Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 20, 2010

BTR, Day 1: Knots, rappelling, situational awareness

This poor pack was loaded by a complete amateur, who can barely heft it. That is going to change.

I felt like I was trying out for “Survivor.” Heck, my pack weighs more than 1/3 of what I do! Glancing around to size up the other trainees, who were hefting their huge packs with a grace and ease that made me marvel, I resolved that I would NOT be the first one booted from this island.

Every last one of them was Law Enforcement, wilderness fire fighters, Search & Rescue, back-country or river rangers. Only one was Interpretation, and that was me, and that raised eyebrows from some others who asked “How did you pull that off?” Interpretation is historically its own division and gets involved in rescues only after all other avenues have been exhausted. A few folks asked me if I thought my supervisor would support me in getting out there for rescues, to which I responded that I hoped so and would look forward to talking with her about my desires to do just that.

After introductions and a serious safety talk, we were broken into our four training groups for the week. Each has nine students and four instructors. The much-anticipated Knots Test took place right away, and I PASSED with ease. (Many thanks, Ed.) I have a little work to do on my Munter Hitch, but that will be easy to master.

Hitches must be tied to something, so we gather around the litter to practice

Most of us have rappelled before, but some hadn’t, so we set up for that. We had to learn to tie ourselves off in mid-rappel so our hands would be free for rescue tasks.

I was watching the clouds build up as each hour passed; it was a glorious 72-and-sunny day, but in Canyonlands that can change in a flash. As our day wound down, the final hour was to be a lecture on Situational Awareness and factors that can diminish our attention to our environment. The teacher moved the class from clifftop to parking lot because of the threat of weather, and the wind still blasted sand into our eyes and ears and teeth, but it was a great illustration of the importance of not allowing distraction to deter us from our task.

Brandon, our highly capable instructor -- from Grand Canyon

At the close of the day I looked around with satisfaction and gratitude. One down, four to go. The leader had promised us that the first day would start off easy, but as the week progressed we would be increasingly challenged. I know I have to take things one day at a time, and have my nose in the manual every evening. Final test Friday is open book, so I don’t have to memorize kiloNewtons and breaking strengths, but I sure do have to work hard to know what I am doing.

(Continued in next post)

April 19, 2010

The calm before the BTR storm

Crazy assortment of gear I need to pack in

It’s Sunday night. I take over the living room to lay out all my paraphernalia and make double sure I forget nothing; let’s not make my neophyte status any more obvious than it already is. I don’t know how to use some of my stuff, nor even how to carry it appropriately. I’ve little idea how to arrange it within my large loaner backpack in the most efficient manner.

Sleep is fitful and interrupted. There is a lot going on subconsciously.

Monday dawns clear and mild, which will make the day go a LOT better. I dress (in layers, of course) and slather myself with sunscreen. An entire day on the rocks can burn one to a crisp. I remember to breathe deeply and I deny myself any opportunity to obsess, to wish I had more experience, or any other ridiculous self-sabotage.

45 minutes after the big white government F-250 pick-up collects me, we find ourselves pulling into a parking area spilling over with equally-anxious others. Dozens of parks are represented. Every possible experience level is represented. I just want them to blow a whistle and get this thing started, so I can get back to feeling normal again. Three months of waiting is finally over. I can’t decide if it’s more like throwing up so you can feel better, or giving birth so you can feel better, but something has got to happen soon.

April 18, 2010

Eve of Rescue

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:47 pm
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I am what I am — and that means the full meal deal: physicality, inexperience, willingness to learn, enthusiasm, distractibility. I’ve made a conscious decision to do my very best, learn everything I reasonably can, and not measure success or failure on the first day. I know I will have helpers to whom I can go for assistance in learning and understanding things. I don’t know how much blog time I will get this week, so thank you for your patience. If you are a praying person, I would covet your prayers for deep peace, clear thinking, safety, strength, good retention of material, and a tangible sense of God’s nearness and assistance. Thanks! Let the adventure begin!

April 17, 2010

Parade of Favorites

As I was perusing my iPhoto files, a few just need to be shared on the blog — for no special reason except that they help you get into my desert world. Click on any to enlarge.

(A) Shafer Trail Overlook

(B) Dewey Bridge Member

(C) Morning Glory Arch

(A) Why do people always look over the edge? It’s at least 600 feet down, I think, at this Shafer Trail Overlook. Can’t help myself. Very cool place.

