vertical-connect 2017: Set-up and Friday

I am always amazed by how fast events you work towards come and go. The same holds true for this year’s third edition of vertical-connect, an interdisciplinary event we run in Meiringen in the Bernese Alps (yes, the same place where Sherlock Holmes fell down the waterfall with Professor Moriarty… it would seem they were not tied in).

What distinguished this year’s event?

A lot of water. We were battling serious amounts of rain from Thursday afternoon, during set-up, through the event – until the sun came out again during tear-down. Huh. We managed to get the event fairly weather proof, rigging a large tarp over the spectator space and putting up a large tent for the vendors. Still a bit of a pity, but there you go.

The weather-proofing  required some interesting rigging… it is amazing what you can do with a large tarp and 200 meters of Dyneema, plus a miscellaneous bunch of odd bits of lines and devices to tension them with.

The audience

We had a great turn-out of people from a wide range of on-rope disciplines from Friday morning onwards. As we were offering French and English simultaneous translation, the crowd was also very diverse in regards to where people came from. One of the things that stood out for me was how the line between people attending the event and generally mucking in was blurred. A big shout goes out to Peter and Jan from the treemagicbeers-fame. They were there from start to finish and did a stunning amount of work.

I was blown away by the over-all quality of the talks. The day-topic of Friday was Risk, Saturday was Connections and Connectors. It was one of those occasions when you gain real insight during an event. Part of the reason for this was the different angles and perspectives of the same topic.


For risk, for instance, where was Jeannette Büchel, a psychologist who works for the Swiss Health and Safety discussing how people perceive risk and why we respond to it differently. Jeannette’s talk gave a very comprehensive and lucid introduction to the topic.

This was followed by Hans Meier, an extreme cave diver… what can I say? I was gasping for air by the time he had finished. Talk about managing risk down to the n-th degree, yet the environments he is exposing himself to are so intensely hostile that the smallest miscalculation would likely have fatal consequences (I will write more about this at a later point in time).

After lunch break there was a podium discussing the whether risk is perceived the same way in a professional or recreational context. The panel was made up of Stefan Siegrist, one of the top Swiss alpinists, Patrick Zürcher, an arborist, trainer and work safety expert, Pit Bangeter, the president of the adventure park association and Christian Bollinger, also a work safety expert who works for a large insurance company. Tom Hofmann who was the moderator kicked off the discussion round by asking how the participants felt about the statement No risk, no fun. I thought that the statements by the people sitting up front, as well as opinions offered by people in the audience were fascinating. This could certainly have been discussed further or in greater depth, but suffice to say that whilst we may all agree that we can manage risk, I am not sure we are all talking about the same thing. Again, I will write more about this in due course.

After that, due to the weather going atrocious on us, I did my That’ll be alright talk, featuring Chabris’ and Simon’s invisible gorilla. I always enjoy doing that talk, also, for me it is a constant process of stripping it further down to the essential point you are trying to make, i.e. this time I removed all of the numbers and statistics out of the presentation – ultimately all this does is introduce unnecessary noise and distract from the message.

Next up were the two outdoor presentations…

First off we did a theatre illustrating three scenarios which ended in a system failure – in the pouring rain. But it was a blast! I won’t give away too much, as I would like to do this again at some stage, but my impression is that theatre is a very suitable medium to illustrate mechanisms that everyone is familiar with – without falling into the trap of moralising. Somehow it is easier for people to identify with what is being portrayed without feeling they have been rumbled. The challenge from planning the scenarios is not to simply turn it into a slapstick-number. Of course there are funny aspects, but what you are trying to communicate is anything but. After each scenario we analysed with help of a spiderweb diagram what the main factors were which caused the system failure.

The final scenario, where the climber and the groundie are embroiled in some serious conflict, ends in the climber accidentally dropping a sizeable log on the groundie. We replaced Florim, who was acting the groundie with a mannequin – for obvious reasons. The log knocked it’s head clean off, which then went bouncing away 🤢… grooooooss, I felt vaguely traumatised.

Which leaves us with this pic by Tom Nickel, which made me laugh as it feels a bit like a Stihl calendar photo shoot gone seriously wrong!

The second practical demo looked at the question whether there are situations where best practice requires double tie-in, yet where it may be better to use only one. Three short demos for this by the mountain guides, arborists and the Geneva high-angle rescue group.

vertical-connect challenge #1

The challenge took place on Friday evening and was the result of discussions regarding how to encourage a bit more participation by the audience. Michel Bischoff and Freddo Hunzicker came up with the goods, creating a course allowing two teams of three to demonstrate proficiency in a number of on-rope skills.

  • Throwline across shark-infested waters,
  • ascending onto the tower,
  • hauling a 100 kg log up the tower,
  • lowering it down the slide-line, and
  • finally using a grappling hook to place a line back across the shark-infested waters to then travers them in three tiny nutshells.

All this took place in the driving rain, a very impressive show by both teams…

Thanks to Dani Vonwiller and Tom Nickel for the photos.