Saturday, March 30, 2019

Cave Rescue Training in Texas

 In late February I jumped on an airplane and headed south to Texas for a week of teaching National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) training.

But before I started, I had half a day to spend with my friend Cassi. We headed over to the state capitol for a tour.

It was cool to hear about all the symbolism behind the shields. And guess which state capitol in the U.S. is the largest? Everything is biggest in Texas, right? 

The next day I slept in (oh, what a treat!), went for a run, and then Cassi dropped me off with a friend who took me up to Barefoot Lodge. We had our instructor's meeting, and then I gathered all the Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) instructors so we could go over our class. We checked in students that evening.

The next morning we began with the whole group, Levels 1, 2, and SPAR under the watchful eyes of dead animals.

Our SPAR classroom is outside, and fortunately the weather cooperated. In fact, it was downright balmy early in the week, even reaching 80 degrees! Here's Kelby talking about pre-planning and decision making. (Hint: some pre-planning can go a long way. And having extra gear in your vehicle means that your gear cache is close by if something goes wrong.)
 Later DJ did an excellent talk about Frog system optimization. As Americans, we tend to want to set up our gear our way. But the more I (and several other instructors) tweak our systems, the more they tend to look like what the Europeans use. Extra tips here: keep everything to the left of the Croll, oval carabiners are awesome (they are compatible with all gear), using a carabiner to attach to your upper ascender gives you a lot more flexibility.

Carrey gave a talk about SPAR psychology. This talk was demo'ed during the weeklong SPAR in the summer. I liked it so much I wanted to have it included in our three-day class, and Carrey hit it out of the ballpark. I don't mind sharing some of it, because I think sharing things that makes cavers safer is good to do. You can avoid many accidents if you watch out for yourself and your team if they're having any of these symptoms that fit in the acronym HALTY: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or hYpothermic. Best treatment: talking, a hug, and food. Aw, now we all want to go caving together. :)

If an accident does happen, we need to know some basic medical. Andy covered that, with the caveat that the best thing to do is get some wilderness first aid/first responder training.

Next it's time for some haul system/mechanical advantage review/overview. It's good to know your 1:1, 2:1, and 3:1 systems with progress capture.

Then we had afternoon and evening stations, and I was so busy I didn't get photos of any of those. 
Day 2 we headed to some awesome cliffs in Colorado Bend State Park. We had four stations next to each other, so traveling time between them was minimal. That meant we had 1.5 hours at each station, a luxury to have so much time. One of the stations was a Convert to Lower station with Tommy. That basically means if you come to a rope with someone stuck on it, how can you lower them quickly?

Another station was climbing and rappelling counterweights. You learn quickly that having some high help (anchor off the ground) makes a huge difference. Our other two stations were crack and crevice and stacked counterweights. Then we did some rappelling with a patient through a rebelay and traveling haul through a rebelay. After dinner we were back at our classroom for some more demos and practice time. These days are long, but the great weather made it easy!

The next day was scenario day, with four students and two instructors heading into a cave. The instructors tended to have a lot of problems caving that day!

 Even though I've taught this class a lot of times, I always learn something new. This time around I was working on perfecting my Portuguese bowline, helped by peanut butter and jelly.

After our three-day SPAR had ended, I was planning on jumping in with Level 2 and helping there. But we had a surplus of instructors, and I asked DJ, the lead for the event, what he thought about teaching some SPAR skills to instructors. He said yes, and that was how MicroSPAR was born. I spent the next two days giving a one-day version to instructors. We started with about half an hour lecture, half an hour of Frog System optimization, an hour+ of convert to lower and an hour+ of traveling haul. It was great to repeat some of these things over and over and see the tweaks to make them even better. 
In the afternoon we went out to a cave and practiced various rescue techniques like traveling hauls and diminishing loop, climbing, and rappelling counterweight systems and compared them all. MicroSPAR was a blast, I hope to teach it again. This version was aimed at instructors and specialists, all who had been through at least Level 3. Some had taken SPAR before, others were new to it.

