Stone Into Wood

A Washington climber's hand-carved rock panoramas

Wood Sherri Lewis
Through a process called "intarsia," Sherri Lewis creates one-of^a-kind wood murals, like this one called "Red Rocks Sunset," to commemorate memorable climbing trips.

NOTHING COMMEMORATES an unforgettable climbing trip like a hard drive full of digital photos, but let's be real: how many of us actually take the time to print the photos and display them? And even if we did, would the procession of buttshots and overexposed landscapes really deserve wall space? Probably not. That's where the Sequim, Washing-ion-based artist Sherri Lewis comes In.

Lewis lives and works on the Olympic Peninsula, creating wood murals in a workshop adjacent her house. She uses wood recycled from other craftsmen who can't utilize the smali pieces. Just as the natural features of rock dictate climbing style, Lewis lets the wood dictate design and color scheme, opting not to use stains or dyes (though sometimes she'il paint a background according to a patron's specifications). Each piece is a one-of-a-kind, original design, usually inspired by a photograph or a special trip. When studying a photo, she begins "to see shapes and lines emerge...much the same as a stained glass artist."

After cutting each individual piece of wood with a scrollsaw or bandsaw, she uses inflatable sanders to round the edges and create contour. Then she applies a clear, non-toxic finish and glues the pieces to the back board. Many of her larger pieces- some are more than six feet long and weigh 45 pounds-require 100-plus hours to complete from beginning to end. Thanks to the personal connection between climbers and nature, Lewis particularly enjoys the commissions she receives from climbers because of their "appreciation for...nature's wilder side."

As a climber herself, Lewis finds inspiration in nature and the sometimes unconventional beauty of it. Many people's first reaction is to want to touch her wood murals, because of the warmth and depth of the puzzle-fit pieces. "It's like walking up to beautiful rock and not thinking twice about reaching up to find that first good hold," she says.

Lewis placed her first piece of gear during a trad workshop called the Mountain Madness Clinic, in Leavenworth, Washington, and was Immediately hooked. According to Lewis, trad climbing appeals to her artistic side. She finds placing passive gear especially satisfying, "much like achieving a perfect fit between the various wood pieces" in her murals. "When you get one set just right, you know it."

—Julie Ellison


Julie Ellison Climber

The author transitioning to the low position and communicating with the ground crews during a vertical-rescue practice.

The author transitioning to the low position and communicating with the ground crews during a vertical-rescue practice.


Battles over saving your ass

EVERY YEAR WE READ HEADLINES about mountaineers missing on Mount Hood, Denali, or some other location. We read about search and rescue (SAR) crews searching for lost mountaineers or performing epic rescues. The efforts are heroic and even life-threatening for SAR crews. We forward the stories to our friends and then follow them as they go viral. In the following week, as adrenaline diminishes and the media hype fades, the lost and injured are all but forgotten.

But, for the SAR world, though the mission has concluded, the battle is far from over. Quietly, behind the scenes, search and rescue is engaged in a battle to save the outdoor tifestyle-and potentially your ass. The trenches of this battle cross the United States, intersecting various state and local governments and agencies. As a climber of more than 20 years living throughout the West, and a five-year member of the Larimer County SAR team, I've seen the landscape shifting.

Hard economic times are tough for both local and state governments, which are more than willing to roll any cost off their books. Combine that with the general public's anger toward climbers, who are obviously "irresponsible dumbasses" or "unprepared bozos," according to postings on comment boards at and The Boston Globe website, and you have the perfect storm. Take ABC's John Stossel of "20/20," who said that when people doing "knuckle-headed things" need help, the rescuers should "send the bill to the guy that needed help."

Historically, there has been no charge for search and rescue; the costs were borne by local, state, and federal authorities. But, in some areas, the times they are a-changin'. For the most part, unpaid profes sionals conduct search-and-rescue operations. Some localities have opted to use a mixture of paid and unpaid personnel; these areas are also, because of budgetary constraints, turning toward billing for search-and-rescue missions. New Hampshire, Hawaii, Oregon, and Maine have statutes that allow agencies to recover costs for rescues. California, Vermont, Colorado, and Idaho have statutes allowing agencies to charge for SAR only in some circumstances, such as negligence. Until recently, these statutes have rarely been called into play, but examples are becoming more common. A 21-year-old student from Maine and her friend were charged S3.360 for getting lost after taking a wrong turn on a trail. A man and his teenaged son were billed nearly $15,000 by Custer County, Idaho, for a rescue from the Sawtooth Range, (Among other things, helicopter use can factor into the high price tags for rescues.)

