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Mountain Rescue Team reaches milestones

Group celebrating history this Sat. at I Bar Ranch

Emily Pilon

Special to the Times


As summer transitions to autumn, memories of college begin popping up in graduates’ minds. Many may remember taking 8 a.m. classes — followed, possibly, by regretting taking 8 a.m classes — their first party, first love or first experience of living on their own.

Many Western State Colorado University graduates remember times around campfires, high atop mountains or frollicking in feet of snow. They may even remember skipping class to be in nature. However, in 1968, a group of students from Western skipped class not to enjoy nature, but to find their missing physics professor.

With no smartphones or Google Maps, the students relied on their own experiences and paper maps to navigate the wilderness. With no idea where the professor may be, the team of students ventured out with time against them. It wasn’t until hours later that the team had found their professor and brought him back home.

This incident became the founding moment for the Western Mountain Rescue Team (WMRT), which has grown and blossomed over the years. This coming Saturday, Sept. 23, current and former WMRT members will gather at I Bar Ranch to celebrate the organization’s history — as well as its 30 years as a Mountain Rescue Association-accredited team.

Amy Allbritton, current development coordinator, has been with WMRT since she started school at Western. Allbritton comes from Oologah, Okla., but has found roots in the valley because of the rescue group.

“I was on a backpacking trip when I had first heard about Western and their Mountain Rescue Team,” Allbritton explained. “It was a big selling point for me, and is the reason I chose to go to Western.”

Allbritton graduated from Western in 2016 but said staying in Gunnison was an easy decision because of WMRT. The team has inspired countless students and community members over the years, and continues to.

“The team gives students an opportunity to rise up and develop leadership skills that ends up helping them after graduation,” Allbritton said.

The composition of the team is different every year, as students graduate and move on to other things. Some become outdoor educators, raft guides or even dispatchers.

Since 1987, WMRT has also been the only accredited university team in Colorado through Mountain Rescue Association. This means the team works closely with the Sheriff’s Office and dispatchers, like Allbritton, offering WMRT the opportunity to respond to incidents in Gunnison County — as well as other counties throughout the state and, on occasion, across the country.

Yet, most commonly, the team works within Gunnison County, completing around 40 missions each year that are authorized by Sheriff Rick Besecker.

Besecker has been in law enforcement in the valley for 44 years and has helped WMRT since his first day. He said he’s never seen a lack of energy among organizations such as WMRT.

“Between training or conducting searches and rescues, you are sure to find great sacrifice but also tremendous opportunities,” Besecker revealed.

He has seen many successful moments involving the team, but also noted that tragedy does occur.  

“Not every search comes out with someone alive,” Besecker said, “but every search that is successful helps bring closure to not only friends and family of the subject, but the team as well.”

Besecker said that to each mission the team responds quickly and efficiently. He remembered around 25 years ago when military helicopters were doing high-altitude training and one went down near Monarch Pass.

Besecker recalled one of the commanders — impressed by WMRT’s ability to respond, fully prepared, within 40 minutes of the initial call — saying to him, “We need to get our training from Western on how to rescue.”

Group members say that with every search, rescue and recovery, the team improves.

“The team is immediate and professional with their responses, as they know time waits for no one,” said Besecker. “I’m excited to see what the future has in store for the team.”



What: Western Mountain Rescue Team Reunion
When: Sept. 23, 4-6:30 p.m.; open to community starting at 6:30 p.m. with live music
Where: I Bar Ranch, Gunnison
What else: The event will celebrating the 30-year anniversary of WMRT’s accreditation through the Mountain Rescue Association, as well as the group’s nearly 50-year history in the Gunnison Valley.

Gunnison Country Times

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