Blog

Injured campers rescued near Trampas

At 4:15pm on October 7, 2018, Taos Search and Rescue activated their team to join a large-scale ongoing rescue at the Trampas trailhead of the Carson National Forest, southeast of Trampas, New Mexico. Two subjects were seriously injured and required a 6-mile evacuation to the trailhead via a litter.

The two subjects were camping near Trampas Lakes at 11,000 feet. In the very early morning, a tree fell onto their tent. Both subjects sustained serious injuries.

 

TSAR members Kenton, Nate and Karlis arrived at incident base at 6:20pm. At this point, Fire and EMS teams had been providing medical care and were evacuating the subjects down to the trailhead. TSAR’s initial responders were tasked, along with three members of Atalaya SAR, with hiking up trail to assist the Fire and EMS teams in the litter evacuation. They departed incident base as Team 5 at approximately 6:45pm. Arriving later from TSAR were members Roy and Brady, who also headed up trail to assist in the litter evacuation, and Gary, who assisted at incident base.

Team 5 reached the subjects and Fire/EMS teams at 8:48pm. More SAR teams arrived from further down-trail, and two new teams were formed: one for each subject. Both subjects were placed into wheeled litters for the approximately 3 mile evacuation back down-trail.

The evacuation down-trail was a difficult process, as it had long gone completely dark and the trail was rocky and crossed several small streams. Incredible professionalism and teamwork was displayed by the many agencies involved in this rescue.

At approximately 12:30 am, both litters reached the trailhead and both subjects were immediately turned over to waiting ambulances. Both subjects are expected to recover from their injuries.

This mission involved the work of dozens of first responders (volunteer and non-volunteer), and many, many different agencies from across the state of New Mexico. Litter evacuations, especially of this length, are extremely strenuous and every last responder and resource was appreciated.

Disclaimer: Mission Reports from Taos Search and Rescue are written from our perspective and from the accounts of our responders, and may lack detail about the entirety of the search and rescue response. Media are encouraged to contact the New Mexico State Police. For comments, corrections or questions about this report, please email info@sar-taos.org.

Read more

Missing hiker found at Serpent Lake

Jicarita Peak in the fall. Image courtesy US Forest Service.

On the morning of September 30 at 12:04am, Taos Search and Rescue activated their team to respond to a report of a missing hiker in the high mountains of the Serpent Lake area of the Pecos Wilderness and Carson National Forest, about an hour drive from Taos, New Mexico.

The subject was a male in his 70’s who had gone hiking with a group to Horseshoe Lake. The subject was carrying a tent and other gear for an overnight journey. Early into the hike, the subject complained to his group of vague medical discomfort with no specific complaint. The subject told his group that he would return to the trailhead, alone.

The rest of the subject’s group completed their hike but did not see the subject on their return journey, and did not find him at the trailhead. The group conducted a hasty search of the trail and nearby area, and called 911 after the subject could not be located.

During the night, TSAR member Roy D. deployed to the mission, arriving at incident base at 2am. Teams were already in the field. Roy and a search and rescue responder from Cibola SAR deployed at first light and were tasked with sweeping the Angostura Loop trail to see if the subject had travelled that way.

During mid-morning, the subject responded to a cellphone call from the incident command team. The subject had rested after splitting from his group, but then decided to continue up-trail. The subject took a turn to the north, off the trail his companions were on, towards Serpent Lake and camped there overnight. He was located by search and rescue responders shortly after.

In the morning, three more TSAR members – Carl S., Michael P., and Marcia R. – arrived on scene but the subject was located before they were deployed into the field.

When you’re in the wilderness, it’s important that someone knows your plans and – unless weather or other circumstance prevents – stick to those plans or let someone know when plans change.

Taos Search and Rescue, Philmont SAR, Santa Fe SAR, Cibola SAR, Atalaya Search and Rescue and a team from Los Alamos responded to this mission. This mission report was prepared by Nate Berkopec of TSAR. The Incident Commander for this mission was Nate Lay.

