Sunday, 1 January 2017

Glencoe Mountain Transceiver Training Park Success

Avalanche Avoidance and Companion Rescue
The most up to date training system in use at Glencoe Scotland

Eight independent beacons that transmit a signal at the international standard for avalanche transceivers of 457kHz are permanently buried in up to 4m of snow at Glencoe Mountain ski resort. They are looked after by Glencoe Mountain staff, Ski Patrol and Davy Gunn who runs avalanche education training on Glencoe Mountain

Hamish at the 2011 opening
In collaboration with Anatom who supplied a wired starter training system to get things going in 2011. Glencoe Mountain Resort provided a piece of snow sure land, help from the staff and some financial help to start the training park 4 years ago.  The original park was opened by Hamish MacInnes the famous mountaineer and rescuer. Winter 2015 money raised by Clachaig Inn at their annual winter series of mountain safety lectures at the hotel provided funding for the new wireless avalanche search training system in place this winter. The hotels owner is a member of Glencoe Mountain Rescue and a friend of both his and Davy Gunn’s (Chris Bell) was lost in an avalanche in Glencoe in 2013 where 4 people lost their lives in one avalanche. The original wired system is now in use at a training park at Glenshee ski centre and it’s hoped to raise funds to get a similar and more effective wireless system in place there. As at Glencoe, the one at Glenshee provides an accessible training venue for local mountain rescue teams, mountaineering groups and off piste and touring skiers.

Practising digging effectively, a crucial
and often overlooked part of avalanche rescue
The general public has free access to use the training systems which stays out all winter. All they have to do is check in with the Glencoe Mountain staff or  ski patrol to see if it’s already in use that day. Each of the eight buried beacons also has a RECCO reflector inside so that mountain rescue and ski patrol can practise using this alternative search system as well as transceivers. 

Organised rescue teams use RECCO which is harmonic radar that can also be used from a helicopter. RECCO is a standard search tool by mountain rescue in Europe. Three Scottish mountain rescue teams, and threes ski patrol's use it. No search and rescue helicopters have adopted it in the UK for avalanche rescue to date but the hand held can be used from a helicopter with an adaptor system from a 3rd party manufacturer. I have one here in Glencoe as I am also the UK trainer for Recco.

The training park beacons are buried deeply in the snow so that searching for them proves difficult, simulating searching a real avalanche for a victim.  As it’s wireless there are no wires to degrade or get cut by shovels as folk dig, and different avalanche burial scenarios can be created from single to multiple victim burials by alternating which buried beacons are transmitting from a control box. When a victim/beacon is found by a searcher, contact with the buried beacon by a snow probe sends a signal back to the control box confirming a success.
Ortovox 3+ a modern fast avalanche transceiver
Training is available from me in  avalanche awareness and transceiver searching

Every skier going off piste or touring in the mountains should carry three essential items. A transceiver to be located or locate a buried companion, a collapsible snow probe to confirm the victim’s location and a strong aluminium shovel to dig them out quickly.

Glencoe ski patrol practising in the park
Recovery of buried companions in an avalanche is time critical with a 90% survival if victims are located and dug out within less than 15 minutes. After this time survival is very poor, therefore practise in locating and digging is critical. One of the training beacons is inside a resuscitation mannequin so that digging it out is like excavating a real victim and some care is required. The park importantly provides an opportunity for ski patrol to talk to those practising and emphasise the importance of avoiding avalanche terrain by interpreting the area avalanche forecast and local weather effects and therefore make wise and safe choices avoiding avalanche terrain for the day.

The enthusiasm and support by Glencoe Mountain owner Andy Meldrum and his staff by providing snow sure land, tending to the park and investing in its upkeep is tremendous. A particular mention of thanks to Glencoe Ski Patroller Keith Hill who is always on hand to give sound advice to skiers and boarders and who maintains the park.
Killin Mountain Rescue and a group of Freeride skiers using the training park

Avalanche Training

Pre Season Deal on Ortovox Zoom+ and 3+ Transceiver - email, call or message me

Good to see on the Backcountry social media lots of posts from folk who are wanting to know about staying safe in the snowy mountains. What's good to me is that there are now many good folks out there providing structured training based on North American programmes to give folk that knowledge.

