Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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 26, 2010

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

March 14, 2010

BTR, part 4: my understanding grows

[Continued from Part 3]

I feel so small underneath Delicate Arch

Some things you just deep-down ‘know.’ Others you must come to grips with, wrestle with, debate with. And sometimes a distressing combination of both exists, leaving the revelatory process to unfold in fits and starts. When what your gut ‘knows’ is different from all your excuses, justifications, and rationalizations, a powerful opportunity for growth presents itself.

If being pushed many fathoms outside my comfort zone was not exactly what I envisioned, what am I sure of?  This much: I know that I know that I know that this challenging course is what I wanted to do.  Ed’s few and choice words brought my desire, which seemed out of reach and impractical, into focus.

He had to silence my “… but… but…” as we walked Zip, the dog, through Durango. There really is no place for ‘buts.’ Do I want to know myself better? Do I care to be less constrained by my “I can’ts”? Am I ready to push against my self-imposed limits?

To Be Continued…

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