Last night, the Mountain Rescue Group leadership held a potluck barbecue at Castle Rock Park for current Type 1 candidates and anyone else interested in the MRG. Family and friends came along too. Students got a chance to debrief the Advanced Land Nav class, and MRG leadership offered insight and words of encouragement before they embark upon a series of trainings this summer.
(Photo: Natalie Zensius, Rick Kovar, Patrick Dodson, Rick Najarian and Phil Novak work to assemble the MRG's latest gear acquisition: a mobile Command Post. Photo by Wilma Murray.)
Beginning this month, and for three subsequent months, the USAR/MRG staff(s) will be offering rope rescue training to CoCoSAR team members. This training is open to all team members, regardless of their previous experience. The trainings will be tailored to attendees' skill levels and held in the USAR resource monthly training slots (third Saturday of every month.)
Last week Type 1 Academy students began CoCoSAR’s two-evening Advanced Land Navigation class. In the classroom, students learned all the ins and outs of maps and compasses.
Today they were tasked with putting those skills to work as the class concluded with an all-day, solo field test at a secret location. This year, students were joined by current Type 1 team members who were conducting a simultaneous field exercise to refresh and maintain their navigation skills.
Mixed in with the inevitable excitement was some trepidation about what the field-test day might have in store for students; however, graduates of the class reported that it was a fun-filled day and an extremely useful experience.
Class instructors Dr. Mark Sembrat and Jack Peabody discuss the class and how they came to lead it in the following Q&A session.
How did each of you get so interested/passionate about navigation?
MS: I was involved with adventure racing in a former life and since the course is not marked, you’re very dependent on the efficiency of the navigator to get from point to point. I’ve seen teams lose races because of mistakes, so I took additional weekend classes to brush up on skills and learn new ones.
Historically, navigation was a weakness for our team. It was presented to me that I knew “just a bit more” about navigation and was asked to develop a navigation course for CoCoSAR. Then, with the depth of the team, suggestions by students and proctors, the class, and the result is that our collective skill as a team has just gotten better and better over the past five years.
JP: With a name like Search and Rescue, I always thought that after medical skills, your navigation skills had to be the second-most important item for a team member. My passion comes from many years as a Boy Scout leader and many more years of being in the wilderness with groups of people in which I learned that good navigation will make the trek more enjoyable and with less drama.
In your experience, are some people just inherently better at navigation than others? How do people who don’t have an inherent sense of direction overcome this?
MS: Some are naturally better navigators than others, but there are a few things to make it easier. Pay attention to the everyday navigation tasks. Learn what your tendencies are and if they are correct or need to be tweaked.
JP: I do not think anyone is inherently better at navigation, only that some people are paying more attention navigating through their day and have more current route-finding skills. The human brain is good at remembering a story and navigation is about the story of the trip you are about to take by reading a map. See Mark’s “The Six Steps to Becoming a Better Navigator.”
How has technology, like GPS, impacted our ability to navigate?
MS: GPS navigation is easy, plain and simple. We use it all the time in SAR work. GPS uses orbiting satellites to find your location on earth via calculating how long it takes for a radio signal to reach your receiver. You can carry a huge variety of maps in the palm of your hand. Whether you're hiking up a mountain or you're driving cross country with friends, it's much easier to look at a screen that shows exactly where you are than to puzzle out your course without technological aid. If you don’t understand the information it provides, it becomes only an expensive paperweight.
JP: GPS makes locating yourself and getting to locations much easier. This is all well and good until the GPS device fails, and then it compounds most people’s problems for they now don’t have a map or were not paying attention to how they got where they are and do not know the route to their destination. So orienteering skills are invaluable regardless of the tools you have.
What’s the biggest difference between CoCoSAR's basic and advanced land navigation classes?
MS: I personally believe focus should be on map-reading skills. This is useful in maximizing both the GPS and compass. Unlike basic land navigation, advanced land navigation gives people the opportunity to get personal with primarily map and compass where detail is the key. Mostly what we use in SAR provides an exact location in a UTM format.
