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A Picture Lecture (In Snow Based Activities)

With winter being such a powerhouse at the moment, sticking around with certainty, it seems only fair to take advantage of it and play outside in the snow!

It all started on 17 February, when I met up with some of the guys and girls from the Killin Mountain Rescue Team to pop up a nearby Corbett.

It was a pretty calm day with a good forecast and so we all met at midday in Tyndrum. “We” were: myself, Nat, Steven, Les, Zach, Lisa and John.

It was because of John that we were here. After many years of volunteering in the Killin MRT he has moved to Stirling and joined the Ochils MRT and so this was a farewell do for him. Once we had greeted each other, we donned gaiters and set off. The route up Beinn Odhar starts off on the West Highland Way, before branching off and following a gentle ridge all the way to the top.

It was a great walk and good to spend some time with the team in a social capacity out on the hill and in the cafe. After driving back to Killin, Nat invited me to his so that I could shower and change before the evening’s program. Lisa had offered to cook dinner for everyone before going to the pub. It was a delicious meal and it even drew in a few other members of the team that hadn’t been able to make it to the walk earlier in the day.

Once the babysitter had arrived, we all disappeared to the Killin Hotel for a few bevvies!

Many stories came out from training events and call-outs from years gone by, some highly amusing and others of a more serious note, but all of it good to hear as I build my own picture of the history of the team and my place in it going forward.

On the following Monday, Greg, Marvin and I had a day off and were seeking some sort of adventure together. Greg, quite excellently, suggested a trip to the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven, the same giant freezer and climbing wall that I had been to with Dave at the end of last year.

The drive was very atmospheric with sunshine and broken clouds revealing hints of the massive mountains hiding along the roadside on our way over Rannoch Moor.

On a side note, the A82 has some horrendous potholes and damage on it. The sort of road surface that will break your car if you are caught off-guard. Anyway, once there, we booked our slot and warmed up on the bouldering wall and dry climbing wall before lunch.

After lunch, we kitted up with harnesses and helmets, crampons and axes and stepped inside the giant freezer.

After two hours inside the freezer our time was up. Needless to say we all had a fantastic time. This was Greg and Marvin’s first time climbing on ice and it was a joy to be able to introduce them to the marvel that it is. Once we had taken the spiky stuff off, it was back to the dry climbing wall for a few routes before heading home for tea and medals. A quality day!

Next up was another day out with the Mountain Rescue team, this time on a training day.

It was a splendid day with sun and barely a breath of wind and we had a good turn out for the day.

Mark had recently been on an avalanche course at Braemar and so was imparting to us what he had learnt there. We had the day to cover what Mark had learnt over three days! This included using avalanche transceivers to find a buried casualty, probing, avalanche procedures, using a guidon line and snow belays for lowering a stretcher. So, not much then!

Transceivers are an electronic device that you wear strapped to your chest and they transmit a constant signal which can be detected from around 40 metres away.

If you are caught in an avalanche, and buried, then anyone else with a transceiver can search for your signal to massively speed up finding you and then dig you out.

Everyone in the team has to wear one if there is any snow on the hill and each person walks past one member of the team who is in search mode to make sure their device is transmitting before leaving the car park.

To search, you pull out a tab and the device starts looking for a signal rather than transmitting one. This has to be coordinated with everyone so that you don’t accidentally look for each other!

Once your transceiver reads less than 2 metres to the signal, you drop to the ground and start “bracketing” to really narrow down the location. Once you have the strongest signal, mark the spot with a probe and start digging.

Whilst most of us were practising with transceivers, some of the team dug a mock avalanche tip, buried a transceiver in it (and something else), and generally set it up to look like a genuine avalanche debris field.

Mark then talked about avalanche procedure, timings and search tactics, after which we acted out a full-scale scenario.

Our initial search found a buried transceiver and some clues on the surface (marked with blue flags). The edge of the avalanche tip was then marked with yellow flags, and the rest of the team joined in to search the area with a guidon line.

The guidon line is a thin rope that has knots tied in it every 50 cm. Every third knot has a little bit of yellow cord tied into the knot. When the line is stretched across the avalanche tip one member of the team stands behind each yellow cord with a probe.

At the line leader’s command, everyone probes, steps left to the next knot, probes, left again, probe, forwards, probe, right, probe, right, probe, forward and repeat.

By working systematically, a team can search a 50 cm x 50 cm grid to a depth of up to 1.5 metre. If nothing is found, the line is reset, but also offset by 25 cm, and another sweep is started but probing up to 2.5 metre deep.

Whilst this process is slow, it is very thorough.

If you are in the line and you feel something even remotely suspicious you shout “STRIKE”, leave your probe there, get handed another by the shovellers and carry on searching. The shovellers dig like mad to try to find what you felt, in this case we found a fair few rocks!

After we had completed the search and found part of the buried stretcher, Mark volunteered to be buried so that we could practice the next step of the rescue: extracting a person and getting them on a stretcher.

Once we had completed the lower it was time to go home. We packed everything up and drove back to the stores. I helped pack everything away before driving home myself.

My last little story happened only yesterday. After a snowy week with two groups in (one of which had to stay an extra day due to the roads being snowy and no coach had come to pick them up) a few of us went out to play by ourselves.

I took Callum, Greg, Jake and Marvin for a vertical adventure. As the roads were not safe enough to drive anywhere, we just walked from the centre out the back and up to the pipeline. There were some pretty big drifts in places which provided plenty of entertainment.

Once we had done a little bit of scrambling, it was time for some ice axe arrests, a means of stopping yourself from careering down a hill by grabbing at the slope with your axe until you stop!

Time flies when you’re having fun and soon it was time to head home. Needless to say we slid down the hill whenever we could and made it back before nightfall.

Here end-eth this blog post. I hope that you have found it entertaining and informative. It looks like the snow is going to be around for a while, so I’m sure this won’t be the last blog featuring winter pictures! Until next time.

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