The Magazine of
Supported by the Order of St.John
Issue 27 February 2012
The Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland
THE NEW VERTEX BEST COMFORTABLE HELMET FOR WORK AT HEIGHT AND RESCUE
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Opposite: Jonathan Hart of Lochaber MRT , Nevisrange staff and BASP Ski patrol working together to rescue injured climbers on the North East face of Aonach Mor - Feb 2012 , picture John Sutherland of LMRT. The Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland (MRCofS) is a Registered Scottish Charity – Number SC015257
editorial Welcome to the first E edition of the Scottish Mountain Rescue Magazine. April 1st 2013 is the date when Scotland will have one National Police s Service and one National Fire and Rescue service. These changes coupled with the new SAR-H contracts , changes within the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and reform of the UK military will all have a significant impact on how Mountain Rescue is coordinated and delivered in Scotland. This once in a generation set of changes , whilst very challenging, will I believe , create many opportunities for the sustained delivery of a voluntary Scottish Mountain Rescue Service. In order to ensure that our voluntary organisation moves forward in a positive manner we need to work together to ensure that our teams and our National body (MRCofS) work in a constructive way with all our stakeholders to improve the service we supply to over 1200 voluntary team members across Scotland and ,of course, to the person that really matters.....the casualty.
W ap A D Ed
Communicating these changes and updates to you the team membership is vitally important and the MRCofS Executive have done a great job in modernising the magazine, the website , creating the new project manager post and delivering the range and variety of National training courses now being offered. My thanks go to all the Executive Committee members for their continued support, in these challenging times.
Have a safe winter Jonathan Hart Chair - MRCofS
SCOTTISH MOUNTAIN RESCUE February 2012
The Magazine of
C Th o u g si im b ei b d
Th m b si w w
On April 14th 2012 , there will be a Scottish Mountain Rescue Team Leaders meeting held at Glenmore Lodge and there will be an opportunity to update Team Leaders on these changes and to have an opportunity to discuss how they can be at the forefront of engaging with our stakeholders to ensuring that voluntary mountain and cave rescue has a sustained future and continues to go from strength to strength. I am sure there will be further meetings as we move forward, stronger and more focussed on working together.
Its a really exciting time to be involved in Scottish Mountain Rescue and I would ask all team members to get involved with National as well as local initiatives and to work together to help us all to build a better and more sustainable future for the organisation we all love and cherish.
The Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland
A technology that has generated limited interest in the past from the Search & Rescue teams in the UK, perhaps due to its previously prohibitively high cost, is that of Thermal Imaging. This article seeks to raise awareness of what has become a more affordable
to manufacture, the initial procurement costs of uncooled units is generally significantly lower lower through-life costs – no costs associated with expensive, unreliable cooler failure
As a UK manufacturer utilising the latest European technology, our products provide unrivalled performance, capability and features, and in addition, ISS has consistently set new standards for equipment by introducing features and facilities not found on other equipment. These innovative and patented features are designed to help you undertake your operations more safely and efficiently. ISS prides itself on its ability to listen to end-users and develop equipment that is matched to their operational needs. Often this requires an innovative approach to product design and ISS has a number of Patents that have, directly or indirectly, been born as a result of listening to the problems end-users face and solving them. An operational helicopter filmed at night using an ISS Thermal Imager (TiV)
SCOTTISH MOUNTAIN RESCUE February 2012
solution and with the advent of new, more powerful, more robust and smaller devices – a more practical solution. Coupled with ISS’ renowned ability to respond to specific customer requirements by rapid development of bespoke solutions we feel that the time is right for rescuers in all areas to reappraise what is on offer today. Since our latest initiative was begun not only have we visited Search & Rescue teams in Killin and Keswick (more of which below) but by streamlining our internal processes we have been able to significantly reduce the prices of our range of thermal products.
Infrared Security Solutions Ltd (ISS) is a privately owned UK company with in excess of 100 man years experience in the design and manufacture of Thermal Imaging systems. ISS specialises in ‘uncooled’ technology - thermal imaging that you may have been exposed to in the past was almost certainly ‘cooled’ and as a direct consequence of that – much more expensive. In addition uncooled devices, as compared to cooled provide: • much more rapid start up times – typically around 3 seconds compared to 5 to 15 minutes ! • very low power requirement – allowing uncooled units to be powered from readily available batteries such as AA cells, simplifying in-field logistics considerably. Cooled devices require much larger batteries due to dependence on their cooling mechanisms • easy maintenance – allowing repairs to be effected much more cheaply and quickly so returning the unit to the user with minimal down-time. For the more complex cooled units maintenance will invariably be more expensive, more frequent and will take longer • high reliability – with no highly stressed cooling components, uncooled units are inherently simpler and more reliable • much quieter operation – in the field whilst listening for the slightest indication of a missing person’s location the near silent operation of an uncooled device can provide distinct advantages over the mechanical noise created by cooled units • low weight and size – with no cooling engine and no heavy batteries, uncooled units are typically lighter and smaller than comparable cooled units • lower initial procurement costs – being relatively simple
Thermal Imagers are sensitive to natural radiation emitted or reflected by all objects, man-made or natural. As this natural radiation is independent from the sun’s light, thermal imagers are able to see in conditions where other technologies, including the human eye cannot. Furthermore, thermal imagers can see through smoke, mist, rain and snow much better than the human eye or other light based sensors. These capabilities contained in a light-weight, hand-held device such as that now available from ISS, can provide you with a significant operational improvement. ISS products also include the TIV family of high performance thermal imagers. These devices have been in daily use throughout the world for a number of years, often in extremely testing conditions where one of their main functions is the detection of individuals attempting unauthorised border crossings. Those people are of course trying to remain undetected and yet still they are ‘seen’ Rescuers in Croatia using an ISS Thermal Imager by the thermal imagers employed. In a search and rescue scenario where the individuals being sought are (generally) not of the same motivation, we at ISS believe the use of our technology will bring an enhanced search and rescue capability to those teams using it and greatly
Advertorial increase the chances and reduce the timescale for a successful operation. A real-life example of just such a current application is shown by the photograph of a rescue operation underway in Croatia. Given its inherent capabilities, there is scope for using a thermal imaging solution in a number of search and rescue scenarios e.g. – looking for people lost in difficult environments such as the moors or in mountainous terrain or recovery at sea. Members of ISS are currently conducting field trials with UK Mountain Rescue teams - feedback from two of these trials with Killin and Keswick MR teams (comprising for Killin - Bill Rose Search Co-ordinator, William Stitt Team Leader, Ted Inglis, Gus Cameron, Calum Menzies all Deputy Team Leaders, John Wylie. Eoin Campbell, Kirsty Rose , Mike Holliday and for Keswick - Geoff Gilmore, Chris Francis, Fiona Boyle, Scott Henderson, Elly Whiteford, Donald Ferguson, Phil Newton, Andy Jones, and Nick Jones included the following comments: “Happy to use our name as being impressed with the value of ISS’ cameras in night time searches on hills and wooded areas”. “We were impressed by the range of your cameras. We were previously of the view that thermal was limited to a fairly close range, around 100 metres but found it worked very well at identifying a heat source over a mile away on a hillside”. “It does not take long to learn how to use the cameras and identify types of heat source. We were concerned about being able to identify between animals and people. That was not a problem during our tests as we could easily pick out people from wildlife” “We have used NVG scopes for a number of years which only enhance available light and are of limited use in damp atmospheric conditions. The ISS camera was far superior as it picked out the heat source from a body some considerable distance away making it stand out against the surroundings”. “There was no hiding place from your camera. We sent someone down in to a tree lined gully and it easily picked him out hiding behind tree branches. He was otherwise totally hidden”. “ISS units are now down to the size of large field binoculars making them easy to carry when out on a search, They looked really sturdy and appear built to withstand weather conditions we regularly face when carrying out a search on the mountains”. “The only way to appreciate the potential of thermal cameras is to carry out field trials in the type of ground that we operate in. We did and were very impressed with the results”.
The Killin Mountain Rescue Team trialling ISS Thermal Cameras
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Members of the Keswick team enjoy a break whilst conducting their trials Since the first trials the Killin MR team has purchased TIVs. Recognising the financial constraints on most organisations in the current economic climate, ISS is also introducing a lease/hire scheme for our equipment for those who might require it. Details of this and our product range are available from the address below. Please also contact us at this address if you require more information or would like us to visit your team and carry out trials with you. Rob Reeve/Julie Haslam Infrared Security Solutions Foxhall Lodge, Foxhall Road, Nottingham. NG7 6LH Tel: 0115 845 6573
The Killin team again ‘in action’
Book Reviews Trauma by Professor Gordon Turnbull –From Lockerbie to 7.7: how Trauma affects our minds and how we fight back. Review by Heavy Whalley It is pretty amazing to be reading the paper one morning and you find that there is a new book being reviewed and you are in it. I was pretty shocked when I read the review I was not really ready for this. The book was just published and is called “Trauma” by Professor Gordon Turnbull who is now recognised as a World authority in Post – Traumatic Stress Disorder. (PTSD) It hit me like a bullet as I felt a bit betrayed as in the review I was mentioned fairly consistently as I was involved very much with Professor Turnbull and his team after Lockerbie and never had a clue that this book was coming out. I did feel that I should have been asked before hand?
