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The Magazine of


MOUNTAIN RESCUE The Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland

Issue 33 February 2014

Supported by the Order of St.John


All enquiries regarding letters, photographs and features for publication should be submitted to the Editorial staff Design Editor Any queries regarding artwork, design and layout etc should be forwarded to the Editor Dave Cawthorn, Tel:- 01750 32342 Mobile:- 07702 162913 email :- ALL ENQUIRIES REGARDING ADVERTISING SALES SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO Lesley Bryce Advertising Coordinator Articles published in CASBAG do not necessary reflect the views of the Editor or the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland. We are very grateful to all contributors and Advertisers. It is not always possible to include submitted features in the current issue. Those omitted are always kept for future use. MRCofS Executive Committee CHAIR Jonathon Hart


VICE CHAIR Steve Penny Mark Leyland Morven Bridges Damon Powell


TREASURER Moira Weatherstone




STATISTICIAN Jim Sudd Police Scotland Delyth Cunnah Bryan Knight ARCC Tom Taylor

Co-opted Members

Front Cover: ‘Being Human - Avalanches and Us’ Page 16 Photograph Giles Trussell, Glenmore Lodge. The Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland (MRCofS) is a Registered Scottish Charity – Number SC015257



UKSAROPS (CWG) James Coles j MLTS Graham McDonald MRC Alfie Ingram MC of S Alfie Ingram SMSF Vacant CHAIR RESOURCES GROUP Alastair Rose MAGAZINE EDITOR Dave Cawthorn


For many the winter season of 12/13 will sadly be remembered by the number of avalanche fatalities in Scotland (8). In the last edition of CASBAG I summarised the many actions undertaken by the MRCofS and the volunteer teams since then, in order that we capture the lessons identified from that period and look to the future aiming to both provide those caught in these events the best possible chance of survival and also to ensure that we provide our Scottish Mountain Rescue volunteers the best possible information and training to enable them to respond effectively and according to the events they are faced with. More recent news is that one of the survivors of the 12/13 Glen Coe avalanche incident is making some important strides forward in her recovery and her quality of life. This is wonderful and most welcome news and is a clear demonstration of the principal reason why as volunteers , we join teams , go out in bad weather , at night, in winter and respond as we do. So what is it about the 13/14 winter season that will be the stand out subject? My judgement is that it will be some reflection on the numbers of hill walkers and climbers that have fallen through, or walked off cornices this season. Given the huge amounts of snow we have experienced across the country and the challenging wind and related restricted visibility due to driving snow and rain, it probably should not come as a surprise? So far this season there has been quite a number of this type of incident (both reported and unreported) that our volunteer teams are aware of or which we have responded to. Many of the unreported incidents have not resulted in a call out because the consequence of going through or over a cornice (so far this season) has been to land in huge amounts of soft snow, as opposed to other times of the year when the consequence of landing on rock or having a long fall on hard ice or neve are far more serious. Many folks have self rescued, recovered their colleagues themselves and have managed their way off the mountains - This level of independence and the attitude of looking after ones’ self are to be welcomed. Of course, some of these events have sadly ended tragically this year.

Finally, Scottish Mountain Rescue remains a world class volunteer service and we are all rightly proud of its success and The Magazine of achievements. If you haven’t already done so please give some thought to helping out volunteering at a National level, step forward and help us ensure that this successful voluntary model continues well into the future.


Stay safe, enjoy your winter climbing and skiing, Yours aye, Jonathan



Similar to being caught in an avalanche, these cornice related events don’t care if you’re a first time winter hill goer or a UIAGM guide, and are a constant reminder to us all that effective navigation (macro and micro) , appropriate route selection, and suitable preparation for the activity of your choice are still the foundations of a successful day out in the Scottish Mountains. Both these subjects ,avalanche awareness and effective navigation, are area’s that we can and plan to work more closely with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, SAIS and other Mountain safety education and information providers nationally to ensure that the lessons identified by our volunteer Scottish Mountain rescue teams are effectively promulgated. Scottish Mountain Rescue is working very closely with the Scottish Government, the MCofS and the Order of St John to facilitate improvements in how this subject is taken forward in a more joined up and collegiate approach so that , collectively, we can ensure that those accessing the Scottish outdoors are as well informed as possible. With our Scottish Mountain Rescue office based at Glenmore Lodge and with improved resilience in our own administration, we will in the future, work more and more closely with the SAIS, Glenmore Lodge staff and Mountain Training Scotland to influence the subjects that are delivered, to members of the public, by these organisations. The clear strategic imperative of this approach is to reduce the numbers of call outs, that as volunteers, we are tasked respond to.


Hebrides Search And Rescue

Mark Elliott 1964-2014


Hebrides Search And Rescue (HebSAR) is an Island based team that has bonded very quickly in a relatively short period of time. We are an incredibly close knit team due to the nature of what we do in mountain rescue and the fact that the team are all close friends.


On New Years Eve the team learned the devastating news that Mark Elliott had passed away suddenly at home, aged 49. Mark was was born on 28th February 1964 in Bristol. His father’s 33 years service in the Royal Air Force took him around the world and exposed Mark to a diverse range of cultures and experiences. It may be responsible for engendering his passion and respect for cultural preservation. A passion he tirelessly pursued throughout his life, but more recently in the 14 years on the Island of Lewis as Conservation Officer for Museum Nan Eilen. Mark was one of life’s true adventurers, his love of the great outdoors was inspirational. He was a stalwart member of the team, always the first there at training, and usually the last one left in the bar. His dedication and passion for the team and his infectious laugh will always be missed by the team.

Mark’s funeral was pretty much the first time the team had come together in 2014, such a shame it was under such tragic circumstances. Mark’s family asked if we would attend wearing team jackets as a sign of respect and to recognise his contribution to the team. Mark’s family filed into the church followed by team members, dressed appropriately as requested and representatives of Police Scotland from Stornoway. A request was made to HM Coastguard to see if Coastguard One Hundred could put in an appearance, this was also a fitting tribute as Mark’s father was former Station Commander at the former RAF Stornoway where the helicopter is now based. The family, team and everyone involved would like to express a huge thank you to Jamie Ralson, Allun Tink and the crew for the fly past, providing “top cover” was an extremely moving tribute. Mark is survived by his two sons William and Stuart (who are both now lifetime honorary team members), his mother Pam, sister and brother Pearl and Chas and his partner Helene (also a member of HebSAR). RIP our brother Mark.

New Book on Heli-Rescue

SOS Italian Helicopter Rescue Operations from Mediterranean Sea to Mont Blanc. As I write in the preface “ intention to allow the readers to discover the many organizations operating in air rescue sector. ….Italian western sector where within few hundred miles, from south to north, we pass from sea level of Mediterranean sea to the highest point of Europe, Mont Blanc with his height of 4807 meters. … we will discover the means, facilities, men and women belonging to military organizations, State Services and civilian operators, all united by one mission: to bring professional rescue and medical assistance by helicopter where there is an emergency” Written in English, it is in high quality 170gr glossy paper, 148 pages, 278 colour images, hardback. All images by Dino Marcellino. Price Euro 30. If you wish buy it, please, e-mail: Discount of 10% to Scottish Mountain Rescue’


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The Gathering

UK & Ireland MountainRescueConference 12-14 September 2014 Aviemore, Scotland

Mountain Rescue in the UK and Ireland is often undertaken in some of the most remote and potentially hostile environmental conditions experienced by the emergency services. Mountain Rescue is delivered by volunteers, is highly professional and is organised in teams across the UK and Ireland. It is a truly world class service.