I started running some courses five years ago when there was no one else doing them in Scotland. At that time I had just left MR after another avy rescue with multiple victims that for me I didn't think went well and left me feeling let down by some folk who wouldn't confront the issues involved. I was getting back into skiing off piste and felt I needed to wise up as well. I was becoming complacent and had let my awareness slacken.  That's the trouble with MR, at times its easy to be deluded that you are an expert in something. In fact even the gnarliest of Scottish MR person is not infrequently just a first aider, labourer/undertaker with a shovel and the task at hand is a job of work. These stalwarts are the backbone and get the job done, but my point is, it doesn't make folk experts but perhaps more a witness, and I include myself.

Getting back into it at a time when folk were venturing off the pistes and seeing some of the near misses while ski patrolling it seemed like whatever I new could be shared. With the support of many folk we got the Glencoe Transceiver park up and running and some courses underway. Sadly over the coming two seasons some more folk I new also got taken out by the big white wave. One perhaps because of lack of awareness or bad luck, one by sheer hubris, and one by familiarity - perhaps. These courses were never meant to make money, just to wake things up. With the advent of these other providers my job is largely done.  I will run an odd course on request and continue to work with Recco Sweden as a trainer, Ortovox Safety Academy and Back Country Access as an educator as well as staying an AAA pro member to keep in touch, as this knowledge is vital for advising customers who want avalanche equipment.

Get the knowledge and get the training folks. Anyone that follows the AAA type of programme will see you right.  If you want an airbag, transceiver or any of the essentials then give me a call for a competitive price, and if your up Glencoe I will give you an hour of free training if you buy from me.

Long before the SAIS formation and when "The Avalanche Enigma" was the New Testament, some of us were lucky enough to be made avalanche aware each season by the proffessionals from Switzerland, or as above from Chekoslovakia. 40 years to make the wheel come back full circle.  We had the first "pieps" as well. There really isn't much thats new, but like then you still need to learn it. Willie Elliot,Wull Thompson, Alastair MacDonald and Milos Sverba in the picture while I am buried 3 feet down while and a SARDA dog of Cecil MacFarlanes is trying to eat me. Picture courtesy of legend Hamish MacInnes who saw us right and kept us safe by getting us trained by folk from out of our own wee Glen so we learned in breadth and depth.

Friday, 23 December 2016

"Triple H" or Trauma in Scottish Avalanche Accidents. Observations from 35 years

I thought I would set myself the task of looking at a map and trying to remember all the MRT avalanche accidents I had been at in Lochaber. It's a lot sadly and I am sure there are many others where injury occured not recorded as avalanche incidents that the team attended. Some notable ones from the 50's to early 70's before my time I am aware of, including one at "The V" above the end of the road at Clachaig (Fatal Asphyxia).  Also some involving the rescue team that were thought to be better forgotten as near misses. Three of these I was involved in. One on the BEM Coire na Tullaich, and two close ones in Great Gully which popped just after evacuating someone on a stretcher.

The incidents themselves remain as fresh as ever, as do the dilemmas and triage considerations. I wanted to dispel the myth that most Scottish avalanche victims are trauma victims. Although many are injured, many are potentially salvageable if found quickly and taken to the appropriate facility where potassium and biochemical markers can be taken and resuscitation continued. The fatal victims listed  are complete burials.  All other injured bar 1 stayed on surface. All this information is freely available via the SMC Journals from these years or SMR data and while there are personal notes of my own as reference as an aside to these events no confidential data that is not already in the the public domain is listed

