July 17, 2009

NCRC Cave Rescue Seminar

Bedford, Indiana June 13-20, 2009

Getting there

Thursday afternoon, June 11th: took the plane to Indianapolis, IN via a stopover in Phoenix, AR. Loved the landscape there! Arrived in Indianapolis around 1.30 am at night and was picked up by a nice caver who drove me all the way to Stalker Elementary School in Bedford, helped me to find a place to put my tent and then even helped put the tent up. By 4.30 am I was ready to go to bed.

Woke up around 10 am and spent the day talking to people, washing ropes and other caving gear in a 10 % bleach solution (yikes!). In the afternoon, I spied on the instructors refreshing their patient packaging skills and later that evening we were allowed to play around on the ropes that had been hung in the Gym of the school and practice our vertical skills.

Seven long days of learning

Saturday morning everyone was welcomed to the seminar by John Punches and Anmar Mirza after which we split up by level. The level 1's were escorted by DJ to the classroom that would be ours for the week and - after some more introductions - we had our first lesson in the more technical aspects of ropes and cave rescue equipment.

After lunch Roy gave us a theoretical introduction into the cave environment followed by a treatise on medical considerations and medical assessment by our MD Steve Mossberg.

The evening was spent by the instructors checking our gear and us doing our Entrance Skills Checkoffs - demonstrating our knowledge of knots and SRT skills. I spent the evening chatting to a bunch of people and having lots of interesting discussions - something that would go on for the remainder of the week.

On Sunday morning we were split up into Squads of 4 or 5 people. I ended up in Squad 2 with Todd, Susan and Andrew and quickly ended up trusting them when we learnt how to package a patient and I got to be the patient! We packaged each other alternately in a SKED and a Ferno and then did some above ground patient movement with the whole group. We escaped the heath outside by having some more classroom time and had patient packaging checkoffs in the evening.

After learning how to pack and transport a patient in a horizontal cave the previous day, on Monday we learned hauling and lowering systems - for the main line as well as for the belay line - that will be used for vertical litter transportation.

In the afternoon, we had a good time practicing what we learned on the rocks and the evening was reserved for checkoffs again followed by more interesting discussions and practicing pickoffs-according-to-NCRC-standards in the Gym.

Tuesday morning started with lectures on hazardous atmospheres, water problems and communications and then in the afternoon we were let loose into a cave - the first one ever for a few of the students! We practiced underground horizontal litter movement packaging a few chosen ones in Ferno or SKED and then dragging them through more or less challenging passages. My team was given a really hard time trying to maneuver me in a Ferno through an extremely narrow passage. I was very glad that people made sure my nose did not scrape the ceiling!

That evening I discovered the Alamo, originally named "Little Alamo" - but later abbreviated to Alamo - after the Spanish Mission turned into a military fort in San Antonio, Texas that held out against the Mexicans long enough to ensure Texas' independence. The NCRC Alamo now is usually located at one of the Texans' - Monty's in our case - RV vehicle and it is the place where people hang out in the evening, drinking beverages, having conversations or playing games and they're usually the last ones to quiet down for the day!

The morning of the next day was spent in the classroom with lectures on the Incident Command System, how to search a cave and psychological considerations of a cave rescue.

In the afternoon, we got to go into a cave again and the six level 1 squads merged into two bigger groups. Both groups dragged a Ferno into the cave to practice hauling and lowering of a packaged patient. Within each groups the different squads alternately had to package and provide a patient, rig and operate the main line or rig and operate the belay line for hauling as well as for lowering.

That evening, Squad 2 (minus Andrew who deserted us and went on a boat tour in a tourist cave with some other guys) did some more rigging and installing the bridals on the litter checkoffs after which the night was concluded at the Alamo.

Friday morning we had to take a test on what we had learnt that week in the classroom lectures. Luckily the test wasn't too hard cause I don't think that anyone had found time to actually open their course book!

In the afternoon, we were supposed to go into a cave again for some mock rescue scenario practices. Unfortunately, a tornado warning was out so it was decided that we would hold our mock Mock Rescue in the Gym - hastily renamed Gym Cave. Level 1 and 2 together went through 8 or so mock rescues in the school thereby getting to know each other a bit better.

After dinner, John Punches and Anmar Mirza went over the rules for the real Mock Rescue the next day and that night everybody went to bed rather early for a change to get some decent sleep in preparation for a potentially long day the next day.

The next day then, all 3 levels were being mixed up and divided into three big groups. I ended up in team 2, which was the team that got the initial accident report and went to the scene first. The level 3 's took the posts in the Incident Command and gave the rest of the level 1 and 2 's their tasks above ground or dispatching them into the cave.