Teams train to a very high standard and are always ready to assist people any time, any day, and in any weather. Every two years the UK and Irish Mountain Rescue community holds a conference; in 2014 this is coming to Aviemore in the stunning Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland. A small team is planning a high quality and very special event , that will include :

• Friday night talk from famous extreme climber Andy Kirkpatrick • Expert tuition in small group workshops • Workshops with Dave Macleod, the UK’s leading all-round climber • Great exhibitors • Highland hospitality, ceilidh • Surprise guests • Much more

Rescues are outdoors… workshops are outdoors WHO IS THE CONFERENCE FOR? This event is for members of rescue teams recognised by the Police and affiliated to the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, Mountain Rescue England and Wales or Mountain Rescue Ireland. We will also welcome officers and staff of associated organisations (Police/Fire&Rescue Service/ Ambulance Service/Coastguard or similar) and overseas visitors with a similar background. We are planning for 300 delegates and 60 staff.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN? This two day gathering of Mountain Rescue volunteers will involve nearly 30 small group workshops organised in 5 ‘tracks’ • Technical land rescue • Water rescue • Medical • Search • Human factors Most workshops will be out of doors with highly experienced instructors, many of whom are Mountain rescue practitioners drawn from across the UK and

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS? We’re organising this event so we can update and share best practice from across the UK and Ireland to the greatest number of people in the best possible training environment in the shortest time and have the most fun.



Book up for this event and get • 2 days training with your rescue peers • choice of workshops that allow you to design your own conference • 2 nights accommodation ( twin rooms) • Friday night talk with Andy Kirkpatrick • Saturday evening dinner and Ceilidh • All transport once you’re here • Access to large exhibition space with top exhibitors • Delegate goody bag • Free entry to prize draw For member of voluntary Mountain Rescue Teams recognised by the Police and affiliated to their national representative body, all this for just £220 per person. Please see the website for other prices and day rates.

So you want to support Mountain Rescue? We have a range of sponsorship opportunities available. Everything from an advert in the conference programme to sponsoring of individual workshops or groups of workshops, trade stands in a large exhibition area and packages to support the whole event, including access to the VIP reception. We’re delighted that Keela have already agreed to be one of our Platinum sponsors, Paramo are one of the Gold sponsors as are ISC Wales. Other opportunities to sponsor the entire event are available. For full details of sponsorship packages see the ‘sponsors & exhibitors’ page on the website where you can find a document detailing options.

Find us: MrGathering2014 Follow us: @MRGathering2014



21 December 1988 The Lockerbie Disaster a personal view. Heavy Whalley The following is an extract from the then Prime Minister “I would like to record my profound appreciation of what your teams did following the crash of Pan Am 747 on the evening of 21 December 1988. First among the ground parties to be dispatched to Lockerbie were your team…..” Prime Minister Thatcher



Many people do not realise that the Mountain Rescue was heavily involved in the Lockerbie Disaster; Very little has been written or spoken of what happened, this is part of the story;


I had been the team leader at RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team for over a year, the pinnacle of my career in mountain rescue. The team was superb, 30 callouts at least each year and on one spell we were away for 9 days on winter rescues all over Scotland. Our primary task was recovery of RAF and civilian aircrew in my 18 years with Mountain Rescue I had been to several aircraft crashes in the mountains but never seen anything like this before. It has been very difficult to try to write on this period and how it affected me personally

and several of my team. I was trying to get a few days leave before Christmas; I had just taken a time out as my personal life was in turmoil, my ex-girlfriend  had left her husband and was coming to see me from down South it was the 21 December 1988. I was still in love with her and needed time to sort out my life and my feelings. She arrived very distressed at 1600 at Leuchars railway station and we only had 2 hours together when Lockerbie  happened. At first I did not believe it when the call came as this was my first time off for a year; teams were out all over the Christmas & New Year period. In those days there was an old saying before we went on leave “do not give me a call unless a Jumbo jet crashes in the mountains”. This was even more relevant as it was the night Pan Am Flight 103 flew over Lockerbie. I was at home when my deputy called me a Jumbo has crashed. It was a quick dash to the section, the troops were amazing, the usual organised chaos then we briefed them, what do you say to the team in times like this? How do you cope with over 250 casualties? Never in our history had we to deal with something like this? RAF Leeming MR was airborne for Lockerbie, with RAF Stafford

following by road, My Deputy Cpl Raz Frew left with the team whilst I followed, not far behind. I headed back home just to tell her that I had to go and then after a while I phoned the police, I got a police escort from my house to Lockerbie. The drive was very fast and soon I was on the M74, with no other cars about. It was a weird experience as the road was closed down to the small town of Lockerbie, which was to become infamous. Wreckage was all over the road and the sky was like daylight with the fires burning everywhere. The police blocked entrances to the town and the press was everywhere. The smell of fuel and the heat and smoke was overpowering, a smell that will remain with me for the rest of my life. The police got me through to where the troops were, the sky was full of helicopters, and it was like a scene from Vietnam or Hades a nightmare. We held the troops as Leeming team made a recce. Wreckage was everywhere; a huge engine the size of a car stuck into the road, aircraft panels on roofs, open suitcases, with Christmas presents spread about, and surreal scenes, bodies everywhere. We had been so hopeful that we could to save lives or help causalities, there was little to do. There was enough mayhem and

confusion going on and a real danger with the uncontrollable fires, especially in the dark. Our Boss) Sqn Leader Bill Gault then called “Inspector of Land Rescue” (ILR) had been travelling home for Christmas on the M74 was there and took control. He was the right man at the right time and was a key player throughout. I was told to keep the teams happy, find a base and control the helicopters which were like a scene from “Apocalypse Now” and a there was a real chance of a mid – air collision. Communications were non– existent with the outside world, the early Satellite phones had broken down and landlines were severely damage by the crash. I did a quick look round, it was awful carnage, indescribable, never to be forgotten. The sheer scale of it was mind boggling. Somehow we managed to set up a landing site for the choppers and got some type of control for them. The Leuchars helicopter landed on and took control of the airspace. This was extremely important for flight safety. The troops had found accommodation and a Base and we moved into the school, this was to be our base for the next few days. Eventually the Police tried to give us a briefing in the Assembly Hall, over 500 people all emergency services, including ambulance, fire, police, coastguards, voluntary services and RAF and civilian teams. It was, as one would expect chaos and the civilian teams from the Borders looked at the RAF teams for the way forward. We had just carried out exercises in the Borders a few months previously, with the scenario of an aircraft crash! We had made a few great contacts and this was to prove invaluable in the days ahead. The main point of the brief was to wait till first light, as it was too dangerous to go out in the

dark with the fires still raging. This was difficult to keep the troops from going out but they accepted the inevitable, to sit and wait, few slept. Information was hard to gain and I decided to recce on my own. Lockerbie is such a small place, situated just off the motorway near the Borders. It has the smallest Police, Fire and Ambulance authority in Scotland and was completely overwhelmed, any help or advice was gratefully accepted.