SCOTTISH MOUNTAIN RESCUE February 2012
I will take you back to December 1988 and the events of Lockerbie which many are aware of. The RAF MRT and civilian teams and SARDA did an incredible job during this time and their story is seldom acknowledged by other Agencies. (I have attached an article with this review explaining Lockerbie) This was without doubt the biggest operation that Mountain Rescue had ever been involved in. I had seen many things in my time in those days but nothing prepared me for this. When I got through to the Rescue Coordination Centre at Pitreavie on arrival, I asked for Psychiatrist to help us come to terms with what we had been involved in. My team was not unused to dealing with death and we were very busy in these days and deaths on the mountains were common but this was way out of anyone’s comprehension.
After we got back from Lockerbie a medical team arrived at Leuchars and then the other RAF Teams to give us some help. Help was very basic and many of my team did not think they needed it. We has a communal brief and then were asked if we felt we were not coping we could get a private counselling session. The medical team lead by Gordon Turnbull then went round the other three RAF Teams involved and did the same, they had varying responses. The civilian teams and Dog Handler never had any assistance even though I did mention too many Agencies they would all need some help. These were the days we Mountain Rescue troops never needed any help, we were hard “ pull up the man -zip and get on with it” how wrong we were. Out of my team of over 30 people 5 have had major problems and one has just had a breakdown over 20 years after Lockerbie. As for all my friends in the Borders and SARDA who were at Lockerbie for weeks after we left, I know of several to this day that still suffer. This year I had over 12 calls from troops wanting a chat on the anniversary, incredible
My anger against some of the leaders in the military and some of the hard times I got from friends in Mountain Rescue when I asked for help still hurts. Many who criticized were not there or have any comprehension of what happened on that awful night. In his book Gordon says because we asked for help after Lockerbie the military then appreciated that there was such a thing as PTSD and started doing something to help the troops. Our civilian friends still struggle with limited help. Not all need help but at least we know a bit more about it and how to help those affected. I speak about Lockerbie and what the Mountain Rescue Teams did in that terrible tragedy when I give my lectures, I also mention the effect it had on me so maybe I made had no right to be angry when I read the article in the paper on the book. Since then I have read the book and feel a lot better. It is very heavy in places as these books tend to be but gives a great insight into PTSD and as Gordon is now a world authority it is worth a read and a copy is a must for all Mountain Rescue or Rescue agencies. I would have appreciated a “heads up” that the book was coming out and a chance to let my friends deal with a few of the criticisms of how the RAF Teams dealt with the counselling sessions. Also I think an update of where we are now and how the people are affected all those years late. Everyone is different but we have to look at new ways of dealing with problems and sometimes have the courage to ask for help. I would recommend this book - look after each other,” sometimes big boys and girls do cry” We thought that a Lockerbie would not happen again and I pray it does not but in 1994 I was with a fast party in the Sea King for the Chinook crash on the Mull Of Kintyre killing 29, it was on fire as we arrived, very like a small scale Lockerbie. As we got out of the helicopter I said to my mate “watch me this is so like Lockerbie” I was better prepared then, have read of this book and you may be better prepared. Heavy now has a website and blog and is available for lectures on many subjects. Check out his daily blog www. heavywhalley.com His e-mail is now heavywhalley@heavywhaley .com
Search Dogs and Me One Man and his LifeSaving Dogs. Review by Bob Sharp Over the past two years Neil Powell helped me with my own book on Mountain Rescue Search Dogs, providing a number of stories and information about the history of the Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) in Ireland. But I didn’t realise how long he had been involved in rescue work and was certainly unaware of his wide involvement in the many diverse aspects of search work using dogs. Mountain rescue tends to attract people with remarkable commitment to the cause. The vast majority stay the course for many years, often several decades and Neil is one of these people. Indeed, he has been involved for forty years.
However, Neil, like a very small number of other people have made a double commitment, making a contribution not only to the search and rescue efforts of their own mountain rescue team, but also the operational work of SARDA. It’s a testimony to Neil’s unfailing commitment to both areas of endeavour that he has not only given a major part of his life to rescue work, but also held down a full time job and bought up a family at the same time. Balancing these things is not an easy task and many find it a huge challenge. Forty years on Neil is as committed as ever and this was evident when Neil discussed his latest ventures with search dogs on BBC’s Breakfast TV. Neil’s book is essentially a timeline of his involvement from the early 1970s to the present day. He describes the early challenges of working alone in Ireland, unaware of developments elsewhere in the UK. Once he discovered that people in Scotland – notably Hamish MacInnes and Kenny Mackenzie - had been training dogs for mountain search work for some years - his involvement moved forward quickly. Within a short time, he received essential help from dog handlers in England, Scotland and Wales. As the book progresses, Neil describes numerous searches both in Ireland and elsewhere, along with the challenges and satisfaction training his many dogs. Understandably, Neil tends to focus on the positive finds of missing people, but readers unfamiliar with the work of search dogs should note that more often, search dogs spend much time ‘clearing’ areas and searching areas where subsequent events show the missing person was not located. Most dog handlers in the UK focus on training dogs to ‘air scent’ in a mountain or semi-urban environment but whilst this was the starting route for Neil, he diversified and became one of the few people to train dogs to search for people trapped under collapsed buildings. He describes the expeditions abroad where he was tasked to take his dogs to search for victims of natural disasters, especially earthquakes. He played a seminal role in this kind of work (founding British International Rescue Dogs along the way) but also played a significant role in training dogs to search for drowned victims. He recounts his frustration in trying to convince members of other emergency services about the value of dogs for this kind of work, but after several ‘finds’ (when others had failed) he quickly made his point. In more recent times, Neil has trained dogs to ‘ground’ scent as trailing dogs and also trained dogs to recognise the particular odour of DVDs. The latter project came about when he was invited by the anti-piracy unit of The Motion Picture Association of America to examine the feasibility of using dogs to locate counterfeit discs. Neil showed that it was possible to train dogs to identify the particular smell of DVDs and as a result, he was flown around the world – New York, Hong Kong, Dubai etc. – to demonstrate his dogs working.
It is the way in which Neil writes the book that will make it appeal to more than those interested in training and working search dogs. The book is also a comprehensive historical account of search dogs
Title of book - “Search Dogs and Me” Author - Neil Powell Publisher - Blackstaff Press, Belfast First published - 2011 ISBN - 978 0 85640 867 0 Cover price - £11.99
SARDA Scotland is currently looking to recruit new members. If you are interested in training a dog with SARDA Scotland or would like to hear more about the work we do please get in touch, our telephone number is: 07702503710 or 07789998358
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That’s a broad account of Neil’s book, but what should be highlighted is the manner in which he has developed each chapter and each rescue story. Soon into the first chapter, I was ‘hooked’ and found it difficult to put the book down. Neil has a natural gift with words and a talent to tell a good story. He has the kind of style I see in the stories told by the celebrated vet Jim Wight (AKA James Herriot). This is a real bonus and something that will attract readers not just from the world of SARDA but also the wider population of dog lovers. Each of the thirty four chapters is a crafted gem. Every one tells a particular story and draws the reader into the challenges, frustrations, emotions and pleasures of living with, training and working with dogs. I should add that some sections are not for the feint-hearted. Similar to the way in which James Herriot touches the reader’s heart strings with tales of sadness, despair and death of a loved pet, Neil does the same when describing the dreadful moments when his loved dogs reach the end of their life. It is fitting that he dedicates the book to all the dogs that were part of his life.
and how the training and operational deployment has developed and diversified in the past forty years. For this reason, it is a ‘mustread’ for everyone involved in search and rescue. In short, Search Dogs and Me is a heart-warming, inspiring and beautifully told story that will melt – and occasionally break – the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.
