Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 30, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:49 am
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Sometimes the photos I get off my camera surprise me. Or the way they roll off the memory card surprises me.

Take, for example, this late April day in which this:

Desert Bighorn Sheep skull/horns, l-o-n-g dead

and this:

First sunflowers of spring -- Stemless Woollybase

were discovered four feet apart on a ridge behind my house. As a park interpreter, I am trained to see themes. What am I supposed to infer, except that death and new life are intimately related?

April 29, 2010

This windy day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:34 pm
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Turret Arch, The Windows -- not on our hike

Yesterday my daughter and I hiked 7.2 miles in sustained 40-mph winds in the exposed Devils Garden area of Arches National Park. Definitely challenging, definitely less fun than on a calmer day, but it made for fewer people with whom to share the trails. I even wore wrap-around clear eye protection over my glasses and didn’t care what it looked like, but only that my eyes didn’t get blasted. Much of the time we couldn’t talk, as opening one’s mouth even slightly invited airborne sand to find its way in. Still, when we found protected coves in which to eat a clementine, almonds or an energy bar, our discussion centered on only the beauty around us and the amazing panorama that we were privileged to experience.

Partition Arch & Ilsa

April 28, 2010

Of pirate flags and interpretive moments

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:34 am
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Jolly Roger flies over the housing complex

Park rangers can be quirky. Take the three of us living in House 6, for example. There is a pirate flag flying in our side yard, the climbing rope hanging from the front yard tree, and a growing rock collection beginning to take over our living quarters.

Rangers are always looking for “interpretive moments.” After watching on a training video that there are not one but four (4) types of biological soil crust correlating to aridity of environment, Ranger Victoria looked at me and asked, “How can we interpret that?” In other words, “So what?” or “How can we help visitors decide to care about this stuff?” That is always a ranger’s bottom line.

We’ve collectively decided that our highest goal as interpreters would be to create emotional connections with this park so strong that our visitors are reduced to tears. Or, as Joel is fond of saying, that their heads explode.

April 27, 2010

Hidden Valley, above Moab

Exploring is a favorite pastime. When I was young, I read in National Geographic about people who found ancient structures smothered under the Peruvian jungle; I fantasized about being there assisting scores of machete-wielding workers hacking the centuries of vines off of the pyramids, terraces or dwellings. How exquisite would that be?!?

OK, so my ‘reality’ version of that is going small-scale exploring. I’m privileged to have a local friend who knows all manner of obscure places to go verbing — (hiking, canyoneering, climbing, swimming, eating, etc) — and who is more than willing to share his inside knowledge. Ed asked what I wanted to do: high or low? dry or wet? sun or shade? and when I answered “high and rocky” he knew right where to take me after work.

Hidden Valley does not appear until you’ve climbed for 45 minutes or so up one of the enormous walls that hugs Moab. En route, however, there is some dynamite rock scrambling that gets you onto the top of a sketchy tower overlooking the entire Moab valley. There is no way I could/would have topped it without an experienced guide handy to explain how to scale it, and to spot me as I did it.

The handholds (nice clefts in the rock) were stout, but I kept thinking that they looked like a nice place for a Black Widow to hang out. (FYI: I’d take ten scorpion stings before a BW bite. Nasty neurotoxin.) Ed asked at several junctures how I was doing with this undertaking as I found myself challenged at a few points on the short steep ascent; some folks are fearful around heights, or when finding themselves on steep rock walls being held up only by their own body. Me? I was energized. This was really fun. Pushing myself to see if I can do it — yeah, my knees got scraped up, but we’re not deducting style points.

The reward was worth it. That’s the triumphant photo from yesterday’s 200th blog entry. Here are a few more to fill in the gaps.

Destination: highest tower in the distance directly above me. Ed's name for it is "The Nursemaid."

Ed sizes up our ascent. What route would YOU choose?!? (I couldn't see a likely one.)

Yes, it's very vertical, with a roof. Handholds and footholds are key.

Sweet view of La Sal Mountains and entire Moab valley from top. Exhilaration!

The first Scarlet Gilia is (are?) blooming!

April 26, 2010

My 200th post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:39 am
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Blogging becomes a way of life for us bloggers. A day without blogging is a day without documenting, exploring, or looking more deeply into our experiences, and today is a milestone: Post #200. Two hundred times I have sat down at my laptop to record what is going on in my Utah life. Two hundred times I have not known whether anyone but me is reading. The reality is that it wouldn’t matter a speck to me if I am my only reader; this blog records my ranger experiences mostly for my own remembrance. Inviting others along on the journey does, however, make it even more fun.