By now it was common knowledge that this was no normal crash and terrorism was thought as the cause of all this death and destruction. The troops were out reporting back to control where we were working shifts all the team leaders together on the crash map listing wreckage and casualties. This was an awful job and as the casualties grew in numbers, the enormity of what had taken place had happened. The Control was on the Assembly Hall stage of the school; all the other emergency services were here by now. The troops were magnificent all teams working so well together and a great credit to Mountain Rescue Service. The debriefings with the team members were tragic but all worked hard, gathering information, reporting to base and going out to another area, for more of the same. The casualties were left where they fell and troops were covering the kids with fleeces and clothing to give the bodies some dignity. Everything was by now a scene of crime and a policeman guarded each casualty, once located. The press was everywhere and the troops had to be careful, as there were some difficult times ahead. This was one of the first times Sky news were live at the scene, it was live reporting

and easy to make a mistake when speaking to the worlds press. To make matters worse, some criminals had come into the area robbing the casualties and their belongings. Mans “inhumanity to man” was all around, how could people do this? How could anyone carry out such a crime? All these questions went through our heads. During times like these the basic things in life matter, heroes emerge. The WRVS set up in the school kitchen and produced meals around the clock 24 hours a day for weeks. These ladies gave us a bit of sanity during this disaster and work tirelessly throughout. We had the helicopters flying out to various areas and a low-level photo recce aircraft plotted the wreckage at over 500 Ks away. Casualties were not just in the main town and fields but spread out some distance away. We put experienced troops on the helicopters to plot and mark wreckage and casualties. By the end of a long first day we had located three quarters of the casualties, we were tired and stressed out. After a meal and a shower we all had a debrief we were all together in the gym. We needed to relax, should we go out would anywhere be open. You have to remember the town a sleepy Border town had been thrown into mayhem, how the death toll of locals was not higher God knows. Several streets had been demolished; wreckage and bodies were all over. It was late when we went out but some of the pubs were open. The locals, who knew we had been working very hard in a difficult task, made us very welcome. We all felt guilty drinking and trying to relax but it was what we all needed and acted as a safety valve. The press tried to get us to talk but were soon appreciated we needed a break, what we had all experienced that day was private. Very few slept that night, many had nightmares,

we were all aware that it was going the same again next day. Things were gradually becoming more organised, the Police and Emergency Services and teams had risen to the challenge. Troops flew out with the helicopters, all over the place finding casualties and wreckage, more surreal sights, which one will never forget. Everything was plotted; teams found and marked casualties, moving on to new areas and awful sights, the smells of fuel, burning and death were everywhere. Resources flooded in making life a bit better for us all. The Press was everywhere and everyone wanted a piece of us. This was all New World and many of us gave briefings to the Worlds media. By the end of the third day, we had accounted for all the casualties, there was little left to for us to do so we pulled out. Casualties were being brought in to the make shift morgue as we left. The scale of the disaster was enormous. Helicopters and a fleet of white vans took the dead to the morgue. It seemed to be never ending. The Local teams worked with the Search Dogs for weeks after we left, how they coped I will never know. The Dogs and their handlers worked for weeks searching for human remains, in the crater. On leaving we handed in the crash maps to the Police. Every casualty, plotted along with the wreckage, it brought the enormity of the tragedy to the fore. Each life a tragedy to their families and friends, a life lost because of evil. On our return to Leuchars, the Station Commander met us with beer and a few words; we were heroes for the day. We had not slept for 3 days and I was tasked with all the reports on the events and most importantly lessons learned. As I wrote late into the night, various troops came


A policeman and I went round the crash site in the dark. The fires were still burning fiercely and it was a scene from hell; bodies and wreckage were everywhere. It was more of the same but in a huge scale. Suitcases, with Christmas presents and clothes were all over the place and the smell of fuel and death was all around. These scenes were to remain in my mind forever. Nothing can prepare you for this, even after a lifetime of rescues is hard to go accept but you must get on and do the job. This is difficult from a battlefield or a war, one minute you are in your house getting ready for Christmas then this; there is no time to prepare. We located the main wreckage and this gave us vital plans for search areas for the morning’s search. Shocked, I reported back to the two “Bills” in our control, they had now moved to the School, which was to be the Co-ordination centre for this Disaster. The plan was prioritised into a casualty count and a map of all the wreckage and main aircraft parts. RAF MR had done this many times before, but never on this scale. By now, based on reports and what we had seen, the chance of any live casualties was extremely limited. The brief to the troops was one of the most difficult ever, we made sure they worked in pairs with an old head along with the newer troops and told them

what “horrors” to expect to find. Spare a thought for the Borders teams and the Search Dogs, some who had very limited experience of death and destruction. In the days to come they were all magnificent, I have never forgotten their efforts. After the brief we gave each of the teams areas to search and we were looking for the“black box”This is where our experience of aircraft crashes came into its own. At first light Stafford found the black box in the first hour. This impressed the police and even “more the men in suits” who had arrived in the middle of the night.



to disturbed at what they had seen and done. In those days, there was no training in Post – traumatic stress disorder: (PTSD) it was all off the cuff. Little did I know how this would affect me later on in a fairly serious way? One of the things I asked for was counselling for the team and eventually we did receive it. Many of the troops thought this was a daft idea but in my mind it was definitely necessary. Since these days things have moved on and we now give briefings designed to reduce the effects of PTSD as part of our team lectures. Luckily Mountain Rescue is a family and what we have been doing to unwind in the past by debriefing, relaxing having a drink talking things over, were all steps in the right direction. The book “Trauma” by Professor Gordon Turnbull describes how this was huge turning point in the military and other Agencies dealing with such carnage?


As we returned to our families it was a difficult time for all. By now Christmas was on us and we spent the time at Newtomore. The numbers we had were huge 18 came out of the 29 at Lockerbie. The troops had a wild night in Kingussie and “painted the town red” Myself and the local policeman Jimmy Simpson (who was also a SARDA man) kept them out of trouble. Next day it was my turn and they all looked after me (but that is another story). The weather was magnificent, marvelling at the views and the hills. It was all so different from what we had been through and seen at Lockerbie. It was hard to imagine how life continues after such an event but we all got on with the festive season as best we could. In between Christmas and New Year I drove down South to pick up my lass. I was exhausted. Everything had caught up with me; I had not been sleeping, having flashbacks and nightmares, and the stress starting to affect my

new relationship. I was worn out physically and physiologically. I was a different person; I had changed in many ways. After New Year a few of the team problems coping and inevitably they came to me as the team leader to chat. Unknown to me this was having a long – term effect on me. I was taking on their problems and overloading. Mountain Rescue was the flavour of the month for a while. Teams received letters from the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament and many others. We had a visit to Lockerbie and met lots of VIPs that was difficult and almost unreal. Some of us were involved with the investigation that ensued; it was a difficult time for all. A few weeks later Kegworth happened and Leeming and Stafford did it all again. This time they saved lives. What a difference that made to all the troops. Who says lightening does not happen twice? Callouts that winter came thick and fast, the team rising to every challenge. A few months later I awoke to find I could not move. I fell out of bed, crawled downstairs and got my lass to take me to the doctor. I was tested for everything, blood taken, they could find nothing wrong. This was a worrying time and I was off work for over 3 months. In the end I was told it was the effects of stress after Lockerbie and my body’s way of telling me to slow down. It took over 6 months to get myself sorted out; this was the last thing my lass needed. This took a toll on our relationship and our personal life suffered terribly. Not for the first time in my life had Mountain Rescue taken over my personal life. For a long time I had regular nightmares, limited sleep and I had terrible mood swings. It took a very long time to get back to “old me” There was limited advice on how to handle these problems. The attitude then was that we were

hard Mountain Rescue men, we could handle problems, and at least we thought we could! Thank God we have progressed from these attitudes nowadays. It took a long time to go back to Lockerbie as I did recently. The garden of Remembrance in the town and the Memorial are impressive. The village is back to normal and life goes on. I still could visualise what had happened on that dark night and will never forget it. I thought I would never see such as scene again. A few years later after Lockerbie I was one of the first on scene at the Shackelton Crash on Harris and the Chinook on the Mull of Kintyre. Though not on the same scale of Lockerbie as I flew into the crash sites and saw the fires, the smell of fuel and wreckage, I had flashbacks, I was back in hell again. As we were dropped off into the fire and smoke, I asked the troops to look after me and they did. Fortunately these things do not happen that often and you do learn to cope. I was so lucky having such great team members and being part of such an outstanding system. These were just young airmen, a band of brothers who all did there bit, they are an incredible bunch of people who did their best and all are affected. Team members covered the fatalities with personal clothing in the early hours to bring some dignity to those whose broken bodies were left where they fell. It took several days to remove all the casualties due to the criminal investigation and at times we were passing the same bodies several times a day. Sons, daughters fathers mothers old and young all blown out the sky for what! I was awarded a BEM after the disaster as this is the way we do things in Britain, the whole team deserved recognition but is was soon forgotten. Mountain Rescue has been built from years of experience, dedication and service. God

