ocean sucks!
The final day was all parachute drills. We learned all about the kit we carry when we intentionally parachute into water, and since we’ll typically be by ourselves we learned about single man survival. The idea of this training was worse case scenario. That worst case scenario goes like this; You parachute out, have a malfunction, cut away your main canopy and now are left with a reserve canopy AND when you land in the water, the winds are high so you end up getting dragged by your parachute… And that is how they trained us. We got into parachute harnesses and they dropped us off the end of a boat and dragged us while we practiced UN-fouling ourselves. We were dropped 3 times and on the 3rd time we actually deployed our survival raft and were expected to survive until picked up by a boat. We were in these tiny-ass rafts for about 90min or so…
Check out the video below!
This phase was more of a big ski trip, kind of like a dangerous, 5 day endurance event in one of the most beautiful places in Canada… the Rockies!
After finally getting home from the arctic, it was a mad dash of ripping kit apart, washing, then repacking, we hopped into 4 rental trucks and left the next morning… like back in week 3, it’s a 2 day drive to Alberta, and we were behind a day so lots to make up for. All we lost, despite the 72 hour delay, was a day of downhill skiing in Lake Louise. We arrived at a hostile in Lake Louise the following day (spent the night in Kamloops BC).
Now began the catch up. We met our mountain guides and had classes all night. This mostly consisted of telling us how dangerous the trip would be. Explaining all the avalanche terrain we would be in, and telling us we will be in the same spots as some people who were recently injured or killed in avalanches… oh and they briefed us on once we were on the glacier, how we would we roped to each other in case someone fell into a crevasse… course I didn’t tell this to Beck until after the trip 😉 we also got issued some additional equipment such as beacons we had to wear (so they could find us in an avalanche), a 240cm probe (for poking avalanche debris to find a person), shovel each (for digging each other out of avalanches) oh! And dehydrated food for all our breakfasts and dinners.
After a quick sleep, we were up and off to the parking lot to begin our journey. We did an hour of beacon searching practice in the parking lot before heading off to the back country.
Day 1: Trail head to Bow Hut.
The first day was a hump to get into our first hut which was just before the glacier. The trip was done on alpine touring skis. And you carried all your own kit (maybe a 50pound rucksack). The way it works is, you’re wearing a downhill ski that you attach what’s called “skins” to. The skins are like a feather-like fabric that sticks to the bottom of your ski. The hairs are aligned in such a fashion that allows the ski to glide forward but it grabs the snow with any resistance backwards. This allows you to essentially walk up hills no problem. Along the way we stopped for some learning opportunities where the mountain guides talked and taught us all kinds of stuff, these guys were incredibly knowledgeable. First we crossed the lake and followed a creek for a bit, then began our climb through the trees to get above tree line. The parking lot was at 1500m (5000ft) and the first hut was at 2100m (6900ft). Day one was 6km (3.8 miles), took 5 hours to reach the hut followed by classes until 930pm (to catch up for the delay) it made for a long day but we were back on schedule. The hut was surprisingly nice! Sure beats pooping in igloos…
Day 2: Bow Hut to Peyto Hut
This is where stuff got real… traveling on glacier. There’s a steep hill right outside the hut that took us right up and onto the glacier. Time to tie into a rope that would be my life line for the following 3 days. We learned more about assessing avalanches and navigating in the mountains. And navigation included probing the snow ahead of you to make sure you were standing on ice instead of a hole that you could fall into. The visibility was pretty poor, and the wind was giving it… after about 6 hours of walking, with a quick lunch break, we could see the next hut and it was a downhill ski to the hut. 8km (5mile) total distance. So you take the skins off your skis and we did some skiing. Got to Peyto Hut around 230pm, and did 3 hours of crevasse rescue practice. In true Sar fashion, this consisted of someone in a rope team intentionally walking into a crevasse and we learned how to rescue them. It was pretty neat; your team (usually 3 + the 1 in the hole) takes up the weight while someone digs a trench to put their skis in to anchor the person to. Then you build a rope system to haul them out. To add insult to injury the weather was picking up to a blizzard but we pressed on to finish the training. Finally got our boots off, ate some dinner, another class or 2 then bed… ahhhh, tomorrow is a long one.