The GPS unit will let you know how much distance you've covered and how much further you have to go. It will even tell you your altitude.It can mark and retrieve location points or waypoints. This ease of use shouldn't be taken for granted, though, since if your GPS stops working you'll still be on the trail, road or out in the wilds. As such, you should have a back map or atlas and stay aware of your surroundings.
The downside of this is that these devices are still electronics, and as such are vulnerable to bad weather, rough handling and even electrical discharge, which can damage even the most modern system. They run on batteries (extra weight) and require good signal strength. GPS is a great tool, but it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses and compensate with other techniques.
JP: Basic land navigation is a team-building map exercise to navigate in a car using a Thomas Guide and on foot using topographic maps using the collective wisdom of the group. These are primary skills for searchers to get to the search and find a subject. Advanced land navigation is a simulated helicopter drop into the wilderness in which you are all alone with your map and compass skills to navigate a course. It is the only SAR training in which the individual is NOT part of a team but is on their own using their brain and refined orientation skills.
Why are advanced navigation skills important for the search and rescue team member?
MS: Using a compass is less expensive, does not require electricity, but often requires a map. You need to learn a few skills in order to read a compass properly. Most people know they should always carry a compass, but do they all know how to actually use it? In my pack I carry a Garman Map 60CsX, a Silva Ranger compass, map and grid reader tool for redundancy and to resolve all possible limitations.
JP: As noted above, advanced land navigation is a simulated helicopter drop into the wilderness, which is a real situation MRG searchers face on a regular basis; thus these are skills you must have mastered.
In your experience teaching this class, what do students seem to have the most trepidation and/or confusion about?
MS: The field portion of advanced land navigation because it’s the only time I know of that as a CoCoSAR team member you’re placed in situations alone, not in teams, not with a partner – no one! You are depending on your brain and skill to pass the class. This can be nerve-wracking for some students.
JP: Looking at a topographic map and visualizing what the terrain looks like and vice versa, seeing the terrain on the map to plan a route. They have the most confusion about how to operate a compass and GPS.
Which books or other resources do you recommend for team members to learn more/brush up on their skills?
MS: Resources are endless on the Internet. All you need to do is use Google and you can be overwhelmed with information. Admittedly, some is dry and hard to process. I lean more to videos for brushing up on skills. A good book is Wilderness Navigation by Burns and Burns.
JP: Mark did a good job addressing this already.
In your experience, how does navigation stack up as a perishable skill compared to, for instance, medical training?
MS: Learning to read maps is critical. Often a good map and the ability to read it is all you need. Build a tool kit of skills and techniques, so you can draw upon and apply more helpful skills for the situation you may find yourself in. Like all perishable skills, practice is the key.
JP: Navigation is about as perishable as medical skills, although ironically you use your navigation skills every,day, but you’re usually on auto pilot, so you are not aware of the process. The navigation machinery, such as topographic maps, compass use, and operating a GPS is like working with any software, i.e. if you don’t use it on a regular basis, you quickly forget how to make it work for you.
What are the 3-5 things that you'd like to see every team member know and be confident about?
JP: At Type 3, how to read a topo map to plan and follow a route off streets; at Type 2, how to operate a GPS to record tracks and get to locations or coordinates; and at Type 1, how to figure out where you are and navigate in any kind of conditions and terrain.
For those curious about what the advanced land navigation day entails, below is a video of the 2013 class, produced by Mark Sembrat.
The Hasty Squad had an excellent training on a beautiful Wednesday day and night in Danville. The training was a mock search for a missing at-risk autistic 16 year old. There were 33 searchers in the field, with another 12 as role players and proctors.
