Andy Perkins responds image

Andy Perkins responds

June 26, 2016

I had a great response to my crevasse rescue blog (Doing a Bieber) today from IFMGA Chamonix guide Andy Perkins.  I guess re-reading what I wrote it may well look like an attack on traditional instruction, when in fact my point was that too many climbers only do the basics and leave it there (it was also focused on climbers, not skiers).  My comments seen to have been broken for a while (sorry, but mended now), so here’s Andy’s great response.

Hi Andy

Nice piece of writing. The usual entertaining provocative stuff we all know and love. And all your tips from the real world of glaciers and crevasse rescue are totally valid and I agree with them all. But….

Everyone has to start somewhere, and throwing someone down a huge hole , upside down, while spraying them with fake blood to simulate their head injury, taking all their gadgets off them and making them prusik with one arm is not going to be very effective as an intro to glacier travel.

Whether it’s prusiking out of a slot and then hauling your mate out, avalanche transceiver rescue of someone buried 70cm down, CPR on a ledge halfway along the Cosmiques, or plugging bullet holes in a soldier’s leg in Cameroon ( all examples from my real world ), training is the basis. All of those situations are very stressful , and the best way to confront that stress is from a solid foundation of training to the point where the physical techniques are solidly engrained in the brain.

If someone wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle in London, it would take a bold instructor to do lesson 1 on the North Circular at 8.30am. Yes – that’s the reality of riding in London. But basic training has to take place in a calm environment conducive to learning. That way the techniques are more likely to be retained and ready when the shit hits the fan.

When I teach an emergency technique like crevasse or avalanche rescue, I start in a calm structured way, separating each part of a complex process into simple boxes, some or all of which interact or follow in some sequence. I’ll agree this isn’t realistic but, to coin a line from a film that I can’t remember at this stage “you can’t handle the truth”.

Once those boxes have been more or less mastered to the point where they can be repeated (conscious competence), I then get the students to start to run them together, introduce options, raise the stress levels and so on to better simulate reality.

Yes – The Hard Way Down is a well-written piece, and yes – many people approach glacier travel far too casually. I often see teams wandering across the Vallée Blanche with two or three meters and some lovely hand coils. So both of them will be down the slot instead of just one. But I digress.

I can’t speak for all guides, but I and many of my colleagues live in the messy real world and do our best to prepare people for that. Throwing someone into the middle of a minefield with no training at all isn’t ideal. Keep It Simple, Stupid, at the start, and then with time and practice, and more practice, and then some more, the training might just stand up to reality.

And here’s a pic of non-reality for you…
Intro crevasse rescue on the VB.

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