(B) Geology lesson: The wavy rock layer is the Dewey Bridge Member of the Carmel Formation. Old tidal flats, mid-Jurassic. It would seem that Dr Seuss took inspiration from this for all his rock illustrations. Gotta love the Dewey Bridge Member.

(C) Morning Glory Arch, 6th largest natural rock span in USA at 243 feet, is on BLM land a couple of miles outside the park. Since it is forbidden to rope any arch within the park, this one does get regularly climbed. You can see my rappel rope hanging there.

(D) The Fiery Furnace is an area of tightly-packed sandstone fins, tall, mysterious, and inviting. Rangers take tour groups in there twice daily, and adventurous individuals can secure permits to explore on their own after orientation to resource protection issues. In the  last month we’ve had two broken ankles in the Furnace, and Law Enforcement put this site in their GPS as an LZ (Landing Zone) for a helicopter in case a medical evacuation becomes necessary. Can you believe a ‘copter can land up there?!?!

(D) Atop a fin in the Fiery Furnace, an LZ exists.

April 16, 2010


Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:03 am
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one of my figure eights

In 72 hours I will be en route to Canyonlands NP for the first day of Basic Technical Rescue. While I know that I can handle five days of intensive training (I feel physically ready and mentally ‘on my game’), there is a large degree of trepidation here. It’s normal, but it’s unsettling. I am playing the comparison game — measuring myself against the other participants, and wondering what the heck I am doing among them. Law Enforcement, Search & Rescue, those types — people who have been climbing for years.

My housemate Lauren and I went top-roping last night, just because it was a perfect opportunity to get out of town a few miles and tackle two climbing routes along the Colorado River. [Top-roping: Lauren hikes to top of cliff, secures rope, rappels down, and then we take turns climbing the rock face while belaying each other. Fun, quick, convenient climbing.] As I clumsily attached the rope to my harness I realized that I will be the least experienced climber on the training, having climbed only last fall for a couple of months. That makes my learning curve far steeper than that of other trainees. But, on the positive side, as soon as my feet got on the rock, it just felt RIGHT. It’s a good place to be. Judging from my previous post, there is a strong connection/attraction to rocks.

Still: I’m nervous.

April 15, 2010

Lower Courthouse Wash Rocks

Our shady lunch spot along Lower Courthouse Wash

I’ll let you decide whether “rocks” is a noun or a verb in the post title. Either way, I was fascinated on my hike there today. This is a main drainage in the park, and apparently does not dry up. Cottonwoods and willows occupy the wash, and so do nesting raptors. We were there to locate nests for Cooper’s Hawks, Red-Tailed Hawks, and anything else we could find.

(A) Desert Varnish

The red rocks won’t leave me alone. I find them beautiful and mysterious and solidly comforting. The stripes (A) on these rocks are iron oxide and manganese oxide deposits, accelerated by run-off, taken from blowing sediments in the air, adhered to the rock surface by bacteria. It’s called Desert Varnish and it’s lovely. It may take 1000 years to form a layer as thick as one sheet of paper.

(B) Large area of fractured cliff wall, eight planes deep, about 15 yards wide

I’m intrigued again and again by the way sandstone fractures. This face is undercut in multiple layers; one can see a bit of the process of arch formation here (B). The visual texture is quite pleasing.

(C) Conchoidal fractures -- an especially beautiful example

Conchoidal fractures (C) happen when a slab of rock separates from the cliff wall. This example is particularly endearing, with its concentric circles. It was huge — scores of feet across.

And then, rounding a bend in the stream, THIS stares you in the face — an ancient pictograph (D). I am accustomed to seeing rock art in groupings, with multiple images on panels or nearby, but this one stands utterly alone. Sadly, it has been repeatedly used for target practice by rifle-bearing idiots; still, it commands my attention and respect.

(D) Lone pictograph high on wall; perhaps 16" diameter

April 14, 2010

Lost Canyon and Squaw Canyon, The Needles

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:15 pm
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Walking along the sandstone rim on the Squaw Valley trail

Some places are purely refreshing. Especially after working in a heavy-use park like Arches, with its nearly one million visitors per year, getting away to a neighboring park with fewer people around is extra wonderful.

Needles is full of colorful formations

Yesterday a friend and I went to The Needles, the southern district of Canyonlands NP, about an hour and a half away. Its views are quite different from Arches’ views — buttress-y, fortress-y, rock-climb-y, with a variety of habitats. On a flawless spring day, we had the perfect 7.6-mile hike.

