Saturday, 26 September 2015

Recco Thoughts

Don't get buried! But if you do you want to be searchable 
and found FAST!
Recco is another important part of the organised rescue strategy. Education and avalanche avoidance is primary, being found early by companions if it goes wrong is vital and prior practice makes this work. Organised rescue requires a triple response: Dogs, Recco and Probe Lines. Until now Scotland has only been able to apply two of the three unlike alpine rescue avalanche search where for years all three have been used. Survival is time critical. Much has been made of trauma being the main factor in poor survival in Scottish avalanches. Largely based on recent tragic avalanche incidents where trauma has clearly been the dominant factor.

These anecdotal observations and opinions make easy it to forget the victims where triple "H" syndrome has been the killer of which there have been many over the last decades. Anecdote is not enough, and there is no recent data set from necropsy studies in Scotland, (if there is its not readily available). One thing is sure, being searchable and getting found quickly increases survival.

Small sticky reflectors that can be attached to boots or helmets
As "off piste" and "Backcountry" skiing grows in popularity there is every reason to imagine that being more searchable can save lives.  Nothing can replace education and prevention, or fast effective companion rescue, but as ski patrols and MR teams take up Recco and the reflectors can be bought and put into clothing, then the chance of getting found alive by organised rescue if on scene quickly increases. I would recommend three or possibly four reflectors to mountaineers. One front chest, one upper back, and one each leg.

Sewn in reflector
Back in 1992 RL Dolby of Dunblane loaned a Marquette defibrillator to me for testing with Glencoe MRT. The Marquette was used on victims of illness everywhere from Loch Ba to the "Lost Valley" and West Highland Way. Although only for monitoring.  Later we had a Laerdal "Heartstart" which was also not fired in anger, but monitored plenty of ill victims.  This was replaced with a Laerdal FR1 which did get used in anger, and did its job. The ridicule back in the early 90's about having a defib was outrageous, but we were lucky as "early adopters" having had the first MR vacuum matts from the USA, and we had tremendous support from the then MRC doc David Syme of Killin MRT. David would get the kit sent across from Hartwell Medical or LOTS and sort out the customs duty. The BASPEMT course which Tony Cardwell and I ran for a decade provided training using these new (relative to MR) bits of kit. Who would dare attend a patient with chest pain nowadays without a defib.  Maybe Recco will be the same for avalanches.

So Recco is here in Scotland and its great to see the take up by enlightened rescuers. The Scottish government gives £300,000+ a year to mountain rescue, as well as public donations from grateful victims their family and friends going to teams. Who knows when Recco will save a life, but if it does it's job then its been donation money well spent.

POC Helmets have Recco
The reflector for Harmonic Radar or RECCO

Thursday, 24 September 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

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Sunset Song

A bit different that my normal posts.  I thought I would dig out a bit I wrote while doing a uni course. This topic  of this module was "Nature and Community" so I chose to write about the book as part of it.  "Sunset Song" is a beautiful book and Scottish classic. It's out as a film in December and Danny Macue my nephew is in it as an extra/actor by coincidence.  The "Scots Quair" as the series of books is known was done as a mini series by the BBC 40 years ago and was very good.  I hope this film does the book justice as it wouldn't be easy to script as might be apparent if you read below.
Release date 4th December
Nature and Community – Sunset Song
Farming at the turn of the century was a hard existence. Communities, particularly rural and farming communities at that time, were still inextricably bound to nature. While farmers must still work with the seasons, mechanisation has broken a spiritual bond with the land to some extent. Work and the seasons of farm life are used in Sunset Song as metaphors for the physical, emotional and spiritual growth of Chris Guthrie into a woman. We also get insight into the hard physical work each season entailed, and how the farmer had to work with nature and have the support of the community to survive pre mechanisation. The characters in the book were bound to the land and working with nature, and not apart from it.

The harsh nature of living off the land, and the sense that close farming neighbours such as Long Rob, Chae Strachan, and even Munro were in the same boat, created a community of close neighbours who at times could judge each other harshly, yet would not hesitate to help one another in a crisis. Kinraddie itself was part of the greater community at large, but not so intimate as around Blawearie. They were all dependant on each other for mutual aid at times of hard work, especially at harvest, where if the weather was favourable the work had to be done quickly and efficiently while the weather held. The sense of community was based not only on the work, but also trust and closeness built on friendship for each other, despite the common failings of folk and their tongue.

The standing stones are a recurring theme in Sunset Song. The mystical tie between ancient culture, nature and man is felt by Chris who uses the stones and the loch as a sort of retreat and thinking place. Interestingly her father who comes over in the novel as a strict Presbyterian, (he threatened Will Guthrie with violence for saying “Come over, Jehova to Bess the horse after he groomed her - p.30) seemed to dislike them, perhaps for what they represented? “And he glanced with a louring eye at the Standing Stones and then Chris had thought a foolish thing, that he kind of shivered, as though he were feared, him that was feared of nothing dead or alive, gentry or common.”

