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Remote Connection/Line Capture. Expanded Opportunities…(Skills Required) Imagine growing an arm as long as the length of a rope in a throw-bag. Then Imagine having at the end of that arm a technically competent high strength aluminum alloy device that will consistently ‘attach/clip’ itself to any line that it crosses with the same security of a rated carabiner. Imagine this device is also weight balanced to ensure accurate throws, is collapsible, compact and can withstand impact from repeated bashing against rock. Imagine also that this device is capable of making a technically competent, remote/mechanical auto-knot with the bitter end of any rope it crosses. It is also capable of snagging pinned or wrapped boats to gain access and jamming or snagging in vegetation or between rocks if it is so purposefully, and accurately tasked. To aid in your rescue from complex pins/entrapments/catcher-mitt eddies/keeper hydraulics/sieves/undercuts/rooms of doom, this mechanical ‘arm’ can quickly and reliably be tasked to add vector pulls from virtually any position on the river within seconds, essentially speeding deployment of complex river systems including the establishment of initial cross-river lines in almost any environment-from deep cataracts, and too wide, high volume channels…which nearly eliminates the need for line guns or cross river swims. This can all be done from the safety of shore. Sound too good to be true? It is, WITHOUT a skilled operator to leverage its capabilities and the common sense to treat such a mechanical device with the same respect as you would your own hand.
The technique most necessary in order to use the Reach with prowess and skill is best taught with a simple visualization…Once, again: IMAGINE the Reach is YOUR OWN HAND. Remember the elastic man from the FantasticFour? Morph yourself into him. For example, if you dropped your own arm into the river to to find and haul, you would not let your hand flail and bounce across the bottom of the river blindly. You would use the innate intelligence of the hand’s own mechanism carefully and decidedly. It really is that simple. The reach mechanism is built to clip securely as soon as you cross your target line, and you will feel nearly instantaneous =pull. It will feel like it’s your own extended aluminum magic hand that will clip immediately. You just haul. The constant tension on the rope will always keep the connection visible on the surface. If deployed from a slightly elevated bank position, then visibility is even better, as your hand is now out of the water. Try imagining the Reach is a treasured team member; one that’s volunteered to risk its life to perform a very brave task: flying out and plunging in to retrieve whatever it is tasked to save. It’s depending on you to protect it through its entire trajectory It will be your best friend in a pinch and if you treat is as such it will surely never let you down. For your part, try not to let the reach DOWN, keep it UP and off the bottom of the river.As a simple reminder, try holding your breath when you throw the Reach and don’t inhale until it’s back in your hand or until the auto-knot is secure,whichever comes first.
Practice does make perfect and swift! The vision of protection induced by these simple precepts is like a three-hundred-sixty-degree expansion of remote possibilities for rapid location, attachment and vector application of force to a stranded or entrapped partner. Additional Reach lines can be added from any angle …depending on the unique nature of vectors needed to aid in extrication. Traditional methods of stabalization using cross river lines may need to be deployed quickly in more complex pins, these too can be quickly established by remote connection… I highly recommend that traditional methods of rope based stabalization and extrication be understood and practiced in the river setting…. Its important to experience the increased time required to set them up, the additional trained rescuers required, the terrain limitations for ideal deployment, the additional gear and generally good access to both sides of the river. These systems are currently more ubiquitous in the downriver setting currently and it is wise to know their limitations.. Please know however that all of these traditional evolutions are useless if the victim cant be located or accessed quickly. The victim may not be able to help themselves in any way…and creating a functional cinch around them can be quite a challenge…especially if you cant find them or they are getting slammed by strong water pressure. Experience with the full Reach System will help insure confidence that this is no contrived theoretical methodology, don’t let bias against new techniques and equipment obstruct your view, but keep an open critical mind until repeated introductions have induced a familiarity that will likely become irreversible. There are many highly experienced