Insights and self-doubt

Last week I was able to run a workshop outside Vienna with Arbor Technical Institute Kreitl in Raasdorf, where I have not been for years. Good to be back there, really impressive outfit, loads of potential, very coordinated and extremely well set up.

I was working with a group of maybe ten people, quite a few of whom are trainers for Marcel Kreitl. This is a size of group I enjoy working with, the overall level of competence was high, allowing for interesting, lively discussion. The overall topics were planning for emergencies and aerial rescue, as well as a rambling discussion about resilience and creating it where lacking. Often as not, sessions like this will offer up a small gem of insight where you least expect it. This one was no exception.

When discussing resilience, I like to point out that part of what you are doing is weighing up safety margins and the ability of a system to buffer adverse conditions versus efficiency. In this sense, you can opt for maximised safety factors and large buffers – at the cost of efficiency. On the other hand, you could also go all out for maximum yield and efficiency, throwing caution, safety factors and buffers to the wind. The third option is that you weigh these various factors up against each other, maybe incorporating extra mechanisms or features, by doing so creating resilient systems, able to withstand load or adverse conditions, to thereafter return to a state of relaxation.

(Sorry, I realise I am being long-winded, I am heading towards the point I am trying to make, bear with me)

Whilst running aerial rescue scenarios, one of the techniques being employed was the counter balance for access line rescue. One of the climbers, a highly competent and experienced person, ran into an issue whilst performing such a pick-off rescue… he was running a friction hitch made entirely of high-modulus fibres. This hitch works fantastically for him in ever-day use, but when it came to attaching the splice side to the line to the casualty to be able to perform the counter balance, he was really struggling to get it to cinch down on the line reliable, in order to prevent himself from sliding down the line.

I thought this was interesting, as it unexpectedly showed how the resilience discussion even pertains to how you configure your friction hitch – which was not a connection I had made so far. Based upon the considerations above, you can opt for an ultra-reliable hitch, with a very high safety margin, but at the same time very low efficiency and lots of friction – making it highly impractical. Or you go for the bare minimum of wraps and braids, meaning you have to coax it into cinching on the line – with little safety margin, but in a sense higher efficiency (Mind you, a quick caveat here: it is debatable as to what is being used to assess efficiency here, so the analogy is not 100% correct. Arguably, a friction hitch which hardly bites cannot really be described as being efficient, as it is unable to perform as it should. The point I was trying to make is more the weighing up of safety, buffers and one measure of efficiency).

So it transpired in this instance that whilst the balance was well struck for a normal load distribution in every-day climbing, that the blend of materials of that friction hitch cordage did not possess sufficient margins to be able to create sufficient friction to hold a full body weight whilst installing the figure of eight prior to descent. This is not a general statement regarding high-modulus cordage, but proved to be so in this case, with this cordage combination, with this climber’s mass and this hitch configuration. In my books this is exactly why we need to practice aerial rescue – and therefor offers a valuable insight.

The climber in question was visibly disappointed with himself, feeling somehow that he had failed his rescue – mind you, after a bit of cheering up, the next day he ran it a couple more times, on different friction hitch cordage, problem solved. I cannot state it often enough that in my view, competent operators are not people who do not make mistakes, but rather are able to apply the appropriate tools and techniques to solve problems if and when they encounter them.  This climber ticked all those boxes, he persevered and resolved the situation.

It will always remain a mystery to me why it is that less competent people tend to over-estimate their abilities – whilst competent people chronically under-estimate themselves. Well, actually, there is of course loads of research into this phenomenon (in part described by the Dunning Kruger model), but still, when you see it playing out like this, you cannot help but be puzzled.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy these workshops: they feel worthwhile, allow me to work with teams and individuals, identify issues and develop problem-solving tools – as well as link up dots between topics where I had not seen connections before…

Image courtesy of Arbor Technical Institute Kreitl