Disclaimer: Mission Reports from Taos Search and Rescue are written from our perspective and from the accounts of our responders, and may lack detail about the entirety of the search and rescue response. Media are encouraged to contact the New Mexico State Police. For comments, corrections or questions about this report, please email info@sar-taos.org.

 

Read more

18650 Batteries: A New Tool for Search and Rescue

By Nate Berkopec, TSAR IT Officer and OHV Team Leader. This article contains affiliate links. All proceeds go to Taos Search & Rescue.

I’m a computer programmer. I’m also a search and rescue team member with Taos Search & Rescue. Obviously, I like to combine my two hobbies: tech and SAR. SAR, as an “industry”, is actually usually quite technology-forward and eager to adopt new tech that might make us find subjects in the field faster. However, there’s just so much happening and so much tech available now that it can be easy to “miss” some of the new developments that might help make you or your SAR team more effective. One that I’d like to discuss today is lithium-ion batteries, and in particular, the “18650” battery format.

18650s are ridiculously more powerful than AAs

“18650s”, are they’re usually called, are a particular size of lithium-ion battery. They look like AAs on steroids, and that’s kind of what they are. A typical AA battery is about 50mm (2 inches) long, 14 mm (half an inch) in diameter, weighs 23 grams, and carries 2000 mAh of charge at 1.5 volts, or about 3 watt-hours of power. 18650 batteries are 65 millimeters long and 18 millimeters wide (hence 18650 – 18×65). 18650 batteries generally weigh about twice as much as a AA (~46 grams). They also have different electrical stats – most 18650 batteries carry 2500-3000 mAh of charge at 3.7 volts, or 9 to 10 watt-hours of power. So, while 18650 batteries are about 50% larger than an AA, they carry about three times as much electrical energy. Also, unlike AAs, they are rechargeable.

If all of these electrical terms are unfamiliar to you, here’s the simplest explanation I can give. Let’s compare electricity to water coming out of a garden hose. The water itself is electrical energy. Voltage is a bit like water pressure. A dribbling stream of water is like having low voltage, the same hose with your thumb over the opening is like increasing its voltage. Amperage is the diameter of the hose, and therefore the total volume of water (electricity) leaving the hose. Putting your thumb over the opening of the hose increases the voltage but decreases the amperage, because less water can come out of the hose at once.

AAs perform best at discharge currents of less than 0.5 amps. Trying to get more current from them (1 amp or more) can reduce their lifespan by almost 75%. As an example, if you tried to charge your phone with a single AA (most phone chargers operate at about 5 volts/1 amp), you’d probably need 4 AAs to get the job done in a little over an hour. A single 18650, which can maintain its full energy capacity even at discharge rates as high as 5 amps, can easily charge a phone in about 45 minutes and still have a bit of charge left over. Compared to our wimpy garden-hose AA batteries, 18650s are more like a fire hose: more volts (3.7 vs 1.5), and more amps (some 18650s can discharge up to 20 amps or more).

Besides being much more energy-dense than a AA battery, what else makes 18650s special? Well, first of all – they’re rechargeable. Alkaline batteries are one-use only – lithium-ions can be recharged for years. 18650 lithium-ion cells are widely used for rechargeable applications: they’re often used in laptop battery packs, and are even used in Tesla vehicles (they use thousands of them!). You almost certainly already have 18650 batteries inside your house inside of your rechargeable electronics. Many USB “power packs” you buy at the store are simply plastic containers around 18650 batteries. 18650s are becoming so common that even Wal-Mart has them on their store shelves now.

18650s have a variety of applications in SAR

The Thrunite C2 USB power bank, powered by 1 18650 battery. Image from candlepowerforums.

That brings me to the first use of 18650 batteries in search and rescue: we can use 18650 batteries in USB “power banks” to recharge our devices in the field at high speed. I use a Thrunite C2 power bank for this purpose on SAR missions to recharge my iPhone, which I use as my primary GPS using the Gaia GPS application. Most regular “USB power banks” you can buy on Amazon probably use generic lithium-ion cells internally, but using one which allows you to load your own batteries, such as the Thrunite C2, is more convenient as it means that I can carry extra batteries for longer missions. Oh, and I can use the same battery type in my flashlight, too.