I often only recorded the events as an end of winter summary, although for injured patients I still have trauma report forms from my Paramedic records. A person wanting to check this data's veracity will need to go the relevant SMC Journals or SMR records.
Avalanches also hurt - if they don't kill you!
  •  1974  Great Gully x 1 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1974 Gully right Broad Buttress BEM x 1 Fatal - Trauma
  •  1975 Crowberry Gully x 2 Injured
  •  1976  Below Carn Dearg Ben Nevis x 2 Fatal – Asphyxia
  •  1977 Great Gully x 1 Fatal - Trauma
  •  1978 Great Gully x 3 Injured
  •  1978 ScRL Twisting Gully x 2 Injured (Mal D on scene)
  •  1978 Lost Valley Rev Ted’s x 2 Injured
  •  1980 ScRL Twisting Gully x 1 Injured
  •  1982 Lost Valley x 1 injured
  •  1982 BEM Curved Ridge x 1 Injured #Leg
  •  1983 ScNB NW Gully x 2 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1983 ScNB NW Gully x 2 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1984 Sron a Creis – Cam Ghleann x 1 Injured (skiers)
  •  1984 No 6 Gully x 1 Injured #Femur
  •  1984 Easy Gully x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia/Hypothermia (Colin G)
  •  1984 Beinn Bhan (St Johns Church) x 1 Injured
  •  1984 Sron a Creise x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia
  •  1986 Central Gully Bidean x 1 Injured
  •  1988 Mamores Binnein More x 1 Injured
  •  1988 Lost Valley Rev Teds x 2 Injured
  •  1988 Aonach Dubh N. Face x 1 minor injury (Mick F after FA)
  •  1988 BEM Great Gully x 3 injured
  •  1991 Glas Bheinn Mhor South x 2 Injured
  •  1991 Gear Aonach Zig Zag – x 1 Injury (witnessed by Ronnie Rodgers and I)
  •  1991 Beinn Fhada L. Valley Boulder x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia/Trauma combo 
  •  1991 The Rognon x 3 injured Slab (witnessed Chalky, Pete and I)
  •  1991 ScRL x 1 Injured
  •  1993 ScNB NW Gully x 2 Fatal - Trauma
  •  1994 BEM West Face above Coire na Tullaich x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia
  •  1994 Water Slab x 1 Fatal – Trauma (Paul M and I)
  • 1995 BEM Coire na Tullaich x 3 Fatal -  Asphyxia x2 Hypothermia x 1
  • 1995 BEM Crowberry Gully x 1 Fatal – Trauma
  • 1995 BEM East Face/Ladies gully x 3 Fatal – Trauma
  • 1996 Coire na Tullaich Headwall x 3 Injured (Mark T Reported incident)
  • 1996 N Face Aonach Dubh/Dinner Time B x 1 Fatal – Trauma (Potter)
  • 1996 Central Gully Bidean x 1 Injured (JP Oban)
  • 1999 BEM Crowberry Basin x 2 Trauma (one deep burial dug out alive but with # Femur)
  • 2008 Crowberry Gully Basin x 2 Injured
  • 2009 BEM Coire na Tullaich x 3 Fatal -  Asphyxia
  • 2011 Cam Ghleann x 1 Fatal  - Asphyxia (ski)
1991 Above "The Rognon" near Hidden Gully x 3 injured Slab (witnessed Chalky, Pete and I)
Davy Gunn personal anecdotal observation from 69 victims and 26 Fatal Burials I attended is: 11 Asphyxia/Hypothermia (absence of any obvious fatal injury) and 15 Trauma so around 42% and 58% respectively. This does not pretend to be a scientific study only an observation based on my own experience from 1974 until leaving MR in 2009 and quite often as senior medic on scene. Much is made of the presence or absence of an air pocket and ice masks. I have not seen an ice mask and its nearly always very hard to determine if an air pocket is present. They are all alive unless there is an obvious fatal injury. "Not dead until warm and dead" as the old saying goes so resuscitate following the ICAR guideline and transport them all carefully as alive to the appropriate hospital.
42% Asphyxia/Hypothermia - 58% Trauma. Not science, very local but a start point for comment
I have over that time also attended many avalanche incidents as a ski patroller, some with full burials and some with injuries but due to early search, and companion rescue a much better outcome. Since 2009  I have attended quite a few incidents with ski patrol and these are on the increase as off piste and BackCountry/Free ride takes off.