Day 3: Peyto to Belfour hut (the other side of the glacier)
I was up for breaking trail. The first hour and a half I broke trail up the hill we skied down the previous day. I learned a TON from the guide, it’s not as easy as just walking, there’s specific ways to gain elevation, you can’t just go straight up… we also had very low visibility, all I could see was white. With no reference ahead, I couldn’t even tell if I was on a hill or not or if I was going right or left or anything. Used a compass, the sun, and seldom could you see a mountain to use as a reference. I managed to get within 150m of our first way point… After 90min we were up the hill, switched leaders, and continued… not 2 min later I hear “Hard Left! HARD LEFT!” a course mate nearly walked into a crevasse, I can’t explain, but all you see is white if there are no people in front of you to get a reference. Luckily the mountain guide somehow noticed and we avoided it. The leader probed the ground, took a step, probe, step, probe etc… several hours later we crossed over a ridge, we had to remove our skis and walk over rock to pass to the other side, pretty sketchy, then a short ski down to the base of a mountain. We had some time and the weather cleared a bit so we dumped our ruck sacks a trekked up the mountain to summit Vulture Peak (picture included) 3000m (10000ft) elevation. After a quick picture we took skins off again and skied down to our packs. It was now a 45min downhill ski to the next hut. 8 hour 20min total and 14.36km (almost 9miles) travel. Boots off ahhhhh!, quick lecture on properties of snow and one of the best sleeps of the trip.
Vulture peak is the highest peak in the picture above.
Day 4: Belfour back to Bow Hut
That 45min downhill ski I mentioned yesterday? You guessed it! Back up it, back over the ridge walking on rock and a ski down to almost Bow Hut. We stopped just before the glacier turns back to mountain for a few things. We dumped our packs and quickly summited a less impressive mountain then vulture peak, hung out a bit then skied down to our packs. We learned the most efficient way to dig a giant ass hole. It was crazy! In 3 teams of 4 we all dug 1.5 meter (5feet) deep, 2 meter wide hole in 3min. We also did some snow tests to learn about how different layers affect avalanches and such… we practiced looking for buried beacons and practiced assembling our probes and shovels quickly in case of emergency. After nearly 4 hours there was a gentle ski down to Bow Hut. It was a full day and about 6.5km (4miles) distance covered. The final night was pretty chill, shooting the shit and hanging out.
Day 5: Bow Hut to Parking lot
This was a good day, we did the reverse of day 1 so basically all down hill until the lake and then a flat ski across to the trucks. Took us half the time ha! 2.5 hours. On the lake we skied as a big group and did a debrief; everyone sharing stuffed they learned and the mountain guides said their last words. We were back at the trucks and a shower was a short 5 hour drive away! Got back to Kamloops, had a shower, got a hair cut and shaved all the facial hair… GASP!! then ate some delicious food… We then headed back to Comox to do some post-ex and back to work the next morning.
Another long update, but the support from everyone is amazing!
Arctic phase began and ended with flight delays. Where we went is very remote, and with unpredictable weather patterns and aircraft availability it’s expected to be difficult travel there and back. I’ll attach a photo to show how far north we went.
After arriving at our plane for 6am we sat around in the plane until about 3pm before taking off, we made it to Edmonton Alberta by 5pm and stayed overnight as the flight crew expired and couldn’t fly us to Resolute. The next morning we left and made it to the Arctic 6.5 hours later. Immediately upon stepping off the plane the wind hit us like a ton of bricks. It was -53 with the windchill and the winds were over 50km/hr. In a short 300 meter walk to the building is was suddenly all too real, the Arctic is a rough place to be.
We spent the first night at the Arctic Training Center. Basically a hotel, it was actually quite nice. We still had some administration and some classroom lectures to finish before we commenced the survival portion of the course. This began “acclimatization phase”
To acclimatize to the weather the instructors exposed us to the outside at increasing intervals. If we were just tossed outside we would surely succumb to medical issues and thus ineffective training. The 1st morning was some lectures and an exam followed by a 4km walk out to Crystal City. I can’t explain the Arctic… it’s wild. It is basically an extremely cold Desert. It doesn’t really snow, but rather the wind just blows around the already existing snow… everything freezes, everything.