Press Release - Killin Mountain Rescue Team Infra red technology will help save lives on the Scottish Mountains Killin Mountain Rescue Team has invested in handheld infrared cameras from Infrared Security Solutions Ltd. Nottingham following successful field trials earlier this year. Searching for missing persons during darkness is one of the most difficult and time consuming tasks mountain rescue teams carry out and it is hoped the infra-red cameras will help save lives.. It is relatively common for people to get lost and find themselves in difficulty, often without a torch, or any means to signal for help. Seriously injured climbers are often unable to call for help. In winter hypothermia is a big risk if people are not found relatively quickly. It is very frustrating at night to know that someone is out on the hills, but due to weather conditions, they cannot be seen. Current line search techniques by torchlight take considerable manpower resources and a long time to cover ground. Search dogs are invaluable in such circumstances, but cannot cover all potential search areas at one time. Infra red cameras will allow them to be utilised more effectively. Infra red cameras detect body heat and can work in rain and misty conditions where conventional torches and night vision equipment is not effective. a The cameras work very similar to that currently in use by Police and Military helicopters to carry out aerial searches. Infra red cameras have come on a long way in recent years, and are now relatively compact, no larger than a large pair of binoculars. They have for a number of years been used worldwide in military applications. They are now becoming affordable and available to civilian search and rescue organisations. Killin Mountain Rescue Team is the first team in Scotland to invest in infra red cameras from ISS systems With a range of over 2 kilometres the handheld cameras allow large areas of hillside to be searched quickly and efficiently in a short space of time. It provides a facility to check steep dangerous rocky ground at night, or avalanche prone slopes without putting rescue team members at risk. The cameras can also detect a person hidden by trees and bushes. The cameras have considerable potential in identifying the location of a climber in need of assistance.
SCOTTISH SCOTTISHMOUNTAIN MOUNTAINRESCUE RESCUEFebruary August 2011 2012
Callander Community Council supported Killin Mountain Rescue Team and provided match funding for the purchase of the cameras realising the benefit they would provide in helping people who all too often find themselves in difficult and life threatening situations in the hills around this popular tourist destination
Technology is moving forward at a fast rate. It is important that rescue teams look at any development that can improve the speed at which we can bring about a successful result in a mountain rescue incident. Infra red cameras are another tool to add to the search box and Killin Mountain Rescue Team are confident that they will justify their purchase on many occasions when we are trying to trace someone in difficulty. Killin MRT Contact Bill Rose Co-ordinator 01877330122
The weather deteriorated as we got to Fort William and the forecast could not be described as pleasant but rescuers are tough softies. We met at the Lochaber MRT base and though we did not find it straight off it was certainly worth it when we did as it is just the ticket. We kicked of on Friday evening straight into a paper exercise in out own team groups and this was to highlight our thinking and Placing Snow anchors. response to an incident and what to do and how to plan and rig it. So round the room and we hear of slight variations, differing bits of kit and ideas for a solution to get this injured lead climber off the crag with his broken pelvis. This highlights that there are so many ideas about and nothing is standard and this popped its head up frequently through the events that followed. The remainder of the evening was based on how good this snow is for making anchors. All the aspects we should be observing and assessing prior to, during and whilst the belay is in use. This only touched the surface of a huge topic but was to make it clear if it was going to be used as an anchor we had to have a good understanding of the limitations the snow applies.
Donald Paterson ran the upstairs session and Rob Skinner had a Land Rover belay in the vehicle bay, so we were in two groups. We saw footage of the recent Cascade climb rescue recovery and this was looked at as a classic example of a working site and all the issues of safe practice and efficient rigging to get the climber down to the RAF. This was an approach from below, and the approach from above and getting the line down to the casualty was stressed so Location is number one and any aids to doing that are better known in advance by GPS or local identity. Once you are on scene all the issues of building up what is required of a functional rig and usefully using the human resource to be slick and safe. Rigging for Lower and Raise Behind the LR with a rig in place Rob highlighted a great number of points in a variety of ways and ropes were cut and tests run. Things that work, and things that are hassle, were illustrated primarily with the rescue 8 and ID in use. Both these sessions were well worthwhile and it was all going to be put into practice on Sunday. The cold weather had now really chilled the snowpack so we had plenty of solid anchors for lowers and hoists over the side of the Nid ridge. Three work stations here with differing gear pulled together all the aspects of the course and generally the working parties were more efficient in the set up and running of each. There is always more to learn and a few points here can be taken back to our own teams to share and consider and perhaps make a change to some practices. There followed and end of course wind down and as it was pointed out it is just the beginning; the first of an evolution of winter rigging courses to develop from here. I personally thought it was a very valid weekend for all participants, as you could see concepts, ideas and the issues in practice and discussion and share and build on this which is how we progress. Thanks go to all the people who put this together which ultimately will make our job better and safer as well as more rewarding.
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I woke a few times in the night with torrential rain and noise of the wind so it was not a surprise that Nevis range staff shook there heads to lifting us up. A shuttle with vehicles and a walk to the CIC had our 4 groups up in the wintery scenery of the Ben. We rotated round four sites covering topics of: rock belays, snow axe belays, deadmen, various human anchors, stompers etc. It was good to be into the practical side of things which is how the rest of the course panned out. Plenty of dialogue and coaching made this more than just a routine session. This was a good reminder for some showing, especially the features that can go wrong. Now the weather was Summit Aonach Mor
improving to add to the theatre of the Nevis cliffs. A scenario ran with the 4 groups helping in stages to get the Mk7 out of a small gully and down the hill. Many belays of a number of types were employed.
10 GO A WANDERING ! Donald Macleod, Braemar MRT
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In the early part of January this year 10 people from various teams across Scotland attended an Avalanche course hosted by the Austrian Mountain Rescue Service or locally known as Bergrettungsdienst Osterreich. The 10 ambassadors were Stuart Johnston (training officer for MRC of S) Jonathan Hart (Secretary for MRC) Shaun Roberts ( Glemmore MRT member) Jon Sanders (Tayside MRT) Damon Powell (Oban MRT) John Jackson (Ochils Mrt) Colin MacGougall (Tayside Police MRT) Al Gilmour (Cairngorms MRT) Jonny Sutherland (Lochaber MRT) Donald Macleod (Braemar MRT) We all met on Tuesday 10th January at a nice wee airport hotel at
Edinburgh where we had a few pre trip liquid refreshments before an early start the following morning, we were then on our way with full kit enroute to Geneva via City of London Airport. Thankfully the journey past uneventful and that evening so us arrive by train at our final destination in the town of Feldkirch in the Voralberg area of Austria (nestled in between Switzerland, Germany and Liechtenstein), where we were met by a couple of our hosts Harold and Bernd, thereafter followed a night in another nice wee hotel yet again sampling some local liquid refreshments. Where the grandaddy of Austrian MR Gebhard) turned up. (See above with Jonathan Hart) The following day saw us attending at the joint medical, fire/ MR control centre where the set up was explained to us, in the Voralberg area alone there are 31 MRT teams with around 1200 members in total dealing with around 2500 call outs a year, all are volunteers with just 3 full time admin staff. It was quite impressive to see how they are set up ready to respond to any Civil disasters in the area. That afternoon then saw attend a one of the local MRT bases which was co-located with the local fire unit where we were proudly shown there training wall. The buildings are built by the local community and there are close links with all rescue services with some members being in
more than one service. teams have a strong training policy with each member having a 1 year probation on joining and most of the training done in house, however 3 weekend training courses must be attended per year. Each member is trained in incident control with around 3/4 within a team able to manage an incident. Clothing is supplied nationally but equates to a shell issue and a fleece and hat, the rest you supply yourself. Teams are given around 15000 euros per year from the government (there is also MR insurance for the general public with 10,000 people signing up, it equates to around 20 euros per family and if you don’t have - you get billed ! ) After a hearty lunch at a local Gasthaus we thereafter drove out to one of the helicopter pads and shown around the base there, it was interesting to hear that each team has access to its own helicopter which is run by the equivalent of the AA or RAC, they are small 4 seater choppers with a room for a stretcher however they do not have night time capability in the Mountains. They are crewed by a pilot, MRT paramedic and a Doctor. It was interesting to hear that in Austria MRT members do not give casualties drugs of any sort (not even O2) as a Doctor will always be present on
a callout. All this can be afforded as there is MR insurance for the general public with 10,000 people signing up, it equates to around 20 euros per family and if you don’t have you get billed ! Later that afternoon we returned to the main control centre and thereafter got changed into hill kit and drove up into the mountains where we were told we were to be staying 3 nights in an mountain hut. Being from Scotland we imagined at the best we would get would be the equivalent of the CIC hut with a guardian. After a 45 minute skin up the hill we arrived at our mountain hut - The hotel Kobersee located at the foot of the Mohnenfluh (2542 metres) part of the Schrocken ski area - so much for slumming it ! It was then after another hearty meal and a few light liquid refreshments off to bed for an early (ish) start. At this point it should be noted that it was the annual Austrian MRT trainers Avalanche assessment course with around 40 MRT members being assessed that weekend and yes, we were part of it. The following morning saw us rise bright and early and out into the mist, where we ran through Snow pack assessment, shoveling, probing and transceiver techniques, where a few good tips were taken from it, but encouragingly we felt very much on the same page as the Austrians.