The next day I took the instructor written test. We have to take it every so often to stay current as an NCRC instructor. (I passed.) Then I helped out with the mock walkthrough, which is basically a smaller version of the mock rescue with several repeats so that students can learn how a cave rescue is launched and how the Incident Command System works. For one of the evolutions, I volunteered to be a patient in the SKED, a burrito-type rescue litter, to go out a tiny entrance. My nose almost touched, but not quite. The students got me out successfully, and I reminded them not to stop in the really tight spots, just keep moving steadily and slowly. (Yes, I can get claustrophobic, especially when I'm tied up in a litter and the cave wall is right in front of my face. How do I deal with it? Close my eyes and pretend I'm somewhere else.)

With a recent reminder of how much I don't like to be in the litter, when the mock scenario was presented that night, I did not volunteer to be a patient, but rather an "angel" for my friend Les. We went into a cave we had never been in before, so we weren't sure how the rescue would go. The temperatures had plummeted into the 20s at night, so we were thinking that being in a 65-degree cave would be nice and cozy. It turned out we were under a skylight, and it started snowing on us in the cave! Time to go a little deeper!

Here's Les waiting to be rescued. He even brought his own lantern.

Eventually he was packaged up and they started moving him towards the entrance. 

Here's one of the tight spots he went through. It wasn't even the tightest! They eventually got him out, although with some modifications to the original plan.
You learn something from every mock rescue and training. I'm very thankful I could be part of the Texas training. Thanks to DJ for putting on another successful training and inviting me to come be part of it. Thanks to all the students who choose to attend--you're the reason we can have the trainings. Thanks to all the other instructors, it's always inspiring to be with you. And thanks so much to Megan and the food crew--the amazing food is a huge part of why I came back!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Checking out Panaca's Multi-Use Trail

Snake Valley Trail Partnership is working on developing more trails, including a paved one-mile long multi-use trail in Baker, Nevada.  To learn more about this type of trail, I visited the two-mile long paved multi-use trail near Panaca, Nevada. It starts at the entrance to Cathedral Gorge State Park (above).

Here's the view looking north towards the state park. Folks reaching this part of the trail can then enter the state park and get to the visitor center easily.

Continuing south, the wide trail veers closer to Highway 93 to cross a culvert.

Here's a closer look at their culvert extension.

A Pedestrian crossing sign announces that the trail crosses the highway. It's a 45 mph zone here.

The multi-use trail has stop signs for the users.

Then the trail continues on the other side, getting close to the highway again for another culvert crossing. 

At about the one-mile mark, it reaches the intersection of Nevada Highway 319 and US Highway 93. The pedestrian crossing marks have mostly worn off on NV Highway 319. This trail was put in about 10 years ago.

Here's a view of the trail along Highway 319 looking west towards the intersection and the gas station that's on the other side. For this culvert, they were instructed to do a dip, so when the Panaca spring is drained, this portion of the trail is inundated.

Continuing east along Highway 93, the trail is often far from the highway, but gets closer for another culvert crossing.

I called one of the trail sponsors to learn more about how it came about and how they maintain it. He said they had gotten a grant with an 80:20 match. They had had no problem raising the match. It had cost about the same as our one-mile paved project, in the $700,000 range. They had done nothing to maintain it except sweeping gravel off it and spraying weeds along it.

As I went along the trail, I found that there were sections with some gravel on it, but otherwise it looked great.

The most damage was where this driveway crossed it and it looked like something heavy had been dragged across.

My liaison also mentioned how it got used frequently. I'm certain ours would be also, especially by kids who want a place to rollerblade or bike ride, and those who want to go on a stroll and not worry about dodging traffic.
Hopefully we'll be able to get started on the Baker Multi-Use Trail soon and have a success story like Panaca!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Baker Creek Snow Survey 2019

 The end of February meant it was time to head up Baker Creek to go measure snow for the NRCS Snow Survey. Fortunately this year we were able to use the park's UTV to get shuttled up there, which was great, because the snow was deep. Can you see the 8,000 foot elevation sign in the photo above? We're usually avoiding rocks in this area, and this time we were skiing on top of bushes!

We had some new participants and they quickly go the hang of measuring the snow depth and weighing the snow tube so that we could figure out the snow weight equivalent (SWE). This SWE lets us know how much moisture is in the snow pack.