willing nothing like this will happen again, but in this mad world we live in you never know. Teams are all now part of Disaster Planning and the new buzz word “Resilience”. The Mountain Rescue Teams from all over Scotland and the UK took part The Search and Rescue Dog Association did and exceptional job during Lockerbie. We should all be proud of the part they played. I was extremely proud to work with such incredible people. To me this was Mountain Rescues finest hour, no lives saved but what an incredible effort by all. 25 years have passed and I have been heavily involved with the Press and media on this sad anniversary. Why did I work with Media on this, it was hopefully to try and explain what the Mountain Rescue Teams did on that awful night. I have been down to Lockerbie twice this year to film, it was extremely hard and I cannot thank my family and friends enough for their help. The people of Lockerbie have been incredible as always and life goes on. As someone once said we do not just carry the stretcher of the hill and many of us can carry the burden of such a tragedy for a long time. Tomorrow is the 25 th anniversary of Lockerbie I will try to get out on the hills and clear my mind. I was asked to go down by the Media but I will leave it be, I feel I have done my bit. There are so many lives changed by that tragedy and my thoughts are with those families who lost loved ones. I am trying to build up a roll of honour of Mountain Rescue Teams SARDA involved. If you can help with this please contact me.

POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE In December 2012, Oban MRT - with the support of RAF 137 - rescued Colin Henderson, a digital project manager from Edinburgh, after he spent a winter’s night out on Beinn Sgulaird, a Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland. Following his rescue, Colin, who runs a mountain and adventure sports photography business, contacted Oban MRT leader, Damon Powell, and Shaun Roberts (then Project Manager of MRCoS) to discuss fundraising ideas. Since then, Colin has taken photographs at Oban MRT training sessions, attended the MRCoS annual conference to help SMR build up

an image library for PR purposes and contributed images for Scottish Mountain Rescue’s recent‘Mountain Spirit’campaign. Below is a sample of postcards and labels that Colin has created for Oban MRT. The plan is for the team to use them for fundraising purposes, e.g. on charity tins, or to persuade the local newspaper to include them as a free insert. Look out for Colin as he photographs MRCoS training courses in 2014.




Introduction Just a quick reminder what IKAR is and our involvement. IKAR is THE International Commission for Alpine Rescue. It was founded in the central European Alps in1948. It now consists of some 36 countries from all over the world. IKAR has four working commissions Terrestrial Avalanche Medical




These four working committees have one formal voting delegate peer country and although work is on-going on topics throughout the year the main focus is this working congress and committee meetings which include reports from member’s on accidents, new techniques and research. Additionally the host country will generally arrange a practical workshop or demonstration. We have been a member organisation for many years alongside the MR C of S and our Irish colleagues. This year alongside myself as IKAR delegate Richard Terrell as Equipment Officer and John Ellerton as our outgoing Medical Officer attended on behalf of MREW.

Additionally attending the new Dog sub Commission from SARDA lakes where Chris Francis Kaz Frith and their Chairman John Ledbetter. There were also four or five from MR C of S including Ken Marsden from Glencoe Team who did a good input on Scottish Avalanches this winter and Jim Sutherland from Torridion Team who managed to entertain use all out of sessions with impromptu performances around the dining hall on his bag pipes. How he had managed to get these through customs and in his hand luggage who knows. Firstly the enouncement that John Ellerton our outgoing MREW Medical Officer has been selected by his peers in the IKARA Medical Commission as the President elect of the Medical Commission. This is a fantastic achievement by John who I am sure we would all wish to congratulate. This also means that we will have two MREW doctors in the future in the Medical Commission as our new medical officer will attend in that position and John will attend independently as the Commission President. Keeping with John Ellerton, John presented to all the commissions the completed IKAR paper and recommendations on Analgesia in Mountain Rescue that he has been heading up for the MEDCOM for a number of years. Full paper and recommendations

can be found on the IKAR web site. Lakes District Search Dogs Report Chris Francis Lake District Search Dogs have sent representatives to the IKAR search dog sub commission since the 2007 meet in Leogang, Austria.

This was the first meet to have concentrated on wilderness search rather than Avalanche. Bol was therefore the 4th commission we have attended and it was good to see many familiar faces again and meet the growing number of new ones too. The practical search dog workshop is run in parallel with the technical terrestrial and air workshop , these are held the day before the main conference starts.


With amazing timing, the day of the workshop proved to be the only wet day of the conference, it hammered down in the morning before clearing up to sun again by late afternoon, at least it was warmer than the rain at home. The Croatian dog handlers were demonstrating their training techniques for younger dogs. They had hoped some of the delegates would have brought dogs with them but unfortunately no one else had. The Croatians seem to have a very visually based system of run – always to encourage new dogs to search, this is different to our system where we try to encourage the young dogs to find on air sent right from the start. However if being involved with search dogs for 30 years has taught me anything, it’s that there is no one way to do anything with dogs, its often a matter of selecting what works from a box of tricks !

Croatian handlers also demonstrated their system for training cadaver dogs, this is a specialism we do not train for as virtually all our casualties, if deceased, are recently so and our dogs will still indicate relatively normally if they find such a casualty. To help train their dogs in this discipline the Croatian handlers can legally obtain parts from Hospitals, this would be impossible in the UK I would think! The dogs were trained

It was unfortunate the weather was so poor for the outdoor training as I am sure more demonstrations, discussion and debate would have ensued had it not been so wet. In addition to the day of practical sessions there was also an afternoon devoted to presentations of training systems, callout reports, incidents of note etc. We presented a short report detailing incidents from 2012 to date, highlighting several for issues raised and one or two that were simply light hearted. One presentation detailed the training of water search dogs. This was given by David Jones,long standing Welsh MR Search Dog handler who is now running a commercial company training and supplying dogs covering a wide range of search disciplines for civilian and military use in several countries around the world. A particularly interesting presentation was the account of a Norwegian military C 130 Hercules crash on the highest mountain in Northern Sweden. This occurred early in the year in poor weather and the aircraft with 5 crew on board impacted a very steep snow field above crags leading to the glacier below. The crash site was found the next day by another aircraft. A major operation lasting several months recovered both the wreckage and as much of the crew as possible. The latter was carried out mainly by cadaver dogs of the Swedish Police. The angle of ground they were working on necessitated the use of ropes for both the handler and the dog. Avery demanding task, carried out, as mentioned earlier, over several months as snow levels receded during the summer. Therewasalsoareportoftheresponseforthe firstlargeavalancheincidentfortheCroatian

Mountain Rescue, 4 people were taken but luckily only one was buried, it was a large wet slab avalanche which produced very large debris and of course set like concrete as soon as it stopped moving. Over 200 rescuers responded. The fourth victim was sadly found dead by a Croatian Avalanche dog the next day. He was a well-known Croatian mountaineer. It was proposed and accepted to hold an avalanche search dog workshop in Austria, during April 2014.Avalanche work is, of course, still a very major proportion of search dog work represented at IKAR,though, since 2007espicially, wilderness work and many other disciplines now also have strong representation. Up to now the search dog sub commission has only meet every other year, from now on it is planned to meet at each annual IKAR conference for a day of practical work followed by a full day of presentation and discussion. We look forward to taking part in these meetings of Search Dog Handlers from a growing number of countries. WWW.IKAR-CISA.ORG


They work very hard to get the dog absolutely focused on the body when indicating; indeed there is a major difference between their dogs and ours when it comes to indication requirements. The Croatian dogs, along with several other continental countries, require the dog to stay and bark at the body until the handler gets there. We train our dogs to come back to the handler and bark at them too, then they lead the handler to the body, as we find on many occasions the combination of weather, terrain and distance would mean the handler could not hear if the dog just stayed and barked at the body. There was some debate of the merits of both systems. It would have been very useful to have had our dogs there to demonstrate.

on either tissue samples in containers or on swabs taken from the tissue.


