Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Cyclists And The A82

Ceud Mile Failte but not if your on a bike apparently, according to the public Facebook group a82 roadwatch where some commentators clearly do not like folk on bikes on Highland roads. This Facebook site is a really good way to get up to date info on the A82's status. It's a shame it gets hijacked for anti police and anti cycling vitriol, but at least looking at the membership thats a very small minority. Regarding road safety and cycling that minority could be a danger if their passions get in the way of their responsible driving.  

The group of cyclists who started the Facebook thread in question may well have been out of order and badly behaved, although while on the road, despite lacking courtesy and road manners, they didn't seem to be breaking any laws and no one asked the Police to speak to them. My own take as published here is purely about cycling on the A82 and the comments on the Facebook group, and the uneasy feeling its left me with based on my own experience. So its obviously biased.  Also, as I earn at least some of my living from these passing cyclists, many of who are cycling for charities and who are good people cycling responsibly, I suppose I feel an advocacy for them. I am not justifying large groups who don't have the courtesy to pull over. I have a car and sadly for illness the A82 is well travelled in all directions for family appointments so I do know what sitting behind a large group of bikers is like.

However, many of the  folk cycling the A82 are on small charity rides in groups of 2, 4 or 6 max. Some have felt most welcome in the Highlands, and some have had bad experiences. The A82 Inverness to Fort William seems particularly bad for folk getting honked at and cut up. Sometimes folk comment that it feels deliberate.  My worry from the Facebook comments is that some of the near misses are meant to scare these folks.  Now that's a whole new ball game and a dangerous one at that.

Last October a motorist cut me up on the A82 by pulling in too early after passing me. I shook my fist at him and was just behind him and could see his eyes on me in his mirror when he slammed on the brakes and I went into his back and over the car onto the road at about 25mph.  He came out and started shouting that I had damaged his car.  Lying on the A82 with this going on wasn't much fun and it hurt.  Lucky for me a group of walkers were witness's.  Despite all giving statements the driver got off with a caution.  To me it felt like attempted murder. I walked away with a damaged bike and cuts and bruises and was ashamed at the lack of police action.  So I am a fucked off cyclist, lets get that out the way.  I have been punched in the arm by a passing plumber from an Oban company, spat at and shouted at on the A82. Most often by locals, some of who now come to me with broken bikes. They will not have realised that it was me, another local.  I have parked their abuse putting it down to ignorance of road cycling and not understanding that a bike track full of buggies and dog walkers, sometimes horses and in the case of Cameron Brae sheep shite and gates is not part of the road cycling experience. I should say that on a more robust mountain or cross bike its ok. Road bikes are much faster and the clue is in the name.

My message to those folks is to lift your heads next time your passing Carrs Corner and remember the fine young man who lost his life while pursuing his passion for road cycling while training to represent his country - your country as well frustrated local drivers.  Cyclists have no body armour or protection, have a low carbon footprint and are not surrounded by NCAP rated safety features in a metal box to protect them. They are travelling the same road just not at your pace.

It's fairly obvious from the A82 Facebook page that some folk don't like folk on bikes.  All it takes is one, and Lochaber will maybe have another ghost bike. I was lucky and walked away and have hung up my road bike in disgust.  The guy in the picture below had a few narrow escapes. He was cycling Lands end John o' Groats to raise funds for the local hospice who had looked after his dad who had just passed. I daresay a few folk on that A82 Facebook site would have cursed him. To me he's a hero.  Is this how we treat hero's. Ceud Mile Failte?  

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Over Time

And an astronomer said, "Master, what of Time?" 
And he answered: 
You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable. 
You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons. 
Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing ....
Time Xxi - Kahil Gibran

First day at Joint Services Mountain Training Centre
How about a Canyoning training practice suggested the leader (John) ok says the team, where?  Let’s get a chopper and fly into the gorge above the German camp Kinlochleven at the end of April suggests the leader.  O.K we say.  Two Sundays later we have an interesting day with me a bit twitchy as I start a new job at 7.00pm that night.