Communities that are close to the land or sea, seem to unconsciously identify with, or believe in more than one spiritual concept. Christianity and superstition often blending into each other. The ancient and modern Scots were, or are no different, and perhaps this is what Gibbon is getting at in the book. John Guthrie chooses his Calvinist blind obedience over the mystical and timeless spirit and tie with nature and season emanating from the stones. Perhaps his jealous god and the beating life gives him in making a living, make him resent the very nature with which he must work in harmony. Ironic that he should dislike the Standing Stones as these were a symbol of the people he possibly came from. In Highland River, Neil Gunn asks where did the Picts go? and suggests all we need do is to look in a mirror and we will see one.

Not all nature is portrayed as harsh in Sunset Song . “Below and around where Chris Guthrie lay the June moor whispered and rustled and shook their cloaks, yellow with broom and powdered faintly purple, that was the heather but not the full passion of its colour yet”. Although times could be difficult, each season has its beauty in nature, and you can smell summer in this quote.

Often the prose relating to nature and season were placed alongside the growth both spiritually and sexually of Chris. The chapter “Drilling” has perhaps some of the best prose in the book. Nature, its smells and whole evocative feeling of a good autumn night during the “harvest madness” weaves around the awareness of Chris that she is no longer a girl and has become a woman: “growing up limber and sweet, not bonny, perhaps, her cheek bones were over high and her nose over short for that, but her eyes clear and deep and brown, deep and clear as the Denburn flow, and her hair was red and was brown by turns, spun as fine as a spiders web, wild, wonderful hair”. Very evocative description of a woman any sensible man would want to meet, know, and allow to grow. If he had any sense.

John Guthrie’s slow demise was interesting. Gibbon touches on what at the time would have been a major taboo – incest, which in reality was not uncommon (apparently) in rural communities. His struggle with life, and Chris’s release from him in death show him like any other meer mortal. After his death Chris can see the good in the man and his doings, and cry for the way he was in life. A Man’s a Man for a’ That.

Later in the novel, Kinraddie community life turns nasty when Long Rob decides he will not join the army. Assumptions are made that he is a coward or a conscientious objector and the community turns against him. Communities tolerate eccentricity up to point, but only for some, failure to conform to the norm. Going against the majority often turns the community from a benign social group into something nasty, as was the case for Long Rob. Rob is no coward but a man of conviction though. Both he and in particular Chris, struggle with identity. She is both Chris of the Howe, and Chris of the books and learning. Caledonian Antisyzygy? There is an undertone of the struggle between conforming to be part of the community, and that of the individual, who if they step out of the social norm will be excluded and pulled to pieces by wagging tongues. Rob bowed to pressure, but from within himself. At least he went to war on his terms.

The effect of the Great War on small farming communities was devastating, and most never fully recovered. The eulogy for the fallen by Robert Colquohoun in the Epilude describes this, and the tie with the land and nature. “And who knows at the last what memories of it were with them, the springs and the winters of this land and all the sounds and scents of it that had once been theirs, deep and a passion of their blood and spirit, those four who died in France”. I think this illustrates the tie between land, nature and community as for what else were they fighting other than what they perceived as a threat (government propaganda!) to their families and community. “Chae came and looked at young Ewan and said Ay, man! And he told them “they’d brought out a fine bit bairn between them, every man might yet have to fight for bairn and wife ere this war was over;”

Even at the last Gibbon emphasizes the feel and smell of nature and the pull of community: When Chae spoke to Ewan on the morning of his execution for desertion, he asks “But why did you do it Ewan?”
Ewan replies. “It was that wind that came with the sun, I minded Blawearie, I seemed to waken up smelling that smell. And I couldn’t believe it was me that stood in the trench, it was just daft to be there. So I turned and got out of it”.

“And then Ewan said, sudden like, it clean took Chae by surprise”, “Mind the smell of the dung in the parks on an April morning, Chae? And the pewits over the rigs? Bonny they’r flying this night in Kinraddie, and Chris sleeping there, and all the Howe happed in mist”.

and the standing stones up there night after night and day after day by the loch of Blawearie, how around them there gathered things that wept and laughed and lived again in the hours before dawn, till far below the cocks began to crow in Kinraddie and the day had come again”
In the end, despite all life can throw her way, the indomitable Chris moves forward with her life, but will not loose her sense of being bound to nature, the seasons and the earth. She accepts the way of folk and ploughs her furrow onward to Segget, with its Church with no steeple, and the wagging dirk like tongues of its inhabitants.

David Gunn

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