Risk Analysis And The Management, Quality Process, Accidents. This was a thought provoking session to the joint Terrestrial and Air Commission by Blaise Agresti head of the French Rescue Service. He started by sharing with the commissions that the PGHM had experienced five fatalities in training sense March 2013 this year. This even with a full time Professional two year trained full time Police Gendarme rescue service. The training centre and program at Chamonix is recognized by many as one of the best in the world. The talk was not about the details of these accidents though but more what the organization nationally was going to do about it. The review not just centred on the National Mountain Training school in Chamonix but at all levels of the organization as it has been concluded that 90% of these accidents / incidents have been caused by Human error. The PGHM was founded in 1958. In France there are 5500 rescuers 6000 training sessions a year 48000 training days a year and 8 rescue sections across France. The wide ranging review process under way has already raised issues such as complexities and tensions within different parts of the service. Increased night rescue, pressure from the media. Long training and certification process. Areas being discussed lesson learned process, incident debrief which is not a discussion over a bear! Introducing a monitoring process and how that will work. All this seemed to ring bells with what we are beginning to look at ourselves thankfully not from the background of five rescuers having been killed in training. The ALPIFY APP from Andorra and SMART Phone Localization of rescuers from the SAFG Italy. These where to presentation of ITC applications to assist in search very much playing catch up and different version of the SARLOC system of Russ Hore. The ALPIFY being a commercial product APP being purchased by a number of alpine ski areas. The Data protection issues being got round because you have agreed by purchasing and downloading the APP. The host nation also made a presentation of a major cave rescue in 2012 and the processes involved in the logistics of a major rescue in a very deep system. The rescue happened in the system Kita Gacesiwa . The rescue casualty had a lower spine / back injury after a bolt hanger failed. There are 9000 known caves in Croatia 3 deeper than 1000 meters 15 deeper than 5000 meters. The rescue tests the cave rescue service and it was a 41 hours rescue. It was explained that both French rescue style for the vertical aspects and the Italian system for the less vertical where both used and needed.

Croatian Mountain Rescue Service Demonstrations.


This focused on cliff evacuation and transition from crag rescuer to winch helicopter winch or long line. It was a shame the weather was very unkind to the local team with very heavy rain. However that never stops mountain rescue and weather improved by lunch time .A variety of methods of evacuation where demonstrated including long line for multiple casualties using a big old Russian M18 helicopter and in total contrast winching operations from the brand new Bell helicopter which was very quick with lots of power and a very fast winch. The Croatian demonstration team considering nasty conditions did an excellent job.


Petzl Lizard New Winch Hook Device. This was a presentation of a prototype system by Petzl to solve the problem of the helicopter becoming attached to the belay or crag. Various incidents where described where either a Italian hitch systems to release casualty or casualty and rescuer from the crag once correctly attached to the winch or long line has got jammed or failed. Obviously as described by experienced pilots the helicopter becoming attached to the rock face by whatever linkage is a pilots nightmare, not least the gear box damage or rescuers becoming un attached. The Petzl prototype which attaches to the hook features a release system to avoid this ever occurring. Although at present still under test with the French and of course uncertified for use as yet many where quite enthusiastic about the potential device. There was discussion about the amount of training that will be required with system.

Shaun Roberts, Scottish Mountain Rescue Training Officer

Being Human Avalanches and us 8 Lucky Climbers


It’s good to hear a helicopter when you have a casualty; you know you can hand things over soon, tidy up and get on with your day. Giles, Carl and I (all Glenmore Instructors enjoying a day off ) are no strangers


to assisting parties on the hill and we are happy to help our fellow mountaineers. That said, it feels a rare opportunity to climb together and at least having only planned a ‘quick hit’ we know we should still have time for our route, just as soon as this casualty is off to hospital. The guy in the stretcher is very lucky, 30 minutes earlier he and his friend

were in the middle of one of the biggest avalanches I have witnessed in Coire an t-Sneachda (Cairngorms, Northern Coires). Whilst they were travelling through the Coire to bigger adventures over in the Loch Avon basin, they triggered this monster as they approached the top of the Goat Track, were swept 150200 metres down the mountainside, over small buttresses, engulfed in snow and luckily were deposited on the surface of the debris. Witnessed by many climbers gearing up in the coire floor, us amongst them; the avalanche contained thousands of tons of snow, releasing the entire top section of the Goat Track area, became airbourne with a cloud of snow travelling across the coire floor and resulting in a debris pile hundreds of metres in area. Lowered from the rescue helicopter, the winchman detaches from his cable and makes his way over to where I am presenting our neatly packaged casualty. As I look to make eye contact and anticipate the usual handover his waving at me and clearly indicating that I should turn around. I’m just in time to see the final stages of the second avalanche in the Fiacial Buttress area and six new casualties. I am glad to report that somehow all those avalanched that day limped away (some taking hours to return to the carpark) with little more than bad bruising and a story to tell. We

all know that many climbers have come off much worse than this in less dramatic scenarios and it is only down to good fortune that all were walking away today. Over the weeks that followed we managed to get more of the back story on the parties involved and from this we could identify the potential

problem. Perhaps, we wondered, was it the snowpack and the unconsolidated wind-blown snow accumulations or deep instabilities created by kinetic crystal growth? Well guess what, it turns out that the climbers were the problem….. Next time…. You or I may be the problem. Being human is a problem in avalanche terrain.

basic judgements or mental shortcuts (heuristics) are used to make decisions in avalanche terrain it is commonly termed ‘Heuristic Traps’ and the evidence suggests that we need to focus on our own characteristics as much as that of the snowpack, terrain or weather.

Human Factors (Heuristics)

Being Human There is something deep routed about our behaviour, a subconscious behaviour that can make us blind to the reality of our situation, blind to the clues around us and blind to all of nature’s warnings. Whilst you read this, if you have any sense of detachment from the story and believe avalanches happen to other people. Or if you believe that your experience or qualifications enable you to make decisions on a mystical higher plane; then you have the potential to deny and ignore the problem within you and forget that you are human too.

I’m guessing that little of their journey was unusual that morning other than on the way to their route they walked around the 100 metre wide debris of the first avalanche, ignored the orange smoke flares and shouts of the rescue operation and

Familiarity The truth of it is that as somebody who makes their living from the mountains, I am most likely to be avalanched in place I know very well. Yes, familiarity can bread contempt. Unfortunately for me, but fortunate for this hypothesis, is that my history demonstrates just that. The longest ride I have had on the ‘great white

It is perhaps easy to consider them inexperienced, but to do so would itself be a common human trait. Being human impacts us all regardless of qualifications or experience. These human characteristics have become known over the last decade or so as Human Factors. In assessing avalanche terrain they can lead us into a false sense of security, operate on an unconscious level and form simple decision making models within us that does not always reference the appropriate key data; in the case of avalanches - snowpack, terrain and weather. Data is ignored in favour of other simply inputs such as: ‘this slope never goes’ ‘those people were OK’ ‘come on, let’s get ahead of them and be first on the route’ ‘I’m sure our leader knows what they’re doing’ Do you always go the same route regardless? When these unconscious


The second avalanche on that morning in Seachda was triggered by two lads from Edinburgh. I know nothing of them personally, other than they have the wisdom to embrace winter climbing. What I do know is that they left home at four o’clock in the morning and headed for the short, well protected test piece of Stirling Bomber V7.

gave little thought to the Sea King rescue helicopter flying 50 metres above their heads. They passed four other climbers on the snow apron and I speculate that their thoughts were on ‘who is doing the first pitch’ at the moment they triggered the second avalanche, which took out them and the party of four below.

