Saturday, May 13, 2017

Flagstaff Small Party Cave Rescue Class

Back in April I took some time off work and headed to Flagstaff, Arizona to teach a Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) class for the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC). This was the sixth one I was teaching, the third as lead instructor. I had to figure out some logistics (like where we would train), so I met up with Ben the day before the class to go look at sites. It was crazy, we drove  out onto the flat desert and then suddenly we came to this big gash in the earth. It was an earth fracture, making a cave.

We descended into the very linear feature. Along the way we found rolls and rolls of barbed wire.

We also found some great spots for crack and crevice problems.

After exhausting that cave, we went down the fissure a ways and found another entrance. This one required a rope. The first boulder we wanted to anchor to had a rattling sound coming from under it, so we went to another one. I was hoping we wouldn't have a close encounter with the rattlesnake.

It was a fun drop, nearly all of it free hang. And fortunately we didn't meet up with the rattler back on the surface.

Later that night we had check-ins. Students have to know a variety of knots and some basic single rope techniques (SRT) before they can take the class. All 16 students who had signed up for the class made it in.

The next morning the classroom was the living room of the house we had rented. We like to have an expedition-style feel to the class, so we stay together and make food together, as well as train together.

The actual classroom time is short. Soon we were outside doing haul system reviews.

Then it was time for afternoon rotations. Here's the diminishing loop counterweight station. The big ponderosa pines made for great anchors. The idea with this rescue technique is that using a pulley and twice the amount of rope as the drop, the rescuer can climb and without too much effort, get both herself and the patient to the top of the drop.

At the releasable redirect station, the students learned how to do a haul up and over something. In this case, they were moving someone over the dumpsters.

We were at the USFS Flagstaff facility, and they had some nice covered space to work on convert to lower. This is a skill where if someone is stuck on rope (usually over a cliff or down in a cave), you convert the rigging to a lowering system. Of course, if they had just rigged with contingency rigging (e.g., a Munter tied off), it would only take seconds.

Another station was Traveling Haul, where you learn that you don't have to have a haul system at the top of the drop. It can be moving with the patient.

Students worked in groups of four so everyone was hands on.

We had six instructors for the class, and as lead I rotated around to see how learning was progressing.

The little white boards were a big help.

Here's Andy lying down on the job, ha.

Following the first set of rotations, we had some free stations, where students could go where they wanted. Many chose to attend Mel's talk on carabiner evolution.

We had rebelay courses set up in a couple ponderosa pines, and some students gave those a try. You always know how well your vertical system fits when you do one of these!

All that got us ready for the next day's exercises, at a real cave. We again had students rotate through a variety of stations, basically expanding on concepts they had learned the previous day.

We were working with lava this day, so we had to be very aware of loose rocks. Lava tends to break off unexpectedly.

Traveling haul was again used, but in a more realistic scenario.

It's kind of fun to be a traveling haul patient, especially when there's a tether to the top rope grab!

The weather was perfect, and we could enjoy being out under the ponderosa pines.

My brother was taking the course, and we had a chance to climb rope next to each to get out of the cave. I couldn't resist getting a selfie!

Looks like my photos end here. The last day was the scenario day, where the students try out different techniques on the problems they're presented. We went to a different cave so they'd have some new challenges. Everyone did very well.

I've ended up spending quite a bit of time teaching NCRC classes, but I find that it's something I really enjoy. And hopefully what I teach will help someone who's in a bad situation.

If you're interested in cave rescue, you can learn more about training at the NCRC website. And you can read about cave rescues at the American Caving Accident website.
Cave safely!

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