ACRO/2011 Mock Rescue/Live Exercise/Exercise Joining Instructions


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Welcome to Exercise Dark Squeeze interprovincial, multi-agency rescue exercise scheduled for September 16 to 18, 2011 in the beautiful Crowsnest Pass area in Southwestern Alberta and Southeastern British Columbia. This page has been created to provide the details that you will need to make your participation worthwhile. It will be updated periodically.

PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION THOROUGHLY (we recommend at least three times) AND CHECK BACK OFTEN FOR UPDATES!! Information on how to "watch" this page is provided at the bottom of these instructions.

In order to ensure that people are able to access this page, please click here and add your name to the list by clicking on edit at the top of the page and then save at the bottom of the page. Let's see who accesses these first!


[edit] Exercise Culture

The Alberta Cave Rescue Organisation values safety, transparency, and inclusiveness. There are over 100 participants who have registered from diverse backgrounds and organizations. Regardless of your organizational affiliation or individual qualifications, being transparent and open to others is extremely important - especially when working in remote wilderness environments containing many hazards. It is expected that participants will convey any limitations that they may have whether related to skills, knowledge, physical condition, mental condition at any time. Things can change. Do not hesitate to speak up if you have concerns. Everyone has good days and bad days. Please inform your leader of any limitations or concerns that you may have.

If someone expresses limitations or concerns to you, be respectful and supportive. Be inclusive in your thinking, regardless of the skills, knowledge, abilities and limitations of others. Everyone always has something to contribute including the subjects. We have found that by engaging everyone and the subject in the rescue, there is a strong sense of comraderie and the outcome success increases greatly.

Do not forget why we volunteer for this type of work. To help someone in need. Everyone approaches a problem in a different way. Assume people's actions and words are meant to help FIRST. If there are concerns, bring them directly to the person's attention at an appropriate time and in a respectful way. It's helpful to convey your concerns by explaining your reactions in terms of how another person's behavious is making you feel rather than criticizing their behaviour directly. Only raise the conflict to your leader if you cannot resolve it directly and it is impacting yours or others participation. If not, consider resolving the conflict after the exercise.

Finally, while we have worked hard to ensure you receive great value, we are all volunteers. Cave rescues do not happen often and we have few real world opportunities to see how things go. Hence this exercise! Be patient, look to the bright side and maintain a positive attitude. We're sure you'll have an unforgettable experience!

[edit] Assigned Roles

We appreciate your input and thoughts on what you'd like to do during the exercise. While our goal is to accommodate as many requests as possible, roles will be assigned to ensure maximum safety and achievement of exercise objectives. If you are assigned a role and are not comfortable / capable of fulfilling it, please let your leader know immediately. If you have completed a task and wish to try something different, let your leader know as well during the debrief of your assignment.

EVERY ROLE is crucial to the successful completion of the exercise. ALL participants share the responsibility and reward of a successful operation whether or not you are at the base or up on the mountain.

[edit] A Unique Learning Opportunity

Cave rescue callouts and even technical surface rescue callouts don't happen very often for ACRO. While we've tried to consider every aspect in organizing the exercise, our goal is to discover the gaps and fill them. There are a number of procedural aspects of cave rescue and cave rescue incident management that simply haven't been worked out or documented. We hope to work on what's important and can't do it without exercising our capabilities and then focusing on improving. We appreciate your positive participation, patience and support.

Remember, the objectives of the exercise are:

  • expand the participants' skills in general and specialized SAR,
  • show how diverse organizations from multiple jurisdictions can operate together,
  • evaluate how logistics can be supplied and managed on a large, remote rescue,
  • test the rescue pre-plan for the highly popular Gargantua Cave including the surface and underground components and the required capabilities,
  • educate outdoor enthusiasts, including cavers, on Search and Rescue capabilities and limitations and the importance of recreational safety,
  • enhance relationships within the broad Alberta/British Columbia SAR community and with the recreational caving community, and
  • expand the SAR community's expertise in exercise planning.

