Since I am being Jack of (more or less) all trades regarding outdoor sports, I always live with the fear in the back of my mind, that I might be needing service of a search and rescue team one day. Accidents happen in the blink of an eye but the consequences can be permanent. I was taught by my grandfather that being member of search and rescue team is like your payback for all the beauty and experience you get from the nature. And I took his words seriously. Not just by being member of regional whitewater rescue team, but also as a proud associate (not yet member) of Slovenian cave rescue team which is also doing canyon rescue. Nevertheless they haven’t done any serious canyon rescue service in the last couple of years, the team is eager to get and maintain canyon rescue knowledge. And that is the reason I get call every year in June to help them organizing canyon rescue exercise.
This is one of the most honoring things that happen during the year. And that’s why I take the thing bloody seriously. This year I’ve suggested that we do it in canyon Globoški potok. Before I went scouting there to see what is possible, I had a chat with Walter – the commander of the gang. He had idea to make two hauling systems and get two victims out of the canyon. I had the idea to complicate thing a bit further more, and place another injured person in the canyon with a broken ankle. The poor guy would have to be transported over two thirds of the canyon. It seemed like a good idea and I knew there will be lots of man power and team work involved to do it. But I didn’t anticipate that I will be the head of the group that has to do the transport in the end… 🙂 You know the saying: who digs the pit will fall into it… Well it was proved to be true.
So we meet in Village Žaga at eight hundred sharp. Than the rest of the gang started appearing and by 8:30 there was about 50 strong man waiting for the instructions from the commander. We were devised into 5 groups. Two were “dry” – so they were doing hauling systems from the edges of the canyons, and three “wet” teams. My team was the strongest one – man power-wise. We were a team of 12, so it was not that demanding to carry the men out of the canyon, since we could switch positions. I must confess I was a bit lost in the beginning, when I had to plan what gear do we need to ask for at the mobile storage facility that the canyon rescue team has. I am used that I always carry everything in my backpack and on my harness, so nothing is needed. Thanks god the boys knew what to ask for, so we got the carabiners, pulleys, blocking devices and the ropes. And miraculously we haven’t forgotten “Sam splints” and bandages. Who would tough that this is essential if you plan the rescue?! 🙂 🙂 The only thing I had donated from my “Sport Billy bag” was a silvertape, that went missing after the last exercise the team did in Austria when the got their international certification – btw, Slovenian cave rescue team is the first European team that has the certification to do search and rescue missions all around the Europe!
It become obvious that the guys are cavers and not canyoneers when they got lost on the approach hike. Well, technically they didn’t get lost, but they missed the trail that leads to the middle of the canyon…. Walter said that he will be directing them, but surprisingly I took different path then on the lookout tour so he didn’t know exactly where to head for the right path… In about 20 minutes of a steep hike he informed the group of guys, that had to go to the middle section, that they are too far and that they have to return back. They turned around and started coursing. Walter later said that everything was OK, he only had to stay in the back of the group for about 20 minutes untill the “storm” came down. 🙂 But then, business as usual.
Our team started with the descend as the second group. We had to abseil two waterfalls and then we began acting accordingly to scenario. Team worked like well oiled machine. About 5 guys took care of the “injured” person, the rest of the group were installing the transportation systems – tyrolian, lowering systems etc. I also showed them the technique how to abseil with the person inbetween my legs. I have to confess, I am a bit rusty… I should take the short lanyard, but at least I’ve learned that and the guys got the picture how it can be done beside putting the person on the back.
We all took the exercise seriously. And that was also evident on our time. It took us one our and the half to transport ourselves (11 rescuers) and the injured guy over 5 waterfalls. And it was not only the crew who took the task seriously. The injured guy also did his own show. He insisted he wants to call his mother and cry out what was on his sole. We had to convince him, that everything is OK, and that he will be out of the canyon in no time. He insisted this is the last time he is doing canyoning. Which is OK by my standards, he doesn’t belong there anyways with that attitude 🙂 🙂
When we did our part of rescue mission we helped group that had task in the lower part of the canyon. They had to haul the person over three waterfalls. It certainly wasn’t an easy job and a couple pairs of hands can always help. “My” guys did help carrying the stretcher in the bottom of the canyon between waterfalls, so the dry team didn’t had to get wet.
The exercise was really dynamic and we had to do a lot of improvisation, like always in rescue situation. That made time just flew by. I checked the watch and I was shocked. It was six hours of canyoning and rescue maneurs, but it felt like it was an hour or maybe two. I personally feel that we learned a lot on this exercise. And it is evident that the quality of the rescue team is improving rapidly. They are surely rope experts who know how to do their work but each year they are getting more and more friendly with water. The fact that most of the guys now use figure of eight descending device instead of caving descender for canyon speaks for itself. 8 years ago, when it was mine and their first canyon rescue exercise all of them were using descender. So it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks… And I am really honored to be warmly welcomed by this family of big hearted men who are there to help in case of severe fuckup in the canyon. But I keep my fingers crossed that nobody needs their help in real situation.