Thursday, October 16, 2014

Small Party Cave Rescue Class 2014

As a precursor to the upcoming epic Zion adventure post, I thought I better do this post.
 At the end of September I spent a long weekend in Garden City, Utah to help teach a Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) class, sponsored by the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC). My friend Andy had asked if I would be a part of it, and since I enjoyed the previous one we had taught together so much, I said yes. Andy had found a huge vacation cabin that slept 26, so we had 20 students, 5 instructors, and 1 very awesome Bonny who did everything under the sun (or clouds) to keep us going.

It turned out the cabin had some great rigging opportunities, which we took advantage of for the Thursday night check-ins and Friday exercises.

Friday we also had a half-day of classroom activities, including learning about pre-planning, what to take in your cave pack, using your vehicle as your mini rescue cache (even if it's a horizontal cave, you can keep some vertical gear in your car just in case), hypothermia, improvised splinting (see below), suspension trauma, and a review of haul systems.

Then the afternoon was time to get on rope. The students rotated through different stations, such as the diminishing loop counterbalance (a super small party rescue technique).

 We also taught how to get a person stuck on rope down to the ground quickly by converting to a lower. Of course, the best way to make this quick is to rig a contingency anchor (for example a munter tied off), so if someone gets stuck, it takes about five seconds to start lowering them.

Students (and instructors) loved doing the rebelay course, a rope course that included switching to different ropes, a deviation, and a J-hang. You really learn to tune your system so you don't expend too much energy.

In the evening we enjoyed a good rigging/bad rigging lecture. You need to know your gear. And test your anchors. Every time.

The next day we headed to a nearby cave under the threat of massive rains. The rains did come, but we went anyway. It's not always good weather for rescues, after all. The cave was ten minutes away by car and then a ten minute hike. The 30-foot pit provided us a variety of scenarios, expanding on what we had taught the day before, like how to use a diminishing loop counterbalance when you have to dangle it over the edge. We also did some in-cave movement and traveling hauls, where the haul system moves up the rope with the patient instead of being at the top (or bottom).

Here's the rigging for a contingency anchor, along with a canyoneer rappelling down on his piranha. We had a bunch of canyoneers in the class, and it was fun trading techniques.

By lunchtime everyone was soaked, so we headed back to the cabin to practice some other techniques, like how to get a patient through a rebelay (below).
 That evening we had a presentation from a local caver who had shattered his scapula (shoulder blade) in a caving accident this past summer and how he had self-rescued out of the cave. It was a great story and a good lesson for us all.

Then on Sunday it was time for the mock scenarios. We drove in the rain up to Paris Ice Cave, a place we had visited previously. This time I saw it with very different eyes as we set up three scenarios for the students. They did great.

It was a super weekend despite the unfavorable weather, and I had a super time. I learned a few new things, which I greatly value, and met and got to know some folks a lot better. In fact, I met up with one of the students a couple weeks later for our epic Zion adventure. 

If you go caving and have a chance to take a cave rescue class, by all means take it! I have become a much safer caver knowing what would happen if I get hurt deep in a cave--or even not so far into a cave. You can find a list of upcoming classes on the NCRC website.

Cave safely and softly!

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