Lost hiker rescued near Wheeler Peak

At 3:37pm on March 28, 2019, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a search near Taos Ski Valley for a 36 year old female.

A female hiker had become lost and disoriented after attempting to ascend Wheeler Peak. The subject was not from the area and had no skis or snowshoes, and called 911 when she realized the terrain had become precarious and she was lost. She had begun to descend what she thought was a ski slope, but was actually the avalanche path known as Peace Sign Chute.

As the snow started warming up, it started to slide under her feet. The subject slid into a tree and called 911 between 11:30am – 12:00pm. She did not move until she was rescued.

Incident base was established at the Phoenix Restaurant area. TSAR’s first responders arrived at approximately 5pm, where New Mexico State Patrol was already waiting. TSAR formed the initial search team, with members Gary, Roy, and Kelly. This team ascended the Williams Lake Trail to a point below where the subject’s cell phone had “pinged” on the 911 call. The team attempted to signal the subject with an air horn but no return call was heard.

At this point, the team made an unusual decision to split. Kelly, an experienced backcountry skier and former ski patroller, would follow a skin track to the top of the north slope, which she had used many times before. Gary and Roy, on snowshoes, would attempt to ascend the north slope separately. After about 100 yard of ascent, Gary and Roy decided the way was impassable due to their equipment and inexperience dealing with avalanche conditions. They followed Kelly’s ascent from the bottom of the ridge, maintaining visual and radio contact with Kelly at all times.

Kelly ascended the slope on her alpine touring (AT) ski gear. At the time of the team’s dispatch from incident base, avalanche conditions were moderate to severe. However, as Kelly ascended the slope, she judged that the situation was improving rapidly as the sun went down and the temperature dropped, re-freezing the snowpack and decreasing avalanche danger.

An air ambulance service had been pre-emptively called and was hovering nearby, but could not remain in the Taos Ski Valley area due to wind conditions.

Eventually, Kelly’s voice calls to the subject were answered. After again evaluating the avalanche conditions at that altitude and aspect, and encouraged by the rapidly refreezing snow, Kelly crossed Pinky Finger chute, and then Ring Finger chute. Kelly was trying to stay as high as she could, skinning slowly over rocks and difficult terrain features. The subject’s voice calls led Kelly to Peace Sign Chute. It was getting dark. Kelly located the subject in the dark, on the opposite side of the chute.

Kelly judged that Peace Sign Chute had previously avalanched. She crossed the avalanche path below the crown, on the bed surface, and reached the 50 degree slope where subject was hanging onto a tree. Kelly reached the subject at 7:20pm. Other than a little discomfort, the subject was in good condition and was only mildly hypothermic. Kelly dressed the subject in warmer clothing and began to assess the descent.

TSAR member Chris and a TSV ski patroller were beneath Kelly, near the bottom of Peace Sign Chute. They dug a snow pit, an avalanche danger assessment tool which would allow them to judge the condition of the snow in the area to determine the danger to Kelly and the subject on the descent. Their assessment was that the snow was in low danger of avalanche, and it was best to descend the chute now rather than wait until morning.

Subject and Kelly descend Peace Sign Chute. Photo by Chris of TSAR.

Kelly guided the subject slowly down the tricky and technical descent. They were met midway by TSAR member Chris. After a long descent, the subject was handed off to waiting additional SAR personnel on the valley floor.

This was a very technical mission with many hazards. A very conservative approach was used throughout the decision making process. Many factors played a role in the success of this mission (stable snowpack, good weather, fit and mobile subject).

TSAR members Gary, Kelly, Roy, Chris, Jim, Chelsea and LJ B. responded to this mission.

As with all search and rescue incidents, Taos Search and Rescue was just one of many teams responding, and we thank our colleagues in the New Mexico SAR community for their fast and professional response to this incident. 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 [email protected]

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Delinda VanneBrightyn of Dogology, president of Taos Search and Rescue and head of canine unit

Be prepared and thoughtful when walking. Stay alert and keep your dog under control. If you are diligent with your dog, you show respect and protect yourself from liability.

I don’t recommend dropping the leash of your own dog, if you are charged by aggressive dogs. It does work sometimes, but if it doesn’t, you’ve lost all control of your dog.

I carry a walking stick and use it or a backpack to put between me and the dog – keeping my dog behind me. I make my voice low – like a bear growl and say, “Get back” or “Get away.”

I also carry Stop That spray. It makes a noise that startles dogs and has positive pheromones and is completely safe to use. Bear or pepper spray is another possibility – you just have to ensure it doesn’t come back into your face. I also look around for rocks or sticks and have no problem using them. If the dogs get into a fight, you might be able to separate them by kicking the ribs or throwing water on them.

Be aware of coyotes, too. I know of several instances in which small dogs were grabbed by a coyote.

Make sure to educate and empower yourself to be prepared and protect yourself and your dog – that way you can turn a bad situation into a nonevent. We are lucky that we are able to take our dogs on public lands here. That is not the case everywhere. We live in a remarkable place – let’s keep it that way.

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Tireless & Passionate: Delinda VanneBrightyn, TSAR President & K9 Unit Leader

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Taos News covers our 2018 Fundraiser

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TSAR joined with the Civil Air Patrol for a joint training with a simulated downed aircraft search on the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge on July 28, 2108.

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Lost hunter located in Mora County

Image from the USFS – Carson.

At 3:23am on January 29th, 2019, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a search in the Angel Fire area for a 52 year old male.

Four elk hunters had left the lodge at a private hunting camp in Mora County at 6:00am the previous day, January 28. The subject and three other hunters were in one UTV. When they got to their hunting area, the four spread out. The subject was by himself. The other hunters heard one shot, followed by a second and then a third, but not three quick, consecutive shots indicating emergency. The other hunters believed that the subject probably wounded the elk, then shot twice more. The other hunters found the elk dead, with throat cut to bleed out. The subject wasn’t with the elk. The other hunters in the party field dressed the elk, expecting the subject to show up. Around noon, when the subject didn’t return, a search was initiated.

TSAR members Gary and LJ K. responded to the initial callout, and deployed from incident base with a member of Cibola SAR at 8:30am. The team was assigned a search area to the west of the last known location of the subject, and proceeded to the search area by vehicle. The road conditions (rocky, muddy, icy and a stream crossing) necessitated high clearance four wheel drive. After driving as close as possible to the assigned area, the team proceeded on foot approximately 1/2 mile to the southeast corner of the area. Upon reaching the assigned area, the team received a phone call from IB advising them to return to base as the subject had been located.

TSAR members Kenton and Kristine responded later, but did not arrive at Incident Base before the subject was found.

As with all search and rescue incidents, Taos Search and Rescue was just one of many teams responding to this mission, and we thank our colleagues in the New Mexico SAR community for their fast and professional response to this incident.

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 [email protected]

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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 [email protected].

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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 [email protected]


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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

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!

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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

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