It is a method of looking at the Avalanche forecast and from that looking at your map and taking from it slope angles, the Avalanche forecast category then dictates what angled slopes you should be traveling on, you also plan pre-determined check points where you do stop and make ongoing assessments of the route ahead. The following morning we woke to a blue sky and started of with gaining height on the chairlift, there followed a nice wee ski tour through the piste into
the back country using the stop and go method, a risk reduction method of avalanche evaluation used by Austrian MR teams. We had a lot of discussion whether such a method would be practical in Scotland. We then stopped for lunch where we then looked at a number of snow belays using your skis, there then followed a great descent back to the hotel (sorry I mean hut !) through the ski resort taking in a few uplifts of course. That evening we discussed the Recco system which they also use before retiring to bed. The following and final morning then saw us take part in an avalanche exercise with the Austrian teams, we were second probe line in and after a few minutes the Braemar Mountain Rescue team representative (with a little assistance from Ochils) found the body the hosts were looking for. Riding high on our recent excellent performance it was time for team Scotland to retreat back down to the Hut, pack our bags and head for home, arriving back in Edinburgh late on the Sunday evening. To cap it all up it was an enjoyable trip where a good time was had by all but also some valid learning skills were taking away and it was good to see we are not too far behind the experts in terms of Avalanche search and management techniques, where hopefully those updated skills will be passed onto other teams through the Avalanche courses being run. The favour will hopefully be repaid soon with a delegation from the Austrian MR coming to Scotland to learn about searching Peat bogs in howling winds and lashing rain.
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Later that night over a wee beer we went over what we would be doing the following day which was a ski tour, we looked at a route and thereafter discussed t h e r e m e t h o d of taking a trip into the back country c a l l e d ‘stop and go’ (a risk re d u c t i o n
method of avalanche evaluation used by Austrian MR teams. We had a lot of discussion whether such a method would be practical in Scotland.)
Protecting Winter Belays George McEwan Head of Mountaineering at Glenmore Lodge National Outdoor Training Centre and Technical Officer for The Association of Mountaineering Instructors. George is also a member of Glenmore Lodge MRT. Winter climbs/pitches are characterised
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by long, often poorly protected, run outs with potential for high impact forces in the event of a fall. With the challenge of finding good protection there is the issue of when you eventually place a piece of protection you may find that it is not 100% sound. Additionally the opportunities for placing anchors in winter tend to be more spaced than might be the case in summer. This can lead to a situation where the climber climbs a significant distance between protection. If they were to fall, and given that some of the anchors may be suspect and could fail, then it can be seen that a big fall will be the end result. This results in the safety chain having to deal with high impact forces caused by a long fall.
Although this situation is potentially manageable another factor to add to the equation is when the main belay anchors are themselves suspect, a not uncommon occurrence in winter. A long fall with potentially high impact forces onto a suspect main belay can have serious and potentially fatal consequences for the whole party. So what options do we have to minimise the impact force on the belay in the event of a leader fall above the belay? Good practice would suggest placing a runner to protect the belay before or as soon as leaving the stance, thereby ensuring that a/ there is no chance of a Fall Factor 2 and b/ that the plate being oriented for an upward pull will be correctly oriented if the
leader falls just above the stance. However for this to work it makes the assumption that a bomber runner is readily accessible. As anyone who has climbed in winter knows this is not always the case. This article looks to explore and discuss some of the issues around how we protect our main belays in winter thus ensuring or reducing the consequences of a leader fall onto the belay. Protecting the belay First off back to what I would suggest is good practice, summer or winter – Figure 1 as shown in Figure 1 is protecting the belay with a bomber runner, ideally before leaving the stance. The underlying reason for this is as there is less rope run out at the start of a pitch the impact forces in the event of a fall can be significant. Add to that how the belay plate is orientated e.g. for an upward pull, then we can see that if we don’t protect the belay, the team (and belay) will be facing a Fall Factor 2 onto the main belay with the plate wrongly oriented for the resulting fall i.e. a downward pull. Not good. So what could we do to avoid this situation? Well there are a range of possible options assuming that we can actually place a suitable runner. These options are ranked in order i.e. most effective first. This is the first, and would be my preferred, option - place an early independent bomber runner before leaving the stance as shown in Figure 1. You can have the belayer’s plate oriented for an upward pull, thus if the leader does pop off when leaving the stance not only do we reduce the potential impact force onto the belay but the belayer has a better chance of holding the fall. Off course for this to work that independent runner has to be bombproof. If it fails then we are back to holding a fall with the plate oriented for an upward plate
but trying to hold a downward force, again not good. However, if there is no independent runner option before leaving the stance then you have choices to make, or rather judgements. If you see a bomber anchor option just above the stance you have to weigh up how likely you are to pop off before placing that runner, perhaps with the plate oriented for an anticipated upward pull, and the consequences to the team as a result. This option is perhaps appropriate if there is little or no technical climbing to reach a place from which to place that runner and there is little or no chance of being hit by any falling debris, spindrift etc and falling before placing the runner. Or You could have the belay plate set up as shown in Figure 2 for a downward pull. This does not prevent a Fall Factor 2 onto the belay but at least there is a chance of holding the fall dynamically (more on this latter). If you do place the runner then the plate will also work for holding an upward pull. However care must be taken with this to ensure that the belayer is not spun around and down in the direction of the down fall as this could injure them (possibility of lower leg injury) Or This option is more contentious and requires very careful judgement… Use one of the main anchors on your main belay as shown in Figure 3. Now, before using this option there are several assumptions you have to make:
All the best (bomber) placements have been used for the main belay. There are no other bomber runners close to the stance and the next possible runner options are a distance away up technical ground. In this case I would clip one bomber anchor on the belay and use that as my first runner. This HAS to be a bomber piece. Why does it have to be bomber? If this piece fails whilst holding a fall then you have weakened your main belay anchor set-up and are now about to have a large impact force hit the belay with the plate oriented for an upward pull rather than a downward pull. In the illustration I’ve clipped a shock absorbing extender to reduce any potential impact force on the runner/anchor. On leaving the stance I’d be looking to get gear in as soon as is practicably possible. This method is less risky if the main belay is made up of several pieces, hopefully all reasonable to bomber i.e. you’ve used all the best and bomber placements, so that using one piece does not necessarily compromise the belay unduly. You are trading any potential downside with this option with the fact that the belay plate will be correctly oriented for an upward pull. Of course if the belay anchors are not the best then all bets are off and you might want to think about other options - like the leader must not fall! Whichever of the options outlined above you use, and ultimately that judgement call is yours given that every climbing situation is unique, you want to be placing as many good runners as you can early on in the pitch. The less rope out the less rope there is to absorb the impact force and therefore the greater the potential impact force. So lot’s of runners help keep the fall factor low and thereby reduce the impact force on the safety chain as a whole. Dynamically Arresting Falls
In winter ropes becoming wet then freezing can be a common event. In no time your supple, easy to handle climbing rope can take on all the handling characteristics of a steel cable. This can be frustrating as you attempt to force what feels like a 13mm rope into the 9mm wide holes on your belay plate. If you do manage to insert the rope into the belay plate, holding a fall dynamically can be problematic, as the ropes will jam in the plate causing a potentially serious shock load. If, and when the climbing rope(s) freeze an option to avoid this angst is to use a body belay. This method allows a reasonably dynamic i.e. gradual arrest of a fall even when the ropes have turned to icy cables. Care must be taken to ensure the live rope (i.e. the rope going to the leader or second) must be on the same side as the climber’s attachment point to their anchors. If the rope is incorrectly placed the belayer attempting to hold the fall can be spun around thereby losing control of the rope – not good. This all works fine if the fall creates a downward pull on the belayer but if the leader has placed a runner above the stance then the belayer (providing the runner holds) will have to deal with an upward pull. Holding an upward pull is a bit harder to do with a waist belay compared to using a belay device, especially if you are Figure 4 unpractised at this. To
make this a bit easier you can attach a krab to the front of your harness loop and run the live rope through this thus preventing the rope being pulled up and behind you. (use Image 4 practising holding a sliding fall) Summary Protecting the main belay is key to minimising the impact force on the belay in the event of a leader fall. Your first and best option is to place an independent bomber runner ideally before setting off from the stance. If this is not possible then you will have to explore other appropriate options which could be orientating the belay plate for a downward pull, clipping a bomber anchor on the main belay (assuming the other anchors are all equally bomber) or making a call about how far above the main belay is your next runner opportunity and how good it will be. Ultimately how you manage this situation is down to your judgement of that situation in that time
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So given that the reality in many winter climbing situations is long run outs between (possibly suspect) protection with the potential for long falls then how we arrest, or hold the fall, has implications for the integrity of our safety chain. Ideally we are looking to dynamically arrest a fall thereby reducing the potential for a catastrophic shock loading on our anchors. Obviously factors such as rope diameter vs belay device (i.e. rope diameter is compatible with the belay device slots), rope system used (e.g. double ropes vs single rope vs twin rope), length of fall type of fall (freefall vs tumbling etc) all have an effect on the impact force of the resultant fall. In any case being able to dynamically
arrest the fall will assist in lessening the resultant impact force.