The teenager went missing after leaving his house for school in the early morning and it was reported that he never attended any of his classes. The search began at the subject’s house where team members met with a Danville PD IC officer and the subject’s mother, played by team member Nancy Hart. There they had a briefing from the IC, a search of the subject’s house,and interviews began. CP was set up at a nearby San Ramon High School and field and bike teams were soon sent out.
Information was discovered on the subject’s Facebook page that led searchers to his tutor and a friend at a nearby Yogurt Shack. From the tutor, it was learned that they both had an argument over test preparation that morning and the subject had a “stress” episode and left campus to head to an unknown location.
Soon thereafter, the father of the subject called from overseas and gave information of a past hike the two had taken on a nearby trail in Las Trampas. The missing subject was found by a bike team. He was injured, but in overall stable condition.
Thank you to our proctors and role players:
Nancy Hart, Patrick Walker, Daniel Rathert, Richard Najarian, Kang Lim, Steve Filippoff, Chris Young, Rick Kovar, Frank Moschetti, Dale Myer and Bryan Walley.
Thank you to our Hasty drivers:
Diane Blue, Jack Peabody, Ed Griffith and Patrick Dodson.
On Saturday, March 16th, 2013, the USAR resource conducted another challenging USAR training to help expand disaster response skills. At this training the team learned effective techniques for breaching through walls constructed of different home building materials and rescued a trapped/injured person on the other side.
“I forgot how hard the DEH is! The hike up is so hard on my heels that all I want to do is go downhill. Then going down the summit I realize that my heels don't hurt as much, but my knees want to give up. It is a great test for me, to see how much my body can take." Lauren Thomas
The DEH is an effective measure of fitness for Type 1 participation. It represents the minimum level of fitness required for responding to Type 1 callouts. As challenging as it may be, it's a beautiful hike filled with expansive views, springtime wild flowers, and local wildlife.” Mark Wilfer
“The DEH tests both mind and body. Physically, it gets easier the more I do it, but it’s still a mental challenge every time. Because of the mountain's natural beauty and weather conditions, it's a different hike on any given day. But what consistently makes it special for me is the encouragement and camaraderie of fellow team members. No matter what my conditioning level is, there are some who are faster and some who are slower, and it’s always gratifying to know that we look out for and support each other on the trail.” Natalie Zensius
I think the hardest part of the DEH is understanding that it was necessary to make a "no running" rule. Pierce Plam
“While the DEH is an opportunity for some people to show their amazing physical fitness levels, some use it to demonstrate their true team spirit. The latter was best exemplified for me when, in a SAR role reversal, my “coachee” Natalie Zensius took me under her wing and made sure I finished the hike, not only in time, but well under what is allotted. As she has far more hiking/backpacking savvy than I, she took the lead, encouraging me all the way with “You’re doing great!” This meant she had to hold back her drive to best her own time, but in the end, she still came in at her fastest pace while ensuring I succeeded, too. What a win-win!” Wilma Murray
“This was one of my most memorable DEH hikes due to the weather, flowers and the fact I cut 25 minutes off my time! The cool cloudy weather really made the normally sun-drenched hike much easier and also perked up the flowers. I probably could have cut another five or 10 minutes off my time had I not had to stop for all the flower photos (this is only a third of the pics!). This hike saw one of the largest turnouts we've had and it's because we have a great team of dedicated people who like to see just how tough they can be!” Todd Rogers
“The DEH is a challenging accomplishment and one that says "I'm there!" until the next challenge comes along because it’s only a milestone benchmark. Don't assume you can make up significant time going down after going up; going down has its moments – they’re just different. Overall, this hike opens up a whole new world, confidence, opportunity and a beginning.” Larry Fong
“Avoid the doughnuts! Carrying an extra 20lbs for 11 miles and 3,000’+ altitude gain lets you know why you don't want to gain that extra weight! Is it tougher going up or coming down? Up is tough on the cardio system, down is hard on legs, feet, joints (plus, you have fatigue setting in). Survey says: coming down. As always, our proctors are awesome! Giving up a Sunday to shepherd the flock up and down the mountain truly reflects the SAR spirit.” Pat Dodson
The DEH is a challenging but beautiful hike so I was anticipating it with both excitement and dread. It turned out to be a beautiful day for a hike. That and a new personal best time made it much more rewarding than dreadful. Joe Keyser
On the day 14 team members and myself took on the DEH, it was at the beginning of a heat wave for the Bay Area. Even with an early start the heat filled the area as the Sun rose. My pride was garnered not by the successful completion of the event by 12 members but rather by the assistance each member rendered to or were ready to render to others:
Two explorers gave up their Sunday to help shepherd a fellow Team member up and back.