It all begins at the new rescue centre.  We meet, and as usual plans are laid back.  Rescue 137 arrives to find a semi comatose bunch of ex hippies and thrusting youth ready for action.  Wet suits and other apparel is donned by John who has a cunning stunt in mind.  We land amid the alder clad brush above Kinlochleven in a scene that would do justice to the classic Vietnam chopper book “Chickenhawk”.  Paul Moores decides to climb into the gorge and simulate a broken neck.  Rudimentary belays spring up all around as a variety of MIC’s and prawn fishermen try to assert who is best with ropes.  The result was functional rather than aesthetically pleasing, and a truce was called.  Paul is packaged ready for hauling when a shout is heard and John  falls backward over a 20’ raging waterfall and disappears off downstream.  John reappears some 30mins later wondering why nobody went to his aid.

Much hauling and cursing sees the Paul transported to a clearing in the wood and all 15 of us pile in for the flight back to base.  Coffee and biscuits then later the winchman runs in to find John as they  have a  big "job” and need 2 team plus “the medic” which is me.  In we pile with no idea where we are going.  Ronny, Paul Moores and I.  No word yet from ARCC as to where the job is. We fly over the by now wet and gray hills Southward to the Arrochar "Alps" for 30 mins.  Word is the casualty is in a serious condition after a long fall.  We fly up through the mist to the ridge above the South and spot figures waving frantically.  The chopper lands on the ridge and out we pile running along the ridge then down to the foot of the climb to get him. 

We find him on a grassy ledge 80’ below where he fell. He is unfortunately surrounded by doctors and nurses from a medics hillwalking group. Many pale anaemic doctor types looking 16 but probably 30 years begin to be assertive in the company of us aliens from the sky.  Diagnosis’s abound.  It soon becomes apparent that none are as slick as they thought or ought to be, and good old fashioned naked aggression from us seems to get things back under control.  As a peacemaking gesture the oldest looking of the bunch was given the cannula to put in.  This he did with gusto, but when he seemed perplexed as no blood came out the end,  it became apparent that unlike the cannula, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box. In I go wondering who will write letters about me this time. He is very badly injured and needs to go to hospital quickly. I do my best for him airway, chest drain, cannula, spinal care, load and go.  Isn't that always the default on a mountain. I hate fuckwits who think it's a science. It's just common sense.

The casualty is quickly packaged and carried down a little way till the chopper could come in and lift him by winch. After this the helo landed again on the ridge, and after a sprint back to get on board we were winging our way to The General Suffering hospital in Glasgow. 

After a 15min flight we landed on what appeared like a Tesco car park miles from the A/E entrance.  Winchy and I disembark with the casualty onto the back of a flat bedded van with two gum chewing pirate earinged and orange tanned people dressed as nurses on board.  I am met with  “ah like yer truss jimmy - musta been some party”, referring to my state of the art Petzl guru harness and jangly bits.  After a short journey we entered the A/E and do our handover. The casualty has spinal injuries as well as a pneumothorax and pelvic fractures, so all in a good bit of teamwork  between SAR crew and MRT, so we feel chuffed. 

Some time later  I need a pee.  Wandering around I see a doppelganger - bugger me, its Ronnie!  “How’s it going Dave? I’ve been wandering around for ages.  The choppers gone to Glasgow airport with Paul.  How are we going to get back home?”  I see a clock and its 5.00pm.  I start my new job at 7.00 so it looks like a bad start in my career as an honorary soldier.  Several phone calls later the Police agree to take us to the airport.  The police duly arrive and drive us like the clappers through Sunday football traffic to the airport police station.  Good news is that I can phone wifey to say I may be late for tea.  “Where the ****k  did you say you are!”  she says incredulously.  Bad news is that they won’t allow us onto the airfield to look for the chopper unless we get searched.  So, off we go in with all the dangly jangly bits, accompanied by sniggering from the pale anaemic wee jimmy’s who think their smart. making comments on our atire.

We eventually get ushered to a small departure lounge and meet up with the SAR aircrew.  It seems that such is the paranoia about terrorism that despite having a big yellow budgie with RAF on the side, and flying suits/helmets etc, that they also had to be searched and are not amused.  Beep goes the body scanner again - ****k it goes Davy.  Off we go then, eventually - and try and find what is a big  ****k off helicopter in Glencoe, but which looks like a wee budgie when we eventually find it among some 747’s.  We eventually get on board and ages later get permission to taxi out among the giants.  We take off into the gathering gloom and fly North down Loch Lomond.  After 50 mins of juddering and shivering we land back in Glencoe where a  quick shave and change sees me racing off to start my new job. Shiny shoes, smart blue polo top, pressed trousers.  A uniform!