There is no pass or fail. Areas needing improvement will be discussed after and action plans to close the gaps will be developed. Participants will have the opportunity to provide feedback in various ways as well as to be involved in developing and implementing solutions in the future.

[edit] Exercise Control

Exercise controllers/observers have been designated to ensure that exercise objectives are being met. They may override operational decisions if they feel those decisions may cause: a safety hazard, significant impedement of exercise / scenario progress, significant decrease in the value of the activity to the participants. All participants are expected to respect, listen to and follow the instructions of the exercise controllers for their areas.

[edit] Check In

EVERYONE MUST CHECK IN AT THE RESCUE BASE which is at the Alberta Sustainable Resources Development Office, 11901 19 AV, Blairmore, AB (See google map) prior to being engaged in the exercise where you will be provided with ID. Proceed to the check in area at the rescue base. Check in will not likely be open earlier than 4 pm, September 16.

Everyone will be asked to review and sign a waiver upon check in including a media release.

There is limited space available at the trailhead for vehicles (i.e. 3) and therefore we ask that everyone please plan to be back out of the area prior to Friday afternoon if you are heading up there for your own trip prior to the exericse.

[edit] Timing

The exercise starts on Friday at 6 pm. Tasks initiated prior to this are not considered to be exercised in real time and are done to simulate those aspects.

Once checked in, for those going up on the mountain, our goal will be to get you up as high as possible on Friday night/early Sat morning. There will be one scenario starting on Friday night if possible but it will be stopped by midnight to allow the participants a break until the following morning.

If you can get to Camp Caves Fri night, you will have a chance to rest prior to going up to the caves / surface scenarios (another 2 hr hike) the next morning.

If you can get up to the col on Friday night, you are a superstar (and only if you are assigned to that area).

The majority of the scenarios will be managed between 10 am Sat and 10 am on Sunday. If you are on a scenario that finishes early, we want to you replenish (rest, food, water) and then may assign you to another scenario that needs assistance.


This timeline is subject to change depending on conditions, participants and situation.

Sept 16 (Friday) 1600h

  • Exercise Dark Squeeze BEGINS

Sept 16 (Friday) 1600h – midnight

  • ACRO notified of cave rescue in Gargantua
  • Check in of all participants
  • Establishment of incident management team
  • Establishment of incident facilities
  • Deployment of initial response teams
  • Advancement of personnel to upper camps (either near the west col or at camp caves) NOTE: the ideal situation is to have as many of the rescuers as close to their assignments as possible.
  • Air operations (as conditions permit)

Sept 17 (Saturday) midnight – first light

  • Exercise suspended
  • Advanced planning by overnight incident management team, if available

Sept 17 (Saturday) First light – midnight

  • Initial response teams resumes operations
  • Incident management team resumes operations
  • Advancement of teams and individuals to scenarios
  • Underground and surface rescue operations
  • Rotation of resources as required
  • Air operations (as conditions permit)

Sept 18 (Sunday) 0001h – 1000h

  • Continuation of underground and surface rescue operations
  • Changeout of resources as required
  • Air operations (as conditions permit)

Sept 18 (Sunday) 1000h – 1600h

  • Demobilization of underground and surface rescue resources (equipment and personnel)
  • Clean up of all facilities and operational areas
  • Air operations (as conditions permit)
  • Debrief of teams and individuals
  • Exercise critique (facilitated groups, one on one interviews, feedback forms, on-line)

Sept 18 (Sunday) 1600h

  • Exercise Dark Squeeze ENDS

Note: A conference call / on-line meeting CRITIQUE will be scheduled within two weeks of the exercise.

[edit] Camping

Space will be available at the rescue base. There will be a large shelter available for people to set up sleeping bags / thermarests. There is also space for tents and smaller RV's at the base but there are no hook-ups/dumping. These facilities will be available at 6 pm on Friday and not earlier.

