In 1986, Mountain Rescue Aspen leader Greg Mace died in a fall during a training climb on the Maroon Bells near Aspen. Numerous ceremonies and memorials ensued, including the naming of Greg Mace Peak in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. But one important piece was missing in the healing from this awful tragedy.
An outfit known as the Mountain Rescue Association serves as the umbrella group for all volunteer rescue teams in the United States. Along with organizing conferences and providing unity, the MRA maintains an Honor Guard that helps with events such as memorials, funerals, and such.
MRA Honor Guard — Greg Mace Tribute, Vail, Colorado.
Last evening (Friday), I had the moving experience of attending the Honor Guard ceremony for Greg, held during the 2005 MRA International Workshop in Vail, Colorado. The incredible event started with a fun and touching awards ceremony. Then Tim Kovacs (Honor Guard Commander and MRA past president) launched into a tribute slideshow that covered every person he could find, worldwide, who had died in the rescue line of duty. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as face after face and name after name flashed on the screen. I sat there stunned, thinking about how many times I’d willy nilly risked my life for a thrill, and these guys were ready and willing to come get me if the thrill went to worse — and perhaps lose their lives in the process. More, a few familiar names popped up on the screen, adding to the emotion.
The MRA Honor Guard is based on the ancient tradition of military honor guards. They’re basically a highly committed group that does a beautiful series of choreographed moves such as entry and exit marches, flag presentations, and bagpipe music. The MRA Guard provides a sense of excellence, unity and continuity to an event. They wear special uniforms specific to the Guard and present a dignified demeanor, but also act to console the bereaved in touching fashion. In a word, they’re brilliant.
The Guard started the event with their entry march (which includes using ice axes as part of their kit), did a presentation of memorial certificates and a plaque to Greg’s family, then finished with a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace — the ultimate heart grabber.
We alpinists and backcountry skiers sometimes forget how important rescue volunteers are to our sports, or worse, we deride volunteers as yahoo thrill seekers. In reality most mountain rescue volunteers are incredibly committed, and have many areas of expertise they contribute to their units (and to us if necessary). Mountain Rescue is an essential and brilliant part of our alpinist culture. I encourage everyone to at the least encourage SAR folks and donate to your local rescue outfit in some way. More, if you’re a team player and want to help others, consider volunteering.
I’d like to thank Greg’s widow, Julie, for encouraging us to attend this special event — and also thank the Mountain Rescue community as a whole for all their gifts, including the ultimate sacrifice so many have made. Lastly, I’ll never forget Greg’s face when he looked down at me while I lay in a litter after one of the two times I’ve been rescued. Greg, thanks for being there for us.