Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 31, 2010

Heightening my situational awareness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:00 am
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Lecture points on Situational Awareness (S.A.)

Let’s face it: I’m highly distractible. I tend not to notice what’s going on around me because I am concentrating on something, or my thoughts are intruding, or I am mission-minded. I am an object of amusement to friends who can’t figure out how I could “miss” something or other, or fail to see  ______ (fill in blank), or not notice what so-and-so was wearing, driving or doing.

Today, however, I need to jack up my Situational Awareness a notch or three. I am going back on the river, only this time it’s running at 22,000 cubic feet/second instead of the 12,000 it was last time I was rafting. We’re nearing the peak of snowmelt. The Colorado is full and fast.

Fortunately for me, part of our Basic Technical Rescue training included a lecture on Situational Awareness and I photographed one of the posters with bullet points on it — a handy review! Let’s look at it through Kathryn’s eyes.

1. I am to be suspicious and have “controlled paranoia.” In the class I saw all the instructors watching every detail like hawks, ‘knowing’ that some bumbling student could construct a faulty anchor or mindlessly step where they ought not. On the river I can’t blithely trust that whoever is rowing us through the rapids knows what s/he is doing, or that my PFD will save me from every danger, or that if I am ejected from the raft someone will be able to get to me. I have to be suspicious of everything.

2. Asking “Am I distracted?” is like asking “Am I alive?” — the answer is always, always yes. Whether a solid mindfulness about this will help me is another question. I’ll work on that today. When I’ve been in dangerous climbing places with a companion who says simply, “Stay focused here,” it is very helpful to my scattered brain. I need to train myself to shut out distractions.

3. When my heart rate goes up, my IQ goes down — or at least my ability to make wise, well-considered choices in the moment. Staying calm is of paramount importance. This is a learned ability; I have quite a ways to go.

4. Keep a list of red flags — learn from previous mistakes or triggers, and add to it with every operation or event. It’s no wonder that the seasoned rescuers who have “seen it all” have a much wider repertoire of skills. The old “Remember when…?” is useful when a parallel experience presents itself. Today I’m going to study the water surface and ask my river friends for help interpreting the signs. There will be PLENTY of rafts on the river on Memorial Day and I can learn from watching them go through rapids, too.

5. Trusting my gut is something I ignored until my 40s. It’s a gift to learn the intuitive skills of tuning in to what my innards are saying. Telling others what my impressions are is the next step.

Leave a comment: How’s your Situational Awareness? When do you need it to be most keen? Have you found other things that help you be more tuned in to your surroundings? What distraction-eliminators work for you?

May 30, 2010

Pioneering a route

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:21 pm
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Bagging the rope after a rappel. This handsome canyon provided much-needed shade for the task. We rappelled down the black-and-tan wall.

“To boldlly go where no man has gone before” — (cue dramatic music) —  that line from the opening to Star Trek always made my spine tingle. That’s what I get for a lifetime of reading National Geographic. To this day, going on an ‘Explore’ to a new place ranks right up there with the finest of adventures. It’s great if I have never been there before, but even greater if NOBODY has been there before. Or at least the illusion of nobody.

Ed and I assembled two heavy packs, with ropes and extra equipment because we didn’t know what we might need to get down or up. The day was hot, and we got a late start, but we hiked up a canyon near Moab and then began our ascent up the walls. Ed picked his way like a mountain goat, and I lagged behind a little as I was unaccustomed to carrying that much extra weight. I would later be grateful, however, for every ounce of water I was toting.

Up a steep wash, around several exposed sketchy ledges, up a fairly vertical crack (I tied a bowline around my waist and Ed belayed me for that ascent), over a buttocks-shaped mesa top (I thought Kiester Corners was a nice name for it), and to the edge — and we were standing hundreds of feet above the Colorado. Getting down was to be the more adventurous element. When you rappel into unknown territory, you always have to leave some means of return in case for some reason you can’t get down further. Maybe your rope is too short, or you have to rappel into a cage of tigers, I don’t know. But you always need an escape route. That’s the dicey part. You leave the previous rope in place while assessing the next descent.