Flashlights: 18650s make brighter lights that last longer

Which brings to me the 18650 battery’s most interesting and powerful search and rescue application: flashlights.

Combining the high discharge current of an 18650 battery with advances in LED technology means that some absurdly bright flashlights have been developed in the last 5 years. Since many searches happen at night, this is obviously a great development for SAR.

Let’s talk about a popular SAR headlamp, the Black Diamond Spot.

Black Diamond Spot

The Black Diamond Spot uses three AAA batteries. (Sidenote: Many flashlight nerds really hate the 3xAAA configuration. They have lower power output and are difficult to change in the dark.) It weighs 88 grams with batteries, and emits a claimed 300 lumens. As for runtime, both Black Diamond and Petzl (another popular SAR/outdoor headlamp manufacturer) do not follow the ANSI FL1 standard when reporting runtime. This standard stops the test when emitted light is less than 10% of the light at the start of the test. Since Petzl and Black Diamond don’t use this standard, they run their lights until they go out completely and greatly inflate their runtime stats. What’s the point of a lamp that runs for “80 hours” when 95% of that time the headlamp is barely even visible?! Black Diamond claims a ridiculous 80 hours of light, however, given the capacity of 3 AAA batteries, runtime is probably closer to 8 hours at low settings, and 1 or 2 hours at high settings. And remember, about half of that runtime will be at less than 50% of the maximum stated brightness. The Black Diamond Spot (and most Petzl lights) is also not waterproof, though the manufacturer *claims* an IPX-8 rating. Unfortunately, this rating only applies for the LED itself and not the battery compartment, which leaks. A “waterproof” light which is only waterproof without any batteries in it is not a waterproof light. The Black Diamond Spot retails for about $30.

Compare this to a Wowtac A2S. The Wowtac retails for the same price, $30, and runs on one 18650 battery. On high settings, the Wowtac A2S emits a staggering 1000 lumens at a 120 minute runtime. The Wizard is actually waterproof (because the battery compartment is secured with a rubber o-ring), rated to 1 meter submersion (IPX7).

It’s kind of hard to put into words just how much more light is emitted by an 18650 headlamp than something like the Black Diamond Spot. On a recent search, I was using my Armytek Wizard Pro on its highest setting. When I turned my headlamp off, the other searchers remarked: “Wow, my headlamp isn’t really doing anything”. The difference is truly night and day. This brightness is extremely useful for locating clues. On my last search, I was able to pick out a fly fishing lure underneath a pile of leaves because the brightness of the light increased the reflection of the half-buried lure. It also helps to have a brighter light when man-tracking at night or even during the day. A bright light casts a strong, contrasting shadow over the ground and brings footprints into sharp relief.

At a brightness setting more comparable to the Black Diamond Spot, an 18650 headlamp will probably last 50-100% longer due to the increased energy capacity of the battery and superior discharge characteristics. The Wizard can also be easily detached from the headmount, which makes it useful when tracking footprints at night: one can detach the light from the mount, put it a few inches above the ground to increase relief and contrast on the track, then reattach to the head mount. Also, of course, it’s much easier and convenient to change one large battery in the dark than it is to change three small AAAs. My Wizard actually weighs half as much as a Black Diamond Spot (48g), so with a battery installed, probably weighs about the same.

Another common feature of many 18650-powered flashlights that I like – you can slightly unscrew the tailcap and “lock out” the flashlight, meaning that it will no longer turn on. This means you can safely carry these lights in your pack and not have to worry about them turning themselves on and draining their batteries.

Acebeam T21

18650s also make for extremely powerful handheld searching lights. I use an Acebeam T21, which uses 2 18650 batteries. On the highest setting, I can dimly illuminate a hill about half a mile away from my house. The Acebeam T21 costs about $150. It’s really hard to believe just how powerful an 18650 searchlight can be until you’ve seen one in person – they’re more like light cannons than flashlights. There are even more powerful models available which use 4 18650 batteries, and are about twice as bright and can illuminate another 500 meters further. However, I’m not sure how appropriate these would be for extended field use. Lights which use 4 18650 batteries are called “coke can” lights, because they are quite chunky and uncomfortable to hold.