I realized 3/4 of the way through it that I NEED to be active in order to feel my best. I noticed that very strongly upon my return to MN last August, and I did all manner of active things to keep myself in that groove. Minnesota, however, is a far cry from Utah; one must be ever so much more creative and resourceful to find things to do. I thought again of how exquisite it is to have a pool of Very Active Friends who will not shy away from adventure in our off hours.

I’d be interested to hear what you have discovered about your ideal activity levels. What does your body tell you? Have you learned to heed its messages? Do your friends’ activity levels influence you more, or do you influence them?

April 13, 2010

When the wind blows

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:30 am
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Sporting the wind-blown look on a cliff top near Bootlegger Canyon

April is what it is. Spring winds keep blowing the dust and sand around, redistributing particles willy-nilly. It gets in our eyes, ears, and teeth, and some call it the “Moab facial.” Unlike in my homeland of Minnesota, it often does not lose its itensity after the sun goes down. One adapts.

While roving at The Windows yesterday, in the midst of this 30-mph vortex, a visitor pointed off to the heavy sky in the distance and asked, “Is that rain?” “No…” I explained, “that’s sand in the air. And it will be there for quite some time.” Last year under similar circumstances a sudden rainstorm created MUD SHOWERS as the drops cleaned the particulate matter from the atmosphere on their way down. I’d like to see that phenomenon.

After work there were a couple hours of sunlight remaining. A trip to a side canyon off Potash Road gave plenty of exploring opportunities; the accompanying wind-blown portrait comes from atop the sandstone cliffs. Hoping to find calm at the canyon head, I was drawn to the majestic cottonwood just leafing out, and the living-room-sized pond at its feet, but there was absolutely no abatement of the swirling air. I’m pretty sure it intensified in that bowl-like setting.

April is what it is.

April 12, 2010

“I can not get no Feed”

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:08 am
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Poignant graffiti at Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Intriguing century-old graffiti at Chaco — on a rock that many passers-by seem to have used for messages — says this:

Jean — I can not get no Feed — I can not wait For you.

What drama. It begs speculation about what animal(s) were feed-less, for how long, and where he eventually found feed. And… did Jean ever find them? Were other messages left elsewhere? How long did the crisis continue? What month of the year was this? And… why is it in a lovely cursive script instead of the typical block letters that can be more easily carved with a knife?

Along the petroglyph trail in Chaco Culture NHP. Surprised man? Celebratory stance?

I have a similar gut reaction when I view petroglyphs and pictographs. I want to know about the artists, and what they were representing, and how long it took them to peck or paint the rock art, and what their tools looked like, and whether they stood back with satisfaction on completing it. A millennium later, some things appear obvious, and others are pure speculation.

Dog? Coyote?

April 11, 2010

Private planetarium show

As the sun was about to set, Ranger Joe drove up, out of uniform, and waved me over to his car. He had led our large group hike through the ruins, and he knew that we were rangers from Arches. Rolling down his window, he explained that he had talked our campground host (a former astronomy professor) into giving us a private viewing of Chaco’s night skies. We were speechless and grateful. It would make that long cold interval between sunset (7:46 pm) and bedtime more bearable.

Steve the Astronomer met us at the small observatory that had been donated to the park. It had the cool dome that revolves on a track, and a monster-ish 25″ telescope with tracking. Two workers from Zion NP were leaving the next day, and they joined us for a look into heretofore-unseen-by-us marvels of the spring sky in the southwest.

We saw planets. Saturn’s rings were edge-on, and various moons circled it; it looked like a glow-in-the-dark decal one would put on a child’s bedroom ceiling. Mars was a bright blob. We saw the cool M81 and M82 galaxies. We saw a few shooting stars while waiting to look at other things, and Pleiades and the Beehive Cluster through binoculars. My favorite, however, was the Orion Nebula; the uppermost ‘star’ in his dagger is a sight to behold! Gases exploding out in all directions — oh, I was riveted, and the others almost had to urge me down from the stepladder so they could get their turns.

We returned to our camp feeling like the tiniest specks. Very cold specks. And then we remembered that we were in a park with one of the notable archeoastronomy sites in the southwest: a pecked petroglyph spiral on a rock wall atop Fajada Butte, with three large rocks placed to direct daggers of light upon the spiral on the solstices and equinoxes. Look at these google images and be amazed. There is a long, long history of celestial study here.

http://www.elcamino.edu/faculty/eatherton/images/sundagger_detail.jpg http://www.cpluhna.nau.edu/images/fajada_win_solstice.jpg


P.S. Astronomy Picture of the Day makes a good home page.     http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/

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