Steep climb up the canyon walls -- I look like a grasshopper

Pictures are worth many thousands of words, so enjoy the photo collection of our as-yet-unnamed trip to a new destination. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Rope fixed in place (bolted into rock) permanently by base jumpers. This is scary exposed stuff.

Ed free-climbed up this vertical section and will throw me a rope. It's pretty straight up.

Sometimes you need hands on one wall, feet on the other. Opposition is your friend.

First rappel -- you just don't know what's down there.

Maybe it's giant ground sloths waiting for me.

Second rappel: 60 ft?

The prickly pear are finally in bloom!

May 29, 2010

The dangerous (?) Colorado River

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:04 am
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In the "Alpacka" rafts on the mighty Colorado, 5/20/10

Floating the Colorado River is always fun, although the fun may take various forms. Last summer one raft trip of mine was complicated by stiff headwinds blowing upriver faster than the current was taking us down. That one needed a LOT of rowing. Today’s excursion would be more low-key. It was a pleasant day, some winds, moderate temperatures, and Matt and Ed and I wanted to get out on the water. The river was flowing at about 12,000 cubic feet per second, a medium flow; peak is still a couple of weeks away. Many tributaries of meltwater from the snowpack add to it, so the water was cool but not frigid like Lake Superior’s waters. Still, I had on a splash jacket to keep the goosebumps down.

Desert Highlights (the guiding company Matt owns and Ed works for) has some inflatable one-person “Alpacka” rafts that weigh less than five pounds and can be easily backpacked. The paddles break down, too, and it was a simple matter for us to pack it all upriver and carry them to our put-in spot for inflation. Canada geese with their goslings made way for us.

It hardly took ten minutes and all three of us were ready. Matt gave me (pretty much a novice) final instructions: “If you flip, grab your paddle and stay with your boat. Remember: point your feet downriver and keep your legs slightly bent so if you hit a rock, you’ll bounce off. We’ll come to you.” I nodded, comprehending only that I could flip. I realized now why Ed had loaned me an eyeglass retainer strap.

My guides selected a short portion of the river that had a nice mix of rapids and calm water. I deemed that the riffles that greeted us instantly were there only to make me go faster, and plunged out into the river. I suppose it is 100 yards wide there, and moving steadily along. I tended to follow where the other two went, as I knew little about reading the water and guessing what lay underneath the various swirls and humps.

It might have been our second rapids, I don’t know. I saw this swooshy thing shaped like a depression in the water surface, and it just seemed to suck me eagerly right into itself. I remember thinking, “It’s going to eat me alive,” and freezing up and completely forgetting to paddle (which is the cardinal rule: Just Keep Paddling!) before finding myself immediately underwater. “Geez, I hope this isn’t one of those holes that holds you under forever,” I thought with utter seriousness as I strained for the surface. Good thing that PFDs (personal flotation devices) were mandatory. Mine popped me up soon enough and the first thing I saw was my paddle floating downriver with me and with my boat. Matt and Ed were bee-lining it to the scene and I swam to my paddle, grabbed it, and only then heard Matt yelling, “Point your feet downriver! We’ll come to you!” Oh, yeah. Rocks. This Minnesota woman is accustomed to lakes; when your boat flips, you stay put. I turned myself downriver and realized with a small amount of trepidation how quickly the current was taking me.

Matt and Ed had only a couple weeks earlier taken a 3-day Swiftwater Rescue Course in Steamboat Springs, and later admitted that this was an excellent practice scenario for them. All I cared about was figuring a way out of my predicament, which was that I was being carried quickly toward Mexico without anything between me and whatever dangers lay beneath those brown waters. At least I still had my glasses and hat.

Hanging onto my paddle so as not to lose it, I swam for my raft, which Matt had already corralled. Once near his raft, all I could think of was to swing one leg up and rest it on the side, and let him paddle us to the edge where I could re-establish some order in my life. He got us to some boulders where an eddy made it easy to hold our positions while I dumped water from and re-entered the craft.


The massive walls of red rock merely observed the goings-on with detachment. They have seen thousands and thousands of boats flip.

Let me just say that the remainder of the trip was less eventful than its beginning. I learned a lot about kayak paddling, and stayed out of any place in the river that looked like it could eat me up. There weren’t many. Matt still teases me about this being like plunging my hand into a haystack and landing on a needle, but I maintain that the guys needed some rescue practice and I needed to confront my fears and this was good for us all.