Fall Factors Quickly Explained When you fall off a route the single piece of kit that will do the most to reduce the impact force on your safety chain (anchors, climber, belay etc) will be the rope. The rope does this by absorbing the energy of the fall by stretching and absorbing some of the energy of the fall. In simple terms the more rope available to stretch during the fall the lower the impact force on the safety chain. This potential impact force can be measured using the following ratio: Distance of fall divided by amount of rope out gives us the fall factor. The higher the fall factor the greater the impact force on the safety chain. Figure 5 taken from the MLT publication Rock Climbing: Essential Skills & Techniques by Libby Peter illustrates this. Therefore the Fall Factor is a simple and quick way, without getting hung up on complex physics and maths, of assessing how severe the impact force could be on the belay. For those of you who like numbers figure 6 shows the impact force in a Fall Factor 1 fall. Here you can see the rope take the first impact where it stretches, then the rebound (no force shown) then the subsequent impacts as the rope stretches and contracts as it absorbs the impact.
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In reality a whole host of factors come into play such as whether the falling climber hits or bounces of ledges, how complex the pitch is (i.e. the rope zig zags), type of rope used etc that affect the actual impact force. It is also worth taking into account that you might have more rope out than you think as often the belayer will have a loop of slack out to prevent the leader being pulled of balance and/or allow a fast clip to be made.
and place. All things being equal the other common winter climbing scenario is little or no good protection, poor anchors and long run-outs. In this case the old adage – “The leader must not fall” will hold true. Top Tip Encourage bored seconds not to idly swing around off the main belay given that some of the anchors may be dubious. Main belay anchor failure would rouse even the most
catatonic of seconds. Top Tip Use shock - absorbing extenders on dubious runners to help reduce the impact force on the piece of protection. But mind, they will not magically turn crap runners into bomber runners… Credits Many thanks to MLT for kind permission
to use the illustration of Fall Factors from their recently revised publication ROCK CLIMBING: Essential Skills & Techniques by Libby Peter, You can purchase a copy direct from MLT at http://www.mltshop.co.uk/ All other images by George McEwan. Members can also check their details on the new website http://www.mltuk.org/ news-detail.php?id=261
Killin Mountain Rescue Team members, past and present joined family and friends at the Ben Ledi cross on Wednesday 1st February, 2012 to remember Sergeant Harry Lawrie BEM Coordinator of the rescue team who lost his life in a helicopter crash on Ben More exactly 25 years ago. Included in the group who made the trip up Ben Ledi were Ian Ramsay, a Police Constable in Crianlarich at the time, who was on board the helicopter and recovered from serious injuries sustained in the crash. Seven out of the 8 team members who rescued the air crew from the stricken helicopter were also present. 1st February 1987 was an almost spring like day and no-one could have anticipated the tragic events that would result in three people losing their lives in one 24 hour period in the hills of West Perthshire. Many in the team on that day were preparing to spend the afternoon watching the Scotland Wales Rugby international at Murrayfield when they received a call to attend at Balquhidder to assist in the recovery of a climber who had collapsed and died near Inverlochlarig. Just as that incident was being completed a second call was received reporting a climber having fallen on the snow covered slopes near the summit of Ben More. The team diverted to Ben More, and eight members set off to from Ben More Farm to locate the casualty. A Wessex helicopter from RAF Leuchars picked up Sergeant Lawrie and Constable Ramsay with the intention of dropping them off on the hillside to meet up with the rest of the rescue team to assist in the search. Coming in to the hover on the hillside the main rotor struck a rock causing the helicopter to crash in to the hillside, and thereafter slide down towards the other team members making their way up the icy snow slopes. As soon as the aircraft came to rest the rescue team entered the wreckage and assisted the air crew and occupants out of the helicopter before it burst in to flames. By chance RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team were returning from Training at Tyndrum, and saw the crash take place. They quickly attended at the crash scene and carried out triage on the hillside arranging for Ian Ramsay and the air crew who were also injured to be evacuated by a second helicopter to hospital.
The following day Killin Mountain Rescue Team and the RAF recommenced a search and found the body of the climber who had fallen on Ben More the previous day bringing the death toll over the 24 hour period to three. Later that year a reception was held at Stirling Castle, where Hugh Pearce, the helicopter pilot, Team Leader Billy Stitt, and Deputy Team Leader Stewart Inglis received the Queens Commendation for brave conduct and the Central Scotland Police Medal for bravery. The late Jean Lawrie, Harrys wife, attended a ceremony at Perth a few months later with family and members of the Mountain Rescue Team. She received from HRH Princess Anne the posthumous award of the BEM which had been awarded to Harry a few weeks before he died in recognition of his service; not just to mountain rescue, but also the Duke of Edinburghs Award Scheme; and the Boys Brigade; in which both he and Jean had contributed many hours to over a number of years. The cross on Ben Ledi summit was constructed by the Late Jock Clark, Callander and erected by Killin Mountain Rescue Team supported by other members of the community in Callander who knew and respected Harry. Harrys ashes and that of his wife Jean are placed near to the cross. It was decided that the Ben Ledi Cross on the summit of Ben Ledi was the appropriate place to take time to remember Harry and the events of 25 years ago which brought Callander to a standstill on the day of his funeral in Callander Kirk. Bill Rose Co-Ordinator Killin Mountain Rescue Team
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Killin MRT and family remember Harry Lawrie B E M at Ben Ledi Cross 25 years after helicopter crash on Ben More
Unfortunately Sergeant Lawrie was found fatally injured on the snowcovered slopes. He was carried down the hillside on a stretcher by his own team members supported by the RAF team and in the latter stages by Lomond Rescue team members who had been called to assist when the severity of the incident became known.
Personal Locator Beacons Chief Inspector Colin Souter
PLB Launch - Scotland Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) became lawful for use on land in the UK on 12 January 2012, when new legislation came into effect. Chief Inspector Colin Souter manages UK Search & Rescue business for Scotland on behalf of DCC Andy Cowie, Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS). Colin is a member of the UK Search & Rescue Strategic Committee and the UKSAR Operators Group. He also chairs the UK Search & Rescue Inland Consultative Committee on behalf of the UK Government. In 2010, he assisted Paddy Tomkins QPM as an advisor in drafting his 15 recommendations on water safety for Scottish Government and in 2011, he was co-author of a Memorandum of Understanding on joint working in Water Rescue along with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and the Chief Fire Officer’s Association (Scotland).
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Of potentially greater interest to readers, he is currently leading on behalf of ACPOS on the design and improvement opportunities for the Scottish police service in Search & Rescue, including mountain rescue, as it moves towards a single police force in Scotland in 2013 and is leading on behalf of the police service across the UK in revising the over-arching UK Search & Rescue Framework Document, due for publication in 2013. He prepared some simple questions and answers on this subject which might assist readers and the public, in general.
