Thursday, June 19, 2008

Swiftwater Rescue Class

Charlie Walbridge Instructing

A number of us recently had a fantastic opportunity to learn/refresh our swiftwater rescue skills. Got Boof member Matt "Math" Pascal contributes the following:

To promote and assure the safety of those joining us in whitewater fun, several regular Got Boof adventurers spent last weekend with AW Safety Guru and old school C1 boater, Charlie Walbridge. Despite the rain bringing up many of our favorite creeks, we were all glad that we resisted the temptation to paddle in lieu of Charlie's exercises. After all, these exercises were designed to simulate many of the typical binds we all hope to never encounter, but probably will (or have).

It started with a rainy Saturday in Charlie's century-old barn off of Little Sandy Creek Road in the "classroom" phase by setting up mock pins and entrapments and then self-rescues and victim and boat extractions. Dodging the rain inside the old barn, Charlie contrasted the technical knowledge of knots and mechanical advantage with social rescue issues like team structure, dealing with emergency personnel, and liability. When the skies cleared, we stepped outside to practice using ropes and life jackets.

In a belaying exercise, Charlie challenged an unnamed member of the group who responded by leveling the big man with a fierce heave on the rope he was holding. With that in mind, we practiced rescue the techniques we'd just learned about and then discussed how they can go wrong and what to do to minimize these dangers. Charlie demonstrated the danger of using the mechanical advantage of a Z-drag system, by applying the force to a small piece of cord. When it broke, the snap it made sounded like a revolver as the system sent ropes and caribiners flying in both directions. Charlie was a safe distance from the flying debris because he'd added a change in direction to the system.

Strangely exhausted despite little activity, our group traveled back to our weekend home at Teter's campground on Saturday evening, split into groups, and spread out to most of the edible options available to us in Kingwood. A group of three secretly skipped dessert to run nearby Muddy Creek (Sneaky, guys) while the rest of us drank exactly $62.50 worth of lousy beer around a classic campfire.

Single Wading

Sunday was a long day on the river though most of us didn't paddle more than a few yards. We rendezvoused at Rockville on Big Sandy Creek at 8:30 am and within an hour Charlie had us wading across the waist-deep rapids just below the bridge. For hours we found out that each and every one of the activities Charlie had in store for us was simple to understand and unpredictably difficult to initiate. Lessons abounded that day.

Macklin and Coop Pair Wading

Now that the weekend clinic is over and I've processed, I'm overcome with a general desire to never use the techniques I learned on the Sandy. I discovered that I wish to never have to wade out into whitewater to get to a victim, though I now know how to do it effectively. If I have to use the Hand of God rescue, I hope that it's in flat water. With luck, my rescue vest will never find itself supporting me as I'm lowered in strong current to assist a friend in trouble. But, I'm now comfortable enough to do it, unless setting up a zipline or line-assisted wade seems more prudent. God forbid I ever find myself swimming toward a strainer because the seemingly easy technique of aggressively swimming up onto it is tremendously difficult. And, if I either experience or stumble upon a foot entrapment, then the severity of the situation and the critical role of timing will be on my mind as I decide how to resolve the situation.

Jason rescue swimming/surfing

Math Pascal on a rescue vest lower

By the end of the day Sunday, our minds were overloaded as we stumbled around on the rocky shore in exhaustion. A few participants found the energy to paddle off into the bright evening sun for the last run of the Sandy until the next rain. The rest of us slowly packed up for the ride home and thanked our instructor for the valuable lessons.