This Sunday was our first field day for WTS where we moved from indoor lecture to outdoor application. The first class involved dry land travel and learning to navigate various mountain terrain including trails, slopes, rivers, boulders, talus, scree, and more.
Boulders you're probably familiar with. They're basically big huge rocks. Smaller than boulders but anything bigger than about a softball is talus. Smaller than that is scree. These are basically big fields of rocks and hiking through this sort of terrain made me so excited I felt like I was gonna pop!
It was so fascinating learning how to safely navigate this sort of terrain. One of the biggest problems is when a rock gets knocked down the slope. It basically accelerating really quickly, going down with the force of gravity but also bouncing around as it descends. Within a matter of seconds, a rock turns into a deadly projectile.
We learned several ways of safely traversing this terrain in groups:
1) Zig-zag. Basically when you're in narrow areas, the leader of the group hikes at an angle, up and across the slope, and the rest of the group follows. The idea is to not have anyone standing behind someone hiking so that if a rock gets loose, it will roll freely down the hill without hitting anyone. When the leader gets to the side of the pass, they actually stop and wait for the rest of the group to catch up before turning back the opposite direction. With larger groups, this method can be pretty time consuming as you walk sideways and have to stop and wait for people.
2) If you want to move faster, you can basically have people walk really closely together up the slope. The idea here is that if a rock gets knocked loose, the next person in line will be very close so the rock won't have a chance to speed up and injure or kill the people behind. I like this technique because it helps you ascend faster, plus there's a sense of comfort in hiking closer to other people when you're in dangerous territory. I know this was common in the military for soldiers to march closer together and they have to be told specifically to spread out...
3) If you have a wide area like the one pictured here, have everyone walk up the slope together horizontally in line. Since people are walking side-by-side, there's no one behind to get hit by the loose rocks. This only works when the field is wide enough for everyone to do so.
When a rock gets knocked down, you're supposed to yell "ROCK!" repeatedly so that those downhill will know that danger is coming and to immediately take cover. Even if you drop a water bottle or camera and it starts tumbling down, you're still supposed to yell rock. If you yell out "Water bottle!", the people downhill may simply respond "No, thanks!", thinking that you're wondering if they're thirsty... lol... any object that starts going downhill becomes a deadly object when moving at high speeds and yelling rock is enough to get people's attention and get them to react, regardless of what the object falling actually is.
If you're downhill when the rock is coming at you, what do you do? You could lie down, hoping it'll bounce over you, you could try and Jackie Chan it and jump sideways, hoping you jump out of the way... What's recommended to do if you have time is to hide behind a big boulder. However, the thing is you may have 3 seconds or less to react and walking on this sort of terrain is very challenging. Often times you won't have time to get out of the way. If you do, awesome, but what if you don't? Well the front of your body is tender and vulnerable. The best thing to do here is turn around and put your back to the rock. If you're wearing a pack, that'll add extra protection. Then you simply crouch down and cover your head with your hands. Make yourself as small as possible and hope it doesn't hit you. Sure if you get hit with a rock going 100 mph, it's gonna hurt and send you flying, but trying to avoid getting hit and minimizing damage is what it's about here. We practiced this over and over and our instructor would periodically yell out "Rock!", giving us a chance to react and respond accordingly.
This sort of terrain is actually pretty hard to walk on and you have to check your footing with each step, not only getting a solid place to stand on, but also making sure you don't send rocks tumbling downhill...