Sometimes, out of the blue, a thoughtful comment appears after an entry. Or, as happened Saturday, a stranger from Minnesota stops at the Visitor Center desk to see if “Ranger Kathryn with the blog” is working. (Thanks, by the way! I wish I could have visited with you!) Or, a Facebook friend admits to following the blog and loving it.

I’ll keep sharing, keep photographing, keep writing about my awe at the Utah part of the universe and at this amazing life journey. As for you: read when you can, comment when you’re moved. Thanks for coming along with me. Wish you were here.

BTR: Battle won

More knots I've learned to tie: Radium Release Hitch (a load-releasing hitch to lengthen the line if needed) with long and short Tandem Prusiks

(Continued from previous post)

This was no ordinary battle; it was within myself, and between two opposing parts of me. Anyone who has ever entertained “I can” and “I can’t” at the same time knows what I’m talking about.

Let’s look at this improbable situation. You take a bunch of toned, intelligent, wilderness-skilled, rock-climbing, strong, motivated, mostly-young (mean age late 20s) park rangers from around the country and send them to Rescue School. Then you throw in a 53-year-old mom who has rappelled only a couple dozen times, has no upper body strength, has never packed a backpack, gets confused by physics and couldn’t tie any knots other than her shoes. An improbable scenario — but it was reality.

Crazy, I tell you! But, for some reason, everything in me resonated when I first read about this training back in January. I knew that I knew that I knew that I wanted to apply for this. My supervisor’s “You’ll never get in, but you can apply” didn’t deter me, and my lack of knot skills was just a (large) speed bump that I needed to navigate. I believe the real test was deep within. I had nothing to prove to anyone; I had only to validate my abilities to myself, and discover what well of strength I could draw on. Maybe folks who climb Mt Everest have the same motivations.

The week was a rigorous lesson in listening to my heart. The gutsy, fearless, can-do part of my heart was wanting the challenge; the realistic/reasonable part was screaming, “What were you THINKING?!?!” (“I can,” “I can’t…”) But there I was, no backing out, no discussion between Heart 1 and Heart 2 — just jump in and DO THE THING. My greatest difficulty was in resisting the temptation to compare myself with others, and that was the huge chasm into which I fell on Day 3.

I had to have The Talk with myself at that low point: “You are unique. Your worth and value do not depend on your abilities, success, intellect, wit, strength, or competency. You are you. Bring what you have to the table, and quit looking at everyone else’s proficiency.” That was a turning point. It was a lesson I clearly had to learn. I am quite certain I haven’t fully learned it yet, but this was a crucial opportunity. I have got to quit measuring my worth against others.

I will be pondering these things, and the many more that come up from this course, for some time.

Certificate of Completion

April 24, 2010

BTR Day 5: Success

Kathryn is on the belay line, pulling up slack

(Continued from previous post)

As I stepped out of the truck, the fresh morning light bounced off of cliff walls. It made me smile; it just did. I was 80% done with my course.

After the midnight finish the night before, I had grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled down all the new things I had already learned this week. In a short time I had a list of 35; I could double that list if I sat and thought long enough. This training has been like drinking from a fire hose.

Our first scenario Friday was to learn how to retrieve victims from low-angle slopes — maybe a talus slope at the base of a cliff, or a boulder field. These litter carries are considerably more dangerous than vertical missions for the rescuers because of the uneven terrain. Sprained ankles, tripping, dropping the litter… these happen with regularity. Our instructors now told us that we didn’t find Jimmy last night, but we found his 350-pound body — and now had to carry it down to the road in a litter.

We improvised a guiding line off of a couple of juniper trees and clipped our team to the litter rail. The ‘dead body’ was every last piece of rope, webbing, hardware, etc., that we had worked with all week, under a blue tarp. It was HEAVY. Litter-carries are sweaty, difficult, cardio-challenging work.

Once we completed that task, we corrected our written tests and had lunch. Two of our instructors slipped away during lunch, and at 1:00 one of them came running back in disguise as an ordinary person and agitatedly reported having seen a para-glider slam into the cliff face below our lunch site and hearing moaning from down below. He couldn’t see him, but he could hear him, and he definitely needed help.

Looking for our injured victim

Talk about being primed! At lunch time we had already designated an Incident Commander for whatever scenario was coming, and we had collectively decided to play to our personal strengths. We lesser-skilled folk were paired with more-skilled folk, and each team knew what to do and how to do it. Gear was hauled to the staging area. Personal items off to one side, tarp spread out for dumping the rescue gear, the leader shared her vision for where each line would be anchored, what the anticipated fall line would be for our ropes, and what our Plan B would be if the victim were found to be not directly below us.

