This was the training day, and if you are thinking about doing any of the Avalanche Endurance Events outside of the Fan Dance then you will need to go through this. You can read about my evening before here. I had done the training day as part of Point To Point (and you can read about that day here) but I had decided that time spent with the Avalanche Endurance Events Directing Staff is never time badly spent, so it was worth doing all over again.
It rained overnight. I woke up around 0600 and it sounded like a real downpour was going on outside, so I stayed in my sleeping bag. When I did finally emerge the rain was nowhere near as heavy as it had sounded, and it had fully cleared by 0800.
Breakfast had been very good in a one of everything sort of way and we all met in the marquee for the morning briefing, where it was explained that as well as fitting in a course photograph, this morning we would have training sessions on medical matters from DS Matt and communications, which was already set up and ready to go in the marquee, with Ken telling us that we would learn all we needed to know about communications from Dave Humm, the Signals Officer. Those with surnames A-M were to head inside for the medical training, and those with surnames M-Z were to remain in the marquee for the communications training. As people left the marquee those instructions were repeated by DS Stu but I think things got lost in translation because when I showed up at the medical training there appeared to be a mixture of surnames from both groups. I was not going to say a thing, because I had already seen DS Stu handing out sickeners to those who arrived late at the briefing. As we moved off to our respective groups I caught up with Mark Pidgen and found out that while he had been delayed coming down, the real reason he had arrived so late was because he had been directed to another couple of reservoirs before finally getting to the correct one. It definitely brought back memories of my journey down for Point To Point !
I went to the dining area for the medical training, where Ken introduced Matt to us as a “less fearsome DS”, which is interesting because I know that for a few on the actual Point To Point event he was the DS people feared the most. The thing is, Matt is a GP, and he very clearly knows what he is talking about, which means there is absolutely no way you could bluff your way past him at an RV if you were not fit to continue. I had really enjoyed his training sessions at Point To Point and from the very beginning I knew we were in for more of the same as he told us the point he was going to deal with in this session was “how the fuck do I get this guy off the hill and into a hospital”. I should make it clear that when he said “this guy” there was no reference whatsoever to Mick Henderson ! Having confirmed that Disposal & Evacuation had nothing to do with throwing a guy into a hedge, Matt moved on to the more practical side of his session, where he would be using Andrew Heller, who is a paramedic in real life, as his model, “to take him out of the equation so he can’t gob off at me.” For those of us who had been through this training before, we were reminded that he who looks towards Heaven will shortly be there, and Matt proceeded to demonstrate all manner of dressings and techniques which were intended to keep as much of that 5 litres of blood inside the body as possible.
He also demonstrated a number of ways to stop the circulation, remarking that it is “always a relief when it comes back” after the demonstration. We all had a practice of doing that this time around, and, as another change from last time, were shown how to use a splint. All in all, it had been another excellent session from Matt, very practical and very relevant, and easy to understand and digest.
We did not immediately switch over groups, instead being told to get the bergens we would be using tomorrow so we could go through bergen packing. I also presumed there would be a kit test like last time, although that was not announced. I took the opportunity to have my bergen weighed by DS Stu, and without any water or food it was spot on the 30lbs I was being required to carry. I have to confess that in my current injured and unwell state I had some reservations about the weight, but the reality of the situation is that ‘only’ carrying the essentials for survival in this terrain would not have brought the weight down by very much. It was what it was, and I would be using a much more appropriate bergen this time around, having liberated the Karrimor SF Sabre 45 with side pockets from Kramar, and the size of that bergen would make it a lot easier for me to get the weight higher on my back than the oversized Berghaus Cyclops Crusader I used for Point To Point, so that was encouraging me. As we waited for Ken to join us, DS Stu allowed people to come forward to take a photograph of the assembled group, and, of course, I took my opportunity.
Now I stoood with my bergen on the ground in front of me and wondered how this kit check would go. The principle was simple – they would call out an item of kit and we would retrieve it from our bergen while keeping our eyes closed. I remembered how surprised/shocked I had been at the Point To Point training day when people were asked to produce their first aid kits from their bergen and so many could not, and I was surprised/shocked once more when the same thing happened here. For me it is the first thing selected and the last thing packed so that I have easy and immediate access to it at all times. We went through a number of items (waterproof, cooking gear, dry clothing in a waterproof bag, tent/basha, flask) and each time someone did not have the item they got sickeners. Some people got multiple sets. These were all essential items of kit and there was really no excuse to not have them. One guy appeared to have a full bergen but none of the items being called out, so I dread to think what he actually had in there. Ken was suitably unimpressed and made his feelings known.
For those of us who had actually packed a bivi bag and poncho we now had a demonstration from DS Stu with a commentary from Ken as to how to use them to make an emergency basha to save yourself on the hills, with DS Stu getting into a standing position in his bivi bag before taking his poncho from his bergen and using his bergen to hold it securely as he crouched underneath it. Ken explained how this method had been used for survival on Selection and that seemed to make it sink in.
