Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 18, 2010

In which my decision keeps being confirmed

View to the east (La Sals) at Island in the Sky. This is the terrain in which we'll train.

It’s hard to miss.

Surprise, delight and envy — the look on the faces of climbers (inside the NPS and out) when I explain that I’ve been selected for Basic Technical Rescue says it all. This is a coveted training, and it seems I’ve been added to an elite sub-group of people.

Last night all the local ‘parkies’ were invited to a St Patrick’s Day cook-out at the home of one of the permanent rangers. I carry my purple rope in my purse and pull it out to practice knots whenever I have some down time; I need all the help I can get. These folks were eager to assist, and happy to go over and over it with me. One woman had been to the training before and is going this time, too, for Law Enforcement refresher — and promised to look after me and give help when needed. We tied Mr Purple Rope around the garden hose, chair legs, and itself. My retention is starting to improve. Another worker ran and got his Rescue Manual to loan me for bedtime reading for the next month, so I am at least familiar with terminology. The more I know what to expect, the less stressful it will be.

One of the Law Enforcement rangers (I think their name is changing to ‘Protection Rangers’ which sounds less threatening) suggested to me that in all likelihood my own park can loan me the specialized pieces of equipment that I am lacking. I’ll need an ascender, some etriers (web ladders), daisy chains, a chest harness, a bunch more carabiners…

I am psyched.

March 15, 2010

How many of you are (k)not experts?

The length of purple rope lay in my hands expectantly. “Tie me,” it seemed to taunt. I didn’t know where to start.

In my life, I’ve learned how to tie shoes, scarves, and sutures. That is three (3) kinds of knots. Any time I’ve been camping, lashing something onto a car top, or securing something for a move, I either let someone else do it or I end up with the ugliest jumble of untrustworthy ropes and loose ends that you’ve ever seen. Knots have been my nemesis.

It is now time for me to look at them differently.

Ed models the first one, a water knot called a Ring Bend. “This one secures two ropes to each other.” With a few flips of his hands he has a handsome figure of rope that I am to copy, and I enjoy success with this very easy knot. After a number of repetitions, I think I have it, and we move on to something else that should be vaguely familiar — a Figure Eight Follow Through, one I’ve used in the past for rock-climbing. That one boosts my confidence as well, which I think is Ed’s strategy.

Knots can be fun???

We work through the list. Watching someone who’s tied them thousands of times is one thing; I, however, have no muscle memory, nor any concept of what each one is used for. It’s pure mechanics for me: grab bight, twist twice, insert short end through loop, etc, etc, etc.  After each one I review the ones I learned earlier, and am pleased to discover that I have a modicum of retention.

That’s good. My life, and the lives of others, will depend on having strong and correct knots.


[Permission granted by Ed to use opening line of his Knots Class as this post’s title.]

March 13, 2010

BTR, part 3: what to do?

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:24 pm
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dawn is a good time to think clearlyIt’s my weekend. I decide to drive to Durango, CO, where my friend Ed is house-sitting. Ed is a highly proficient climber who taught me canyoneering basics last summer, and whom I can trust to give me accurate feedback about the Basic Technical Rescue course. He’s done it all, Advanced Everything. He’ll shoot from the hip.

Ed listens to my saga about the application, the acceptance letter, and the agonizing second-guessing. He senses my serious self-doubt. Why would I put myself through this? What reasons are good enough? Am I trying to prove something to someone, or to myself? Will I ever use these skills? Shouldn’t I give that spot to someone younger, with a full NPS career ahead of them? And what about my Knot Fear? The list of excuses grows longer.

“I hope you didn’t cancel.” Ed’s interjection caught me by surprise, tangled up as I was in my own trepidation. “No. But I have been vacillating. A LOT.” “I can teach you your knots. You can do this.”

In that moment I realize I am at a crossroads. I can cave in to my own fears and doubts, or I can embrace this as an incredible learning opportunity that will take me farther from my comfort zone than I can imagine. For the first time in days, I dare to believe that I can do this… and I like how it feels.

To Be Continued…

BTR, Part 2: The disconcerting details

Shafer Point, Canyonlands -- this is the type of terrain on which the training will take place

Boss Nancy handed me the print copy of the congratulatory email and I tucked it away for later study. I floated around all day grinning at this unexpected turn of events.

And then, after work, I read the fine print. Five pages of it.

1. After describing the clothing we’ll need, and admonishing us to be prepared with our personal  gear to be self-sufficient for any weather (from spring snowstorms to 80’s), it says in bold: “For some reason not everyone understands this last statement, and it is painful to watch them suffer when the weather turns sour.” Gulp. I’ll need more weather gear. Lots.

2. Equipment List. Twenty items. Half of them I have; half of them (being a new climber) I don’t yet own. I will beg or borrow what I can. Thrift shop may help with some of them, like rain gear and cold weather parka.

3. “CRITICAL PRE-STUDY NOTE: All participants  will be required to demonstrate competency in the knots and ties specified below at the beginning of class. If you are unable to demonstrate them, you will be held back in the course (until proficiency is attained, no matter how long it takes) and your supervisor will be notified of this deficiency.” Big gulp. The only knot I know is for tying scarves. There are eleven on this list. Spatial relations and I don’t get along, so diagrams of knots are very tough for me.


I’m not grinning any more. My stomach is in a knot, and I don’t know if it is a Double Fisherman’s or a Figure Eight On A Bight. I’m wondering what the heck I’ve gotten myself into, and whether I should proceed with this or abandon ship.

To Be Continued…

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