May 27, 2010

That’s enough poop-scooping

  • My scoop is half full of horse poop.

    It’s the end of the line for my new movie career; I’m okay with that.

  • The final day of shooting turned out to be 14 hours long; it was a hot one in the desert.
  • The cloudy skies didn’t please the director (it creates a lack of continuity with previously-shot scenes on sunny days) so things kept getting delayed until the cloud cover moved out at lunchtime.
  • We never knew what was going on or how many takes the director would want. I felt sorry for the poor cavalrymen and Indians who had to fall off their horses over and over and over again… getting shot, fake blood, etc., — then the costume people would have to come and give them a non-bloody costume for each retake. Tough life actors have.
  • Horses that are bored act a lot like teenagers who are bored; they don’t have good behavior, get into mischief, act out. They also were getting as tired as the humans were, by the umpteenth retake.
  • The food services people took really good care of everyone. Hot and cold beverages were always re-stocked. In the hot afternoon, a rubbermaid tub full of ice cream bars appeared.
  • The union requires every set member to be paid $30 for every half hour they are deprived of a meal after six hours on set. So, if they eat breakfast at 0700, they MUST break for lunch by 1 pm OR pay every last human being the equivalent of a dollar per minute of ‘overtime.’ That adds up fast. They respect meal times. 30 minutes from the time the last individual sits down is required.
  • The saying “It’s not my job” seems to roll off of everyone’s lips. With so many departments trying to dovetail, you’d think there could be a small amount of camaraderie; no such luck. At the day’s end, everyone departed quickly after the final shots, leaving the Locations director and me to pick up every water bottle thrown on the sand, all the paper/plastic scraps, a left-behind personal camera, sandbags, signs, etc, etc. I was appalled at the lack of teamwork.
  • The crew and 30 horses exhibited zero interest in preserving the fragile cryptobiotic soil crust. Well, not that I expected the horses to, but the crew I had hoped would know better! The local land manager had a talking-to with the director, who then appeared before us all to make a contrite statement about how it was our duty to walk only where the flagged trails were, etc.  This lasted about 90 minutes before everyone quit caring again. I mean, let’s get our movie made.
  • Still… scooping poop is a reasonable job. I collected five garbage bags full of it Wednesday, one bucket at a time. I smiled at each person who looked at me with pity in his/her eyes, saying out loud with humble sincerity to no one in particular, “I love my job, oh, I love my job.” That always made them smile. I did enjoy it. I got pretty good at it, too.

And now on to whatever comes next.

Kathryn, the Poop Scooper at Onion Creek, demonstrating effective technique

May 24, 2010

I really don’t want a career in the movies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:26 pm
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It takes a certain type of person to want to do movie work. Watching hundreds of people hurry up and wait, while the actors repeat their scenes seven or ten times to get it right, is about as interesting as watching ice melt. Nevertheless, it IS fascinating to see the inner workings of a huge machine called a movie company. Every last detail down to “Who is recycling all our beverage containers?” must be thought out in advance and assigned to somebody. The down side is that there are too many bosses, and it is hard to know to whom to report. Especially in a remote location where cell phones aren’t working, the left hand barely knows that its right hand is even connected. Somehow, though, it all gets done. Eventually.

I must report that I am duly impressed with the catering company that does all the food for 290 people daily. The breakfast and lunch buffets looked remarkably similar to what is served at the country club in my home town… and this is three meals a day, every day, for the entire crew. Snacks on the set are the finest fresh fruits and veggies, berries, sliced cheeses, beef jerky, granola bars, a basket of chocolate bars, and some salty crunchy type things. Massive coolers filled with iced beverages (sodas, juices, sparkling waters, lemonade, tea, etc) are always at the ready. They feed their people well.

Scooping horse poop is about as rigorous as I thought it would be. I carried out all the poop that the six pack horses pooped in the canyon by my campsite today. These horses carried in all the camera equipment, about 3/4 mile, and a security guard will sleep there each night to keep an eye on it all. Tomorrow there will be about 8 or 10 horses in there, for many more hours, so I’ll have significantly more poop to carry. There is something very therapeutic about this job. It’s humbling. I have no pretenses about being someone special when I carry the poop rake around with me. I like this.

