Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 11, 2011

Lead-filled dummies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:51 pm
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Rescue Randy allowed me to sit on his lap while practicing my knots.

I don’t like Randy. He’s our 200-pound lead-filled dummy that we can practice lifting onto a litter and securing with webbing or tie-downs before transporting him to a waiting ambulance or helicopter. It’s an important simulation for our team, as conditions in real rescues are never neat and tidy, never easy, never quite textbook. Besides patient size, other variables such as desert weather, type of injury and ruggedness of terrain combine to make each one different and challenging. Search & Rescue is really just major problem-solving, often with a life at stake.

Our practice Friday was in getting a littered patient up a rocky ravine to the “ambulance.” It required ropes and pulleys (anchored to whatever juniper tree was handy) for safety back-up in the steepest parts, and constant communication with one another on the litter team as we’re trying to move a patient along while avoiding tripping and falling over the rocks and boulders strewn in our path. We all, including the patient, wore helmets; what does that tell you about the inherent danger of doing this?

Randy waits for lunch to be over before the 'rescue' can be finished.

Our practice Sunday took it to another level. We hauled Randy hundreds of feet up a 40-degree rock slope and then practiced getting him down to a waiting ambulance without anybody getting hurt. It required a complex arrangement of mainline rope and belay line, both with multiple pulleys and foolproof back-up systems in place, anchored to large boulders on the cliffside. All of us litter carriers were attached to the litter directly by our climbing harnesses, which carried the weight of the load while the haul team up top let us down in a controlled and careful way.

I’m beat. Three solid days of outdoor training, with wind constantly in your face and new skills stretching your mind, use a lot of physical and mental and emotional energy. It’s a good weariness, however, and I feel more prepared to help a rescue team if needed.



April 10, 2011

Ascension Saturday (Search & Rescue training)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:03 pm
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A pair of ascenders for attaching to your rappel rope.

Going down a cliff face while attached to a rope is exhilarating. Gravity is my friend. When, however, said cliff face must be scaled in the opposite direction, the word ‘exhilarating’ would never cross my mind. “Why did I sign up for this?!?” is far more accurate.

In the world of climbing and rescuing, what goes down must often come up. There are handheld mechanical devices that fasten to an anchored rope, with one-directional teeth that grip the rope when downward force is applied yet glide smoothly when being pushed upward. If one then attaches these devices to web ladders for one’s feet, one can create foot straps that will move in concert with the ascender and hand on the same side of the body. I stand on my left foot, slide the right ascender up the rope while lifting my right foot in the webbing loop, and extend that right leg to stand in the higher loop. Repeat with the left. Sounds easy? It isn’t.

Last spring I tried ascending (also called "jumaring") for the first time. Needed lots of help. Don't wear flip-flops for this move, like I did. This is off a tree in my front yard.

Whatever mood I was in as I struggled with the rope and the devices and all my harness attachments and the various adjustments — well, for a moment, I embraced “I can’t” as a possible out. I was hanging on my rope with no strength in my arms, trying to muscle these stubborn ascenders higher, and it felt as if the rope, my belay line, my own trembling leg muscles, my utter inexperience, and the rock face all conspired against me. Fortunately, my teammates shouted out helpful advice like “hug the rock,” “shift your weight to your left leg,” “Good! You can do this!” etc., and I finally (with grunting and gracelessness) completed the twenty-foot ascent.

Scootching (there is no other suitable word) over the lip at the cliff top, I realized gratefully that somewhere in the middle of this climb a light bulb had gone on and I began to feel the rhythm of the alternating sides of my body moving up the wall. My heart was pounding and my mouth had zero saliva by the time I topped out, but I was SO pleased that I had not given in to the temptation to be a wimp… especially with my very capable colleagues looking on. Let’s hear it for peer pressure.

April 21, 2010

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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