The following are descriptions of the commonly known Human Factors that may lead to heuristic traps. They are based on studies of real avalanche events within the last decade from the US and as behaviours have their roots in the principles of social and experimental psychology and are certainly helping us to quantify the problem within us all.


wave’ is in the very place I know like the back of my hand. Often familiarity can be a reliable heuristic for quick decisions. We use it all the time in life. But we do need to be alert within familiar terrain when conditions have changed and a potentially new hazard exists.

Acceptance If there is one industry that allows human factors to underpin its strategies then it is certainly the world of marketing. And they certainly know how to play the Acceptance

lower chance of being avalanched. In other words it seems that the men were taking the increased risk. This type of acceptance is particularly true for adolescent and early adult years for men. By example, at the age of 45, I couldn’t care a less about what deodorant I wear. Acceptance though is not just Do you judge every slope on its merits? present within mixed gender groups. We are seemingly factor unconsciously creeping into conditioned at a very young age to our decision making. want to belong and this can make us all very vulnerable to this human

The need to be accepted can unconsciously influence us.


Maintaining consistency with an original decision can save us time. This may serve us well if having decided a particular aspect of slope is hazardous based on the avalanche forecast and subsequent observations during the journey. If we decide as a rule of thumb that all slopes of that aspect, as we encounter them, are hazardous by remaining consistent with the original decision, regardless of whether that is true or not; then we have simplified our decision making through ‘consistency’ in that we have not sort all relevant data for each slope at each new encounter. Nothing wrong here if this conservative approach keeps us safe.


Heuristic. Lynx deodorant makes it pretty clear – buy this deodorant gents and you will be accepted by women (and quite a few by the looks of it!).


The stats seem to show that even within avalanche incidents ‘acceptance’ may play a role. Nearly 500 avalanche incidents were studied and were scored for Human Factors being a potential key contributor. Across all the groups involved, accident parties that were mixed gender had a significantly higher score for exposure to a heuristic trap. Supporting the theory of acceptance playing a part is the fact that women within these groups had a slightly Where’s the humans, where’s the risk?

actually have a tendency to take more risk in the presence of others, whilst those with no training are more likely to ‘back off’. A frightening thought for an outdoor educator. Now one of my rules for life is ‘dance like nobodies watching’ (not easily achieved!) and perhaps we should consider that whilst assessing our options we ‘assess and act like nobodies watching’.


Snowpack, Terrain, Weather and Humans. Problems occur when our original assessments concluded a safe or low avalanche hazard and we allow the consistency heuristic to inform future decisions rather than potential new data. We all need to develop good internal alarm systems, sensitive to changing conditions of snowpack, weather and terrain, that indicate its time make a new informed choice.

Expert Halo I am sure we can except that many parties have an informal leader. Someone the party defaults to for the critical decisions of the day. Often this individual has spent more time in the hills, is deemed to have more experience, or is a better climber and this overall positive impression lends the party to attribute avalanche assessment skills to the individual that they may not have.

With this in mind, if you are concerned of having created an ‘Expert Halo’ over your leader, ask ‘why’ during their decision making process. If the answer is not clear and reasoned then be concerned.

Social Facilitation Ian McCammon, a leading researcher of heuristic traps in avalanche incidents (who’s articles I have based most of this) uses the example that in skiing the best ‘moguls’ (regular snow mounds formed by advanced skiers) form under ski lifts. Demonstrating that people are skiing at their best when they believe others are watching. We seemingly have a tendency to take more risks when other people are watching, and furthermore those of us confident in our skills are likely to take even more risk when people are watching. The paradox here is that avalanche awareness training itself is designed to make people and groups more skilful in their decision making. The evidence shows us that groups that have had formal avalanche training

Dealing with being human We have to except that as a climbing community we are on a journey with our understanding of avalanches, and that also we have denied for too long that we are part of the problem. We have to stop categorising most incidents as ‘unlucky’ are truly reflect on the impact of our behaviour. I am grateful to the international effort by some leading researchers that are shining a light on this area and are allowing us to understand, well, us. If you ask me to stop blinking then I need to make a conscious effort to do so, and that’s the point. These are unconscious processes that are part of being human. I can’t change that in me but I can be more aware of it.


Clearly there are skilled and unskilled leaders, and the greatest risk involves parties with unskilled leaders. Seemingly the stats suggest that novice parties with no recognised leader make better decisions than novice parties with novice leaders. It is worth remembering that often an avalanche incident involves the whole party and that perhaps the risk assessment process that leads to critical decisions should also. I have 20 years of working as a professional winter mountain instructor under

my belt and I make a point, where practical, to verbalise what my decision process is to even to the most novice of parties. By doing so I allow them to be part of the decision.

We have all raced for a route and we all know that the tactics of positioning yourself for gearing up or ensuring your approach up the apron is strategically ahead of other parties is worth an article in itself. We value our climbing opportunities so much that this in itself can lay a heuristic trap within avalanche terrain. The simple truth is we make better decisions in quiet coires when there is no competition for routes. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be the first to the route. Tactically this generally means I get up early, unfortunately so do other people. The trick I guess is to value your life above the climbing opportunity, I’ve missed a few routes – but I’m still here.




them in an extremely difficult position for self-recovery and vulnerable to any further debris fall. So, if the problems are well recognised why is it so rare to see heavily burdened MRT members wearing chest harnesses? Perhaps it is as simple as never really having thought about it before. Perhaps it is because people do not consider their cragwork in the same light as those fighting the elements in the ‘death zone’ If they don’t, why? A fall as they say is a fall, regardless of the scenery. Is it because improvising an effective chest harness on the hill is not as easy as it seems when practicing in a warm base? Finding a sling of just the right length to tie the knot and yet be short enough to keep the body upright when tied can be a problem. Add in darkness, cold hands and the time pressures frequently faced and it is easy to discount a chest harness as ‘not really necessary this time.’

Mountain R e s c u e personnel are regularly required to access casualties on the crag whilst c a r r y i n g rucksacks or lugging sections of stretcher.


It’s hard enough physically, but a slip when rigged up in a sit harness only can really cause problems.


