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The glacier can wait (part 2)

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

Caving without caves?

By Natalia Morata

Making the most of resources

Originally we were going to explore glacier caves, so we had a lot of material and equipment thanks to the support of OutChile, Petzl, StartFire, Natmor Ltda, Grado Zero, AlturaStore. Ropes, harnesses, crampons, helmets, headlamps, trekking poles, ice screws, first aid kit.... We even had the Petzl NEST rescue stretcher! A real luxury! So we decided to put everything to the highest and best use.

We prepared an intense two-week programme, combining outdoor fun activities with guided exercises inside and outside the classroom.

Mode ON! Exercises and ropes

During the 2021 school year, there were no on-site classes at the school. Once the confinement was over, the return to on-site classes could not materialise because neither the school's boiler nor the pupils' bathroom was working. Without heating and bathrooms, it is not possible to accommodate the students in compliance with the minimum requirements and, unfortunately, Puerto Natales (the commune to which Puerto Eden belongs) has not been able to remedy this situation.

Our first day of activities meant the reunion of the children, who gave free rein to their energy and desire to share. In Puerto Eden they do not have a sheltered place for community activities, nor a covered and fenced park for the children to play. But thanks to the willingness of Empresa Portuaria Austral, the connectivity ramp became the playground that every child needs.

Circuits, rope swings, ropes, bouncy castle... ideal to get together and recharge your batteries.

Photos: María Isabel Tonko, Romina Pizarro, Leonardo Rivas

School camp

From Monday 22nd of November we start to get into the right land with the activities. In our expedition to El Témpanos we will use the CONAF refuge and we will have to live together and organise our daily life among all of us. So, as part of the training, we decided to make the school our base camp and spend one night in full autonomy. Sleeping at the school would also allow us to leave earlier the next day with the field activity.

Working as a team, how to make a backpack, what technical equipment to use in rope activities are some of the things we learnt before preparing dinner together and finding a little corner to fall asleep in.

Photos: Romina Pizarro, Leonardo Rivas, Natalia Morata

Training for a rescue

Living in one of the most isolated places in Chile is a privilege that brings with it many responsibilities, such as ensuring one's own survival. Puerto Eden is 26 hours by boat from Puerto Natales, i.e. from the nearest hospital. Air evacuations are rare and the posta, the village's primary health care centre, is staffed by highly committed health professionals, but has no doctor.

Self-care is important: how to feed oneself, how to dress and equip oneself for outdoor activities, what to take with you to the field depending on the activity you are going to do, etc. But it is equally important to know how to react and act in the event of a health emergency while I am in the field, a field that is often complex due to the weather conditions and the geography of the place.

For this reason, together with the Posta's TENS, Patricia, we organised a day of workshops where we learned how to identify the vital signs of an injured person, how to set up a hot spot to insulate the injured person from the cold and damp and, a great luxury, how to put a patient on the Petzl NEST stretcher. This rigid stretcher, developed by the French brand in collaboration with Spéléo Secours Français, is designed for technical rescues in confined spaces and with ropes, including, due to its complexity, speleological rescues.

The techniques shared on the use of the stretcher and the hot spot are typical of a rescue course and, to our knowledge, have never been taught in Chile before. The children understood them perfectly and were able to apply them in the field on the following days on the surface.

Photos: Leonardo Rivas, Romina Pizarro, Natalia Morata

School drill

Learning, in a playful way, about the risks of our activities and how to act in the event of an emergency allows us to transmit complex concepts and helps us to manage our own fears and limitations. It also helps to internalise actions as important as communicating vital information clearly and concisely, anticipating situations or learning to form part of a team in which working in a coordinated manner allows a rescue mission to be successfully completed.

On this occasion the children simulated a speleological rescue operation. All the basic aspects of an underground rescue operation were worked on, adapting the exercise to the children. The children's ability to understand and apply the techniques in the exercise was outstanding. Again, to our knowledge, this is the first time such an exercise has been carried out in the country, not only with children, but even with adults.

Photos: Leonardo Rivas, Romina Pizarro

Rock abseiling

If there is one thing that we know that the young (and not so young) expeditioners of Puerto Eden like, it is ropes. That's why we couldn't miss a day on the walls. During the two previous visits to the school, in November 2019 and September this year, we had already been able to work on different caving techniques for rope progression: handrails, zip lines, guided ascents and descents. We still needed to start working on abseiling. For this, we decided to use the new Petzl STOP self-locking descender, and it was fun to see their little faces when they realised that they could control their own descent in an ultra-safe way!

Neither the cold nor the faint rain could deter these budding cavers! "I want to go down again!"

Photos: Romina Pizarro, María Isabel Tonko

Treasure hunt

The big day had arrived! The children didn't know it, but they were going to put all the knowledge they had acquired during the previous ten days to the test. For them, that day was an activity called "Treasure Hunt". However, that was the code name that the whole educational community, the Posta, the Carabineros, the Port Captain and the Cuerdas y Más team had given to the great search and rescue drill that we had prepared for them.

After receiving a radio call from the Port Captain on channel 16, the official channel for transmitting information of relevance to the locality, the "Cuerdas y Más" rescue team arrived at the school with a punctuality never seen in the previous days! Intrigued, attentive and completely focused, they carried out their search procedure and received instructions from the Carabineros, the Post and the coordinator of the operation. It was a search and rescue drill that they took very seriously. They had their mission sheets, tracking sheets to record the victim's vital signs and the equipment they would need to carry out the operation. The route to reach the area where the injured person was located passed along the "Cuerdas y Más" route that they themselves had opened and marked days before. Would the markings still be visible? Would any of the people accompanying them, who did not know the route, get lost?

Organised in teams of victim assistance, communication and unblocking and rescuers, our young rescue experts located the "victim" and, following the instructions received, installed him in a hot spot, set up the communication points on the stretcher route and carried out the evacuation. Surprise! The stretcher's route passed through the abseiling walls (where Leo, Felipe and Natalia had previously installed a restraint system and a zip line), then went through a small forest with slopes and obstacles, to reach the so-called "cancha", at the end of which was the checkpoint, tea and sopaipillas.

The whole operation lasted 2 hours and involved all the participants of all ages, who followed the instructions of the young team leaders, guided - in turn - by Natalia.