Saturday, 23 May 2015

RECCO Rescues 2015

RECCO Rescues 2015

The following are some rescues where RECCO technology made a difference, or could have. The first two rescues mentioned below occurred in Spain’s Pyrenees and deserve attention as they highlight the importance of being searchable. At Baqueira, RECCO technology quickly located and saved a buried off-piste skier, which then helped rescuers find the second buried skier who was also found alive. In the other accident at Candanchú, the search operation and outcome were very different as the skier was not searchable. Rescuers found the skier dead the next day. 

Baqueira-Beret, Val d'Aran, Spain, 2 February 2015
Located in the Pyrenees, Baqueira-Beret is the largest and busiest ski resort in Spain. On Monday, February 2, a group of 4 off-piste skiers were caught, and 2 with no rescue gear were completely buried in a soft slab avalanche. The ski patrol responded immediately. The RECCO detector operator found the first skier buried 1.4 meters after a 6-minute search. The skier’s cell phone (facing the surface) likely reflected the RECCO signal. Once found, rescuers had the indication where to focus their effort and located the second skier, buried 1.5 meters, about 20 minutes later by probing. Both skiers survived. Mountain rescuers from the Bombers de la Generalitat with their helicopter joined seventeen ski patrollers to rescue the pair. It is not easy (and sometimes it’s impossible) to find a cell phone or other electronic device because of weak signals and short ranges, but this rescue highlights the importance of searching with the RECCO even when the person does not have reflectors.

Special thank you to Francesc Rocher, ski patrol director, for sharing details.

Candanchú, Huesca, Spain, 31 January 2015
At the end of January the Candanchú ski resort was hit by heavy snows and strong winds, which closed parts of the resort. On the 31st, two backcountry skiers triggered an avalanche in the Rinconada area, an area that was closed at that time because of the severe weather. Neither skier carried any rescue equipment. One was not buried and called 112 (equivalent of 911). Ski patrollers found him suffering from hypothermia. The other skier was buried, and rescuers from the ski patrol and the Guardia Civil searched RECCO, dogs, and probes into the evening before suspending the search because of bad weather and increasing avalanche danger. The search resumed early Sunday morning. As the skier was not searchable he was eventually located – deceased – by probe line some 20 hours after the avalanche.

Special thank you to RECCO Techs (and Bomber instructors) Bernat and Francois Carola for additional information.

Polar Circus, Banff, Canada, 2 February 2015
Late Thursday afternoon in Banff National Park a Canadian Forces search and rescue technician was swept over a cliff while he and his partner descended Polar Circus (700+ m ice climb) on an official military training. The pair had just rappelled the upper portion of the route to a steep, snow-covered bench. The victim triggered an avalanche after moving ahead to set up the next anchor while his partner coiled the ropes. His partner searched the area, but neither had transceivers. Late that night the Parks Canada mountain rescue team received word of the accident. An incoming storm dropped up to 1 m of new snow by Saturday, which prevented any searching on the ground. Extensive mitigation work with explosives on Sunday triggered many big avalanches that spilled down the route. On Monday park rescuers were short hauled by helicopter onto the debris and searched for a few hours with 2 dogs and RECCO. Because the terrain is a technical ice climb, all searching was done while roped. Since it was known the climber was not equipped with a reflector, the RECCO search was done slowly with a tight grid pattern. As the dogs were equipped with reflectors, the operator had to wait for the dogs to move out of a sector before searching with the detector. On Wednesday a detector operator picked up a RECCO signal that was being reflected back by a Mammut headlamp the victim carried in his backpack. He was located under 2.7m of debris. This search is a good reminder to use the detector’s earbud headphones especially when searching for incidental electronic devices. Weak signals can be better heard when using earbuds. 
Zakopane, Poland, 21 February 2015
On Saturday, as strong winds caused heavy blowing snow, two tourists set out for a hut in the Valley of Five Polish Ponds. When they failed to reach the hut by 0100 the hut master called rescuers. Early Sunday morning TOPR rescuers, assisted by rescuers from Slovakia, spotted and started searching several recent avalanches with probes, dogs and RECCO without success. The search continued on Monday. An appeal for information over local television and radio resulted in several photographs showing the pair. While searching a small avalanche (80 x 5 meters) on Tuesday afternoon a RECCO detector operator detected a signal. A probe confirmed the signal. A second signal was detected nearby. The first victim was buried one meter deep, the other 2.5 meters. The pair had followed the summer trail, which is threatened by significant avalanche danger rather than taking the safer and longer winter trail. The first victim was buried one meter deep, the other 2.5 meters. The pair had followed the summer trail, which is threatened by significant avalanche danger rather than taking the safer and longer winter trail. The victims likely triggered the avalanche, and apparently were traveling together when caught. Neither victim had a transceiver. Both victims were found because of their cell phones.
Special thank you to Andrzej Górka of TOPR for sharing details of the SAR operation. 

