The recent pioneering efforts to explore the climbing possibilities of the spray ice cave behind Helmcken Falls have resulted in a flurry of publicity for Wells Gray Park, including a two-page photo spread in a major American sports magazine.
Such publicity is priceless and should be welcomed. Ice climbers could converge on the park to try their hands at what has been described as “the most difficult ice climbing in the World.” With them could come spectators, bringing in much appreciated tourist dollars during a quiet time of the year.
The situation does, however, once again raise the question of who should pay the costs of rescue if and when one or more of those ice climbers gets into trouble.
Search and rescue operations can be expensive. Helicopters can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per hour. The real cost, however, is in the unpaid hours by countless volunteers.
The main argument against charging for a search or rescue is that it might discourage people from calling for help when they should. After all, we don’t usually charge for help from the fire department.
Another argument could be that, very often, the search and rescue volunteers are outdoor sports enthusiasts themselves – they don’t mind going out to help this weekend because it might be them at the other end of the rope next weekend.
A possible solution might be the one used in many European countries – rescue insurance. In those countries, if a person is engaged in high-risk outdoor activities, it is customary (mandatory, in some countries) to buy rescue insurance. This is typically available through the national alpine club for a moderate cost ($30 to $40 per year).
Young people, especially young men, seem to need to participate in activities designed to demonstrate their courage and skill. We shouldn’t attempt to prevent them from doing so. However, we also should ensure that they accept some responsibility for behavior that might endanger others.