We split into our two groups again and carried on with practical demonstrations, the group I was in going to a space outside of the marquee for DS Matt to take us through a vapour wrap and a poncho stretcher, ably assisted this time by Gunter Trznnek. For the vapour wrap you start off with a groundsheet, add one rollmat, put a poncho on top of that, and then lie one Gunter on top, so that there is insulation between him and the ground. You pad him out with some clothing and then wrap the layers around him, tucking in all the edges, before finishing it all off with a wooly hat.
Gunter confirmed that he had got warmer since he had been inside the vapour wrap, which showed just how quickly it worked. Gunter must have wondered what on earth he had let himself in for as DS Matt continued with this practical session by demonstrating a poncho stretcher. One poncho, one rollmat for comfort, and six guys about to lift you off the ground using only the handles on the poncho.
Anything could happen from here. Fortunately DS Matt remained in control and Gunter was gently raised and then lowered without any complications. The groups swapped over and Ken took us through a recommended clothing kit list by getting dressed in front of us. I am not sure there is anything more to be said about that.
The message was passed out that everyone was to meet up for the group photograph, and I walked over to the location with DS Nick, enjoying a very interesting conversation with him, during which I learned a lot, although nothing whatsoever about him.
Those of us who had been at Point To Point remembered the hour we had spent taking the group photograph back then, and DS Stu seemed to have learnt a few lessons from that experience, getting us lined up and into formation much quicker this time around.
The photograph was set up with a line of people perched precariously above the water, and in not very much time at all we were done and filing off to have individual photographs taken before heading back to camp for lunch and the final classroom training sessions.
I enjoyed chicken with pasta while listening to DS Stu handing out sickeners to people who were questioning the instructions for the afternoon he was writing on to the board. Just go to the lesson you had not gone to in the morning, and do not ask questions. Keep your head down. Or face the inevitable sickeners.
I went to the communications training with Dave Humm and Lee Colebrook where they checked that all the radios were properly set up, went through our callsigns, and then allowed us some time to practice talking over the net. I had done this during Point To Point so I was feeling confident with that and helped some others feel more at home with it. Once you get going and get over any feeling of self-consciousness you realise just how simple it is. Dave talked us through additional communications kit while we were waiting for the other group to finish up, and also gave us his location for the event, making it clear that it was not an RV, and if we did happen to take a route past him then we would have selected the wrong route. It was a pity we would not be going past him because it had been a real boost seeing him on the way to RV2 at Point To Point. It had been another excellent training session to round off the communications and medical elements of the training day.
We were sent off to get ready for the nav ex. We had already been given the route we would be taking (which was on the opposite side of the valley to where we had gone during the Point To Point nav ex on training day) and a part of me was wondering if I could give it a miss to save my hamstrings for the next day, but everyone else was getting ready to go and I knew it would look strange if I did not join them. Last time I had worn my far too heavy Scarpa boots for the nav ex, and this time I was better prepared by wearing my Merrell All Out Rush trail running shoes, although my choice of a cotton tshirt and a hoodie (albeit an AAE Winter Fan Dance hoodie) was hardly inspired. We formed up in two ranks and doubled off. I had already decided to fall in at the back and speed march as far as possible, which served me well to a stile where we were told to take a bearing. I was able to take a bearing without any problem, although I was a little uncertain about where I was supposed to be taking the bearing to because “the other side of the field” opened up a multitude of possibilities. I knew where I was on the map. In fact, I knew precisely where I was on the map because of a few of the surrounding landmarks, and from that I knew where we would be heading from here. I crossed the field to another stile and then began a walk up an enclosed track, with rocks underfoot. It should have been an easy walk because it was not very steep at all but I was struggling from the beginning, feeling it around my right knee, and generally through my body. Not having been able to run for the previous 5 or 6 weeks and now having a cold was immediately taking its toll. I pushed on, catching up with groups of people as they stopped with the DS to check where they were on the map, my mind far more on getting to the top of the hill than dealing with the navigation points which I was comfortable with. I was getting hot under my hoodie, and could feel the damp sweat in my tshirt, and was left with a quandary because I knew I was getting a little too hot, but also knew that if I took off my hoodie I would be a little too cold. I kept it on. DS Nick went past me and asked if I was too hot. I replied that I was all right. He asked if I was sure, and I replied that I was. He pushed on past me. I was now at the back with a gap to the group in front of me and DS Matt caught up with me. He also asked me if I was too hot. I gave the same reply as I had to DS Nick, because I am nothing if not consistent, and he walked along with me as I explained my injury problems, and tried my best to make them sound manageable. I mentioned how I had run the Judgement Day obstacle course race at Copehill Down the weekend before because I wanted to go through the FIBUA village, having been through one previously when I was in the Officers’ Training Corps at university, and that it had been a long, tough course, but I had