When we got to crystal city we were greeted by the staff in a 400 square foot garage. Crystal city is basically 4 weather havens (small huts), a few sea containers (for the staff), and a small garage. .. that’s it! Where do you go to the washroom you ask? Well you can literally pee anywhere, but often we made a “Kovick” (wrong spelling) which is a block of snow dedicated for peeing on. And they made an igloo for pooping in. So yes, i’ve pooped in an igloo… several times.
We were still acclimatizing so the first few nights were in a weather haven. During the 1st day we would take a 30min break every hour and a half or so to warm up our hands and dry some kit. We learned how to build fighter trenches, which is an emergency shelter for the arctic. You basically saw rectangular blocks of snow (1.3 feet x 2 feet x 5inches appox) in a line that makes a trench in the snow, then you lean the blocks over top of the trench to make a roof, throw a door on and you’re done. Not a very good shelter but it gets you out of the wind. We were told to climb in our trench and experience what it’s like… we ended up staying in there for an hour, not the best…
The next day was emergency snow caves. You dig a hole in the side of a hill big enough for you to sit in, throw a door on, light a candle and that’s it. This was day 2 so we worked the full morning before a long indoor break to warm up and dry, then worked all afternoon before a break instead of stopping every hour or so. We also had to stay in our snow caves for just over an hour… not as cold as the trench… it was -37 outside and appox -20 in the cave.
That night we learned about signals in the arctic, made some really cool Arctic Candles and lit a bunch of flares/smoke etc. We got one last night in the weather haven… the next morning we met outside the garage with our “essential gear” and received our mission. The scenario was we parachuted into the arctic and we were days from getting back out. As one of the sergeants put it “let’s just say everyone is dead… so you only have to look after yourselves…” In teams of 4, survive. Commence “survival phase”.
Now we were 100% outside 24 hours per day. Day 1 we set up our tents and built a big wall out of snow blocks to shelter from wind, it took all day to setup camp. When we were done, we got our stove going for warm water and got some sleep. It was cold, no matter how hard you try the tent doesn’t get very warm… maybe 15 degrees better then outside, you can always see your breath, and everything freezes. It was quite the experience!
The next day we began working on our igloos. This quickly became a difficult task as we were having difficulty finding good enough snow. And to add insult to injury our Inuit instructor had to leave. So we were left with bad snow and lack of expertise… don’t get me wrong, our instructors are amazing but you can’t beat 30 years of igloo building experience. In any case, we had to persevere, and so we did. 2 days (well into the night of the 2nd day) we all finished our igloos… Now Al Barr won’t say it in his post so ill say it in mine… (check out his blog @ http://sarcourse49.com), Barr and Pat must have been Inuit in their previous lives. While we all struggled (including instructors at times) they built the perfect igloo… I swear the local Inuit’s came by to take notes… it was incredible! anyway… we slept in our igloos and it sucked.
This was most of our worst nights… we weren’t allowed our stove to heat the igloo up and since it took so long to build we were unable to chink all the holes with snow… I don’t know if I slept more then an hour or so as it was -43 outside and all we had was our sleeping bags.
The next day we built our multi-man snow caves… these were awesome! Spent all day digging into the side of a hill to create a hole big enough for 4 people to sleep in side by side. Wasn’t the most comfortable but it was way better then the igloo and warmer with 4 dudes in there.
The following morning, we were told that a helicopter saved us and we were finished our survival portion. Commence “post ex”… back to the weather havens! Hit the reset button! We all got to dry our gear and truly get warm again. Still some work to do but the survival slash “appreciation” portion was complete. The rest of the day was clean up and riffle range. An instructor built a polar bear on a sled. The plan was to pull the bear towards 2 people with riffles and shoot at it. Then out came the shot guns, it was pretty fun.
The next morning was final ex. We received a mission to search for someone near our camp. Upon finding them we as a group of 11 setup a camp, gave medical care, and eventually extricated the patient back to crystal city. It was basically accumulation of everything we learned as well as a learning experience to how some of our kit works in the arctic. It was crazy to see that in a 1 mile walk, our medication froze, everything froze! Made work difficult.
That night we had a small party for the end of another phase. The staff cooked us up some seal, caribou, arctic salmon. All meat that is rare to us back home, incredibly tasting. We also played some very strange Inuit games, one game included putting a rope around 2 peoples foreheads while they balanced on 1 leg and tried to pull each other off balance… the Arctic is a boring place. But it was the inaugural annual tournament of Inuit games and we eventually crowned Josh Terry as the well deserved champion.