Expedition mountaineers have for many years recognised the importance of using a purpose made full body harness, or a chest and sit harness combination, when carrying kit on their back. They are acutely aware that in a sit harness alone their altered centre of gravity will make it almost impossible to maintain an upright position during or after a fall, forcing the body to absorb much of the impact through the lower back rather than the thighs. The climbers final suspension position, face up and with a substantially arched back may exacerbate any injuries, leaves

There is a range of manufactured mountaineering chest harness available in the UK that are simple to use and take up little space. The PETZL VOLTIGE is a good example that meets the EN12277 type D and UIAA 105 performance standards. These simple chest harnesses provide basic support and help keep the climber upright. They work fine in many situations, but for rescue applications they are not as versatile as the industrial chest harnesses and full body harnesses that other, more urban, emergency service users wear. Why? What these traditional mountaineers’ harnesses do not provide is an easy second, independent point of attachment, rated for fall arrest, that allows for separate clipping of the main and safety ropes in a two-rope rescue system or stretcher attendant rig. Until now, if you wanted to get the benefit of a second rated point you were obliged to move away from the compact and lightweight and move into the more heavy duty and bulky

world of rope access and scaffolders harnesses. Well now PETZL have designed a chest harness specifically for Mountain Rescue teams that sets out to solve these problems, the CHEST’AIR. Used in combination with the PETZL FALCON MOUNTAIN sit harness, the CHEST’AIR is quickly and securely installed via the belay loop using it’s built in triple action oval connector. Once fitted, it provides both physical support and a fully rated EN361 sternal attachment point with the minimum of fuss. The compact textile sternal point is discrete and does not interfere with movement when not in use, whilst the Doubleback buckles on the broad webbing allow rapid adjustment for a snug fit summer or winter. The FALCON MOUNTAIN and CHEST’AIR combination has one other benefit that may put teams firmly ahead of the game. The combination has been extensively trialled by alpine teams where helicopter winching via direct connection into the harness combination, rather than strop attachment is the norm. With changes to the way air assets are provided in the UK in the coming years it is reassuring to know that the FALCON MOUNTAIN and CHEST’AIR combination is potentially future proofed for this scenario. So, if you recognise that chest harnesses are not just for glacier travel perhaps now is the time to take a closer look at what is available.

Supported by the Order of St.John


The Ochils MRT first received support in the shape of a bespoke Land Rover in 2001, this replaced the gas guzzling, second hand V8 Land Rover we managed to buy from our somewhat more affluent neighbours the Lomond MRT!! At that time the team was based in a double sectional garage behind the council nurseries in Menstrie, this was basic to say the least without running water, toilet and with 4 plug sockets to charge the torches!! In 2006 the team started the journey to build a purpose built MR Post and due to a large number of setbacks and problems, the new post was opened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester in 2010 with the build costs fully met by the Order Of St John. At this point I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Richard Waller in completing the project. The new post has completely transformed the way the team operates and has allowed us to be able to set up a control and communications base, facilities to run courses not only for

the Ochils team but we have facilitated courses for SARDA, The MRCoS technical courses, MCoS navigation courses and we will host an Scottish MR equipment course in February. In addition we have a never ending program of visits from schools, youth groups, community groups and hillwalking clubs, which allows us to promote our message of hill safety and promote the work of Scottish MR and the Order of St John. The post also allows us to put in place admin and recording systems which would have been difficult without a permanent water tight base!! We have been very happy to have hosted some important visitors for the Order of St John and have been pleased to welcome the Grand Prior of Great Britain and a number of politicians who have been able to announce Mountain Rescue initiatives and yearly funding from the post. The post has enable the team to develop in a more effective, and professional manner and has allowed us to serve our community better and to provide not only Mountain Rescue assistance but also community resilience assistance to local communities.



No Fankles on Stances: Some top tips for smooth changeovers using parallel rope technique and a Guide Plate on a direct belay. BY GEORGEMCEWAN GEORGEMC@COLDCLIMBS.COM It’s been a few years since I last wrote an article about facilitating stance changeovers on multi-pitch climbs whilst using parallel rope technique without ending up with ropes snaking over and around each other. Since then I’ve had several conversations/ discussions about some aspects of the drill I described in the original ‘No Fankles On Stances’ article. Just recently on UKC there was a products review about Guide Plates which created some discussion on and off line. So I’ve taken another look over the article and have sought to make my description of some aspects of the drill a bit clearer. I’ve also highlighted some potential pitfalls to be aware of.


A key aim of the changeover drill I describe is to ensure that the stance changeover is efficient and tangle free, with no ropes doing their own thing under or around the belay. Partly that’s my OCD kicking in but there are also potential safety issues associated with tangled ropes and inexperienced clients on stances. If the ropes are very tangled at best your clients will have a job sorting it out; at worse one or t’other may be tempted to untie to sort out the problem…


I’m going to run through the method I use and teach, and which (in my personal opinion – seeing as I’m writing this that’s what you get!) is guaranteed to give you a twist free changeover. I should stress that there are other ways of doing this although one of the advantages of this method is that once you have the basic steps nailed it becomes a drill, which when practiced can about be done with your eyes shut. This means when next you are on a stance you don’t have to stand and stare blank eyed at your setup which looks like a seething mass of mating snakes and work out which rope goes where. Or re-invent, from scratch a new ‘system’.

Depending on how you’ve gone about doing this before you might find that this method takes a bit of getting used to. So my advice is - practice this on the ground and take your time. There is no rush when practicing this. The key to success is ensuring you have each step of the drill clear in your head. Once you have that then you practice the drill ensuring you follow each step in sequence. Once you have the sequence nailed then the speed and efficiency will soon follow. I will not be discussing the dos and don’t of parallel rope technique or methods of releasing Guide Plates etc. You can download and read about these aspects in earlier articles from the links I’ve listed in the references at the end of this article. They complement this article.


Stance Preparation – Some Principles Careful selection of your stance and how you rig it will make a huge difference to how efficient your changeover will be. The usual caveats about stance selection in relation to your clients abilities, nature of the climbing etc apply here*. A key component is ensuring that when using parallel rope technique you strive to keep your ropes running parallel. Sounds easy but does seem to fox people. One of the common errors made is to equate parallel rope technique with double rope technique. They are not the same. I’d suggest thinking of your ropes as rail tracks when using parallel rope technique*. Cross the tracks and you’ll derail the train! In saying that there are a few principles we can apply here that will make your life a great deal easier (I am making the assumption that we are using a sling(s) to link our anchors to a single point and on a direct belay):


You and your Clients tie in on same sides When you and your seconds are tying into the ropes ensure you keep the ropes on the same side e.g. Client 1 on the LHS is tied into the red rope which is tied into your LHS; Client 2 on the RHS is tied into the yellow rope which is tied into your RHS. Ensure when you tie in that you are facing the climb as are your clients (Fig 1a).

Place a runner just before you get to the belay Not always possible but still a top tip I think. If you place a runner just before you get to your chosen stance ensure when you clip the ropes you have them running separately (Fig 1b shows a method of doing this). This helps you keep your ropes separate and will make your life easier when you come to set-up and use your Guide Plate. No Dances on Stances It can be tempting when looking for anchors to move about the stance, twisting and turning like an eel on a stick, but remember you have two ropes tied onto you so make sure that as you move about you don’t twist your ropes. This where placing that runner just before the stance comes in handy as you can then check if you have crossed your ropes during your anchor hunt. Set yourself up with your back to where you are climbing off to next Before setting up and attaching yourself to the anchor check out where the pitch goes next. Make sure your chosen stance is going to work both for bringing up your clients i.e. is in sight and sound if appropriate* and for you leading the next pitch. Mind as your clients come onto the stance you can shift out of the way to make more room.