finished it. Matt asked which university I had been at and that was when we discovered we had both been at the same university and in the same OTC, with Matt joining the year that I left. I am terrible with names but as he threw some out there I recognised most of them, and chatting with him brought back some excellent memories, which I certainly needed to ward off the sense of frustration I was feeling as I dragged myself up this hill. I made it to the top. Eventually. From there we had to take a bearing to some woodland down below, and DS Nick made the point that woodland can, of course, disappear from the landscape. I worked with him to take a couple of other land bearings off peaks which were going nowhere, and used those to confirm the bearing I needed to take before setting off at a better pace down the slope. A better pace, but still nowhere near the pace that the load-bearing DS Nick was putting into his descent. I reached a track at the bottom of the slope and waited for the others to join me to get my next instructions, although I could see from the map where we would be going from here. DS Nick talked us through the surrounding terrain and how we could have identified it on the map without the forestry block being there, and then we were sent off to make our way to the road. I walked off the hill with James Nicholson and enjoyed a great chat with him which even included a few navigational points. We reached the road, confirmed our position with the DS and doubled back to camp. That had been a tough excursion for me and I wondered if there would be any consequences from being seen in that condition by DS Matt. It had only been 3.5 miles and 600 feet of elevation, so nothing compared to what was coming. When I got back I saw that all the others had been set to discussing navigational points in groups, and I joined Mark Pidgen to see how he was doing. Now that we were all back Ken addressed the group and he was not happy. Based on what he had seen he was sure that a number of people had not read the navigation document which had been sent out to us, and he was very disappointed that some people had not only failed to bring the specific mils compass, but had brought a compass without a Romer scale, which meant they could not use it to work out six figure grid references. These were basic failings. They were now going to move on to a practical session on RV protocol, and you could sense that was going to turn into a beasting, so I was not disappointed when Ken said the Originals were not required because we knew this from Point To Point.
More of the Originals began to arrive and it was a pleasure to see each and every one of them again. Jonathan Dando and Tony Kelly, the tabbing team machine of Rob Paine, Steve Moore and Scott Wealthall, Mike McDonald, and Charlie Martin. There were five photographs of the same layby on the noticeboard, with pins indicating a different location in the layby in each photograph. The Originals would certainly recognise that layby from Point To Point and now we knew the starting point for Ironman. From that I guessed at two possible locations for RV1. The rabbits had been set running.
It was time for dinner, which was pasta, piled high on everyone’s plates. DS Stu came up to me as I was eating mine and in a moment of panic I thought he might be wanting to talk with me about my performance on the hill earlier. No, he simply wanted me to get him his meal once I had finished mine. Panic over.
I took him a plate piled high and then it was back outside to find some more of the Originals had arrived, Gerald McCarthy, Jamie Horgan, Kate Parkes (who was not taking part, and politely declined Ian Ford’s suggestion to come and watch), Mark Pint and Jamie Turner. It was great to see such a happy bunch, and having said hello I quickly popped back into the dining area for some crumble with custard. Delicious.
I saw Graham Titcombe as we all assembled in the marquee for the evening briefing, with Ken saying to the Originals that it was an honour to see them back again. He wanted to present Kate Bent with her Point To Point patch but she had not arrived yet. After a rollcall Ken gave us his motivational speech, talking about his brother, rabbits, nature. You had to be there. If you have never experienced a Ken Jones speech then you should. You cannot help but be motivated and inspired. We were given the details for the morning, and I was on the early start again, breakfast at 0400 to be finished by 0430, then driving to the different layby points on the photographs, depending on our start times. We had to be out of base camp in the morning, so we would all be taking our cars to the layby and would be parking up in a registration plate order to be posted that evening. Ken made it very clear that once we moved into operational mode the DS would be switched on to dealing with the event, and not to providing assistance to us. It was 2030 and “as of this moment, the Ironman exercise begins.” We moved away from the marquee. Everyone appeared to be switched on. I took the opportunity to charge my telephone in case I needed it tomorrow, had a chat with Kate Bent when she did arrive and told her that her Point To Point patch was waiting for her with Ken, and then I went to my tent.
And so I returned to my tent knowing that I would need to be up at 0330. I had picked up a packed lunch for the next day and decided to drink the can of Coke now, save the crisps and the meat pie for when I returned after the event, and would pack the bag of mixed nuts and fruit and M&Ms with some others I had prepared myself. Nothing beats P2P mix ! I would be sleeping in my sleeping bag which meant I could not pack my bergen until the morning, so I made sure everything was ready and waiting to be packed as soon as the sleeping bag was stuffed inside. Just as with Point To Point, it had been an absolutely brilliant training day, full of very useful and interesting knowledge that would serve us very well during the event, all delivered by people who you trusted knew precisely what they were talking about. Their own experience spoke volumes, and I hoped I would be able to live up to that in the morning. This was it. One more sleep.
You can see more photographs from the day here.