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)

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