Together with Level 2-er Ethan and co-level 1-er Jim, I was drafted into Comm Team 1. Our task: take enough comm wire and phones into the cave, get as close to the patient as possible and keep Incident Command in the loop of what's going on underground.

The accident had been reported around 8 am that morning and by 10.30 am the Initial Response Team and Comm Team 1 were on their way into the cave looking for patient Jess who was reported to have a broken leg. We would have to get Jess' team mates out of the cave as well; Jonathan who got lost and Mark who got slightly hypothermic. Luckily, neither of her team mates needed to be carried out!

We installed two spools of wire before we ran out of it about 50 m before the Mountain Room - a big chamber where a narrow passage would have to be rigged to get Jess out of the lower river passages - and had to sit tight until one of the other task forces brought us more wire. When another spool of wire arrived we made it all the way down into the river passage below the Mountain Room.

At that point, a call was made for all available hands to go and assist the Evac Team with the evacuation of the patient and I was sent out deeper into the cave and helped with the evacuation until Jess made it to the Mountain Room. After that (and a funnily bruised little finger), I resumed my task with the Comm Team taking the comm wire out of the cave again and taking everything that was left behind out of the cave. We were accompanied by a couple of bats during the process. We finally made it out of the cave by 7 pm, a while after Jess had gotten out.

After that, we went back to the school, had a well-deserved dinner, washed the gear that we had used that day and the day was concluded with a party at the Alamo that lasted until the morning. At 4 am that morning we were treated to a sudden thunder storm and refreshing rain shower, but that wouldn't deter the partygoers.


On Saturday then, the last day of the seminar, we had a review of the Mock Rescue. Instructors seemed pretty pleased with how things had gone and our Comm Team got some nice comments on the rigging, marking and hiding of the comm wire.

Level 1 also got an award for Real Men and Real Women, a steel carabiner that had been pulled apart in a stress test. Jeff got the carabiner without gate because "Real men don't need gates" and I got the gate because "Real women don't need carabiners" ... ;-)

After that, people started taking off to their respective homesteads. I got to say a lot of goodbyes since I stayed until the evening and my plane wouldn't take off until really really early the next morning. I spent a lazy afternoon packing at ease, drying out all my stuff that had gotten wet during the rain storm, sat around with some other people at Monty's RV, found out it was actually my birthday that day and concluded a great week with piza in Bloomington, IN after which Roy drove me to the airport where I barely managed to wake up at 3.30 am to catch my flight to Charlotte (with air hostesses that should get a part in a movie) and then on home ...

A summary of the week

Over 10 days: 104 hours of instruction, 38 hours of sleep, 18 hours at airports and on air planes, 13 hours of fun and relaxation at the Alamo, 9 hours of waiting for sleep to come thanks to the black tea that we were served for dinner and a most excellent week with new friends in Level 1. I wouldn't trade it for anything!

Spring in Belgium and others ...

Wow, I just realised that it has been a really long time since I've posted anything on this blog!

What have we been up to ...

I still haven't published the desert part of our trip through California with Scott, Caroline and Rachel. We visited Red Rock State Canyon park, spent two amazing days in Death Valley, discovered a great date palm oasis where we had the best date milkshake (or rather ice cream) ever and where I bought a really cute painting of a date palm and then dragged everyone to Speleo-Ed where we attended some interesting talks and visited soil pipe caves.

May then, we spent in Europe. The first week we spent in Belgium catching up with family and friends: Colleen & Andre organised a nice bbq and we even managed to squeeze in two Belgian caves on our only free Sunday that month! ;-)

Then we went on to Scotland where Scott took pity on me since Will had to work and took me on a tour of the Borders and had me pose for him as the fairie queen of elves for his multimedia project on Thomas the Rhymer. We also spent a day in Dunbar visiting the grandparents and the rest of the family, went for an amazing walk in Rosslyn Glen and managed to catch up with a bunch of friends and attended David and Carrol's squeezing in some time with Ralph.

The third week of May, we went caving and canyoning in the Ardeche in France with our fellow Spekulozen. Check here for some pics. After a long night of driving we arrived in Vallons Pont d'Arc and after breakfast immediately took off to do our first canyon, La Haute Borne. The next day, we managed to squeeze in two caves, one rather unexpectedly - the Cote Patieres - and then the one we had actually planned to do, Peyrejal. The third day a small group went kayaking for the day while five of us did another really cool canyon that started off like an above ground meandering cave (Roujanel) and managed to find freshly picked cherries for dessert. Our last day, the whole group went to do the Canyon du Haute Chassezac, another great experience and another day of really amazing weather.