Two members aided a SAR hiker down the trail when she had far too many blisters for comfort, but still she made the time with their help.
Hikers that had completed early stayed in place ready to render aid, until all were accounted for and code 4.
A SAR Proctor stayed without hesitation with a fellow hiker that found this day hot and far too long (7+ hours).
And for one person that did not meet the time, she showed nothing but enthusiasm asking when would there be a next opportunity.
This was not a day of speed but rather heart. John Banuelos
"My first DEH was a good test and I appreciated the support of a hiking partner, Claudia Langley, who had experience and knew the ups and downs of the route. And yes, bringing an extra pair of boots and socks (hiking and mountaineering) can come in handy for yourself or others!" John Hubinger
The top of mountain is a long way up. But going down is harder. Slippery gravel roils with anticipation. Don Kavanagh
Today I awoke, excited to hike with SAR teammates. The weather was perfect and my spirits high. By 8 a.m., we had congregated and exchanged pleasantries. With packs weighed, we were off.
The crisp morning air filled my lungs with oxygen, welcoming us to the great outdoors. I began in fourth position, blissfully unaware of the slice of humble pie I was about to be served.
After 25 minutes, I felt at the top of my game; my muscles were loose, my lungs expanded, and my body was in a rhythm. A song entered my head, and my boots fell to the ground in a marching beat.
Twenty-five minutes into the hike, I felt the beginnings of a blister forming and quickly fell back to number eight. Dropping my backpack, I removed the offending boot and abrasive socks, and searched for moleskin. Before I could locate my supply, a fellow teammate had handed me some from his personal stash (thank you!). After dressing my would-be wound and donning the detested boots, I was again continuing the ascent.
The first milestone
At the fire road crossing, I managed to regain a few positions. The wind howled from the southwest as I traversed the exposed ridge leading to the backside approach of the peak. The weather had turned from pleasant to cold and overcast and I considered stopping to dig out a jacket, but decided I had wasted enough time. My sweat-soaked shirt clung to me with freezing perspiration. I used the coldness to motivate myself to push harder and faster. Ignoring the blister pain, I climbed on, relishing the relief of flat or downward sections.
On the backside of the peak, I was grateful to be sheltered from wind, but the quiet calm quickly evaporated as I began ascending the opposing exposure. There I was met with cold wind and the occasional freezing droplets of water that might have been rainfall or moisture blown from tree limbs.
Upon reaching the summit road, my legs begged for a break, my heart thumped and my lungs protested. My mind was full of regret – not for hiking that day, but for not training.
As I made the final ascent, my thighs knotted up, first one, then the other. I rubbed and punched at them as I hiked. I willed them to stay loose despite the cold – my adversary. I continued climbing as team members zoomed by on their descent. The joy on their faces could not be contained, the toughest part of the day behind them.
I smiled, said hello, but on the inside I was mad – mad at myself for not keeping up, for not properly training, for dropping the ball, for letting my physical fitness stoop to such a level. I used this self-chastisement to propel me to the top.
At the summit
The peak was shrouded in cloud as the rain began to fall and wind picked up. Finally, I released the straps of my backpack and it fell to the cold, wet pavement. I slapped the rock building. I was thrilled to have the climbing behind me, but soon found that the downhill was even more torturous on my seizing legs. On the backside, I found a small patch of grass and fell to the ground. My legs screamed in agony and I contorted, giving rise to the saying “hurt so good.” While I stretched, I slipped into last place.