The final day in crystal city had us doing some more cleaning and packing up, and crusin around on snow mobiles, all pretty fun stuff. Then the interesting part… getting home.
Upon arrival back to the Arctic Training Center, our plane was already delayed 24 hours. That quickly became 48 hours and 72 hours later we got home, with of course an over night in Edmonton again. The only good thing is the food was really good at the Arctic Training Center, out in Crystal City we ate rations, so normal food was nice. But they only had so many movies, which got old pretty fast. But eventually we made it home, 72 hours late, unpacked everything, washed then repacked everything and back in trucks driving 2 days to Alberta for “Winter Ops”.
The final week of dive phase has come and gone… And no better way to end the week then with SAR Techs.
We’re back in Comox this week at the Canadian Forces Search and Rescue Sea Survival School for CSRD (confined space rescue diving). Monday we did some administration as per usual and a bunch of lectures on what we’re getting up to this week. We were taught about vessel stability, when to dive into an overturned boat, when not to. And we were taught a lot about how dangerous doing this is. Diving into an overturned vessel is the most dangerous aspect of a SAR Techs scope of practice. There has even been incidences in a training environment where people have almost drowned. Of course they make it as safe as possible, but things do happen.Thankfully, everything went really well this week. Learned a TON.
The instructors doing a dry run of rescue procedures…
Tuesday and Wednesday all we did was dive. Like always it is walk before you run so the first dive was a “confidence dive. Teams of 2 dove, then got out, next 2, out, next 2 ect all day until everyone has dove twice.
The confidence dive was a quick emergency procedure drill (take your mask off, switch to emergency air, put a different mask on) then diving with a blindfold on while your partner on Comms directed you around the overturned vessel. Then we got out for the next team to dive. While you’re not diving, we all rotated through different positions on the surface needed for the dive. 2 people have to hold the divers lines and give or take slack accordingly. 2 people had to be casualties inside the boat. 2 people helped gear up the next divers ect… It made for quite a long day.
Dive 2, they put a casualty in the boat that you had to save. So you pound on the boat and listen for survivors inside. We are only allowed diving if there is confirmed survivors. Once you hear a return of the pounding, you can dive. Your partner (who is also in the water) stays at the surface watching the stability of the boat while you dive in. You are on a communication system so if he tells you to get out, you get out. When you find the person, you do a quick assessment, ask if there are other survivors, give them a small breathing device, give a quick lesson on how to use it and you shove them out of the hole you came through. Your partner meets them at the hatch and pulls them out.
As the dives progressed, they made it slightly more complicated. They started adding obstacles, debris, ropes hanging everywhere, telling you to only enter through a certain entrance. They would also brief the casualties on being aggressive or combative, trying to grab your mask ect. Or sometimes the casualty didn’t speak English, just to make it that much more realistic. It can get pretty hectic, and as much as you want to save the person, the feeling of getting tangled sucks!
Here’s a right-side-up and out-of-water version of the exact boat we were diving into… Looks way different underwater.
Thursday my first dive was around 0430. “night dive” into an upside down boat. You strap all these lights and glow sticks and dive. The darkness made it interesting, depth perception changes, things appear different but it was business as usual.. pound on the hull, listen, dive to the survivor, get them breathing on the secondary supply, and shove them through a hole. The night diving eventually turned to day diving and we each completed our “PO Check” to qualify us as Rescue Divers.
Friday we wrote our exam, all passed, and we headed back to the main school for what turned out to be a full day of administration. We’re about to go full swing into back to back phases of this course. On Tuesday we leave for the most northern habitable place in Canada for Arctic phase, we will be incommunicado for nearly 2 weeks, then we go right into winter ops skiing. So whatever we don’t do now, wont get done until March.
We took a break from diving on Sunday and all went on a ski trip…
Needless to say, you won’t hear from me for a bit… But im sure i will have a lot to tell you guys about in a few weeks time. Thanks for reading.
Dive Phase 4/5 complete… This week was more relaxing then the last few. We were basically done the course and qualified so we did some administration and dove a few times.