early adopters that have an absolute conviction in this new mode of protection. To reiterate…the system requires a good understanding of the basic concepts of swiftwater rescue…the importance of utter certainty in the tight control of rope in moving water, and an implicit confidence in the process of release of all components…there location, function and feel. There should be complete clarity about not substituting line capture for well developed aggressive swimming and paddling skills in the avoidance of terminal features. These are the primary umbrella of protection…and it would be tragic if the inexperienced inappropriately start depending on tag lines and line capture as a substitute for basic skill development. However, I consider a wearable, jettisonable tagline as an ESSENTIAL piece of PPE…rapid access is fundamental to river safety…however they must be free of potential accidental release while boating aggressively, or swimming aggressively, allow full athletic aggressive swim performance,not bulky, but tight and streamlined so as to not impede head first travel over strainers or ease of entry into boats. If they are designed to be worn and used as a tag/escape line they should have redundant, technically competent quick releases for the escape line to the lifejacket These are the basics of the full Reach Protection System. You might ask: why add an additional piece of PPE when its possible to retrofit a Reach bag onto a PFD, or to add your own tag line on your PFD…perhaps stuffed into a pouch or customized bag, or even push for manufacturers to enhance their PFD’s for line capture, by installing some form of quick release tag line into the PFD design. In fact, the original Reach Professional system IS designed to retrofit and has been reviewed in a previous issue of TR by Jim Segerstrom. Its functionality depends on the standard QRHS system ubiquitous to rescuer PFD’s. This is one good option. Always on, no separate donning issues. Makes sense and lets you retrofit easily off your PFD. Rather than trying to convince you to follow dogma sideways, I’d like to provide some concrete examples where line capture can speed the deployment of rope based systems for professional rescuers and boaters alike;. Entrapments…or “where the full weight of the flow has you stuck.” This includes foot entrapments, pins, sieves, keeper-hydraulics, catchermitt-type holding eddies, undercuts, large re-circulating erosion pockets(rooms of doom) etc. Rescue options here are often doomed to dim. Why? Two dead batteries can’t start a car. Entrapment is the most extreme urgency in the need for rapid location,( where are you?), access, airway support ,rope deployment (usually requires access to both sides of the river), secure attachment, and the rapid application of vector forces to extricate. Its a lot to do in a very short period of time and rarely is the tyranny of circumstance on your side. The full Reach System, a team based system of integrated harness/jettisonable throw-bag AND Reach, equipping each member of the TEAM was designed to jolt enough charge into each of your safety batteries to jump start the rescue as soon as a remote connection is made. It’s that simple. No Guarantees, but just having such quick and functional options at every stage of the rescue land great prospects for good fortune on your side. Example 1: You find yourself in a horrendous storm, with massive flooding and you are called out with your swiftwater team. You are now carefully wading through a flooded city street at night, ‘mined’ with debris, in minimal current, searching for the stranded. You are in egress phase of the flood. Suddenly there are only two of you-your teammate has vanished. You notice a small whirl on the surface and Immediately suspect a storm drain. Your partner is completely submerged 25ft. away, in the center of it. He is wearing a jettisonable throw-bag . He is able to jettison his bag with one hand. It floats to the surface and there is enough current to float it downstream. He is now located and a line is already attached to him for attempting extrication.You grab your bag off of your harness, grab a Reach and quickly cross clip the floating line remotely, all from a safe distance away from the vortex of the storm drain. Your protection system has COMPRESSED TIME. Your victim expanded his profile, extended his tag line, defined his position, aided in his own search/location/access. His teammates quickly located and captured the extended line remotely and..started applying vectors to support and attempt to extricate. All elements of this rescue were accomplished within seconds. Two 1/3 charged batteries connected to spark the rescue…the other charge comes from the tension field created when working in harmony. Nice….. Example 2. An Upper Cherry Creek kayaker runs a huge drop and flails at the base, wet exits but get sucked into a large erosion pocket (room of doom) and recirculates visciously. He is unable to grab onto