Orelle, Savoire, France, 3 March 2015
Four skiers were caught in a small slab avalanche that swept 3 skiers over a 15m cliff and buried 1 skier. The alarm was sounded immediately and 2 ski patrollers arrived quickly with transceivers and a RECCO detector. The search area was relatively small (25 x 20m) and one rescuer quickly got a signal with the RECCO detector. This victim was uncovered from a 40cm burial after only a 12-minute burial. The victim was unconscious, but breathing, and had suffered a significant head injury. The mountain rescue team and emergency doctors arrived and treated the patient before he was flown to a Grenoble hospital. The patient was not equipped with a reflector, but was found by a weak signal that likely came from a cell phone. When the RECCO operator did not detect a signal during the first pass, he started to search in microstrips (few meters wide) with the detector just above the snow surface.

Reported by Frederic Gros, Orelle Ski Patrol and Recco operator

Monday, 20 April 2015

Glencoe Bike Hire

There is only one "Glencoe Bike Hire" and it is in Glencoe Village 

Hires are £20 per day.  Helmets maps and locks provided.  We have "V" brake bikes, all mountain hardtails with hydraulic disc brakes and childrens bikes.  These will do anything from cruise a family down the easy local familf friendly trails or the gnarly off road trails.  All bikes have a service history and are maintained.  We have no boneshakers, only good bikes.

We have an extensive local knowledge and provide maps that we have produced ourselves having pionered many of the local off road routes as well as ones we have found good for our family when young.

£20 per day  £15 half day (from 13.00)  Hires from 08:30 until 17.00

Coming from the A82 West turn left onto B863 then immediately right onto the village street. Continue past the mountain rescue centre and park in the public car park opposite the hotel and inn (toilets).  We are a a futher 100m up the village street. Sign and arrow.  From the A82 East (Glasgow) turn right onto B863 just past the mountain rescue centre (traffic crossing point)  and right again and follow instructions as above.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Spring into Summer

Wow! What a winter. Plenty of the white stuff and great skiing to be had.  Two months of skiing back to the car, and and three and a half months of ski patrolling, avalanche courses, and skiing off the beaten track searching for the fresh tracks.  We had a nice trip across to see our good friend Kate and a couple of excellent days at Glenshee before having to return home early as my mother was ill. We had a trip to Corvarra planned and sadly had to cancel this also as she passed away.  Next winter we have FIPS at Passo Tonale so look forward to that. As an ex MRT and Paramedic I seem to be still getting some first aid to do as a patroller, and this is rescue work without helicopters with casualties collapsed under cafe tables with serious medical conditions, or in steep gullys/canyons where patient care is tricky. Never underestimate the job of ski patrol.  It's just a mountain rescue on day shift and has the same challenges, but more of them on a daily basis. I have had nearly 40 years of doing both and often feel that MRT doesn't realise what we do and whats involved. I don't miss the MRT night shifts for crag fast eejits though!

At various times this winter I have been refered to as either an avalanche or rescue expert. I can categorically state I am neither, and I am still being taught harsh lessons by the mountains. Being refered to as an expert sets me up for a fall, or puts me into the armchair pundit category. I have not stopped "doing" and hope to not arrive at the point of being an expert until totally fucked and in no danger of making a mistake - which is some way off.

I owe a big thanks to Andy and his staff up at Glencoe for supporting avalanche education and also to the Glencoe ski patrollers who are a great bunch and who's company I miss through the summer months. However, we do have the annual attempt at burning Rannoch moor at the end of season BBQ to come. Rather than wax lyrical too much I have a few photos to put up starting with the AGM organised by Kate at Braemar and some general pics of the season. If this is partial retirement I can't wait until next season as its a blast, and I am enjoying earning my living in the mountains again.

Alan Bailly and a MacInnes Mk 2

"Teddy" Inglis before he dislocated his shoulder

Luke Regan talks HEMS down under

Glencoe Beacon Training System
Students learn in full conditions
Showing off the Tracker 3 and Ortovox S1+

ZAG ski's UK get some Beacon practice with me
Patrol hut welcoming light in the short January days
Ripping it up on the Flypaper
Casualties. A skier in a JAM
First and last turns of the day. The Ski Patrollers office privelidges

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Spring, a notional concept

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”
Yoko Ono

The Scottish "Spring" has arrived and as usual it is a notional concept as we have deep new snow in the mountains and winter up high still has them in its snowy grip. This is the best time in the mountains with longer days, shorter nights and you could say better weather (that notional thing).