WHAT ARE PLBS? PLBs are a means of pointing Search & Rescue agencies to the location of a person in distress, using 21st century satellite technology to reduce or remove the need for difficult or lengthy searches, before help arrives on the scene. It’s important to stress that individuals must still acknowledge responsibility for their own safety and not have unreasonable expectations about rescue services being able to deploy quickly to the scene to save the day. Those of us who are familiar with our superb outdoor environment in Scotland are only too well aware that deploying to remote scenes takes time. In water, such as rivers and lochs or other hostile environment, we know that survival can be measured in minutes and seconds, rather than hours. Basic, common sense precautions – proper planning, including appropriate training or experience, clothing, equipment, whatever the activity, can still mean the difference between life and death, even with the introduction of PLBs. CAN’T A MOBILE PHONE DO THE SAME THING? If mobile phone coverage is there, then two-way communication is usually best to help us understand the nature of an emergency and to ensure we despatch the right resources to assist but we know from experience that whilst mobile phone networks are improving their
coverage every day, there are vast areas of rural Scotland which have either patchy network coverage or none at all. These are the places where people are more at risk because they do not have ready means of raising the alarm, should anyone get injured or lost. That is the gap we are trying to address here and in addition, the registration process for PLB’s will mean we have a good starting point with information about the individual, which might otherwise be difficult to obtain quickly. WHO WAS INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT? Along with the Westminster and Scottish Governments, senior police officers in the United Kingdom have been working along with key individuals in OfCom, the Department for Transport, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, the Ministry of Defence, Air Rescue Co-ordinating Centre and other Search & Rescue services, to make it lawful for use of these devices on land. WHO CO-ORDINATES SEARCH & RESCUE? The police are responsible for co-ordinating all land-based search & rescue activity involving the emergency services and our voluntary partners. Our colleagues in the Maritime & Coastguard Agency look after maritime incidents and shoreline cliff rescue but we work together and assist each other, where we can, to get the best outcome from any incident. HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT AND HOW DOES IT WORK? We recognised there had been some understandable reluctance in the past, within the police community, to support PLB use on land but as with other developments, we are always keen to take advantage of technology whenever it can really help us. The new generation of PLBs have moved on and can now broadcast the GPS location, as part of their alert signal in addition to the basic homing signal. This newer technology is the way forward and is a vast improvement on the older technology, which is less useful but still out there for sale, across the world. The older PLBs broadcast only a distress alert homing signal but crucially, need two or three orbits or more, of the satellites, to fix or triangulate an accurate location and this is a very important point for potential users to recognise and consider, when they come to buy a PLB or are being given one as a gift. That delay can be critical in an emergency life or death situation.” WILL THIS HELP RESCUE TEAMS? “In my own Force area in Northern, we have nearly half of the mountain rescue teams in Scotland, who are busy all year round and if we can take advantage of today’s technology to help manage and minimise the risk to rescuers across Scotland and the rest of the UK and help speed up the whole rescue process, in an emergency, there is no doubt we can save lives that might otherwise be lost and at the same time, help reduce the burden and the risk for volunteer rescue teams and searchers. Satellite coverage is much wider than mobile
phone coverage and we have to take advantage of that.” ANY IMPORTANT MESSAGES ABOUT HOW THIS WORKS? “In order for the system to work properly, users must register their PLB in the UK or in their home country, using the registration card provided, giving details of a nominated person the police can contact for further information, in the event of an alert on land. Activations are picked up via satellite, by Mission Control within the Air Rescue Coordination Centre at RAF Kinloss, where the information is packaged and passed to the police who then respond as we normally would, for a mountain rescue situation but with a much more precise location for the rescue team or the helicopter and a useful point of contact to help establish more detail. The helicopter en route can use the homing signal to confirm the location, as it gets closer.” WHAT ABOUT FALSE ALARMS? “False alarm incidents are normally linked to anonymous reports, so from the start you can see it’s not very likely. We have acknowledged there is a small concern about the potential for false alarms but when you consider the potential for saving life, it’s clear the pros outweigh the cons. We will be reviewing activity on an ongoing basis with the ARCC and our partner agencies, to minimise the potential and we are confident the public will use the technology responsibly. In the unlikely event that people do deliberately misuse the technology to create false alarms, it’s an expensive waste of time and assets, potentially wasting thousands of pounds of the taxpayers money for all the services involved and we will have an obligation to report to Procurators Fiscal, to consider a prosecution.” WAS IT STRAIGHT FORWARD? “Colleagues from a range of UK agencies have each played an important role in making this happen, including ACPO, the Department for Transport, OfCom, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and the Ministry of Defence and it’s an excellent example of how we can join up, integrate and co-operate effectively, to provide an improved level of service. We had some technical, legal and procedural challenges to overcome but that’s not new for any of us who were involved and this positive outcome justifies the effort.” SOMEONE MENTIONED SPOT MESSENGER - WHAT’S THAT? “Its a variation on a similar theme and again, its in use world wide. It has some additional features for sending fixed or variable messages. Satellite alerts via Spot Messenger are relayed direct to a ground
UK MR Conference Technology in Mountain Rescue
WHAT NOW? “From this point forward, we can see the potential benefits for lone workers in forestry, estate workers, service engineers and those who go hill walking, trekking or climb mountains or even anglers and canoeists, off-road mountain bikers, quad riders, you name it - there is a long list of potential users out there and its really up to individuals and employers to consider this option as part of their own planning and risk management steps, to take advantage of this new capability and help to minimise the risk of delay in raising the alarm, in the event of an emergency. WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE? Personally, I would like to see the technology taken to the next stage, where remote activation can be triggered by rescue services under agreed conditions, so that we are able to trigger and generate a signal from PLB devices, where individuals are overdue or otherwise unaccounted for and there is genuine concern for their safety or wellbeing. We already see that technology available in other electronic communications devices and in this world of converging technologies, it would seem to me to be the obvious next step, as the design and the manufacturing costs are reduced yet further, along with power consumption and a corresponding increase in batterylife. I can think of a number of instances in my police career, where that technology would have been of great benefit and potentially saved lives. For any further information on UK Search & Rescue, please contact Chief Inspector Colin Souter at firstname.lastname@example.org. uk or on 01463 720 288.
Plans are forging ahead for the bi-annual UK MR Conference the largest mountain rescue event in the UK in 2012. Located in the spacious Headingley Campus of the Metropolitan University in Leeds which provides outstanding - and in some cases such as the environmental chamber - unique facilities, the Conference will stimulate much thought and advice through the extensive programme of lectures, workshops, and exhibitions, presented by national and international practitioners expert in their field of SAR. The programme will include • Austrian MR • PLB’s • Social Media (use in MR) • IT in MR • Search Management • Insurance Panel/Clinic
• • • • • • • •
Cas Care Medical Emergency Response Team IKAR Media Skills Technical Workshops Water Rescue Avalanches Helo’s RAF, Police, and Air Ambulance And much more! Booking Forms will be available shortly, and as the UK MR Conference is invariably a “full house”, early return of these is advised. Leeds has very good road, rail, and air links so travel to the venue is straightforward. Mark your diary now - , 7 – 9 September 2012 UK MR Conference, Leeds.
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7- 9 September 2012, Leeds Metropolitan University, Headingley Campus. Church Wood Avenue, Leeds. LS6 3QS
station in the USA only and we already have a procedure in place where our American colleagues will report the incident details direct to ARCC at RAF Kinloss, who then contact the police. We don’t recommend any one type of technology over another, provided they all carry the GPS location data. It’s getting that location data which is critical. We’ll leave choices and recommendations to the enthusiasts out there, as it is really a consumer choice. What I will highlight is that PLB’s generally have a one-off registration process, with no renewal required unless the device changes hands. Other devices such as spot messenger can carry an annual fee for registration, which in the longer term can result in a higher cost. The important thing for us, as a service provider, is only that the technology works and that the public buy and use the right technology.”
How to avoid becoming an abseil statistic George McEwan
George McEwan Head of Mountaineering at Glenmore Lodge National Outdoor Training Centre and Technical Officer for The Association of Mountaineering Instructors. George is also a member of Glenmore Lodge MRT.
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Introduction Abseiling has to be one of the more serious activities undertaken in a climbing and mountaineering context. Why? It’s one of the few times in climbing where we genuinely ‘test the system’. As soon as you, the climber, step over the edge of a drop your full body weight is committed to the rope and anchors. Whilst abseiling you are very vulnerable to being hit by falling debris, losing control of your ropes, resulting in an uncontrolled descent. When it goes wrong in abseiling it does so catastrophically. According to German mountaineer Pit Schubert, about 25% of climbing deaths occur during abseiling, most commonly due to failing anchors. Another frequent cause of accidents is abseiling off the end of the rope.
There is no such thing as a minor abseil accident. Abseil accidents generally prove to be fatal to the individual or individuals involved. By taking care and ensuring your abseil anchors are bomber, your harness is done up correctly, the abseil device is correctly attached to the harness and the ropes touch the ground, or you tie knots in the ends of the rope, then you should be able to avoid the more common mechanisms of abseil accidents – anchor failure, abseil device incorrectly attached and abseiling off the ends of the rope. Despite taking these precautions you the climber/abseiler are not necessarily safe. Once you commit to the ropes on an abseil you are vulnerable to being hit by any falling debris (e,g, stonefall, ice fall, falling sheep/goats, avalanches etc) and knocked unconscious. To protect against losing control of the rope in such a situation many climbers will choose to fit some sort of abseil back-up (sometimes referred to as a ‘dead man’s handle’) which in the event of the climber losing control of the abseil ropes will exert a braking force on the ropes stopping the climber accelerating down the abseil ropes to disaster. However even this practice is not without it’s drawbacks and depending on which technique is used may not even work in extremis i.e. if you are knocked out. So this article will explore
the various options that we can use to self protect an abseil and their pros and cons. Belay Devices and Rope Diameters Before looking at what techniques we can use to self protect an abseil it’s worth taking a few moments recapping on the relationship between the type of belay device, rope diameter, the climber’s/ abseiler’s grip strength and prusik diameter. Nowadays the most commonly used devices for abseiling are the same ones used for belaying i.e. are manual braking devices and are designed for a particular range of rope diameters e.g. Petzl Reverso 3 is designed to work on half ropes ≥ 8 mm and twin ropes ≥ 7.5 mm. Therefore how the device performs within this range will vary depending on the diameter of rope e.g. the handling
V-slots can also make a difference into how much or how little braking force is required. It’s worth noting just how strong a climber’s grip strength can be. Tests show there is a wide variation in the force that can be applied to a climbing rope by hand. Research has determined that the ‘normal’ range is between 150N and 400N. The value of 400N would be considered at the top end for a big strong manual worker on a well used 10mm rope. So before committing to a ten pitch free hanging abseil it would be worth checking that the belay device you are using is appropriate for the rope diameters you plan to use. Also worth considering is what how wet/frozen/muddy ropes will perform with your chosen belay device. Best to do this long before you intend to abseil rather than balanced above a long drop… Abseil and Back up Options There are a variety of set-ups commonly used by climbers when abseiling. I’ll outline the more commonly used set-ups all of which use the climber’s belay device to abseil with. It should be borne in mind that NONE of them are full proof. All of them use an auto block type prussic knot as a ‘dead man’s handle’. One of the most often used prussic knots for an abseil back-up is the French Prussic – an auto block knot that can be released under load. All the methods explored have specific pros and cons. This does not necessarily make them good or bad it just means that before using them in a specific situation it’s worth considering their respective merits and use what you judge to be the most appropriate in that situation. So the two most commonly used set-ups involving a belay plate and ‘dead man’s handle’ are as follows: • Belay plate clipped into harness loop, back-up prussic clipped into leg loop. (IMAGE 1)
Belay plate clipped into harness loop with prussic clipped into leg loop. characteristics of a device when used with a pair of very skinny 7mm diameter twin ropes will be markedly different when compared to handling a pair of old furry 9mm ropes. Having the ropes correctly inserted into the belay device to take advantage of the
IMAGE 2 Belay plate extended away using sling/ cows tail with prussic clipped into the harness loop.
