Wednesday, September 3, 2014

National Cave Rescue Commission Camp Goldenbell, Colorado

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I like caves. Early on in my caving career, I became friends with some cavers who also were into cave rescue. They got me interested, and over the years I took enough classes (four eight-day classes to be exact) plus helped with many smaller cave rescue classes (also known as Orientation to Cave Rescue (OCR) classes) that I was permitted to take the test to become an instructor. Over the years I've instructed a variety of classes, and this year I was able to help instruct the Level 3 class at the national seminar for the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC). It was held in May at Camp Goldenbell, Colorado. (I think I mentioned before I was a little behind on some posting!)

It was my first time to help with the Level 3 class, which is more technical than the previous classes. Students had to pass various technical skills in order to be able to get into the class, as well as have had the Level 1 and Level 2 classes within a certain time period. We had a full class with a waiting list, and it was a great class! To see just how well they knew their stuff, one morning they were challenged to some knot tying. But not regular knot tying. This was with your eyes closed, or with just one hand, or behind your back (photo above), or with oven mitts, or with a partner. It was fun for everyone.

Soon it was time to head out to the cliffs to evaluate their skills and ability to work together. We did some basic anchors and hauls and lowers.

They did very well with all of that, so then we gave them more challenging problems. The colorful accessory cord and rope make it easier to tell what's going on in the photo below.

Everyone should be a pretend patient at some point, as it's a very strange feeling to be dangling on a rope, swinging in a basket.

The students were doing so well that we decided they needed one final challenge: to go down a boulder, through a hole in it, and up the other side. This would require the whole class (which had previously been split up) and be a communications challenge. The down and through part went smoothly.

 The up part was the most complicated. Here's a view of the litter still horizontal.

Then it was shifted to vertical. Then there were problems with some torque issues on one high anchor and some pre-tensioned (or I guess in this case, post-tensioned) backties were added at the last minute. And they succeeded in getting the patient to the top of the boulder again.

Since it was a cave rescue class, we wanted to spend as much time in caves as possible. The caves we had to work with didn't have large work spaces, so we split the class into three smaller groups and they had a variety of tasks to do, such as counterbalances, traveling hauls, and tensioned traverses. (If you want to know more about these things, in addition to taking NCRC classes, the books On Rope and Alpine Caving Techniques are very helpful). My camera didn't do great in the cave, so I didn't get as many photos of our cave days.

I did get a lot of photos on our highline day, when we sent a rescuer out to the middle of a gorge, then down to the river to pick up a patient, and back to the shore using a Norwegian Reeve.
 Can you see the rescuer?
After that very gear-intensive and long exercise, they were challenged to get me (wearing my harness) from one side of the river to the other using only two ropes and six carabiners. They did it in less than half an hour. Sometimes less gear makes things go a lot faster!

Then came the mock-mock day. We used part of Cave of the Winds for the exercise. All four classes (Levels 1, 2, 3, and TOFE) came together, and then were split into three mixed groups. I led one of the groups with a cadre of excellent instructors to one part of the cave, where we put on four mini-scenarios so everyone would learn more about how to launch a cave rescue and how to participate in various roles, such as communications (using old army phones, as seen below).

Finally came the culmination of the class: the mock rescue. This is an all-day event that the students solve with minimal instructor interaction. My role was to be entrance control for instructors going in and out of one of the caves used, plus to check the rigging used to take the patient from the cave entrance to the canyon bottom many hundred of feet below. It was a great spot to see people as they came to the cave.

The rigging was very nice, and after many hours, the patient was brought out of the cave and then taken down to the canyon bottom. The only problem was that a for real big storm came in, and the canyon is subject to flooding. So before everything could be derigged, we got everyone out of there as fast as we could. Some went up to the parking lot where we had started, others went down out of the canyon on a faster trail. But then they closed the roads for hours, and the two groups were stranded, bringing some real logistical challenges. The Colorado cavers did a super job of sorting it all out, and everyone got back to camp safely in the wee hours.

It was a super experience checking out the Colorado cliffs and caves. The students I talked to got a lot out of the class. Next year the national NCRC class will be held in Park City, KY from July 24-Aug 1. Other NCRC classes will be held throughout the year in various locales. If you like caving, I definitely recommend a cave rescue class, as it will make you cave a little differently--hopefully safer!

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