ACRO/2011 Mock Rescue/Live Exercise/Registration Package


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The Sept 9 registration deadline has passed. Exercise Dark Squeeze will only be accepting registrations from those pending on ITM or local cavers, SAR volunteers and qualified quad squad members from Lethbridge, Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass, Sparwood and Fernie at the event. Please bring your completed registration form when you arrive. CONFIRMED REGISTRANTS SHOULD HAVE RECEIVED AN EMAIL NOTICE FROM ITM WITH THE LINK TO THE EXERCISE JOINING INSTRUCTIONS.

The Alberta Cave Rescue Organisation (ACRO) with support of Search and Rescue and caving organizations in Alberta and British Columbia is hosting Exercise Dark Squeeze, an 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. It is an opportunity for rescuers from across Alberta and British Columbia to come together to demonstrate and practice the skills needed to work with each other on a large remote incident.

Exercise Dark Squeeze will be in the beautiful mountains of the Crowsnest Pass region (Photo: Jeff Smith)
Exercise Dark Squeeze will be in the beautiful mountains of the Crowsnest Pass region (Photo: Jeff Smith)

Dark Squeeze has been chosen as a realistic scenario that requires many different skills and spans several jurisdictional boundaries. It starts with injured cavers in Gargantua Cave high on Mount Ptolemy, south of Crowsnest Pass. Gargantua, which straddles the Alberta/BC border, has been the site of a number of incidents.

Our mock subjects will not only need to be brought safely out of the cave, but will have to be evacuated down the mountain. Some portions of the evacuation will require technical rope rescue skills and thoughtful rigging. Other portions will be within the skills of most non-technical wilderness search and rescue workers.

Typical of large cave rescue incidents, a serious amount of overhead team organization and logistical support will be needed both at the base camp in the town of Blairmore and the forward camp on the mountain flank. Resources will be moved by 4 wheel drive bush truck, quad and helicopter (if available). The scenarios will be balanced to keep everyone active.


Come and Participate!

Come and join your fellow rescue workers in Exercise Dark Squeeze! If you are a caver, a SAR volunteer, or a member of technical rescue team, responding agency, tasking agency or rescue support organization, we have a role for you. Participants are anticipated from across Alberta and British Columbia.

This is a great opportunity to exercise your rescue skills, meet other avid cavers and volunteer rescue workers while taking in some of the most beautiful remote terrain in the world!

Exercise Dark Squeeze has been designated the 2011 provincial Search and Rescue exercise for Alberta.

Search and Rescue Alberta is pleased to support ... the interprovincial mock rescue for September 2011. This event is going to be the first of its kind on many levels. Not only will two provinces be involved, but multiple rescue organizations, all with unique skill sets, will be included at every turn. ... The event will include all levels of knowledge, physicality and equipment. ... In any rescue exercise all angles of rescue, including Ground SAR, must consider themselves vital. We encourage all members of Search and Rescue Alberta to get involved, register and attend.
-- Sheri Easterbrook, Secretary, Search and Rescue Alberta

Funding is largely underwritten by a provincial training grant from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

"AEMA Training welcomes members of the SAR community from across Alberta and British Columbia to Exercise Dark Squeeze. ... Exercises have an important role to play in maximizing the operational effectiveness and preparedness of people, equipment and organizations by instilling confidence in team members, partner organizations, their people, procedures and equipment. There is no substitute for practical experience and Exercise Dark Squeeze will provide participants with an opportunity to evaluate plans, stress and evaluate transportation and communication systems, practice the critical SAR tasks and coordination essential to success. Because of the scope and nature of Exercise Dark Squeeze participants will have the opportunity to evaluate interoperability at many levels."
-- Tom Sand, AEMA Training Development Manager

Many organizations have come together to plan and support this exercise.