We all sprang into action. This was the culmination of the previous 4.5 days of training, and our instructors just took up comfortable spots on the sandstone, pulled out their trail mix, and watched. One was taking notes about how long it took us, and the Safety Officer of course checked every anchor, knot and carabiner after the student S.O. had already done so. They had warned us that the ONLY time they would say or do anything on this mission is if we were doing something unsafe.

It took considerable self-restraint on their parts to keep their mouths closed when we were doing things the hard way instead of the easy way, because they have about 60 years of combined rescue work beneath their belts. There are, however, MANY ways to conduct a mission safely and effectively, and they were letting us do it our way.

We lowered a rescuer, Steve, down to locate Andrew, who was conveniently just below us 100 feet or so, and then hauled Steve back up with pulleys before sending the litter down. The team worked like a well-oiled machine. The long pulley lines on the 5:1 mechanical advantage system kept intertwining, but apart from that, everything went as anticipated.

My rescue team

We got Andrew out before 4 pm. I know that may sound like a long time, but rescues have to be done cautiously and methodically, with the safety of the rescuers coming before the patient’s needs. The last thing we want is for a rescuer to become a second victim.

As each of the four teams straggled back to base camp upon completing their missions, applause broke out. This was what we had signed up to learn — and learn we did. Certificates of completion were handed out and my dear teammates gave me extra applause and enthusiastic “Woot!”s as I received mine. They knew the struggles I went through, and they honored not my skills but my tenacity and determination.

[Continued in next post]

April 23, 2010

BTR Day 4: Inner victory

(Continued from previous post)

What a difference a day makes.

Something shifted in me between Wednesday and Thursday. As I methodically re-packed my pack Thursday morning, adding what I might need for protective clothing, subtracting extraneous baggage, I reviewed my objectives. I saw what I wanted to happen. I asked God for grace, strength and clarity. I mentally prepared. Because we were going to go late into the night, we had all morning off, which I used to read and study and get my head around concepts that had been fuzzy. I finished my take-home test.

Coming down from the cliff for dinner

I had had little awareness of how burned out and stressed I had gotten in three solid days of massive information overload, but the morning off replenished me and I arrived at the training site as ready as I’ve ever been. And… it was a VERY GOOD DAY. Things began to click in my head or gut. I no longer was questioning every decision I made (“Bowline or figure eight?” “Wrap-3-Pull-2 or High-Strength Tie-Off?”) and I found a well of confidence that had been AWOL all week.

We ate our sack suppers at sunset and then attached our headlamps to head up the cliff for Night Operations. The half moon illuminated the trail and stars began twinkling all around. Over the radio came a scenario in which the local sheriff requested our assistance to locate a missing boy. He might be on the mesa top or might have gone over the edge.

Our Incident Commander assigned me and another student to rappel down in the dark to search for “Little Jimmy” while the others rigged up belay and mainline systems for lowering a litter in case we found him injured. I’ve never rappelled in the dark. Instructor Brent kept an eagle eye on me and watched me tie myself in, load the brake bar rack, check all carabiners, and practice tying off if I needed to stop in mid-rappel. He sidled over to me and quietly asked if I remembered the “wine talk” from yesterday, as he could see I was tensing up. I smiled at him and consciously let my shoulders and neck and back relax as I took a few deep breaths and went over the edge. Adrenaline rush.

By the time we ‘found Jimmy’ and cleaned up all our gear and re-assembled the team and packaged everything up for overnight, it was midnight. We all agreed that this exercise had been Really Really Fun. In my own silent thoughts, I acknowledged that the day was a major turning point emotionally.

(Continued in next post)

April 21, 2010

BTR, Day 3: Self doubt

(Continued from previous post)

It’s unusual for me, but tears were near the surface today.  The other eight participants in my group all seemed to be “getting it” way faster than I was, no matter how much I studied and practiced. Oh, there were components that I knew I was understanding, but I certainly lacked the ability to put it all together and SEE how rescue systems are created and what elements are needed.

Packaging the patient for the litter lower

Each evolution of a scenario has a new challenge introduced, or sometimes several. Today we added the litter, which is rigged with a haul system the likes of which I have never seen before. There are single lines and  multiple-strand-and-pulley lines going off of it — to the belay rope (litter attendant), main line (victim), metal frame of litter, bridle above litter… my brain has difficulty following it all. Each connection, remember, has to have redundancy in it so that if any one piece were to fail, the system would still function.

Then the instructors may come along and throw a knot into a rope that you are trying to pass through a pulley! Your job is to problem-solve, or (in my case) grab someone and ask them for ideas.

