Getting into CAMRA (Search and Rescue)

Being part of a search and rescue group is something that I've been thinking about over the last few years. There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense, why I think volunteering for a group would be a good fit, though I think it all comes down to how difficult I found Arizona hiking to be. Chris and I had a few close calls in 2014 and 2015, then I was personally rescued out of Peter's Canyon in early 2016, and all the while we watched the news as other hikers got lost or succumbed to the heat around us. Hiking out here is not easy and I wanted to help out.

Chris and I had a series of long talks and finally decided to dive in together. After a bit of research, we discovered that our initial target - Superstition Search and Rescue - was basically disbanded and that the only functioning groups were based out of county police departments. We both live in Maricopa County, so we attended a meeting for that and got some sobering information. In order to be a part of Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association (CAMRA) we would have to become a posse member of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, earn five certifications, and then go through a multi-stage recruit application, all to just be entered in the recruit process - and the recruit process takes over a year.

Chris quickly dropped out, as he is currently working on a huge project of renovating a house, so I've been trying to knock out the steps on my own. So far I've passed the background process to be a posse member, earned my CPR and Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certifications, taken a climbing class, and passed all of the pre-recruit tests. I've been preliminarily accepted as part of the 2018 recruit class, though there is a hold-up with my posse status.

I should back up a minute, as there is a good question to answer: why am I even doing this? Besides the 'wanting to help out', that is. After all, in the past three years I've done plenty of stupid hikes that were struggles to complete, had to be rescued twice (only once by the officials, though!), and am generally bad at planning for Arizona heat. On top of that I have three kids, all under the age of five, while most of the members of the team are single with a ton of time. If I wanted to help out I could do something more reasonable, like put a few cairns up or clip some catclaw, both of which are needed and welcomed down here.

My go-to answer is my parents, as they were volunteer canine rescue for much of my teenage years. Well, they volunteered for a ton of things, but the rescue piece was big, as it meant that we had two to four dogs on our property to care for, to train, and to roll around the grass with. One of the dogs even got into drug and bomb detection, which meant even more late night calls, and my parents handled it without complaint. Growing up with role models like that was a significant part of my childhood, and it's something that I'd love for my kids to have.

A more selfish reason, though, and one that would jive with my stupid hikes, is that I want to learn how to be better at them. CPR and WFA are two obvious sets of skills that will benefit me on the trail (the former is generally good to know) and building on my land navigation and survival knowledge throughout the training is a great idea. The law enforcement and climbing stuff is less applicable, yet still valuable. Plus, just being around level-headed people who want to give back to the community by devoting so much of their time and energy to something like search and rescue… Not only could I learn some good skills, maybe I can pick up some good traits as well.

So that's what CAMRA is, why/how I learned about it, and where I am in the process of joining it. By attending the meetings I'm starting to get a better idea of what they do, beyond just 'rescuing people', though I don't think I'm qualified to talk about that yet. For now I'll just say that knowing technical rock climbing skills will be more helpful to the team than my current special strength of bushwhacking through thorny stuff. Again, if all goes well I could be knocking out recruit training by the end of the year, so I'm sure I'll have a follow-up post about whether or not it all works out.