If you are likely to be involved in the rescue scenarios up on the mountain, or other support role on the mountain you will need to be self-sufficient and efficient with your pack. If you want maximum participation and rest, bring a bivy or other single person lightweight shelter. If you can bivy up near the col where there are no trees (rock) you will have less distance to travel for rest / transferring to other scenarios. Those that are engaged in non-technical surface rescue will be based largely at the Camp Caves area where there are trees.

NOTE: once you are deployed up on the mountain, it is expected that you will remain up on the mountain during the course of the exercise.

[edit] Transportation / Access

You are responsible for your own transportation to and from the exercise. Participants are encouraged to car pool to and from the exercise. ACRO provides a wiki page to facilitate car-pooling.

Helicopter transportation is being arranged for exercise logistics and rescue gear only. Air transport is not available for personal gear (e.g. your packs).


  • Transportation to / from the off-road staging area will be 2WD shuttle or carpool.
  • Transportation to / from the off-road staging area to upper facilities accessible by off-road vehicles will be by off-road vehicle.

Transportation from the trailhead to the cave entrances and scenario locations will be on foot with full pack. The total approximate distance elevation gain for the various stages are shown below:

  • Headwall Trailhead to Camp Caves is less than 1km / 275m (900 ft) gain on a well worn trail with steep soil, talus, scree with rocks / trees. Minimal exposure.
  • Camp Caves to the West Col 1.75 km / 430m (1400 ft) gain on soil, alpine meadows (fragile), limestone rock, or scree. Some exposure near the col if the right hand side is taken. Extensive scree if the left hand side is taken. It is generally recommended to take the right hand side to ascend to the col and descend on the left side scree (all directions are given looking up towards the col).
  • West Col to Upper (Main) Entrance at 8200 ft 0.65km /125 m gain. Limestone rock ledges and steep scree slope with exposure.
  • West Col to Waterfall Exit 2km / 220m loss
  • Headwall Trailhead to Waterfall Exit is 4.75km / 705m gain / 220m loss (this is the max one way distance / elevation)

Access to Gargantua's cave entrances involve some sure-footedness (the lower waterfall "exit"), or navigating two cliff bands and a scramble (upper entrance at 8200ft).

Part way along the off road trail a quad trail heads in a slightly different direction (east fork), but gains significant elevation. It might be used to get equipment and some people up higher on the mountain.

[edit] Food

We will be providing military rations (MREs) that are self heating to all participants however it will be your choice whether you wish to carry all or some or none of these up the mountain. We highly recommend that you bring light high energy snacks that does not require cooking. Remember that you will be expending energy and need to replenish. There will be no replenishing of food up on the mountain. You eat what you carry up.

[edit] Water

We are planning to have potable water refill stations (20L jugs) at the Camp Caves area and up at the West Col. This is only for drinking water as we've budgeted a set amount per day per person and not to be used for washing, etc. Ensure you have a water container that can carry at least TWO litres of water and that you fill it PRIOR to leaving the base. There is very little / no water beyond the trailhead once you start hiking up. Always carry water purification tablets so that you can treat water in case you find it at a closer location than where we are setting it up.

[edit] Sanitation

The area is an alpine environment and thus sensitive to human waste. Everyone will need to bring their own toilet paper and pack out their used toilet paper/supplies. We will also have 5 gallon pails with liners set up for doing your thing. Our preference is for people to use the pails for solids and then spread their liquids on rocky surfaces that get sun exposure. We’ll provide ziplock bags for packing out used toilet paper / sanitary supplies.


IF YOU ARE GOING INTO THE CAVE, YOU MUST PACK OUT ALL WASTE INCLUDING LIQUIDS. If you haven’t figured out how to do this, talk to your fellow cavers.

[edit] What to bring

Essentially, you are participating in a mountain rescue and will need to be self-sufficient and efficient with your pack. In addition to what was listed in the registration package, we are requesting that people bring an FRS or GMRS radio if you have one for your use during the exercise. DO NOT FORGET TO BRING AN APPROVED HELMET if you think you may be going into a cave or working on a surface rescue. If you decide that you do not want to carry the rations in your pack, you will need to bring your own food. Do not bring food that requires cooking.