And I got a free T-shirt today that identifies me as part of the Utah Film Commission’s FILM CREW. Sweet.

May 22, 2010

Sand in my navel

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:21 pm
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It can’t be helped, actually. When winds are sustained at 35 mph in the desert, even my wonderful rock wall can’t stop the incursion of sand. I am happy to report, however, that only 1/3 to 1/2 as much sand is accumulating in my tent as without the wall. Very bearable.

My thick Russian novel is my best friend just now. Sitting on my camp chair under the one small tree in my site, I look up to see the distant buttes all muted by flying sand. A 50-mph gust rises up and pushes a whirling dervish across the sandy parking area, and I squint my eyes tightly closed against the assault. There is sand in my eyes and ears, always. When I blow my nose, the boogers are sandy. I am not surprised to find sand in my navel, although I can’t tell you precisely when or how it got there. At night when I prepare for sleep, I tuck my bra in the folds of a blanket; there is just something highly unpleasant about putting on a gritty bra in the morning.

Alas, my all-time favorite chapstick (irreplaceable, to boot) has melted in my tent and the goo leaked out. My dark-chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds are stuck together. The Gatorade is at 82 degrees and doesn’t quite quench one’s thirst. My goodness… I am not complaining… but the novelty of this gig is starting to wear off. Still, paid camping is worth the discomforts!

Karen, my mate in Site 5, and I decided to tackle Professor Creek (5 or 6 miles) this morning despite the winds. I left my camera in the car on purpose, as it dislikes being pelted with sand, but I shall tell you that it was a most refreshing hike with our feet in a cold creek and our faces into the wind. The La Sal Mountains are still a bit snowy on top, and having them tower over us as we hiked was spectacular, spectacular.

Monday will be our fourth straight day of high winds. After that I’ll take some more pics and add them.

May 21, 2010

In which I secure my next job prior to completing the current one

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:56 pm
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I’m doing so well at this campsite-holding gig, the movie company has offered me a subsequent one — for even more money per day. So, today the entire “2nd unit” descended on our sites and got their orders from the Stunt Coordinator. They were going to hike up the dry wash to scope out the location of the horses-running-up-the-canyon scene. They were bemoaning the fact that the horses need water, and there is no immediate water; the horses will poop, and it needs to be scooped; the BLM prohibits the driving of ATVs up the washes, and how will they water the poor thirsty horses? Long hoses? 5-gallon jugs?

I guess I will help them! I’m now hired on for five days of horses/mules/water/scooping. I don’t ask questions, I just do what I’m told. Twelve-hour days plus breakfast and lunch and unlimited snacks. Probably five days. I’ll have to find another place to live, however; my campsite will be precious real estate.

Right place, right time…

Oh, yeah, the wranglers found fresh bear tracks in the sand yesterday in that wash! I need to go make photographs.

I wonder what it’s like to haul water and poop all day every day for a week??!!?!?!?

May 20, 2010

Solitude’s gifts

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 1:08 pm
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Dawn at Onion Creek, Campsite 4 -- "The Rectory" & "The Priest"

Well. I got the first 207 pages of The Brothers Karamazov (small print, 776 pages!) read yesterday — definitely the most daily reading I’ve accomplished in years. Too bad my reading room was so stuffy, small, and squalid. (See photo above.)

Found a creative use for rocks. Colestocks do this often.

A brilliant idea came to me at 4:45 a.m. as I was visualizing what my brothers would do to “improve” this campsite. While I don’t have tarps, hammock, folding table, etc., to make it elegant, I do have a rather limitless number of rocks at my disposal. Because so much sand blew into my tent on Windy Day #1, I have done what any good Colestock would do: collected a large number of them and began building a small wall around the base of my tent. I am pretty sure that over the next two predicted windy days, my wall will protect my tent from assault by the invading grains. If it is successful, who knows what my next project may be? (Hint: the Roman aqueducts have always fascinated, and Onion Creek runs just the other side of the road…)

They taste just as good as they look!

And then I ate a few edible yucca blossoms, which are deliciously salad-like and fresh.