several throw-bags, thrown from very sketchy belay positions, high above the erosion pocket with 25ft vertical granite walls on all sides. He cannot cross the eddy fence-just too strong. He jettisons his wearable throw-bag and is able to direct it across the eddy fence downstream. It courses downstream on the surface within easy cross clipping range of several of his safety team-even though they are well above the slick granite channel. The team cross-clips his tag line and immediately hauls him across the powerful eddy fence. Once clear he decides it’s ‘best thinking’ to aggressively swim out without a line attached to him. He pulls the rope-to-webbing quick release and aggressively swims out the next drop. This is an altered outcome to several high profile expert kayaker drowning that have occurred here in California. I truly believe they were preventable deaths. Example 3. Attempting to shallow water cross to a submerged car, the lead rescuer has fortuitously used his/her belt harness system to play out a belay line set safety for the crossing, freeing the hands to focus on paddle placement to improve their chances…foot jams in a lateral ledge below the murky surface and the rescuer instantly flails, inverts head downstream…not visable from shore. Typical position for stripping a QRHS enhanced PFD…head down, arms down, PFD flushed. Having attached the belay to a separate belt below the rib cage, (still jettisionable) your teammates are quickly able to apply force from any angle to free the leg. Note…if attached to the QRHS for belay, there is a limited degree of angles of force that can be applied that will not help strip the PFD. Example 4 Establishing cross-river lines. Swimming lines is not easy, generally it takes over twice the width of the channel-which is to be crossed- in rope played out to reduce drag on the swimmer, and even more in stronger current. With line capture and a streamlined waist throw-bag designed for aggressive swimming one can swim unencumbered to the opposite shore prepared to use a Reach to capture a thrown line. This greatly reduces the need for weighted cross-river swims. If there is already a rescuer on the opposite shore…then even better…there may be no need to swim at all; Just use line capture to remotely connect to a thrown line. Wide/Large volume channels can be crossed in this manner. Rarely does the line gun need to be deployed. (remember with a line gun, SOMEBODY has to get to the opposite bank). In extreme cases the Reach can be used to safely manage the deployed line to minimize rescuer exposer at the rivers edge. It’s worth emphasizing that even at flood stage crossings there is a tremendous benefit in quickly establishing initial lines and managing large diameter-up to 1⁄2 inch static line. In flood stage testing on the Merced in Yosemite and the Tuolumne both at over 10,000cfs with channel widths over 150ft., this technique works beautifully. In fast high-volume channels its best to have the line, to be captured, thrown upstream approximately 25-50ft (depending on current speed), then letting it arc downstream. Those on the opposite shore then deploy their Reach, aimed 10ft or so from the throw-bag,towards the opposite bank, just as the bag approaches their position. This allows the two lines to cross with enough opposing velocity to capture effortlessly. If thrown accurately the river will do the work…if thrown too far past the speeding, floating line you will need to rapidly haul on the Reach to insure.capture. With practice this fundamental skill will become fluid and intuitive. This direct crossing method is the basis for developing the skills, previously mentioned, which are necessary for fully leveraging the lifesaving skills of the Reach in a wide variety of applications. Practice, Practice, Practice. Direct Crossing is THE remote capture skill that not only speeds deployment, it reduces rescuer exposure at the rivers edge and greatly reduces the need for line swimming or line-guns. It insures that you will keep your capture skills finely honed for when they’re really needed. I acknowledge that this is just the tip of the berg, but in interest of brevity,(and to avoid taking medication for book dust allergies), I’ll group the next set of applications under a single heading. Example 5 Snagging: Necessity is the mother of invention and what a mother! It Transforms lack and weakness into opportunity. Upon examination, it turns out that the perceived fear of snagging on the bottom of the river, easily avoided with vigilance, and can be harnessed to earn the Reach a first class ticket on the rescue truck or guaranteed space in every downriver rescue rack..or best yet ON YOU 24/7 when at risk. This capture device has been volunteering to perform in desperate circumstances, to save face, prevent tethered swims and retrieve gear/boats in nasty places. Honestly I get more reports of tremendous appreciation and gratitude lumped under the category of