I have known for a long, long time that I am far more comfortable following directions than giving orders, and being rotated into the Incident Commander position scared the daylights out of me. Somehow I survived it, but the funniest comment of the day was in the middle of that agony when Mr Kindly Instructor pulled me to the side about ten yards and said, “Kathryn, you just need to RELAX. You are so stressed out! I feel like I should tell you what a mentor told me when I was training for Ski Patrol: ‘Before work, have a glass of wine and you’ll be fine.’ That was a non-government job, of course. But, seriously, you need to step back and begin looking at the Big Picture. Your job is to keep everything in view. Stay here with me and don’t walk back toward the action. You can see everything you need from here: your edge attendants and your main line. RELAX.” He smiled a smile that suggested that everything would be okay in the end.

Rigging a belay line and a main line -- groupthink

During a lull in the action I approached a compassionate instructor and, with a lump in my throat, asked, “I know I am on the remedial end in this group, and I wonder if you can tell me whether the objectives are the same for me as for the more skillful students?” He assured me that this was a BASIC technical rescue course, just an intro, and I would not be expected to perform to the same standards as those who came in with more rope and rescue experience. As long as I am learning, and finding out what I can and can’t do, and I know the difference… I’ll be okay. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but it still is painful to be a slow learner

Winds were blowing at at least 35 mph today and gusts were far greater, probably nearing 50 mph on our exposed cliff. My housemate had lent me her waterproof shell, fortunately; we were pelted at various times by huge raindrops, blasts of sand, and small hailstones being flung sideways. Not until the lightning appeared at 4 pm did they call the exercises, however, and get us off the cliff as quickly as possible.

Tomorrow: NIGHT OPERATIONS with headlamps. If I think it’s challenging in broad daylight, I hardly want to consider what it will be like in the dark and wet and quite cold conditions. Best if I don’t think too much about that and just take every layer I own.

General Douglas MacArthur said, “Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.” I have 40 pages to review in my manual before getting back out there tomorrow.

(Continued in next post)

BTR, Day 2: anchors, lowers, raises

Kathryn and instructor Scott ("victim") prepare to be lowered over edge

(Continued from previous post)

I had the sweetest sleep of utter exhaustion after Day 1. Day 2 was ramped up, faster paced, and more material to master. It was a constant battle to keep my focus and refuse to allow myself to feel overwhelmed by the glut of information. I kept my game face on and got through.

First we learned several ways to secure an anchor system to various points above our cliff edge: juniper tree, bolts in rocks, etc. It’s not as easy as it sounds when you include fancy techniques like pre-tensioned tie-offs at the front or back end of your rope. All I could think of was that my engineering-minded daughter would find this a piece of cake, while I struggled mightily with the concepts.

We were given a scenario in which a visitor with a shoulder injury needed to be lowered over the cliff face to drive him to a medical facility. The Incident Commander then assigned tasks to each person: Belay Line, Main Line, Edge Attendant, Litter Attendant, Safety Officer, etc. Throughout the day we rotated through each position and became familiar with what needs to happen in each place.

The belay and main line managers have to rig anchor systems that will hold the proper amount of weight and be completely redundant, which means that if any part of the system were to fail, a back-up piece would kick in and prevent injury.

The edge attendants (2) must secure themselves to ropes and are the only ones allowed within ten feet of the edge, so they handle anything related to equipment and people going over.

The safety officer’s job is to examine and touch every single knot, carabiner, rigging system, personal tie-in, and anchor to check that they are properly done. That requires knowing how many inches of tail are supposed to be on each knot, what direction the carabiners ought to be pointing, and whether those load-releasing hitches are tied right.

The litter attendant (even when no litter exists, as this patient had only a shoulder injury) is responsible for accompanying the injured party over the edge and issuing commands controlling the rate of descent. Everything in the mission revolves around this pair.

The Incident Commander oversees every detail and is the communications hub. S/he must know how each station is doing at all times and how many minutes until all are ready for the mission to begin.

Lowering "victim" and attendant over edge; edge attendants managing the edge protection so rope won't fray

My problem is that things move so quickly that there is not enough repetition to secure items in my mind. Last night I went over to Ed’s to re-learn how to rig a pulley system that would provide 3:1 mechanical advantage. This is starting to come together… but today they add a full litter and an injured patient who needs to be properly secured to the litter, and the litter to the attendant and to the system. Oy.

Deep breath. I can do this.

Oh, one more thing: a huge cold front is moving through Utah today. This means winds of 20-35 mph ahead of it, with 45-mph gusts. We are on the top of an exposed sandy cliff trying to manage a rescue. We will need whistles today, and goggles. At least we’re missing the snow that Zion NP is going to get.

I gotta go study.

(Continued in next post)

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