• Belay plate extended away using sling/ cows tail, back-up prussic clipped into harness loop . IMAGE 2 Belay Plate Clipped Into Harness Loop A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… well Planet Lodge we’d a wee incident (On one of the stone towers and luckily only a few meters of the ground) when a MIA trainee practising abseiling down to sort out an ‘unconscious casualty’ leaned across to set-up a Parisian Baudrier on their ‘casualty’ when next thing they were down on the deck – shaken not stirred. What had happened was this: The trainee had set-up their abseil device on their harness loop and clipped their prussic into their leg loop. When they leaned across to set-up the baudrier on their ‘casualty’ the leg their prussic was clipped into lifted up and the prussic touched their belay device and did what a French Prussic is designed to do – release. Down they went. Quickly. The trainers who were working this course set-up the same scenario and found if you use the above set-up then if the leg loop that the prussic is attached to lifts up and touches the belay device then the prussic can release. In practice there are several variables at to how easy this it to do e.g. how furry the rope and prussic are, diameter of rope etc. So easy way to avoid this is don’t lift your leg up! However, it’s worth considering what would happen, when using this set-up if the abseiler was knocked out (say by falling
Stacked Abseil Set-Up A stacked abseil is often used as a means of escaping/descending from a climb by Instructors with clients where the Instructor will descend first to a/ protect their clients descending by‘tailing’the abseil ropes b/ set-up the next abb point. It assumes that both clients are confident enough to abseil under their own steam as it were – things could get very awkward
debris). When they lose consciousness they will tend to invert. As they invert they will slump away from the side the auto block is set-up on. This raises their leg (with prussic attached) and it touches the belay device and SPLAT! Image 3 (Note: IMAGE 3) illustrates this situation – although in this image the climber pretending to be unconscious is still keeping a tight grip of the prussic! You can try this yourself, although if you want to avoid earning yourself a Darwin Award I’d do it a few meters of the deck rather than several hundred. Another pitfall to watch out for is pertinent to harnesses with leg loop adjustment buckles. When you clip the prussic to your leg loop ensure that the krab the prussic is clipped to is attached close to the actual harness loop i.e. on the inside of the leg loop. If you clip the krab with the prussic to if the Instructor is down below and their clients, or client, are too nervous to step back and commit to the abseil! Before descending the abseil the Instructor sets up their clients on a cows tail. The belay device is then attached to the cows tail and the abseil ropes inserted into the belay device. The clients are ‘stacked’ in the order they will be descending with the Instructor the first on. By extending the plate away from the climber’s harness they are less likely to be pulled about when the abseil ropes are loaded. (IMAGE 5)
If you clip the krab with the prussic to the outside of the leg loop you run the risk of the krab catching the leg loop buckle and opening the buckle causing the leg loop to become wider thus decreasing the distance between the prussic and the belay device. the outside of the leg loop you run the risk of the krab catching the leg loop buckle and opening the buckle causing the leg loop to become wider thus decreasing the distance between the prussic and the belay device as shown in Image 4. This is not good, at all. Belay Plate Extended Away Using Sling/ Cows Tail Extending the belay plate away from the harness using a sling/cows tail arrangement is a technique that is often used when setting up a stacked abseil (If you are not
IMAGE 6 When the Instructor descends their weight will effectively lock off the ropes to the clients abseil devices, meaning they cannot descend until the rope is unweighted. The Instructor can tail the ropes for each client descending.
When the Instructor descends their weight will effectively lock off the ropes to the clients’ abseil devices, meaning they cannot descend until the rope is unweighted. The Instructor Ed Chard and Paul See modelling a stacked abseil on East can tail the ropes Face of North Buttress, Buchaille Etive More.
for each client descending. On very steep to free hanging abseils it’s worth the Instructor considering keeping the abseil ropes attached to their belay device as this can allow them to use their full body weight, should one of their clients lose control of the abseil rope, to break their descent. (IMAGE 6)
SCOTTISH MOUNTAIN RESCUE February 2012
Belay plate clipped into harness loop with prussic clipped into leg loop. If the abseiler were to lose consciousness they will invert. As they invert they will slump away from the side the auto block is set-up on. This raises their leg (with prussic attached) and it touches the belay device and releases.
familiar with this technique check out the section on setting-up a stacked abseil). One of the common ways of setting up the cows tail is to larks foot a long sling through the harness loop and tie a knot at least a hand span away from the harness loop (NOTE: the plate needs to be far enough away that there is no risk of the prussic touching the belay plate when you load the prussic). This creates a small loop into which the belay plate can be clipped. The cows tail can also be used to clip your clients into the abseil point –ensure they are both TIGHT on the anchors. Slipping or falling onto the anchor with a slack cows tail made from a sling can generate seriously high impact forces on both the anchor and climber. So ensure everyone is tight on the anchors – if need be you can put several knots into the sling to allow this distance to be fine tuned. Extending the belay plate away from the harness loop as described above and clipping the ‘dead man’s handle’ prussic into the harness loop has the advantage, should you be knocked out whilst abseiling, that if you invert the ‘dead man’s handle’ will be kept away from the belay plate. This reduces the chances of the prussic touching the belay device and releasing. However, even this method is not foolproof. It is potentially possible on a very steep/ freehanging abseil, when using a sling with a prominent stitched bar tack, for the bar tack, if it ends up between the belay device and the harness loop, to cause the prussic (clipped into the harness loop) to release as the prussic touches the bar tack and fail to tighten and therefore not work. (IMAGE 7)
SCOTTISH MOUNTAIN RESCUE February 2012
It is possible on a very steep/freehanging abseil, when using a sling with a prominent stitched bar tack, for the bar tack, if it ends up between the belay device and the harness loop, to cause the prussic (clipped into the harness loop) to release as the prussic touches the bar tack and fail to tighten and therefore not work.