And suddenly it was time to build a fire and watch the bats and stars come out.

And I’m getting paid to do this.   [* contented sigh *]

May 18, 2010

My new secret gig

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:34 pm

OK, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement. You’ll need to imagine the missing pieces.

A certain well-known Movie Company is making a film on location in the Moab area, needing a place that resembles Mars. (Have you been to Moab? It does resemble Mars.) In a remote section of wilderness half hour north of here there is a “campground” (if one can call it that) run by the Bureau of Land Management. It has no toilets, no picnic tables, and one must drive across a shallow creek multiple times to access it. (Poor Olive. She didn’t know what she was getting into.) Said Movie Company will be filming some horses-running-through-canyons scenes up there next week and they needed someone to squat, occupy, hold a couple of sites for them in the interim so they’d be available for all the equipment and machinery and wranglers and caterers and what-not. And they are paying me — ME! — a tidy sum of XX dollars per night (sorry, can’t publish, per contract) (but it is more than my ranger job pays) (OK, those two digits are different and they are greater than or equal to 7 or 5, not necessarily but possibly in that order) to hang out and camp in the wilderness! I have another squatter buddy in the next campsite 150 yards up the creek, so we are in it together. There is a list of alternates dozens long in case I am unable to fulfill my duties for any reason, but somehow *I* got the job. Wow. Nice.

Downside: gritty sandy blowy. Mesh tent lets it all in. This morning’s collection: one cup of sand in tent (sleeping bag, pillow, etc). No decent trees for a hammock. No cell phone reception.

Upside: Wilderness. Solitude. Crickets. Frogs. Wildflowers. Martian scenery. Dostoevsky. No cell phone reception. A week to think, read, pray, write, savor the remoteness. First paycheck since December.

I’ll get back in to Moab every few days for shower and email and phone and text messages, but won’t be writing much and certainly am not allowed to post photos. Adieu for the time being. I’m going to the back of beyond.

May 17, 2010

Penury and profusion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:30 am
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Claret Cup Cactus -- my all-time favorite bloom in the desert

May is a splendid month in southeast Utah. Temperatures are usually moderate, spring winds are beginning to abate, and new life abounds. For the plant world, this brief season utilizes the remaining moisture from the winter’s snowmelt, adds the intermittent spring rains, and astounds us mortals with a blast of color and creativity. Changes happen day by day, hour by hour, and even minute by minute. Each species does whatever it must to ensure its continuity.

Lomatium species

I saw my first blooms in late March; the inconspicuous Lomatium species didn’t seem to mind the lingering snowdrifts, but caught me off guard when I stumbled upon them in my off-trail hikes. April brought small bits of color, like the diminutive yellow Newberry’s Twinpod tucked into a protected crack in the rock, or the purple milkvetch along the roadside. One had to be looking, or it was easy to miss.

And then May. The botanical universe decides this is its one and only chance, and it pulls out all the stops. You name a color; it’s here. Flora I’ve never seen become my companions on daily hikes.

Indian Paintbrush

Olfactory delights surround. Aromas of cliff-rose and evening primrose fill the air currents, and if I put my nose in their blooms I breathe and breathe and don’t want to return to normal air ever again. I miss my Minnesota lilacs greatly, but realize that cliff-rose and primrose are fragrant and exquisite trade-offs.

Dwarf Lupine (full grown -- 3"-4")

Visual feasts assail — although that verb is far too strong.  “Ambush” might be more accurate. An overflowing English garden might assail, or the rose gardens by the lakes in Minneapolis, or the conservatory in Como Park. Here, one small vibrant mound of Indian Paintbrush carries incredible visual weight. A single bloom stalk of handsome yucca or purple lupine gratifies. In the vastness and remoteness of an arid desert, little is much. This penuriousness adds layers of delight as one walks among the rock and dirt and sand, and encounters one perfect plant with only three blooms. Survival is the theme.

Exquisite designs need designers, and it is not possible for me to view what I do each day — flora, fauna, scoured canyons, flaming sunsets — without acknowledging the Designer/Creator whose mind conceived it all and whose word spoke it into being. I am grateful, so grateful, to experience the generosity of heaven through all my senses.

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