Consulting my watch, I willed my legs to continue to the single-track section where poison oak reached out with the kiss of agony. With each tug of my shirt or brush of the hat, I instinctively pivoted to determine if the offensive plant had made contact.
The temperature climbed as the sun broke through the clouds and moisture on the surrounding foliage began to evaporate. Flies and bees buzzed nearby. The sudden warm humidity was reminiscent of hiking the tropics, so I fantasized as I continued.
The muscles in my legs quivered, threatening to give up. I forced my mind to ignore the protest. Every 30 seconds, I referenced my watch. There was plenty of time if I kept moving, but I couldn’t afford any more breaks, or allow my legs to quit.
My spirit lifted and pace quickened upon the sight of the eucalyptus trees marking the trailhead. I fired my after-burners with thoughts of an Epsom salt bath and an ice-cold beverage.
Finally, I passed through the gates, wishing there was a ribbon to break or spraying milk. My bag and boots were off before anyone had a chance to say hello. Under my socks, the blister was now a bloody mess.
Driving home, I contemplated the day’s events, not sure what hurt more, my legs or my pride.
Forget about the DEH (Diablo Endurance Hike); we should rename this the DRC (Diablo Reality Check).
(L-R) Rick Kovar, Matt Shargel, Tom McGee and John Banuelos await breakfast in June Lake before CoCoSAR’s Mountain Rescue Group underwent its annual Mountain Rescue Association Snow and Ice Recertification.
On Feb. 27, 15 team members spent their morning with the Mutual Aid Mobile Field Force (MAMFF) teaching some 60-plus members of various law enforcement agencies how we at CoCoSAR conduct USAR rescues. At six stations, SAR members either proctored or performed the roles of subjects so that MAMFF participants could get some hands-on experience.
Stations included how to conduct a hasty search and mark the buildings; structure triage and recon; patient packaging; and three stations each employed one aspect of the ladder-rescue system.
The event was well-received and all good intentions lean toward another paired training in the future.
The CoCoSAR Mountain Rescue Group (MRG) participated in the annual Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) reaccreditation at June Mountain Ski Resort in the town of June Lake on March 2. (The MRA requires reaccreditation in one of three core skills every year; this year it was snow and ice rescue.)
Sixteen CoCoSAR team members gathered at the resort with the goal of maintaining CoCoSAR's MRA certification. They were among more than 20 teams from all over the California region seeking reaccreditation.
CoCoSAR has been training since November on Mt. Diablo and at Donner Pass in order to perfect skills in the two disciplines the team was required to demonstrate at June Lake: avalanche rescue and technical snow and ice rescue systems. To test the team's ability with technical snow and ice rescue systems, two observers accompanied the team up a 35- to 40-degree snow slope to a GPS location. At this time, the observers designated a random team member as the subject to be lowered about 500 feet down to a road. The team quickly assessed snow conditions, built anchors (in terrible snow), assembled main and belay systems, and assessed and packaged the patient and lowered him down the slope.
Next the team was required to locate a buried avalanche beacon in a simulated avalanche area in 20 minutes or less. It took the team about 20 minutes to prove conclusively, using transceivers and a grid search, that there was no beacon buried in the assigned area. After event organizers did a quick huddle, they realized CoCoSAR's beacon was buried in a different avalanche zone. Once directed to the right avalanche zone, the team found its beacon (and a second buried for another team) in half the required time limit.
The two proctors assigned by the MRA to observe the team came away very impressed by the teamwork, knowledge, and skills displayed by CoCoSAR team members. The proctors passed the team on both stations. Overall the event was an excellent opportunity for the team to show off its technical rescue skills, network with other SAR teams from around the state, and certify its standing as one of the premier search and rescue teams in California.