snagging/retrieving/gaining access than from any other application. Expedition rafters, kayakers and professional rescuers alike have reported many, many examples of the Reach being used to access wrapped boats otherwise inaccessible without risk, to retrieve kayaks stuck in hydraulics or pinned. This prevented dangerous tethered swims or resorting to complex high line systems to retrieve them. My personal experience is that in one season on the upper and lower Tuolumne alone, I used a Reach 4 times in 3 dangerous wraps and on one Sotar stuck in a room of doom. It was locked and inaccessible across a 60ft steep drop. I was stuck on a rock in the middle of the Cherry Creek, alone and screwed, my boatmates flushed downstream. It would have been desperate as there was no way to access the Sotar without hours of technical rope work. BUT, I pulled off my wearable throw-bag, attached a Reach. My first throw bounced off the bottom of the boat, the second throw landed beyond the raft. So, I pulled it back gently and clipped the flip line. Result: I got the Sotar back to me within 10 minutes of the initial carnage to the slack jawed amazement of my boating partners. It was Slick, quick and there was ‘0’ risk. Nice… Here are a just a few brief examples of experience in the ‘snagging category’.They are all authentic reports from the field: Snagged chute lines stuck in canopy, especially cargo during relief operations, Last chance belay with a Reach actually stopped a 2 ton hovercraft during engine failure and uncontrolled float. Using the Reach to help guide rafts downstream during dangerous portages/ Climbers using a Reach to snag rope next to wall during falls off overhangs ,preventing long a lower and repeat. Remotely connecting to threaded lines under submerged objects in moving water ,Remotely attaching to crashed hang glider guidelines to safely tie off and secure injured pilot on a cliff. Snagging tangled lines to help free whales in open ocean….Attaching to typical ‘missed man’-overboard devices in heavy seas Attaching to extended throw-lines from rescue swimmers in coastal caves during rescue in heavy surf. Using Reach to remotely attach to runaway boats in large volume rivers…also using to last chance belay into must catch exits or eddies above terminal features. Aid in Lining, portaging, gaining access to pinned, broached or wrapped boats. Snagging brush/roots on opposite shore of high risk stream crossings to set up protective tension ferry for initial lead crosser…key in high risk stream crossings for SAR, Mountaineering,…trekkers . Blah, Blah, Blah…you get the picture. . Lastly, …no words can do justice to direct, immediate, immersive experience. Please know this, as much as the Reach System is a cutting edge protection system with a wide variety of applications, capturing its essence and potential of the system requires getting your swim on, practicing the basics to appreciate its potential. Enhanced protection is the unifying motivation, path and goal. Reach Quarterbacking/ Protecting the Now In moments of crisis or danger there is often an experience of slowing down our perceptual apparatus to the point where it expands the ‘Now”…an expanded apprehension of the emergent moment…a “rescue satori” that is a window of opportunity that allows us to respond more effectively. Neuro Scientists tell us this cross-referencing within our perceptual system from emergent stimuli to response takes one fifth of one quarter of a second. In this instant we simulate our past experience to emulate a future outcome allowing us to make quality judgements in the PRESENT. Now= 1/5/1/4 of a second. Nike would be pleased… like watching time flow in the field of action in slow motion, so slow in fact we have infinite time if your skill-set permits Similar to the feeling of free fall just before the parachute opens, or running a big drop in big water. This window of expanded opportunity compressed within time is often lost when our training or equipment cannot keep pace with the “now” Its my sincere hope that in the most challenging of circumstances rescuers of all stripes…professional, and boating teams evolve to better capture these emergent moments of “strange clarity” with higher and higher resolution to prevent adverse outcomes. Once learned and more widely taught rescuers will hopefully engage and train with a new vigor, with and expanded sense of opportunity and thicker protection. Whoever manages to expose themselves, immerse themselves in the basics of line capture and stay conscious and vigilant during excitement and danger, practicing in their minds eye their essential role as potential rescuer AND rescuee at all times will find the Reach System a fear reducer and confidence producer turning your boating or rescue TEAM into a wiser, safer and more capable team. This is in a nutshell what a protection system should aspire to do.
Michael Croslin MD
PPE = Personal Protective Evolve-Op….Equipment PFD= Personal Flotation Device