As a climber and a search-and-rescue professional, I find this trend terribly concerning. Wilderness search and rescue is time intensive; it could be costly if personnel pay is part of the cost equation. Injured climbers facing huge medical bills can easily be hit with SAR bills in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Cases where costs go un-recovered will fuel the fire to close climbing areas to protect taxpayers.

According to the Mountain Rescue Association's President, Charley Shimanski, "There is ample evidence that charging for rescue often results in a delay in the call for help, which can greatly increase the risk to the subject and rescuers alike." In an environment where extraordinary work is ordinarily required to save a life, delaying the call for help for fear of bill is downright dangerous, and potentially tragic. Near Boul-

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der, Colorado, a climber rappelled off the end of She rope and busted his pelvis. Because he and his partner were afraid of the SAR bill, they tried to self-evacuate, which caused even more injuries. Eventually, the climbing partner went for help. SAR now had the added hazard and difficulty of a night rescue.

The National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR), Mountain Rescue Association (MRA), Colorado Search and Rescue Board (CSRB), and many local teams have said-loudly-that they oppose charging for search and rescue. Both NASAR and MRA have been actively campaigning against this trend. Key battles have been won, like Golden, Colorado's decision to rescind its policy, so as not to negatively impact tourism. Other battles continue, like that in New Hampshire, where the state has decided to charge for search and rescue, as determined by a person's negligence. According to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Lieutenant Todd Bogardus, negligence is an easier standard to prove as compared to the previous standard of being "reckless." Freddie Wilkinson, a New Hampshire climber, blogged on the Mountain Hardwear website, "Nobody-not outdoorsmen, not tax payers, not the land managers themselves-wants government to be in the business of regulating adventure. But it's clear through rising special user fees and search and rescue repayment laws that that is the direction we are headed in if the outdoor community doesn't take responsibility on its own" One such case involves an Eagle Scout who did "everything right" according to rangers, but was subseguently charged $25,000 for taking "a risky hike off trail."

It is time for a call to arms. The search and rescue community has been engaged in this war for years, but we can't win alone. It is time for the end users - the climbers, the mountain bikers, the mountaineers - to voice their views. Search and rescue people say we'd love to go out of business, it'd be great if our services would no longer be needed because people stop getting lost or injured while enjoying the outdoors. But we certainly do not want to be out of our jobs because people aren't allowed to climb, bike, hike, or otherwise enjoy the outdoors.

Editor's note: Lee Lang, of Laramie Wyoming, is deeply involved in climbing and search and rescue. He's an active member of the Larimer County Search and Rescue (LCSAR), a member of the Board of Directors for NASAR, and the Wilderness SAR editor for Technical Rescue Magazine (TRm). The views in this article are his own and do not represent the views of LCSAR, NASAR. or TRm.

The Battlefield

The Internet is a good place to learn more about this subject and its importance. National organizations arc growing conccrncd with this trend and are seeking public comment. Newsweek, Time, USA Today, National Geographic Adventurer, ABC's "20/20," and many other national media outlets have run prominent stories addressing this issue. Below, a select list of Internet resources that offer information regarding this SAR War.

• ?ref=nf

■ ngadven tu re, typ epad, com/blog/2009/111deep -survivat-i tith-la it ren ce-gon-za le search-rescue-sh auld -victims-pay: h tml #mo re

■ co loradosarboard, org/csrb -sarfees. asp

■ pa 12 /sites/d efaul t/files/documen ts/p uhl icatioris/MRA C ha rge-Position.pdf

■ blogs.denverp ost. com/sp o rts/2009/06/09/gold en-to -stop-bill ing-fo r-re sates/

■ 20SAR 2QHelp.pdf


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