"The Crowsnest Pass Rescue Society is pleased to be working in conjunction with ACRO in the planning and delivery of Operation Dark Squeeze. ... Partnerships such as this make for an efficient and effective emergency response program here within Crowsnest Pass."
-- Darryl Johnson, Chief - Crowsnest Pass Rescue Department
"The Alberta Speleological Society welcomes participants of Operation Dark Squeeze, a major mock cave rescue. As the leading cave exploration society in Alberta, the Society strongly welcomes this exercise, which we hope will enhance our members' abilities to support rescue efforts, as well as to encourage safe and sustainable caving practices. This exercise will realistically test our readiness for interprovincial cave rescue scenarios, and we look forward to resolving its significant and varied challenges with you."
-- Henry Bruns, Alberta Speleological Society
"BC Cave Rescue strongly supports Operation Dark Squeeze as an opportunity to "test the system" for a full-scale cave rescue in an area of high caving accident probability. ... It provides the BC cave rescue community with a much larger-scale practice than is available in our Seminar mock rescues, as well as a chance to work closely with community GSAR teams. Equally importantly, it allows us to work through the complexities of responding to a multi-agency cave rescue in a location far from the Coastal population centre of BC caving. We ... encourage participation and support from all BC cavers and cave rescuers."
-- Phil Whitfield, BC Cave Rescue
"The Alberta Cave Rescue Organization honors the opportunity that they have been given to facilitate Operation Dark Squeeze. Through government funding and the support of the various organizations that have been involved in the planning we are confident this exercise will be a key instrument for ACRO and all participating agencies to learn from and utilize in improving not only our multi-agency responses but also our inter-provincial responses. Through this large scale exercise we hope to reinforce the importance of inter-agency cooperation and would like to encourage the participation of cavers, cave rescuers and ground SAR teams from Alberta and British Columbia to attend as there will be a place for everybody."
-- Michael Kary, ACRO President
"On behalf of the Planning Committee, which consists of representatives from the cave rescue, caving, search and rescue and tasking agencies from both Alberta and British Columbia, we look forward to the culmination of almost two years worth of work. Every hour has been worth it as the planning itself has increased our preparedness for future cave rescue situations. It's not often we have the opportunity to conduct an exercise in such a remote location. We look forward to participants and various organizations working together in September. See you up on the Plateau!"
-- Cindy Heselton, Exercise Dark Squeeze Planning Committee Coordinator

Come join us in the beautiful Crowsnest Pass.

Please forward this invitation to other caving groups, rescue organizations, etc. that may not yet have seen it.

What You Can Do

Exercise Dark Squeeze focuses on a broad range of rescue, back country, logistical and management skills. We've designed it so there is an opportunity to participate for almost everyone.

Depending on the mix of participants that register we may be able to create additional opportunities to learn specific skills in a group setting.

4 wheel drive creek crossing (Photo: Cindy Heselton)
4 wheel drive creek crossing (Photo: Cindy Heselton)

Technical specialist?

There's lots of opportunities to work your specialized skills.

  • underground travel
  • underground rigging
  • above ground rope rescue (low angle, steep slope, and high angle)
  • patient management
  • quading
  • 4 wheel driving
  • helicopter operations
  • radio communications
  • large scale logistics operations
  • incident management

Not a rescuer but love caving?

Then we need you! Cave rescues require many skilled people in the cave and we can’t do it without the support and capability of competent cavers. ACRO/BCCR builds on your skills in the cave with the rescue expertise.

Not a technical rescuer or hardcore outdoor person?

No problem. The exercise will have various rescue components that are suitable for most levels. Anyone with a moderate fitness level will have no problem participating in the exercise. There are many roles in the overhead team, logistical and helicopter operations, both on and off the mountain that won't have you walking far.

If you have concerns, please let us know; we're sure to have a role for you.

This is your chance!!

... to take part, have fun and utilize your skills.

Why We're Doing It

Exercise Dark Squeeze is an incredible opportunity to bring together the wide range of people and organizations that realistically must come together to respond to incidents in the remote wilderness border regions of Alberta and British Columbia.

Through this exercise we will ...

  • extend 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.

Where You'll Be

Looking up from Camp Caves, the pass is on the right. (Photo: Jeff Smith)
Looking up from Camp Caves, the pass is on the right. (Photo: Jeff Smith)

The Crowsnest Pass area contains incredible karst, caving and mountainous terrain. What you'll experience, depends on how far up the mountain you go.

Gargantua Cave is a popular trip with cavers, tourists, hikers, scouts and school groups. It spans the Alberta / British Columbia border high on Mount Ptolemy. The upper passages can be accessed without rope, including Boogle Alley, the largest chamber in Canada, which is large enough for a jetliner. The bottom passages are accessible through the waterfall "exit" and includes an area of tight squeezes. Most of the cave (6km of generally large passages) is accessible by passing several pitches on rope.

The initial staging area will be in the town of Blairmore, part of the community of the Crowsnest Pass.

