Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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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