This is a great time to get the touring ski's out or the free ski's and get exploring. The spring snowpack is normally a granular corn  and much les avalanche prone. Only it isn't at the moment! I am always banging on about avalanche risk as in a way it's my bread and butter as a retailer and also working with the great folk of Glencoe ski patrol on a mountain that has many interesting slopes. Being a three sided polygon the ski mountain always has an aspect that loads, and two of the aspects give great off piste itineries with the main one the best snow holding in Scotland.

Selling avalanche equipment and teaching avalanche rescue is very satisfying.  The courses I run are not really about rescue though, which is a misconception some seem to have. They are about awareness of the weather causes of avalanches, how to avoid them through planning, thinking about group dynamics and communication, and terrain interpretation. In this context the rescue and recovery scenarios are very much about acknowledging that we get things wrong and bad things happen. If you have not succeeded in avoiding the risk then by practicing with the rescue tools (beacon, shovel, probe) in realistic scenarios you can reduce the consequences. 

It's dead easy to slip a red ski patrol jacket on, or become an armchair expert and be risk averse. But, most of us have learned most about the subject by our own errors and most often if you work or play hard in the mountains its just risk exposure and sadly with time your number will come up. That's the mountains and specifically off piste skiing where the line between the best day of your life and the last day can be ephemeral. Unless folk accept that as a basic premise they might as well take up knitting as a sport. Skiing the steeps and the deeps can never be made 100% safe by ski patrollers, bombs or fences. It's down to you the skier, ski patroller (or mountaineer) to get out, and get experience away from your familiar areas of recreation or work, so you that have to learn to make plans, decisions and terrain choices in unfamiliar places.  That's where you learn quickest.  You have to, to stay alive.

There are no shortcuts. Only time in the mountains (a lifetime), respect for them (humility) and learning to read them (terrain) will keep you alive.  Oh! and a defecit of hubris helps.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

That 3rd Antenna

Hi folks. I thought I would make a quick post to all the many students who have done avy courses with me up at Glencoe Mountain this winter. Firstly to say thanks for coming, and I hope you enjoyed it, and secondly with a bit of tech info.
This year the beacon training park is well buried with the shallowest transmitter at 2.5m and the deepest now at 6m with some in between. Its a challenging environment for beacon searching as you have had to learn deep burial techniques which are not really part of a basic avy course. You will have noticed how much easier it is for your beacon to find the shallow burials when we hid transceivers around the area for you to find on ski.

Many of you have had to switch from search back to transmit then back to search as your beacons have locked out and stalled with the processor unable to update. Even then your "pinpoint" for probing is a large grid of about 6m square at times (depending on the buried beacon orientation). This is because of "null points". Contrary to what you will have read these do occur in 3 antenna beacons but most handle them well in shallow burials.

The 3rd antenna solves null points by switching on (most often at approx 3m as a rough average) during the close range final search when you are close to the victim.  On some models this is a circle that gets smaller with arrows pointing in out out depending on if you move in or away, or it can be the appearance of a landing strip, or just an increasing acoustic tone and volume with decreasing distance, or all of these depending on the make. Distance readings can be ok on some, or jump eratically from a small to very long range in some cases.

Regardless, all these beacons are well tried and tested and reliable, but the one you own is the one you must practice with to understand how it reacts to the different scenarios an avalanche burial might present.  This does include deep burials if you are learning more advanced skills.  At a basic level we just want you to be able to conduct a basic search from last seen point in series or in parallel and not rely on "marking" then once you have mastered the basic search patterns and recovery we introduce marking to those who have that feature. Should marking fail you have a backup search strategy to put in place.

These deep burials in the park on some occassions are so deep that the 3rd antenna is not kicking in and therefore you are effectively operating a dual antenna beacon and getting these null points. In these situations as you will have seen, your find is limited by the length of your probe (if indeed you have a long enough probe), then deep burial techniques such as "pinpointing on a line" and systematic probing from the lowest reading point is very important. No one needs to carry probes longer than 3m but a probe of less than 240cm is perhaps too short and in any case not robust.  The latest stats show that survival of a victim is poorer at depth not beacuse of the depth itself, just that its more digging and more time and the survival window of opportunity closes as that digging takes longer.

So folks there is nothing wrong with your beacons its just that they have been challenged as have you and I. The real thing might turn out to be easier - or might not!  The old adage of train hard fight easy has some merit. Keep practicing and get fast.