So is it worth being searchable? It's certainly better than long burial. The "Old Fox" agree's

Hamish MacInnes author of "The International Mountain Rescue Handbook" on pic left

Sron a Creise 1984 
Post Script
The above is just a random project pondering 35 years of personal observation. Others may have very different observations. Combined with my own pondering, even if anecdotal, these form a hypothesis that others can take forward or rebut as they wish. I only put this out there because I am tired of reading or hearing that most folk die from trauma in Scottish avalanches as my observations locally are that this isn't totally accurate. The geography of other areas may be different, but Glencoe is pretty unforgiving terrain and if I have come across asphyxia/hypothermia victims here, then its not unreasonable to predict it might be similar elsewhere.

We are fortunate in having a local hospital where rewarming of avalanche victims has given them lots of experience in rewarming. The fact that they receive victims some of whom will have had ongoing resuscitation and try and rewarm them says that its not all trauma. I don't think so far anyone as met the criteria for onward transport to ECMO although I can think of some who would have in the past if ECMO had been around then. I think we need to be careful because up until now 99% of victims have been mountaineers. That's changing as folks escape the pistes into avalanche terrain and as a group companion rescue and consequence reduction decision making and tools such as ABS can give different outcomes and victims will be higher up the survival curve. 

I can't see it being possible to do any post mortem study on past avalanche events as my own experience is that even for local doctors its very difficult to get PM data. As a medic I had no legal right to access it, but on occasion at an FAI was privy to some information. Also all mountain deaths do not require a PM and so the data might not be there.

If folk are following the consensus guidelines then its easy to collate data as fatal injury will have been excluded and victims sent onward for rewarming either at a local hospital or from there to a rewarming centre. These are the "maybe alive" victims that deserve a chance. They are my 42%

In the end it's academic. I am pretty sure in all the main mountain areas where there have been avalanche victims there have been some who have died from asphyxia/hypothermia and if education and avoidance has failed then the future victims should get the same chance they had, or better using modern search tools, so the %  ratio doesn't really matter. My hypothesis stands that of the 40% or more some might be saved if searchable and found earlier. There are a few cases where all the stars nearly aligned and a remarkable outcome almost achieved, but medical confidentiality means I can't share them.

Worth a read:

http://www.wemjournal.org/article/S1080-6032(07)70258-2/abstract

http://www.issw2008.com/papers/P__8120.pdf

http://www.alpine-rescue.org/ikar-cisa/documents/2013/ikar20131013001087.pdf   (3.2. Trauma)

I am quite surprised at the interest this "back of a fag packet" process has stirred.  For me its just so I can stand and say that of 40% or so of folk if they were found earlier some might make it. It was just to stop the "whats the point of being searchable as it's the fall kills you" attitude, and seeing it creep into the Scottish skiing world. Mountaineers can do as they wish, but my main interest now is in keeping the skiers safe as education and companion rescue is more ingrained and positive in that sport and for climbing the key is seen as education and awareness. Education and awareness will not get you found if you happen to get it wrong. To err is human is the only reliable "human factor" in avalanche education.

Stay safe folks



Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Avalanche Safety Kit

Zoom+ Box set is very good value for money at
£198 for the three essential items.
The 3+ Box set sets you up with the best tools.
No need to ever upgrade. £250 from me
Zoom+ £152 to my customers


Ortovox 3+ has good range and a "mark" feature
The 3+ has a good pinpoint search display. £198 to my customers

Let hope that's winter snow on the way at last.  If you need any avalanche safety kit I can do airbags, transceivers, shovels and probes as well as clothing and rucksacks from Ortovox.