I hope you’ve been going to the gym, ’cause this baby weighs 8 pounds.

Compare these light cannons to the light my SAR team currently uses as their “searchlight” – the E-Spot Litebox. The Litebox costs slightly more ($165), weighs 10 times as much (about 8 pounds), is half as bright (500 lumens), emits about ~1/8 as much light (55,000 candela), and has a battery which cannot be changed in the field. When running at a similar brightness level to the Litebox, my Acebeam T21 will last about 3 hours. The Litebox claims to last 7 hours. However, I can easily carry 2 extra 18650 batteries at about 50 grams each! The Litebox is “water resistant”, while the T21 is completely waterproof.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that 18650 lights and batteries are the future. How do you get started?

First, you need a battery. Generally, a good 18650 battery should cost you about $6-7. “High capacity” batteries may cost about $10 each. I carry about 8 18650s into the field, but I’m also using 3 18650-compatible devices: a USB power bank, my Acebeam searchlight, and my Armytek headlamp. You can do the calculations for yourself based on manufacturer runtimes to determine how many batteries you need. Most 18650s have roughly similar performance, but unfortunately you do have to watch out for fakes. You’ll also want what’s called a “protected” battery. These batteries are slightly longer (a few mm) than regular 18650s due to the addition of a small circuit board on the battery. This circuit stops the battery from discharging at too high a current, which could cause a fire. You know how Samsung phones kept starting on fire on planes? Lithium-ion batteries do have that drawback. However, remember that 18650s are used safely every day in laptops and Tesla vehicles, and that most lithium ion cells don’t have any safety issues. If you’re only using 1 or 2 batteries in a quality light and your batteries have protection circuitry, you’ll be fine. Quality brands of 18650 batteries include Efest, Keeppower, Enerpower and Shockli. Don’t buy batteries on Amazon, there’s too many fakes. A trusted vendor of genuine 18650 batteries is illumn.com.

If you’re a cheapskate, you can even salvage 18650 batteries from old laptop batteries.

Second, you need a charger. These are cheap – $15-$20. Get one which takes different sizes of battery using a spring. Lithium ion batteries come in many different lengths and sizes. If you decide to use a different size of lithium ion battery in the future that isn’t an 18650, you won’t have to get a new charger! Here’s a good charger from Efest.

Finally, you need a light. This is the part where everyone has an opinion. If you’re interested in doing the research for yourself, you can check out /r/flashlight or Parametrek. If you just want me to tell you what light to buy, I can recommend the Armytek Wizard Pro ($85). A cheaper option would be the Wowtac A2S. As for searchlights, look for something that takes 2 18650s. As I mentioned before, it adds power without making the light too big to comfortably handle for long periods of time. I use an Acebeam T21. If you’re looking for a cheaper and smaller searchlight option, consider a Convoy C8s at just $25.

As for 18650-powered USB powerbanks, I’m really liking my Thrunite C2. It’s very small and fits anywhere in a radio chest harness. It’s also long enough to accept protected 18650 batteries.

I hope I’ve convinced you of the 18650 Gospel. If you’re a first responder and are using 18650 batteries in a way I didn’t cover, please email me and let me know what you’re doing!

Read more

Wandering subject found in search near Cleveland

Steve Lucht from Mountain Canine Corps and his K9 partner, Christy.

On the morning of August 13th, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a search in the vicinity of Cleveland, New Mexico. A 68 year old male with poor memory and a previous stroke had gone for a walk on his property at 1pm and had not returned.

TSAR member Nate Berkopec responded and was deployed on the first team to leave incident base, a K9 unit from Los Alamos’ Mountain Canine Corps. Subject’s wife indicated that the subject was a mineralogist and enjoyed walking around the property hunting for interesting rocks and fossils, but had lost some memory and mental function after a stroke four years ago. The subject had wandered away once before a few years ago. Subject’s family had searched much of the property the night before with no trace of the subject.

