Volume 35 Number 1 Article 7
Free Caver Training Day
7th December 1997
Organised: by Nigel Atkins and Kevin West from Pennine National Caving - Held at the Birmingham Climbing Centre - Sponsored by Petzl and Karimor.
This proved to be an excellent meeting, both entertaining and educational. The stated purpose of the meeting was to promote 'training courses for cave club training officers', and was aimed mainly at clubs which had a lot of novice members or visitors with little caving experience. Although the RRCPC doesn't have many novices, the safety techniques were applicable to cavers of all levels.
40 caving clubs expressed an interest in the meeting, and 27 clubs sent a representative to attend. Most clubs now have 'training officers', and there is a general move to 'training the trainers', and many now have some form of caving qualification. Nigel started the meeting by stressing that the best trainers were not necessarily the best cavers or the best riggers in a club; communication, planning, organisation, patience, and enthusiasm, were skills needed to be a good trainer. Pennine National Caving run regular training schemes for trainers and Nigel has also drawn up a cave training syllabus, which is used by the Derbyshire Caving Association, a copy of which is available in the RRCPC library.
The meeting started with a review of equipment needed by novices, helmets, lights, clothing etc (some clubs provide this). This was followed by a discussion on the use of the correct type of ropes, slings, hangers, etc to use for belays down ladders. It transpired that there was some difference of opinion on these matters, it was agreed that wire belays should only be used for ladders; the safety-line should be bomb proof, and belayed through a karabiner on a reliable fixed hanger, or on a sling around a sturdy flake or thread - the sling should be either 1" stitched tape, or 11mm kemmantle rope. Some thought that dynamic type climbing rope, 9mm or 1Omm, was best for the safety-line, but Nigel warned that climbing rope was not 'cave friendly' and wore out quickly; he preferred 9mm static rope, but it should be kept separate from the club's usual SRT ropes. Finally the only way to guarantee a safe descent in the event of a ladder failure or fall off the ladder, was for the novice-carer to wear a harness to which the belay rope can be attached; it was suggested that it is no longer acceptable, (at least for novices), to belay them down a big ladder pitch, using only a belay belt or rope tied around the waist.
The afternoon session started with a demonstration on the climbing wall of belaying techniques using the Petzl 'Stop' positioned at the top of a pitch; this proved to be most impressive - it was very controllable, and left the operator completely free. The victim could be held or lowered with ease. Other techniques were demonstrated including the correct use of an Italian hitch, and how to set-up a pulley rescue hoisting system.
During the later afternoon there was a discussion on teaching SRT to novices. Good communication was the message - there were numerous horrific stories of novices not understanding the correct use of SRT gear - e.g. one abseiled down a pitch with his Stop karabiner clipped into the side tackle loop of his harness rather than the D ring! Another novice jumped-off a pitch-head holding the Stop with the brake pressed-in, but not holding the distal rope (fortunately it was only a short pitch)! The novice must be tested that he/she understands the use and purpose of the equipment; above ground training in a tree or climbing wall is essential to mastering the SRT equipment before going underground.
The meeting provided much to think about; we realise that some of our own techniques are less than perfect, and we are going to try and put at least some of what we learnt into practise.
Peter & Julie Mohr