A Day in the Life of SMR Member Jim Pitts

Raising a family, a career and teaching with the Mountaineers is quite a juggling act. Throw in service as a field responder for SMR and things can get a little crazy! For me, SMR feels more like a second job than volunteer work. The fact that SMR is unpaid only proves how dedicated our membership is to our charter. It’s this dedication and the support of those around me that makes everything “work out.” It’s difficult to explain beyond this. Instead I will offer a few narratives that demonstrate what I am talking about.


(Jim practicing aid climbing at Vantage with SMR member Jim Gellman)

It’s mid August 2015 and I am sorting through my rock gear for a climb of Kangaroo Temple with the Mountaineers. I am leading the climb. The climbers are students I have been working with over the last year as part of the Basic Alpine Climbing curriculum. It’s 9am when a page arrives.

“ESAR 4×4 SMR SPART. 2 subjects trapped at Chetwoot Lake.”

Chetwoot Lake is remote and requires route finding after Big Heart Lake. This could be a long and difficult pack-out if an injury is involved. The truck is always packed so I head out.

As expected, it’s a long day. The subjects are cold and wet but fortunately, not injured. Their gear is distributed among the team. They hike out under their own power.

I get home around 3am. I am supposed to meet the students at Washington Pass at 7am. There is no way I can safely make the drive. The students spent the night in their cars at the pass. They won’t know something has happened until the morning. I send an email that I hope they will get later in the day.

I just got home from a long mission for SMR. I am in no condition to drive to the North Cascades. I barely made it home from Skykomish. There is excellent cragging in Mazama.They sell guide books at the Mazama Store just down the highway from the pass. Have fun!

Later that day I get a reply:

We figured this is what happened! No worries–you made the right call in getting some sleep after what I’m sure was a crazy mission. We had a great time in Mazama!

It was awesome that my students were so supportive. I have found that SMR’s mission is well recognized and supported by the climbing community.  

My employer is also very supportive of SMR. Each year I spend about half my PTO on SMR training and missions.

This past May I was at work on a Monday when a page comes in just after lunch. I forgot to mute my phone so the alert is loud. Everyone around my desk hears it and knows it’s from SMR.  

“SAR Callout: All Emergency workers – Overdue Technical Climber. Kaleetan Peak.”

It’s late in the day. There’s still a lot of snow near Melakwa Lake  It’s warm but the weather hasn’t been great. I am already packed. I cancel my remaining appointments for the day.

“Good luck Jim,” says a co-worker as I hastily head towards the door.

I get an assignment when I arrive at base. Lead a team up to Hemlock Pass and establish a radio relay. A faster, “hasty” team has already left for the summit. They will need the relay to maintain communications with base.

The hasty team locates footprints near the summit but not the subject. I am among several who opt to overnight near Hemlock Pass so we can get an early start the next day. I call base on the radio.  

jim2 (Jim settling in for a chilly night near Hemlock Pass)

“Base this is Jim. Can someone please radio my wife and tell her I am OK?”

“No problem.”

She knows I am on a mission and that we take care of each other. Work will sort itself out.

The second day is very long. The search is a massive operation. King County’s Guardian 1 helicopter joins the search. My team covers a large area around Melakwa Lake, Kaleetan Peak and scenic Indian Flats.  

After the mission I turn on my phone. A stream of text messages rolls in. One was from my youngest son, from several hours earlier.

“Where are you? How did it go?”

“Wrapping up the mission. It went well. Should be home soon.”

“You are a hero dad.”

I’m not sure about that. The subject hiked himself out and was “found” near a trailhead. Still what dad doesn’t want to hear this from their son?

He starts training with ESAR this fall!

JimPittsSon   (Jim helping his son James with his navigation homework)

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