The K9 team (Team One) started an area search along a road that led to the subject’s favorite hiking spot, and the natural direction he would have traveled from the point he was last seen. Wind conditions were poor for a K9 search, and no sign of the subject was found.

A second TSAR member, Bob Lawrence, arrived later and also participated in the search.

About 2 hours after starting the search, an ATV team found the subject approximately 1 mile northwest of the property along a road. Subject was dazed and disoriented, but physically fine.

Anyone with memory issues and the ability to walk is at risk for wandering behavior. The Alzheimer’s Association has produced a helpful checklist for caregivers of those who may be at risk for wandering.

This mission report was prepared by Nate Berkopec. Map data for TSAR members is available here. The Incident Commander for this mission was Eric Roybal.

Incident Base after the search had concluded

Read more

Wandering subject found in San Juan Mountains

On the night of August 7th, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a missing male with Alzheimer’s who had wandered away from his group at a private ranch in the San Juan mountains. During a meditation retreat, the group the subject was with had closed their eyes to meditate. Subject said they would walk back to the retreat lodge on their own, and went missing. No one was sure which direction the subject had left the point he was last seen, as the entire group had closed their eyes to meditate.

TSAR members Roy Dunlap and Nate Berkopec arrived in the middle of the night and were deployed as Team One. The subject had gone missing at the mouth of a very narrow canyon. The canyon was about a mile northwest of the retreat lodge. The retreat lodge had been extensively searched by the retreat staff. Team One was tasked with searching to the northwest, into the canyon. After traveling two miles through the canyon, Team One decided that the hike was probably beyond the physical ability of someone with Alzheimer’s who was apparently wearing sandals, and returned to base.

About an hour after TSAR returned to base, an incoming search team from another organization located the subject.

Anyone with memory issues and the ability to walk is at risk for wandering behavior. The Alzheimer’s Association has produced a helpful checklist for caregivers of those who may be at risk for wandering.

This mission report was prepared by Nate Berkopec. Map data for TSAR teams is available here. The Incident Commander for this mission was Robert Valdez.

Read more

Search for missing hiker in TSV

On the 28th of July, Taos Search and Rescue participated in a search for a female hiker who had been reported missing after failing to return to camp. Two female hikers were staying at a cabin on Twining Road in Taos Ski Valley. The pair hiked up Bull of Woods trail and put their tent somewhere around Bull of Woods pasture (near the intersection of trail to Gold Hill), spending Saturday night in this camp. The next day, they planned to summit Gold Hill and then return to their camp at Bull of Woods by Sunday afternoon, for a return to their Ski Valley cabin on Monday.

One hiker came down Sunday around 6 PM and said that she had not seen her friend since somewhere below Gold Hill. The reporting hiker had become worried and hiked out, not to the camp, but to TSV, and not along way they had come, but down the “Long Hill Canyon” trail.

At about 12:30AM on Monday a team from Los Alamos, and a team of two from TSAR (Roy Dunlap/Brady Coleman) left TSV, hiking up Bull of Woods to the area around Bull of Woods pasture. TSAR and Los Alamos spent 2 hours trying to find the tent at the location the reporting hiker said it would be without success. The team split up; the Los Alamos team went up Gold Hill trail towards Goose Lake, and Gold Hill. TSAR hiked down Bull of Woods Road then up the Long Hill Canyon trail, towards Gold Hill from the direction the reporting hiker had hiked out. TSAR eventually turned around and headed back to base camp, arriving at base at about 6 AM.

At base, IC told TSAR that they had a GPS location of the missing hiker’s cell phone (she couldn’t call but had tried) and had traced it to the ‘camp’ at Bull of Woods Pasture. The missing hiker had returned to the camp as planned, and spent the night there.

Brady Coleman and Nate Berkopec prepared this mission report. Roy Dunlap and Brady Coleman responded to this mission from TSAR. Also responding was a team from Los Alamos.

Read more

A Reminder to Hikers

This winter’s snow has long melted away, and outdoors enthusiasts across Taos all have their boots out of their closets. But the summer isn’t only a busy time for outdoor recreation, it’s also a busy time for Taos Search & Rescue (TSAR). An all-volunteer organization, TSAR responds to dozens of stranded, missing, injured and lost persons calls each year across Taos county and the entire state of New Mexico. We’ve already responded to several search-and-rescue calls this year.