Figure 2 gives an overview of the above principles. Using Your Guide Plate There is now a huge selection of ‘Guide Plates’ available for use. I’d suggest care when selecting a suitable Guide Plate for work and/or play. As rope technology has advanced so has the range of diameters available for use. This means it is now possible to have ultra skinny ropes e.g. Edelrid Apus which is a half/twin rope coming at 7.8mm diameter. Now it’s a no-brainier that a Guide Plate that is designed for say 8.5 – 10.5mm ropes may have issues in how it performs with skinny ropes outwith it’s performance range. Conversely working with a device rated for 7.8 to 10mm ropes will cope with these skinny ropes allowing a smooth take in, but there will be too much friction when you come to haul through a hairy 10.5mm rope. So match your chosen Guide Plate with the rope diameters you will commonly use. This may well mean what works for personal use with skinny half ropes may not be as good for work use when using large diameter single ropes. So how to set-up your Guide Plate to ensure no fankles? The following sequence of photos will take you through each step. As I said this might


be slightly at odds with how you do it at the moment but in my humble opinion it’s worth working with. As I said I feel it’s main advantage is that you if you can nail this as a drill, as soon as you have set-up your stance and brought your clients up the changeover will go smooth as. I can promise no rope crosses or fankles if you follow this sequence exactly. My word is my bond. Step 1 This is key to how this drill works out. Get this bit the wrong way around and you’ll have your ropes twisted or coming out underneath each other. When you set-up the Guide Plate do it in the same way as shown in the illustration. This means that your braking ropes/dead ropes come out of the Guide Plate on the TOP SIDE. The trick to doing this is how you lift the ropes into the plate. When setting up the ropes in the Guide Plate ensure that you maintain the same rope orientation as your pitch and as you tie in i.e. red on left, yellow on right as shown in illustrations.


If you set yourself up with your back to where you are going then you free up a ‘working space’ in front of you that allows you to organise your clients in such a way that you don’t have to climb over or around your team when you leave the stance. High Anchor Points Select suitably high anchor points that when you equalise them have the main attachment point (or power point) is at about sternum height. This allows you to arrange your team nice and tight on the anchors. It also saves your back as you can stand straight and pull the ropes in without having to bop up and down like the Hunchback of Notre Dame on chemicals. Anchor Redundancy Bit of commonsense with this one – this may well be not appropriate for all scenarios – mind, it’s your call at the end of the day. My preference when working in parallel and using a direct belay to bring up two clients is to use three independent bomber placed pieces of protection linked together. My thinking

behind this is that if anything untoward happens the last thing I’m having to think about is my belay. Also given that equalising all the pieces so they are loaded identically (even a slight shift in position can mean the load changes slightly) means that it is more likely you will still have two of your anchors taking the main load. If you only use two bomber pieces such a slight shift in position can often mean the main load is only on one piece.


STEP ONE: ROPE SET UP As you take in the rope ensure you pull and stack the dead rope OVER your tie in point i.e. the rope you have used to clip into the belay. This ensures you stack the rope away from what is going to your ‘work space’. DON’T stash the rope in front of you – that’s where your clients are going to go so keep this area clear. This also minimises the chances of ropes crossing.


Step 2 When your clients get onto the stance you can then clip them into their respective krabs. When doing this stack the krabs in the order your clients are going to leave the stance.


In this case the client on the red rope (Client 1) will be first off, whilst the client on the yellow rope (Client 2) will be the last off the stance. WARNING! Take care here – although the ropes you want will be coming off the top of the Guide Plate make sure you don’t pull one under the other etc to clip them into the krabs. Step 3 After the clients are clipped in you can then take them off the Guide Plate and either have them, or you, adjust the clove hitches so that your clients are close and tight on the belay. Just be careful here as you will have a little bit of

slack after you remove the braking krab off your Guide Plate. Step 4 USE IMAGE 4 Once both clients are clipped in close and tight on the anchor, you can have them back coil the rope so your leading ends are on top of the rope stacks. WARNING! There is potential here for having a rope fankle so ensure that your team stack the dead rope on the same side as you want them to have their belay plate braking hand (this will help with plate orientation latter). Once all the ropes have been back coiled (TOP TIP: as your clients start to back coil the ropes feed them out. Your clients will have climbed the route at different speeds so the rope will not feed out as easily as it might. If you feed the ropes out as they back coil you can reduce the chance of major fankles developing) you can then have your clients put you belay. At this point check they have the plate orientation correct etc. Once all this work is done I usually start to rack the gear whilst chatting to my clients about the next pitch coming up – maybe highlighting some technique related issue, technical in-put etc. I also

STEP TWO: CLIPPING CLIENTS stick to this drill as my clients after a couple of pitches know what the drill is so helping make the changeover more efficient. WARNING! Take care about this next step. Before you head off you have to manage the rope coming from the outside person. My own preference here is to have both clients belay me on their respective ropes – my thoughts on this are that it gives both of them a job to do and it means in the unlikely event I take a fall I’ve got two chances of my fall being held by potentially novice belayers. Back to managing the rope coming from the outside. Good practice in multi-pitch climbing would be to place an early runner as soon as, if not before, leaving the stance to reduce the potential impact force (Fall Factor 2) on the belay if the leader falls off as they leave the stance and the possibility of the belayer(s) having to hold a FF2 with the plate set-up for an upward pull. By ensuring you do this – and I’d suggest you place this runner BEFORE leaving the stance – you also reduce the chances of the outside client being cheese-wired if the leader takes a fall. So in my opinion a MUST DO is place that early runner

STEP THREE: CLIENTS ON BELAY before you leave the stance and clip the rope running from you to the furthest away client’s belay plate through that piece. Mind this is a key runner so it should, and must, be bomber. Enjoy the next pitch! Successful Outcome? So how do you know if you’ve done your stance changeover correctly? Well if you have ropes twisted, running underneath the tie-in points of your clients or any weird fankleness that causes you to untie then you’ve made a mistake somewhere along the line.

Summary There are many different ways to facilitate such a changeover. What I have outlined is a method that works for me and I’ve had a lot of success with teaching others. If you have your own way of doing this – fine and dandy, if it ain’t broke you don’t need to fix it. On the other hand if you are plagued by twists and turns in your ropes after your changeover, or seem to be untying lot’s

For a smooth and efficient changeover consider the following main principles: • You and your Clients tie in on the same sides – this keeps the rope orientation correct from the outset i.e. red on your left to LHS client; rope on your right to RHS client. • Place a runner just before you get to the belay – this helps keep the ropes running parallel and gives you a visual clue as to whether your ropes are running untwisted. • No Dances on Stances – avoid unnecessary twists and turns in the rope by not twirling about on the stance when setting up your belay.

• Set yourself up with your back to where you are climbing off to next – this allows you to move off without stepping over or under your clients. • High Anchor Points – helps when you come to organise your clients on the stance and is good for your back when taking in the rope. • Anchor Redundancy – use one bomber piece for each person, assuming Instructor and two clients this gives three bomber pieces of gear. In saying that allow some judgement to be exercised here – there are potentially many occasions where two or even one anchor might be adequate. • When clipping your clients’ ropes into the Guide Plate ensure you setup your plate such that the braking ropes come off the top of the plate, rather than underneath. This is in all likelihood something that will seem weird to you – trust me – it works! This is key to the method I have outlined working efficiently. Ultimately managing a smooth and efficient changeover and using parallel rope technique efficiently takes, like many other skills we use as Instructors, a lot of practice. This won’t become second nature with a couple of hours of practice – so get out there and get climbing, put it all into practice and rack up the mileage.


I can safely guarantee that if you follow the above method the only twists you will have in the rope come from those that your clients may put in the rope as they second the pitch. Such twists should be easy to spot as your clients climbing up approach the stance and are easy to sort. Also good rope management on the pitch should be enough to reduce the chances of this happening.

to sort out twists, then I’d suggest giving this method a shot. A wee word of caution - if you are using thick ropes in your device you might find them hard work to pull through, especially if your clients are climbing fast. If that’s the case it might be worth checking the rope diameter your device is rated to use. Some of the newer lighter devices are primarily designed for using with skinny ropes (8 – 9mm) rather than furry caterpillar 10.5mm. So although they will work fine with these skinny ropes you might find yourself getting a workout as you pull through your two hairy caterpillars. Or alternatively use skinnier ropes when climbing in parallel*.




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