Valbona Mountain Rescue Service

rationale from the 2015 Visegrad grant application to study and create the first “Plan and Strategy Report”

in July 2016, MRS volunteers located (despite completely inaccurate GPS data from the victims) and rescued a tourist who fell and was caught by a tree.  She was safely transported down and flown home, where she underwent surgery to replace one of her vertebra

in April 2016, a tourist fell to her death in the Valbona Pass

The importance of a functioning rescue service cannot be underestimated. Tourism in the Albanian Alps has grown at a staggering 30% annually over the past 10 years. The area’s primary tourism service, (another TOKA project), reports a growth in requests for reservations, information and help in getting to Valbona: from 9 emails in 2010 to a staggering 9,400 in 2015.
Of course it is in many ways the “wild and undeveloped” nature of the mountains that appeals – where else in Europe are there still such mountains and nature? But although testing oneself against nature will always be part of the charm of visiting the world’s wild places, it is also good to know that someone is watching your back.

History of the Service:

The project began in September 2015, when 3 directors of the Czech and Polish Rescue services visited Valbona for a 4 day workshop. They were Mr. Dominik & Jiri Brozek from the Czech Republic and Mr. Jan Gorniak from Polish Mountain Rescue. 10 local people met daily with the visitors to learn about First Aid, first response networks, map reading and communication skills, and GPS orientation. Valbona’s guests were happy to spend part of their time putting their expertise to the test on hikes to Kukaj Valley and Maja e Gjarperit, on which a surprising number of “injuries” occurred, requiring the rescue trainees to use GPS technology to locate “wounded” hikers and then put their new first aid skills to the test. One independent observer, Bonnie Scott of the USA, remarked “I am so impressed. The enthusiasm was incredible and it was amazing how everyone effortlessly overcame language barriers in their excitement to learn. GPS on the Trail KukajThe local people are incredible – they know every rock! When they add modern organization and infrastructure, their presence will make exploring the Albanian Alps a very different experience.” 

The program continued in early October, when five Albanian Rescue Team Members flew to Prague to spend 5 days visiting Mountain Rescue Services in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.  The Albanian Team members returned truly inspired – a little humbled, but mostly incredibly excited. As Team Member Fatjon Ismalaj said “We have so far to go! But someday – maybe soon! – we will also have dedicated rescue buildings, snowmobiles and landrovers. Until then it is still so good to know that we can offer this better help to all our visitors.” mapreading practicumIt’s interesting to note that until now, local people, working informally with Bajram Curri Police, were actually already providing ad hoc rescue help. Team Member Dashnor Hysaj reports going no fewer than 3 times to Jezerca Mountain (the highest peak of the Dinaric Alps) in summer 2015 – usually in the middle of the night – to find lost hikers and guide them down. After building a them a good fire and waiting for the sun to come up.

Where we are now:

The pilot program finished in Spring 2016, with the production of a printed handbook titled “Valbona Mountain Rescue Service: Plan and Strategy Report.” This publication is a blueprint covering everything needed to create a fully modern and efficient rescue service – from training, to communication infrastructure, to equipment, and is being used to pursue further funding for infrastructure and equipment. Copies of this comprehensive document will be available on request.

Unfortunately, until a dedicated facility can be created – with an organized office and a secure equipment storage facility – the MRS cannot truly move beyond being an ad-hoc effort of enthusiastic volunteers.

Nevertheless, the group has continued to work together, finding support along the way.  Developments in 2016-2017 included:

  • Red Cross first aid training
  • German crowdfunding and climbing training
  • Steel tubed mountain stretcher donation
  • Stretcher training (Set up, maintenance, Carry options) and some work with lifting severly injured people in stretcher and transport safety
  • Lowa shoe donation