The majority of our calls are for lost persons who were just out for a day hike or another short jaunt into the wild. There is no hike that is “so short” that you don’t need to be prepared for the worst. Take 30 minutes this outdoor season to prepare yourself with some tips from Taos Search and Rescue.

First comes navigation. The only navigational tool that will always work anywhere is a map and compass. However, we realize that most people don’t know how to use these tools in this day and age. Carrying a map and compass will do you no good if you don’t know how to use it. Thankfully, navigation apps for cell phones have come a very long way in the last few years. TSAR uses and recommends Gaia GPS (for both iOS and Android) for backcountry navigation, though any app which allows you to download maps for offline use will do the job. Before you leave your house, you can download USGS and US Forest Service maps to your device using Gaia and have a valuable navigational tool that works outside of cell coverage. Most navigation apps also allow you to record a GPS “track”, which records your position over time. You can use this track to turn around and go back the way you came, should you become disoriented. Using a cellphone for navigation means that eventually your battery will run out. Carry a backup external battery. They are inexpensive, costing $20-30.

Tell someone where you are going. Post a “trailhead selfie” on social media with your point of departure, where you plan on going, and when you plan to be back. If you do become lost, the earlier someone realizes you are missing and calls 911, the better. If you believe someone is missing in the wilderness, you do not need to wait. There is no “48 hours” or “24 hours” minimum. Call 911 as soon as you realize someone may be lost.

If you do realize you are lost in the wilderness, there is one thing you can do that will immediately increase your chance of survival: stop moving. Time and time again, TSAR has seen persons who have realized they were lost and then tried to “walk out”. This dramatically decreases your chances of rescue and survival and makes it much harder for search and rescue teams to find you. You may wander away from search and rescue teams and travel outside the search area. Even without shelter, food or water, most persons can survive in the wilderness in fair weather for several days – stay put, and search and rescue will find you.

Put together a small “survival kit”, throw it in your pack, and forget about it. A survival kit which contains the classic “ten essentials” takes up a space the size of an Altoids tin, weighs less than a pound, and costs as little as $20 to put together. It could save your life. The “ten essentials” are: navigation (map and compass, GPS), sunscreen, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire, a multi-tool, food, water, and emergency shelter (such as a space blanket).

Finally, if you or someone you know becomes lost in the woods, call 911 immediately. Taos Search and Rescue does not respond directly to SAR situations but is activated by the New Mexico State Police. Don’t hesitate. Rescue is free in the state of New Mexico and you will never be charged a fee. Taos Search & Rescue is composed of unpaid volunteers, receives no government funding and is completely supported by the financial goodwill of the Taos community. You can support us by visiting www.sar-taos.org/support.

If you are interested in joining Taos Search and Rescue, we meet once per month. Details are available in the “Ongoing” section of Taos News’ Tempo. TSAR trains and operates many sub-units, including ground, base, K9, high angle rescue, medical, drone/UAV, swiftwater, bicycle and off-highway vehicle units.

Read more

How To Use CalTopo to Plan Your Next Hike or Outdoor Adventure

At Taos Search and Rescue, we know that a good map can be the difference between a fun day out and a night spent shivering in the woods, waiting for rescue. One of the best ways you can prevent needing a rescue in the wild is to know where you’re going, and to have a good map.

Taos Search and Rescue uses a mapping tool called SARTopo. SARTopo has a “civilian” version called CalTopo. Caltopo allows you to create, share and print topographic maps of anywhere in the United States. CalTopo has map data from the US Forest Service, the US Geological Survey, OpenStreetMap, and many more places. It even has some advanced analytical features, such as slope angle shading, weather history and forecasting, viewshed and sunlight analysis, and more.

In this article, we’ll teach you how to use CalTopo to print custom topographical maps of your next hike or outdoor activity. You’ll be using the same technology that Taos Search and Rescue uses to locate lost, injured and missing persons in the outdoors of northern New Mexico. Let’s get started.