When we get a core, we push the metal tube to the ground, and we know we've reached the ground when we pull up a little soil or grass. But we don't want to weigh that, so we have to remove it.

The Baker Creek snow courses have been measured since 1942, making them one of the longest data sets for Great Basin National Park. There are three snow courses, and in the photo below, we've moved up to the second one, about 9,200 feet elevation.

We lucked out with a beautiful day!
As we got higher, it got snowier.

In 2005, with a 300% snowpack, this avalanche changed the landscape.

On this day, we ended up with about 140% average snow water equivalent. It's great to be above average!

You can find out more about the snow survey program here.
And this is a link to the Nevada Snow Survey Program and the monthly report. Our photo made the front cover of the March 1 report!

Way to go, snow surveyors! It was a great day out. (Photo credit: Great Basin Heritage Area)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Mayday Training

I'm a volunteer firefighter for our county and over the years have responded to a variety of incidents, such as wildland fires, car fires, a hay fire, and even a structure fire. We don't have many people out here, so we don't have many structures, and fortunately they don't catch on fire frequently. But if one does, I want to know what to do, so I've gone to a variety of training. 

One Sunday the county hosted a Mayday training, which is what to do if you or another firefighter run into trouble. Basically the training was going through an obstacle course on an SCBA tank (breathing air through a mask), with the mask blacked out so we couldn't see where we were going. 

I volunteered to go first and started busting my way through some drywall. That was a lot of fun! (These photos aren't of me, but I looked pretty much the same.)

Then I crawled, following the hose and started feeling "wires" I had to try and keep the SCBA tank from snagging on the wires (hint: roll over and put it in the corner as you move). 

Here's a view from the other end. It sure was a tangled mess!

Another fun obstacle was the corrugated pipe.

It had a surprise inside (which I won't share, because if anyone reading this is doing similar training, it's better not to know what's coming!).

We also went up the stairs, where another fun surprise awaited.

Finally we had to drag a mannequin out of the "house."
I found the most difficult part was maintaining communications. I wasn't used to getting to my radio with the thick gloves and mask on and doing it all by feel since I couldn't see anything. I really enjoyed the training. Probably my caving experience helped!

I'm grateful the county puts on these training sessions so we can stay safer.

Friday, March 1, 2019

2019 Sheepherders Gathering

 Every January it's time for the annual Sheepherders' Gathering at the Border Inn, located along Highway 6 & 50 on the stateline of Nevada and Utah. Sheepherders, sheep owners, and other aficionados of the sheep industry drive up to hundreds of miles to attend.

On Friday evening there's an Industry appreciation dinner (invite only) followed by Open Mic night. I really enjoy this, as you never know what entertainment there will be. Nephi Clark Allred "Red Clark" opened with a sampling of his musical repertoire (above). Check out the link to hear some of his tunes.

Thank Hank Vogel took the floor as emcee.

Denys Koyle started the Sheepherders' Gathering many moons ago, and it has become a huge success.

Next up were a variety of stories and tributes.

Recognize this little performer? It's Desert Girl! She sang and played (sort of) Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Her jokes were better than her playing (she needs some practice).
Q: What do you call a sheep covered in chocolate? A: A candy baaa
Q: What do you get if you cross an angry sheep with a moody cow? A: An animal that's in a baaaad mooood.

Next came more memories.

Melanie has been performing since she was just walking. It's been so fun watching her grow up and seeing her talent blossom. 

Waddie Mitchell, cowboy poet, was the headliner for the weekend. He certainly knows how to spin a good yarn!

We missed many of Saturday's events because we went into Ely for the Birkebeiner Ski Race. There was a sourdough pancake breakfast, film screening, and more poetry by Waddie Mitchell.

We got back in time so my husband and I could attend the delicious Basque-style family dinner. The crowd was huge, filling the whole cafe and events room. I managed to forget to take a single photo!

Then we were entertained by the Front Porch Pickers. They sounded fantastic, and it was a really great evening.

It's so nice to have a special event to look forward to in the middle of winter. Keep an eye on the Great Basin National Heritage Area website if you want to attend next year!
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