I’m in the door at JSMTC at 7.00 exactly,  and sort out the gear.  First student in is most unimpressed by the gloomy damp weather,  and a bit ratty.  His first words to me;  “fuckin ell mate - must be fookin boring stayin in this place” - Great joy at being paid overtime in my new job, and having had a nice wee day out, I said nothing.
Davy Gunn
April 1998

Monday, 20 July 2015

Avalanche Course Details

Full Day Course Detail:

After a brief powerpoint lecture to set the scene we are outside and on the slopes.  If the hill is blown off and there is sufficient snow at the bottom station we can still run the training, but if not then the course would be postponed. I will give advance warning by email.

Basic Transceiver and Companion Recovery Training:

Cost is £25. Group Size is maximum of 8. Best if you have your own kit as that is what you need to practise with. Training contact time is 2.5 hours. Loan kit from Ortovox and ARVA is available on request. We use Glencoe's excellent beacon training park and do search and recovery scenarios on ski, so at times it’s fairly mobile training. The thrust of the training is in the context of avalanche avoidance with these search and recovery tools being required when decisions and planning have gone awry and the shit has hit the fan!

Meet at 11am at the Beacon park next to the “T” Bar below the plateaux Café

Avalanche Forecast 101: 
Interpretation of the avalanche risk

Beacon Searching 101: 
Phases of a search, search patterns, signal spikes, antenna orientation and smart antenna technology, Searching strategies, mark/flag pitfalls and problems

Probing 101: 
Probing during pinpoint and deep burials

Digging 101: 
Strategic shoveling and conveyor shoveling

Victim recovery: 
Basic first aid for the victim

Glencoe Mountain Transceiver Training Park Success

Avalanche Avoidance and Companion Rescue
The most up to date training system in use at Glencoe Scotland

Eight independent beacons that transmit a signal at the international standard for avalanche transceivers of 457kHz are permanently buried in up to 4m of snow at Glencoe Mountain ski resort. They are looked after by Glencoe Mountain staff, Ski Patrol and Davy Gunn who runs avalanche education training on Glencoe Mountain

Hamish at the 2011 opening
In collaboration with Anatom who supplied a wired starter training system to get things going in 2011. Glencoe Mountain Resort provided a piece of snow sure land, help from the staff and some financial help to start the training park 4 years ago.  The original park was opened by Hamish MacInnes the famous mountaineer and rescuer. Last winter money raised by Clachaig Inn on their annual winter series of mountain safety lectures at the hotel provided funding for the new wireless avalanche search training system in place this winter. The hotels owner is a member of Glencoe Mountain Rescue and a friend of both his and Davy Gunn’s (Chris Bell) was lost in an avalanche in Glencoe in 2013 where 4 people lost their lives in one avalanche. The original wired system is now in use at a training park at Glenshee ski centre and it’s hoped to raise funds to get a similar and more effective wireless system in place there. As at Glencoe, the one at Glenshee provides an accessible training venue for local mountain rescue teams, mountaineering groups and off piste and touring skiers.

Practising digging effectively, a crucial
and often overlooked part of avalanche rescue
The general public has free access to use the training systems which stays out all winter. All they have to do is check in with the Glencoe Mountain staff or  ski patrol to see if it’s already in use that day. Demonstration hand held transceivers to search for the buried beacons are supplied for use on training courses by Ortovox UK (Noble Custom), Anatom (Back Country Access) and Rosker (ARVA Nic Impex) or folk can bring their own to practice with. Each of the eight buried beacons also has a RECCO reflector inside so that mountain rescue and ski patrol can practise using this alternative search system as well as transceivers. Organised rescue teams use RECCO which is harmonic radar that can also be used from a helicopter. RECCO is a standard search tool by mountain rescue in Europe but as yet only two Scottish mountain rescue teams, and one ski patrol use it. No search and rescue helicopters have adopted it in the UK for avalanche rescue to date but the hand held can be used from a helicopter with an adapter sytem from a 3rd party manufacturer.  I have one here in Glencoe as I am also the UK trainer for Recco.

The training park beacons are buried deeply in the snow so that searching for them proves difficult, simulating searching a real avalanche for a victim. As it’s wireless there are no wires to degrade or get cut by shovels as folk dig, and different avalanche burial scenarios can be created from single to multiple victim burials by alternating which buried beacons are transmitting from a control box. When a victim/beacon is found by a searcher, contact with the buried beacon by a snow probe sends a signal back to the control box confirming a success.
Ortovox 3+ a modern fast avalanche transceiverr

Every skier going off piste or touring in the mountains should carry three essential items. A transceiver to be located or locate a buried companion, a collapsible snow probe to confirm the victim’s location and a strong aluminium shovel to dig them out quickly.