CalTopo is a web application, so you can use it by just navigating to caltopo.com in your web browser. First, you’ll want to move the map to a place near where you’ll start your hike. As an example, we’ll make a map of a popular hike to Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. We can type “Wheeler Peak, New Mexico” in the search bar at the top of the screen and press “GO”.

Great! Now our map is centered in the general area where our hike will be.

Our next step is to decide which map layers we want on our map. Map layers are accessed at the top right corner of the screen. By default, you are using the “MapBuilder Topo” layer. Click that button.

Now, under “Base Layer”, we can change the base layer we want to use for our map. There are a lot of options here:

  • MapBuilder Topo – is based on OpenStreetMap, which is a freely-available geographic dataset. This is your basic topographic map.
  • MapBuilder Hybrid – is like MapBuilderTopo, but instead of using just a few colors to denote foliage (green for trees and grass, white for barren), it actually uses aerial photography underneath the topo lines. This can provide a little more information about forest clearings and other low-foliage areas.
  • USGS 7.5 – This is the USGS map you’ve probably seen before. Unlike the paper maps, however, CalTopo’s USGS maps have no borders, and you never have to go searching for a particular quadrant, or get annoyed when you’re hiking around the boundary of two quadrants.
  • FSTopo 2013 and 2016 – These are the official Forest Service maps. They only cover Forest Service land, of course, but if you are headed to a National Forest, these maps are the most up-to-date and contain the most information about trails in the area. Other than up-to-date information, the only difference between the 2013 and 2016 edition is that the 2016 edition shows vegetation and foliage in green.
  • Google Layers – All of the Google Maps layers you’re used to are available. Unfortunately, none of these layers can be printed for copyright reasons (they simply won’t show up). You also can’t use them as an additional layer on top – they must be the base layer.
  • Terrain Shading – You can optionally add some terrain shading as an additional layer to make the topographic lines more intuitive.
  • NAIP – If you want satellite imagery on a printed map, you must use the National Agricultural Imagery Program data, which covers the entire United States.

At Taos Search and Rescue, we will frequently use the USFS maps as our base layer where available, or USGS maps. We find these maps to be the most accurate and up-to-date for our area. In our example, however, we’ll select MapBuilder Hybrid as our base layer, because the OpenStreetMap data that it’s based on shows the trail which we want to hike.

We now want to draw our planned route on the map. We can do this by clicking “Add” in the upper left hand corner and clicking “Add Line”:

We can now draw a line over our planned route. You’ll see some trails and roads turn yellow. This means that CalTopo can “snap” your line to these trails. If a trail on your map hasn’t turned yellow, try changing the “Snap To” setting:

Click once to add a route section. Press Escape to remove one. Double-click to finish.

Now that we’ve drawn our the route, we can print our map. Click “Print” in the top menu bar, then “Print to PDF or JPG”. This will open a new window.

The area inside the red rectangle is the area your printed map will cover. On the left-hand side, you can choose a scale for the map if you wish to have a precisely scaled map. Otherwise, you can click and drag the red dot in the center of the red rectangle to move your map area. Clicking and dragging the corners will make the map larger and smaller. You can change the orientation of the map on the left hand side of the screen (portrait or landscape).

Once you’ve got everything perfected, you can click “Generate PDF”. This will open a new window. From here, you can print this map by pressing “CTRL-P” or “Command-P”, just like any other document.

Note that the URL in your address bar has changed. You may share this URL with anyone for 7 days after you generated this map, and they’ll see the same PDF. Here’s our example map that we created.

That’s how to create and print a map for a hike or other outdoor activity on CalTopo. Taos Search and Rescue wishes you safe travels in the outdoors!

Read more

Search for missing male at Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

TSAR Training Officer Chris Kodey searches the Gorge.

On May 18th and May 19th, 2018, Taos Search and Rescue participated in a search for a male subject near the Gorge Bridge. State police had located his car in the parking lot of the Gorge rest area on Friday, May 18th. SAR was tasked with searching the area for any sign of the subject.