If you need or can share equipment you may be able to coordinate that using this wiki page.

Anywhere in the exercise you will need:

  • photo ID
  • Search and Rescue ID (if issued)
  • Search and Rescue log book (if issued) (or copies of your certificates)

If you are planning to leave the base camp in the Town of Blairmore (and we hope you will), you'll need personal equipment to spend time on the mountain.

  • clothing for hot, wet and cold weather
  • footwear for rocky, steep terrain - sturdy hiking boots
  • the usual wilderness search and rescue gear (your ready pack)
  • sleeping gear (sleeping bag, pad)
  • shelter (the lighter the better)
  • high-energy snacks and food you need while away from camp (rations will be provided when you check in at the base)
  • a means of water purification
  • water carrying capacity, a minimum of 2 litres
  • a climbing helmet - Even if you don't work in a technical environment, you will be at or near areas where there is a hazard of something falling from above. If your organization does not have helmets, you can rent them from many outdoor groups and sports stores.
  • an FRS or GMRS radio, fully charged

People going near or to an above-ground exposed (steep slope) area will also need:

  • a climbing or caving harness with chest harness
  • means to attach to an anchor (cow's tail with locking carabiner)
  • leather gloves
  • climbing helmet

Rope rescue team members will in addition need the usual gear for working in a vertical environment:

  • cow's tail
  • ascending system (mechanical or prusiks)
  • descender
  • prusik cord
  • locking carabiners
  • climbing helmet

If you are interested in going underground, you'll need:

  • warm clothes, the cave temperature is near 0 deg C
  • coveralls or a cave suit
  • climbing helmet
  • gloves (waterproof or rubberized palm are common)
  • 3 sources of light (e.g. 2 headlamps and a backup) with spare batteries
  • small side pack containing: personal first aid items, candle, emergency blanket or large garbage bag, snacks, water, sanitary disposal system

People passing through or working at the vertical pitches of the cave will need:

  • a caving harness (not a climbing harness)
  • cow's tail
  • ascenders
  • descender (prefer in-line, not e.g. figure-8)

All gear should be marked in a way that identifies it as yours. Please make a list of your gear and bring it with you.

[edit] Weather

We've chosen the most reliable time of the year, but the weather in the mountains is often unexpected. Typically in mid September conditions are warm, dry and sunny. Temperatures are often in the low 20's, although they could get warmer. Night time temperatures could be down to 5 depending on where you are on the mountain. Freezing would not be unusual.

Southwest Alberta has the highest average wind speeds in all of North America. Most of the route is wind sheltered. The mountain passes and the ascent to the upper entrance can see winds high enough to knock over a person who's not cautious.

Unseasonal weather is possible including heavy rain, thunder and lightning storms, fog or snow.

[edit] Other Crowsnest Pass Information

For more details on the Crowsnest Pass, see the Municipality's website and the Chamber of Commerce website.

If you want to stay longer, before or after the exercise, or bring along your family, their are many accommodation options including, drive-in tenting, holiday trailers, cabins, motels, hotels, bed and breakfast, house rentals and billeting. Check out some of these links:

[edit] Costs

Keep all receipts, just in case!

There is no fee for registration and participation; this exercise is supported by a grant from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. If there are leftover funds once all expenses are paid, the remainder will be distributed among the participants in the easiest way to administer.

If you need to change your registration details please bring an updated registration form with you to the exercise.

You can cancel your registration using ITM.

[edit] Coverage

Participants in this exercise are covered by the Workers Compensation Boards of Alberta and British Columbia. You will also be asked to sign a waiver at the start of the exercise. Tasking numbers are AEMA 2011-074 and BC PEP 120667.

[edit] Staying Up To Date

We will continue to refine the plans for this exercise as we get closer to the date.

Please watch this page for updates.

You can check the page history to see the details of changes. Or create an account, add this page to your watch list, and have the website e-mail you when there are any changes.

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