I should point out however that in trying to set-up this arrangement and have it work as described was very difficult. I used a dyneema sling with a prominent bar tack but no matter what I tried I couldn’t get it to work as described above. Now I know this has happened as described so I can only surmise that the sling used may have been a wider nylon sling with a wide and very stiff bar tack. Still getting the bar tack to line up perfectly with the prussic would still be a challenge. So I’d flag this one as a possibility but in reality very difficult to recreate. A variation on clipping the ‘dead man’s handle’ into the harness loop is to clip it to the leg loop. However I would be wary of doing this as it’s still possible for the abseiler’s leg to lift up (if they are unconscious and invert) and for the prussic to touch the belay device and release. This is even more likely if you clip the krab to your leg loop as shown in Image 4. Don’t do it! Abseils And What Can Go Wrong You only have to take a short glance through the list of who’s who in climbing and mountaineering to see that a disturbingly large number of eminent climbers have met their ends in abseil accidents. Sometimes it’s been due to anchor failure, other times a moments carelessness like not being properly attached to the rope or trying to sort out a rope jam which has led to their tragic demise. So although being aware of the limitations of our actual abseil method set-ups and what can go wrong with them is part of looking after yourself, it’s worth us taking a few moments to address the more common hazards faced by climbers abseiling. I’ve ordered this list based on my recollection of the number of accidents I’ve heard about that involve abseiling and which have resulted in a fatality. This list is not based on actual data although according to studies done by Pit Schubert the first two in my list, anchor failure and abseiling of the end of the rope, are cited as the two most common causes of abseil accidents. • Anchor failure • Abseiling of end of rope • Abseil device only clipped into one rope • Clipped into rope tails of knot used to join two ropes Other stuff that can happen and spoil your day is: • Abseil device jamming (various factors cause this – most common is clothing jamming in device) • Dislodging or being hit by debris from above (includes avalanche and falling ice) • Ropes running across edge and being cut • Abseil rope ends blown around corned by wind and jam out of reach • Abseiling below rope ends hung up on protruding rock
As you can see it’s a rather long list. All of the above can easily be addressed by taking care in setting up your abseil. Abseil anchor failure in my experience would be top of the list as the No1 cause of abseil accidents. So with regard to abseil anchors – if in doubt back it up. As my Granny used to say –“Thaurs nae pockets in a shroud”. So don’t quibble over a few quid as you contemplate leaving an extra bit of kit to back up your abb. There has been some debate about what knot to join ropes together with. My personal favourite is the overhand knot. The beauty of the overhand knot is it’s quick to tie, easy to undo and it’s profile means it’s less likely to jam. You just have to leave long enough tails – I leave around 50cm tails to be sure. For a while the overhand knot (or the Euro Death knot as out US cousins like to call it) had a lot of bad press. This was down to a serious accident due to a knot failure i.e. the knot came undone. This knot failure was caused by the tails not being long enough. Recently Black Diamond did some tests on commonly used abseil knots and found that although the overhand was the weakest knot strength wise, it was still strong enough to join two ropes together – having a breaking strength of around 1292 Kg - just make sure the tails are long enough. One other hazard that’s worth mentioning is the issue of suspension trauma. For some background to this read ‘A Short Note about Suspension Trauma ’. Although there is the possibility of a stuck abseiler being at risk of this, the key fact to remember about suspension trauma is the climber must be motionless. Invariably given the sit harness climbers typically wear a climber who is motionless is in all likelihood unconscious and in this case will invert and be hanging upside down or with their feet and head lower than their waist. In this case a compromised airway will do for them far quicker than suspension trauma – a few minutes rather than tens of minutes. So with any unconscious and immobile climber hanging on a rope then the priority is to get to them as quick as you can and first off ensure they have a unobstructed and functioning airway. It’s then worth bearing in mind that managing their airway is your first priority and at this early stage in a rescue is going to be your main priority – that and summoning help. The risk of suspension trauma in climbers is, in my opinion, a very, very low risk given: a. the remarkably low incident rate in climbing of unconscious and motionless climbers hanging on ropes and succumbing to suspension trauma b. a greater proportion of abseil accidents tend to end up with the abseiler laying motionless on the ground. When abseiling the first person down is
probably most at risk (assuming they are using a ‘dead man’s handle’) as if they lost consciousness they could end up hanging in space. If you are abseiling as a team and the first person gets down safely, then they could tail the rope allowing the others to dispense with any auto block. So if they were to lose consciousness then the person tailing could, in theory, lower them down to the ground/ledge/belay. Conclusions In a climbing/mountaineering context abseiling is a risky activity. It’s one of the few occasions in climbing where we totally commit to our safety system e.g. anchors, harness etc. When abseiling you also run the risk of being knocked out by debris and losing control of the abseil ropes. To reduce the consequences of this event it’s worth considering either two main options: a. Having someone tail your abseil ropes - although at some point someone has to be first down the abseil so this method only really works for the following climbers. b. Using an abseil back-up e.g a French prussic as a ‘dead man’s handle’. There are two commonly used set-ups that use this ‘dead man’s handle’. Method One has the abseil device clipped into the harness loop with the prussic clipped to a leg loop. Method Two uses a cows tail to extend the belay device away from the harness loop with the prussic clipped to the harness loop keeping it central. Each method has it’s potential pitfalls. With Method 1 the main risk is an A Short Note about Suspension Trauma One of the issues to be aware of when dealing with the possibility of hanging free and motionless on a climbing rope e.g. in the event of a climbing fall or being ‘stuck’ on an abseil is the condition known as “orthostatic shock while suspended” or as it’s more commonly know ‘Suspension trauma’. It’s a medical condition which is caused by blood accumulating in the legs due to gravity or venous pooling and can very quickly prove fatal.
If your harness has buckles on the leg loops and you decide to clip the prussic to the leg loop then care should be taken to ensure the krab is clipped tight in against the harness loop. If you clip it on the outside of the buckle there is a risk when the set-up is loaded that the krab can jam against the buckle causing it to open and extend the leg loop. These considerations aside more abseil accidents are caused by anchor failure or simple operator error rather than ‘dead man’s handles’ not working. So whatever method you use to protect your abseil here is a quick check list to run through before stepping back onto your set-up and heading over the edge. • Before going near the edge ensure (if you’ve not already done so) that your harness is correctly adjusted and done up. not very good at coping with low blood oxygen and in such circumstances in an effort to restore the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain triggers an effect known as the Syncopal Response or as it’s more commonly know – fainting. In most ‘normal’ situations after this ‘fainting’ episode recovery is very quick – as in our soldier on parade standing at attention who keels over – as normal oxygenated blood flow is restored to the brain. The same effect – venous pooling – can also occur in any situation where the person is suspended and immobile i.e where a climber is motionless (unconscious or injured) and hanging free suspended in a harness. In effect the body will react to this situation by precipitating a faint. In this case fainting will not necessarily restore oxygenated blood to the climber due to them being suspended. This means that normal oxygenated blood flow is NOT restored to the brain and they are now at risk of being dead in 15 to 20 minutes (although from research an unconscious person suspended on a rope can die in less than 10 minutes).
• Use bomber abseil anchors – if abseiling ‘in-extremis’ then consider backing up the anchor for the first person down to test them. Even better consider leaving that extra bit of kit as a back-up. • Cows tail yourself tight onto the main anchor – if using a sling ensure you are always tight on the belay and never go above the anchor point. • Check the ropes reach the deck/ledge. If not, or you are not sure, then knot each end using a threaded figure of eight (this stops the rope twisting around itself as you abseil down). • If you are the first person down consider using a ‘dead man’s handle’ (assuming following abseilers will be ‘tailed’ by the first person down). If using a ‘dead man’s handle’ then consider the ‘what if’ scenarios and whether your set-up is appropriate for that situation. • After setting yourself up on the abseil double check all is good – abseil device and set-up correctly attached; harness properly adjusted etc. • Before stepping back take up some of the slack through the abseil device so the cows tail is slack (but it’s still clipped into the main anchor) so you can lean back and check your ‘dead man’s handle’ (if used) works and that everything is correctly adjusted and set-up. • Unclip your cows tail and safely descend... Remember in the words of Fat Boy Slim Check baby check. Check baby check 1, 2. All images © George McEwan collection. From a climbing perspective the best way to manage this situation is avoid it. Having a well adjusted, comfortable and correctly fitted harness can go a long way to delaying the onset of suspension trauma. Having the means of rigging a foot loop onto the rope allowing the hanging individual to take some of the load of the harness and allow them to use their legs to assist venous return again will delay the possible onset of suspension trauma. However, it should be borne in mind, that in an abseil context, climbers tend not to be left suspended from their abseil ropes for long periods of time. Typically in your average tragic abseil accident the climber rather than being left suspended usually descends, very, very, quickly due to the anchors failing, losing control of the breaking rope, or operator error where the climber incorrectly attaches themselves to the ropes. Any great fall from height will affect venous return catastrophically. So before stepping over the edge ensure your harness is done up correctly, the abseil device is correctly attached to you and the ropes and that your abseil anchors are bomber.
SCOTTISH MOUNTAIN RESCUE February 2012
Now some venous pooling is normal when a person is stood up. If they then move about then the muscle action in moving their limbs, together with one way valves in the veins, will usually assist the return of blood in the veins back to the heart. If this process is not allowed to happen e.g a soldier on parade and stood to attention then the blood will continue to pool. As these veins are very elastic a considerable volume of blood can be retained. This causes the person’s blood pressure to fall which in turn will affect the quantity/quality of oxygenated blood available to the brain. The human brain is
unconscious climber inverting causing their leg with the prussic clipped to it to lift up thereby causing the prussic to release. In Method 2 you should take care that when setting up the cows tail to ensure that the bar tack (the tacking over the stitching joining the sling together) is pulled to the very end of the sling. If not there is a potential risk during a free hanging abseil that it can touch the prussic and cause it to release. Also if you clip the back-up prussic into your leg loop it can still be possible when the abseiler is knocked out for them to invert and the leg their prussic is clipped into to lift up causing to the prussic to release against the belay device.
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