12 TSAR members responded to the incident over two operational periods. On Friday evening, teams from TSAR searched both sides of the gorge. The drone team was not deployed due to high winds.

TSAR members Kenton Pass, Drone Unit leader Karlis Viceps and FAA certified Drone Pilot Richard McCracken check wind conditions on the Gorge Bridge. The drone team cannot fly when gusts are above 25 MPH.

On Saturday, many more teams arrived and an extensive search of the area was carried out. TSAR deployed its drone and off-highway vehicle units for the first time. After no sign of the subject was found, the search was suspended.

Teams responding to the incident included TSAR, Santa Fe SAR, Atalaya SAR, Philmont Scout Ranch, and more. Richard Goldstein was Incident Commander for the first operational period, and Al Webster for the second operational period.

TSAR would like to thank our external partners for their swift and capable response to this mission: Justin Dean at the Bureau of Land Management, and the Warchief’s Office at Taos Pueblo. Both sent resources to the mission area and assisted swiftly in giving searchers the necessary land access permissions.

Map data for Taos Search and Rescue members is available here.

Read more

Lost hikers at Middle Casa Falls

TSAR Medical Unit leader Roy Dunlap and Philmont SAR member Carl consult with Incident Base after crossing a FS gate during the search.

A pair of approximately 60-year-old hikers called 911 on the evening of May 9, 2018. They had become lost after attempting to find a waterfall near the Middle Fork of the Rio De La Casa near Mora, New Mexico. They stated they could not find the waterfall and did not know where they were, and they had a small amount of food and water, and a whistle. A location could not be obtained from their call.

Team 1 (including 2 TSAR members, Roy Dunlap and Nate Berkopec) departed from Incident Base at around 4:00 AM. Team 1’s first task was to clear the North Fork of the Rio de la Casa, as it had a waterfall close by which was close to the subject’s vehicle. A search of the area revealed no signs of the subject and no responses to auditory attraction methods (whistles, foghorns, yells, etc).

After returning to the subject’s vehicle, Team 1 headed south towards the Middle Fork. Within 1/4 mile, a possible footprint track was located. Shortly afterward, a second, distinct set of tracks was found. Both tracks headed south, further down the trail. The tracks often intersected and appeared at times to walk in single file. There was no return track.

About 1.5 miles uptrail, the track became confused as the footprints stopped abruptly and doubled back. Team 1 was able to pick up the footprints again on a small side trail leading west.

After crossing through a Forest Service gate, the footprint trail became harder to follow as the ground became thick with pine needles and moss. Throughout this time, Team 1 continued attempts to contact the subjects with whistles and yells.

Incident base radioed Team 1 to report that the subjects had again called 911, and said that they could hear the search team. 15 minutes later, Incident Base was able to obtain an exact coordinate via handset-based Enhanced 911. Team 1 proceeded to the coordinates, where they found the subjects.

The subjects were alive and well but exhausted after having spent a night in the open. They were unusually well-prepared for their emergency: they carried emergency food and water, mylar “space” blankets, whistles, and compasses. They had become lost after deciding to turn back and then losing the trail. They were carrying one GPS device, a Garmin eTrex, which the subject said was not working correctly. Subjects were checked for any medical difficulty and walked back to their vehicle.

This search showed the value of being prepared and thinking smart in the wilderness. The subjects, though only going out on a day hike, were prepared to hunker down for the night with shelter, food, water and even signaling devices. Second, they followed the instructions of the 911 dispatcher and did not move from their location. This makes it much easier for search and rescue teams to locate a lost person. A moving target is much harder to find than a stationary one, and lost persons may move away from search teams trying to find them. Finally, this mission showed that your navigational tools are only as good as your skills in using them. Though the subjects had several compasses, they did not have an adequate map and may have been able to find their way home with more knowledge of how to troubleshoot their GPS unit. Know and understand your navigational tools.

Incident base was the Walker Flats trailhead. TSAR and Philmont SAR were the teams that responded, though Santa Fe SAR and many more members of TSAR were en route when the subjects were found. Nathan Lay was Incident Commander. Nate Berkopec wrote this report.

Map data including TSAR member activity is available here.

Read more