Its a cut throat business as importers try and cut prices to keep trade while the strength of the pound makes getting the kit from Europe more expensive. I will not pretend I can compete with online companies that buy huge amounts and make it work on reduced margins by selling cheap and in volume.  I can't. But I try and get close. What I can offer is avalanche knowledge and practical "hands on" using the kit I sell in real rescues as well as training. The plus for customers is that I can offer some free training and advice if you buy from me. Advice is always free and I am happy to spend a little while on the hill showing you your transceiver and making sure you get the best out of it in the context of avoiding getting to that having been avalanched moment with the avy forecast and some knowledge. 

Click over image to view larger
I sell ARVA, BCA and Ortovox snow safety equipment.  I sell more of Ortovox now than other makes. The "smart antenna" technology of Ortovox transceivers (Beacons) is really good and I think makes a big difference. All new Ortovox beacons also have a Recco strip inside which is a nice extra.

The Zoom+ is a basic 3 antenna beacon and if your new and on a budget I can recommend the Zoom+ Safety set which has a good basic shovel and probe as well as info booklet on avalanches in the box.

I sell more of the Ortovox 3+ than any other beacon.  Its got an improved fine search and is a bit faster than the Zoom. It also has the "mark/flag" feature.  I recommend that folk learn how to search in a pattern before relying on this feature but the 3+ seems to mark well and as its limited to marking 3 victims the chance of signal overlap and overload is minimised. This is a good avalanche beacon. The safety set comes with a slightly better shovel with an extendable handle and a good 240pfa probe and all three in a box is cheaper. 

A really good shovel is the pro alu III as you can convert it to a hoe which in conveyor shovelling is the most effective way of clearing the snow from the point man. We cover this in avalanche training courses.

I personally have an S1+ which is the daddy of avalanche beacons. It has all the good features of the 3+ and a really good deep burial mode and a close proximity multi victim mode. The screen is big and its possible to see direction and distance to each victim as well as the strongest signal its locked into. The S1+  also has a longer range (about 15 metres longer) than other digital beacons. Its a good beacon for a professional guide or ski patrol.


The S1+ has a superior display and deep burial feature as well as close proximity multiple victims. £275 from me.

Monday, 19 December 2016

"we are all infinitely wise"


I am researching legal stuff on avalanches. Some mountain professionals are advertising and offering to investigate avalanche incidents independently. I wouldn't regard myself as being either qualified or desiring to take on such a burden as avalanches have provided me with enough drama and loss. However, its interesting to look back on precedent to satisfy my curiosity as to where these investigations lead. I have undertaken avalanche hazard evaluation for ski areas as part of prevention and rescue plans where foresight is needed, but post accident investigation makes me uneasy unless its low key and done as impartial data collection which I am sure the SAIS does discreetly.

Nothing inherently wrong with bringing information and closure to relatives or families by answering questions informally but when it comes to skiing litigation is rampant in all aspects of events. This is so unlike mountaineering where folk, families included accept shit happens. I worry that this would change. It set me thinking. If someone ends up making a case for a plaintiff who does act for the defence?  Expert testimony often cancels itself out in the courts nullifying itself. But damage to reputations and press reporting wrecks lives. I hope  its left to the rescuers, police or at worst an FAI to conclude cause and effect in these things. Hindsight

With time on my hands I am going back over my early texts, listening to my recordings from tutorials I undertook on avalanche and education from many of this generations experts, one who is my Recco mentor.  I am also enjoying re reading some classic books Andre Roch, Sleigman and Atwaters texts are still among the best on the subject and I have linked some abstracts from within the books to give a flavour. Getting these books nowadays is expensive and looking back at my library its a lot smaller. Like an eejit a few years back when a bit skint I sold loads of books to get a carbon race bike. I may have got £350 for "Extreme Rock" and the same for a book which I was able to get Ricardo Cassin to sign for me when I met him, but I sold my soul for a "thing" and wish I hadn't.

For an up to date take on the subject of avalanches Mark Diggins gave an excellent interview and I can recommend Secrets of the Snow by Chapelle

There is a lot on avalanche control and prevention as ski professionals which we would all do well to heed especially in ski rescue where public safety is a big part of the job.

Avalanches as weapons