Safety measures missing at Granite Mountain

By Daniel Roca
Columnist

This past winter, the critical injury of Granite Mountain climber Elise Anderson highlighted the absence of safety measures for rock-climbing in Prescott. What if the rope had not caught Anderson, and she had taken a 35-foot fall onto a knife-blade edge? What kind of rescue measures would we have in place for that situation?

The climbing community in Prescott needs to consider establishing a litter cache on Granite Mountain — a rescue stretcher for the transport of the injured, stored in case of emergency. The mountain boasts some of the best climbing in Arizona, with visitors traveling from around the globe to spend time there. Making sure that our mountain is both adventurous and safe is our responsibility.

The guidelines and technicalities outlined by The National Forest Service (NFS) personnel, who were unavailable for comment on the topic, place some challenges in the way of implementing a litter cache. The NFS designates Granite Mountain as a Wilderness Area, which requires that “there shall be no … other form of mechanical transport and no structure or installation within any such area.”  Litter caches fall within a grey zone in that definition.

Though Granite Mountain is a Wilderness Area, it is also extremely close to the city of Prescott. Viren Perumal, of the American Mountain Guides Association, and a Prescott College Instructor, who aided with Anderson’s rescue, commented, “There should be no barrier to rescue when we are so close. … When it comes to human life, what is worse for the environment? A team of 40 people, or a helicopter?” While eager to help implement a system of safety measures on the mountain, Perumal now resides in Mammoth, Calif. and feels that the initiative needs to come from Prescott residents.

The Prescott climbing community needs to step up. A litter cache does not quite fit under the definition of an installation and developing one atop Granite Mountain has potential. Yet the idea of leaving anything man-made in the wilderness for an extended period of time presents reasonable concern for the NFS. We need individuals to take initiative, do the necessary research and determine what the NFS would need to make a litter cache possible. And beyond installing a litter, Prescott climbers need to implement a system of responsibility if we want to make our world-class mountain more safe for ourselves and visitors.

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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