The beginning of a 4-wheel track.  The mountain in the distance is our destination.  (Photo: Cindy Heselton)
The beginning of a 4-wheel track. The mountain in the distance is our destination. (Photo: Cindy Heselton)

On the way to the cave, you will find

  • a well-maintained gravel road
  • a long 4-wheel drive track with many creek crossings and some challenging sections
  • thick spruce and poplar forest
  • a tight squeeze along an alder filled trail

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

Others may be hiking. One hike starts at a headwall and ascends 900 feet up a well worn trail to the "Camp Caves". An additional climb of 1400 feet, mostly moderate, the last 400 feet beside a scree slope will bring you to a high mountain pass, overlooking the other-worldly Andy Good Plateau.

The Andy Good Plateau is a broad open bare rock area with numerous cave openings.

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).


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.


Here's what will be happening. 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
  • Exercise check-in
  • Establishment of incident management team
  • Establishment of incident facilities
  • Deployment of initial response teams
  • Advancement of teams and individuals to forward camps
  • 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 team resumes operations
  • Incident management team resumes operations
  • Advancement of teams and individuals to forward camps
  • Underground and surface rescue operations
  • Changeout 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.

What's There?

Base operations, and initial check-in, will be at the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development office in Blairmore in the Crowsnest Pass. 11901 19th Ave. Blairmore, AB. (See google map). Participants are encouraged to car pool to and from the exercise. ACRO provides a wiki page to facilitate car-pooling.

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:

What to Bring

What should you bring? It depends on where in the exercise you want to be.

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)
  • a tent - you may want to arrange to share a tent with someone
  • high-energy snacks and food you need while away from camp (meals will be provided at camp)
  • 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.

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

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

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

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)

If you need or can share equipment (e.g. tent) you may be able to coordinate that using this wiki page.

4 wheel drive trail (Photo: Cindy Heselton)
4 wheel drive trail (Photo: Cindy Heselton)

There's some types of gear that we'll be happy if you can offer to bring, but not everyone needs to have. Please indicate on the registration form if you can bring:

  • quad
  • bush-ready 4x4
  • rope rescue rigging kits (webbing, 8 mm cord, pulleys, tandem prusik sets, edge protection, brake rack or equivalent)
  • rope (static or low stretch only, 11 mm diameter minimum, various lengths)
  • cave ladders
  • radios
  • sat phones
  • mobile command posts
  • first aid supplies
  • group shelters
  • generators
  • other base camp supplies

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.

If you're unsure about any of this equipment, please contact us ( and we'll be happy to help explain what we have in mind.

What We'll Provide for You

You're bringing your training, expertise, equipment and time to this exercise. We want to match your contribution with a great experience.

We will be providing the scenario and coordination. Meals and potable water will be provided from Friday evening to Sunday noon.

In-scenario transportation will be available. But as much as possible, please pack for light weight and small size and be able to carry everything on your back with possibly an extra duffel bag.

Our goal is to support participation as much as possible, so after exercise expenses, funds are directed to participant expenses. There may be partial coverage of your travel expenses. Please note where you are travelling from on the registration form. Keep all receipts, just in case!

You will be tenting in equipment you supply either on the mountain or near the base camp in Blairmore. Alternatively, if you're staying at the base camp, accommodation is available at local motels or local participants may offer to billet you.

How to Register

The registration extended deadline is September 9. Please register early; due to the logistical limits, participation numbers may be limited.

There is no fee for registration and participation; this exercise is supported by a grant from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

Registration for the exercise is in two phases.

Phase 1 (optional) - expression of intent

Register online using the ITM website. This gives us your contact information and we will follow up with a registration package (this page).

Phase 2 (required) - registration form

Download and fill out the registration form (from this link).

You can:

  • print it out; fill it out by hand
  • fill it out in your PDF viewer; save or print it
    • Please note that some PDF viewers won't let you save the changes you make (only print). Test your viewer before you spend too much time.
  • fill it out using PDF Escape's free editor; save or print it

Once you've filled out the form, you can:

  • mail it to Box 1251, Pincher Creek, Alberta, T0K 1W0
  • fax it to 403-627-4332
  • scan it or photograph it and e-mail it to
  • e-mail the PDF with your saved changes to the same address

If you've provided your e-mail address we will respond with a confirmation of the details we have received from you.

If you need to change your registration details please send an updated registration form. You can cancel your registration using ITM.

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. Major changes will be summarized here.

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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