The last week of May then I spent with friends and family, enjoying the great weather, having some quality time with Colleen & Andre and their newborn Callum, almost trashed the car and therefore discovered a bit more of pretty Brabant by cycle and then sadly had to say goodbye to every one again.

March 29, 2009

Summary of our slightly epic trip visiting California's beauties with Scots Folks - the green part

(with thanks to that amazing tour operator gone astray as a geologist!)

Saturday March 14: GOLD COUNTRY

Google map of day 1: http://tinyurl.com/da3dp2

Visited Knights Ferry with its covered bridge and had a nice walk. Golden flowers dotting the landscape. Passed by Jamestown and Sonora, briefly discussed the Toppled Table Talus or the how and why of an inverted river valley.

Spent a lot of time in Columbia State Park - a restored / ghost gold mining town. Because they had a special event, the town was populated with rangers dressed up in traditional costumes telling us about life during the Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century. We visited the forge, the old schoolhouse, the graveyard (many nationalities there!), a sweets shop, the fire house with two antique human powered fire engines, the gold panning facilities and then went for a walk at the outskirts of the town where we caught sight of a bandit about to rob the stagecoach!

After our visit we went on to our destination for the night, the cosy Hotel Charlotte in Groveland, where we had a delicious evening meal.

Sunday March 15: YOSEMITE - Day 1

Google map for Yosemite day 1 & 2: http://tinyurl.com/a3ufeq

Finally Yosemite ... I was really looking forward to visiting the park and it sure didn't let us down!

After we hit the Park via the Big Oak Flat entrance, we first saw the Bridal Veil Falls tempting us to have a closer look. But our first destination would be the visitors center where we inquired about suitable walks. They recommended the White Mist trail which led us to Vernal Falls and then on to the Nevada Falls. Due to the snowy and icy conditions on the trail we didn't make it to the latter falls though. We did witness some impressive ice fall!

Luckily, since our walk was cut short, we had some time to go and see (and feel the spray of) the Bridal Veil Fall in all its glory and then - driving out of the park to our Bed and Breakfast for the night - had an amazing picture-postcard view over the park from the Tunnel Overlook!

As Moffat custom (established since 2007!) demanded it, that night we had dinner in a great Mexican restaurant in Oakhurst. Something worth mentioning was the cat of the Narrow Gauge Inn (our B&B): it had 6 toes on each of its paws! Apparently it is a mix of a regular house cat with a bobcat.

Monday March 16: YOSEMITE - Day 2

The next morning, we drove back into the park ready for a day-hike along Tenaya Creek and up the mountain between North & Half Dome. We set out from Curry village, walked the northern part of the Mist Trail and then the southern part of the loop around Tenaya Creek.

What started as a chilly day with freezing temperatures in the morning, turned into a sunny spring day along the Creek. We had an amazing view of the mountains mirrored in Mirror Lake (yet another of those picture postcard moments) and started our walk up the mountain with temperatures rising. Luckily a little stream coming down the mountain regularly crossed our path and provided us with some - if only mental - cooling. We made it all the way up to where the trail levelled out again and snowshoes or skies were necessary to continue on the trail.

Some deep bass noises temporarily upset Rachel and Will thinking it was a bear about to come out of its den, but we found out later that it was the sound of a male grouse trying to attract a specimen of the opposite sex ... ;-)

We did see a bear though, and that at the bottom of the valley (from the car - as Rachel had wished for!), crossing a busy street, totally ignoring all the cars driving by and stopping to get a better look!

That evening we drove out of Yosemite by yet another route, passing meadows coloured yellow by an enormous amount of flowers, witnessed a sunset colouring the sky bright blue and orange and spent the night in a Motel 6 in Fresno where we had our first In&Out burger, a truly American (Californian?) experience.

Tuesday March 17: KINGS CANYON

California also happens to be home to some of the largest living trees in the world: the giant sequoias. One of the best places to go and see them is in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

We stretched our necks looking at the General Grant tree in Grant Grove and then went for a long walk and some play in the snow. Saw some Chickarees, cute funny rodents that looked remarkably like squirrels, but somewhat smaller and darker. (For a fascinating story involving the sequoia, the cone beetle and the chickaree, read more at http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/science/hartesveldt/chap5.htm)

Driving through the park on Generals Highway, we then had a look at the General Sherman Tree, which is volume-wise the largest living tree in the world, unfortunately had to pass on climbing Moro Rock and then took the winding way down and out of the Park. We had a brief stop over in Mariposa, another town with a rich gold mining history and then went on to Bakersfield where we spent another night in a Motel 6 (not too bad!)