As you progress as a SAR Tech you’re constantly upgrading and taking different courses etc. So in 2-3 years time, our course will be back together for a few courses here and there. It just so happened that course 46, I believe, was at the dive school taking their Dive Supervisor course. It was nice seeing some orange again and chatting with some relatively newer SAR Techs. Their course was only a few years ago so its easier to talk about it and avoid the “well back in MY day… etc”.
Because they were on a supervisor course it only made sense to have them supervise us. So most of the dives this week were led by them. Tuesday night we did a Search and Rescue scenario. Typically RCMP would do body recovery from the bottom of a body of water… but you just never know, SAR has been in instances where they had to recover someone. So from 6pm to about 9pm we took turns in teams of 5 doing a line search on the bottom of the ocean… You can’t really see anything so it was pretty difficult, you kind of just feel around…
We only got in 1 fun dive (because we had to help the supervisor course) but my buddy and i managed to catch a pretty big Box crab… saw some neat fish and found an old cannon ball. The rest of the week we did some administration things, took some group photos.
Thursday morning was the “Fleet 5km”. Basically anyone who is available, shows up and its a 5km race. My shins were pretty sore, and there was way too many hills but us 11 took up the majority of the front of the pack (of course with our Pararescue shirts on)… I, incidentally, ran probably my best 5km ever at 19:39… Before the run the guy leading us took us on a Navy ship (the HMCS Vancouver war ship) for a quick tour… We some how made it into the main control room and my buddy Zach quickly pointed at the Captains chair and said “I think I need to sit in this…” sure enough he hoped into the chair, and before his ass hit the finest leather seat in all of NATO “GET OUT OF THAT CHAIR”… oops, he said it felt magnificent.
Above is the sign we made to leave at FDU, we painted the logo in between 2 pieces of plexiglass.
The boat was pretty cool, looks terrible to live in for any period of time longer then we were in there. The rest of Thursday was spent doing a SAR simulated mission task. We were in groups of small dive teams who took a small boat out to search and helicopter crash. Ended up recovering a 200lb dummy from the ocean floor.
On Friday we packed everything up, cleaned everything up, received our dive badge/certificate and we were on our way. The Navy is done with us (thank god) and next week is CSRD (confined space rescue diving) back at the sea school in Comox BC.
Week 3/5 complete. Only one week left in Victoria in the hands of the Navy… it has been a frustrating few weeks with the Navy. They do things in a strange way and it makes things more complicated… but either way we’re almost there.
Another long week. We swam a LOT!
Monday morning we re did the pt test. 1.5mile run, pushups, situps, pullups, 1 mile swim. We all bested our previous times. The week started off really well. The clearance diver selection was underway, and since we can’t get in their way the week was promising to be quiet. But it seemed to turn to a week of being messed with and dealing with some annoying things.
Diving was pretty decent this week, finally did some fun diving, exploring the Pacific. Saw some cool fish, couple dudes found a big box crab. Even though we got it, the supervisor navy dude decided to take it… meh. We got a cool pic.
The mornings this week were classroom and exams here and there. Learned more about diving tables and how to calculate how long you can dive at certain depths ect. We also wrote some physics test and a physiology test.
We swam every morning… Tuesday was a short run that exposed some fatigue and injuries so we swam instead… wednesday was an open water swim, the boat us out to the middle of no where and said “swim back”… Thursday was a “mud run” which had nothing to do with running or mud. We just swam for 90 min. Annnnd Friday we each grabbed a log and took it for an hour swim. Not to mention you fin every time you’re diving… it was a pretty fatiguing week.
Another night dive happened Thursday night. We did a night compass dive. We all taped glow Sticks to our compasses and swam for an hour.
The week ended on a beautiful Friday. Did a fun dive in the morning, ate lunch and cleaned up. We had everything done, everything cleaned, everything put away… ready to leave…… “Akward! Full Gear, ready to dive. GO!”
We had to get fully dressed in dry suits. Go get all of our gear, set everything back up, pull everything back out. Setup tanks, and we did a dive… What?… either way Friday finally came to an end, the gents hung out at our shacks, had a few beer and passed out.
Overall a good week. And one more before we head back into the arms of SAR Techs to do some search and rescue oriented diving. Dive into some capsized vessels etc. We’re excited to get back…