Glencoe ski patrol practising in the park
Recovery of buried companions in an avalanche is time critical with a 90% survival if victims are located and dug out within less than 15 minutes. After this time survival is very poor, therefore practise in locating and digging is critical. One of the training beacons is inside a resuscitation mannequin so that digging it out is like excavating a real victim and some care is required. The park importantly provides an opportunity for ski patrol to talk to those practising and emphasise the importance of avoiding avalanche terrain by interpreting the area avalanche forecast and local weather effects and therefore make wise and safe choices avoiding avalanche terrain for the day.

Without the support of Clachaig Inn, its staff and the public donating at the winter lectures this mountain safety initiative just would not have been possible. The enthusiasm and support by Glencoe Mountain owner Andy Meldrum and his staff by providing snow sure land, tending to the park and investing in its upkeep is tremendous. A particular mention of thanks to Glencoe Ski Patrollers Christine and Keith Hill who are always on hand to give sound advice to skiers and boarders and who maintain the park.
Killin Mountain Rescue and a group of Freeride skiers using the training park

Friday, 3 July 2015

Recreation versus Conservation

As a keen angler brought up in an area where at one time game fish were very abundant, it's a constant topic among other older anglers about the lack of fish nowadays and taking fish home to eat versus conservation.  Brown Trout are a resilient species who's main predator is man. Certainly abundance varies, but unless they are in a nutrient poor loch and river system where they are forced to migrate to sea making the physiological adaptions to live there (some don't) for better feeding, they are a more sustainable catch by and large than salmon and sea trout with less threats and predation along a migration route which for salmon can be 3,000 miles.

Migrated Brown trout or "Sea Trout" where they become a coastal fish feeding in the sea and open to more predation from seals, cormorants and even sea otters. Uncontrolled blooms of the natural parasite "sea lice" coming from fish farms almost obliterated Sea Trout on the Scottish West coast as the blooms occurred in the sheltered inland lochs and the sea trout couldn't escape. Stocks are still very poor in comparison with 30 years ago.
Too many lice parasites and the sea trout dies
I am not against modern salmon farming as in some ways they have taken the pressure off the Atlantic Salmon from poaching. Also its become a criminal offence to sell or buy wild salmon even if its just a part of one (hotels and restaurants beware, as fisheries bailiffs have the right to enter and check your premises).  Fish farm lice controls are now much better and more natural by using Wrasse a little fish that eats the lice off the salmon in the cages. In the past attempts to control the lice was with "SLICE" a pesticide,  pretty horrible stuff to the environment.

Because juvenile salmon have to migrate through these sea lochs and the blooms they were killed by lice infestations and the west coast salmon stocks collapsed through the 1990's onwards.  In fact in some rivers the native salmon are now extinct or on the brink. Initiatives like that by Lochaber Fisheries Trust with the river Strontian Anglers are trying to bring them back by a conservation and a restocking programme. You can only stock with native fish as it just doesn't work importing fish from one river to another, and research has shown that each river no matter how small has its own genetic stock different from one even a mile away.

This year for the first time there is a glimmer of hope and signs that early spring fish have been coming back. These bigger mainly hen fish carry many more eggs than the Grilse who more often are male and the smaller late summer salmon, and these "springer's are rarely killed especially by knowledgeable anglers, as they are the fish equivalent of the White Rhino. Don't get me wrong taking home a salmon to feed youre family from a sustainable stock is ok, but most anglers these days whether trout or salmon only take what they need for a meal.  Who needs to kill more than that?  Farm Salmon is so cheap and of such a quality in the shops that its much more affordable, so if friends other than immediate family like salmon they can get it there and help conserve the rare wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout. 

Anglers should enjoy their fishing but know that they are also conservationists.  A recent chat with a local angler reminded me that there is still work to do getting that message across as the fisher moaned about not being allowed to fish with a worm and releasing fish.  I pointed out that they were not anglers in the true sense then, as none I know have a problem as they care as much about the fish as they do the fishing.
A Spring fish of about 15lbs held briefly in the water and released full of energy
The joy of angling and conserving.