This has been sat in my drafts folder for ages, so I’ve updated and published it today to continue my current theme of kit reviews and thoughts. Below is a photo of 4 of my Figure-of-8 descenders from the Peak Instruction kit store. 2 have had a maximum of a dozen abseils, the other 2 have had a recorded 300 abseils in 3 sessions over the last few months.

There are two pairs of identical 8’s here, one by DMM and one by CAMP, one of each has been used 300 times and one used only a dozen times.
The wear grooves you can see are not just through the red anodisation but are distinct enough for me to place a finger nail into, almost matching the contour of it perfectly.
The other wear around the outside of the larger ring is scratching caused from the 8’s being pulled up the abseil back to the top for the next abseiler.

I have 2 observations on this:

Pulling the 8’s back up the crag to reset the system has dramatically impacted the lifespan and appearance of the descenders. I have been monitoring these for burrs or other sharp edges and will bin as soon as they inevitably appear.
If possible, have plenty of 8’s so the clients can walk them back to the top, which is not something I’ve been practically able to do at Tegg’s Nose quarry where they have been used.

Secondly, the quality, age, cleanliness and suppleness of the ropes you use for abseiling on is a factor in the wear. The 1st 100 abseils I used nearly new Mammut Performance 10mm static in the dry and the wear was only just becoming noticeable to the touch. The second 100 abseils I used a shorter, but older & stiffer Mammut rope. It was a wet day and the rope soon became dotted with sand and grit. This day caused almost all of the main wear on the rope contact surfaces. The 3rd set of 100 abseils was done on a nice supple Beal 9mm and I could not really tell any difference between the state of the 8’s before or after the day despite it being a wet day and some grit getting onto the ropes.

I have concluded that I shall now try to have clients walk the descenders back to the top at crag/quarry abseils to reduce the scratching on the outer surfaces. I may need to have a few more descenders available but that is probably cheaper in the long run.
I’ll also be sticking with my nice supple 9mm Beal ropes, making sure they stay clear and grit free in use as much as possible. The added advantage of 9mm is that most clients will get a smoother abseil over 10mm stiff rope and I can always use a higher friction descender, like a DMM Anka, for heavier clients.

One final observation: CAMP use a slightly softer alloy on their 8’s than DMM do. The wear difference, although not huge, is still noticeable.

First Look at Gleistein GeoStatic NE 9mm semi-static rope

Here is a quick set of initial observations on Gleistein GeoStatic NE semi-static rope. A full write up will follow in the future.

So, a few weeks ago I was chatting to a caving friend of mine who has turned outdoor gear importer/supplier and was told about a new type of semi-static rope available in the U.K. The reason this particular rope caught my attention was down to it’s specs, the sheet described a 9mm rope with full Type A certification and a strength exceeding that of Beal 10mm Antipodese, I had to get some!
The rope in question has just landed at Hitch n Hike in the Peak District and I ran down there today after work to collect a length for testing. What I’ve got here is just a few initial observations for the interested caver.

I was aiming for a 30 metre length after shrinkage so was expecting to be buying around 34m today. An examination of the GeoStatic data sheet showed a shrinkage of only 0.7%, thats 70cm in 100m! The rope must be pre-shrunk before being placed on reels to get a figure that low. I opted for 32m to be on the safe side.

Edit – It’s now March 2014, a year and a half after buying. I’ve just re-measured this rope and it is just over 29m, a shrink of 3m since purchase. This is a shrink of about 9% in longer term use. For comparison I also re-measured a length of Beal Spelenium Gold which had shrunk from 32m to 27m over its 3 year life so far, 15.6% shrinkage from the cut length.

Handling & appearance:
You are in no doubt that it is a 9mm rope, a coil of 31m looks like it could fit in a handbag, a significant size reduction on the Mammut Performance semi-static I generally use. It handles like a supple dynamic half rope, bending almost flat as you make a teardrop in your hand and not feeling at all stiff as you turn it to form knots.
The rope is apparently manuractured in a number of different main colours, all with a common single white line woven spirally. The colour currently available from Hitch n Hike is orange, so would not look out of place underground alongside the current Mammut orange rope (+double black fleck). Other colours like blue may result in people asking if you are using dynamic rope!
The single white band corresponds with the generally accepted method of identifying 9mm ropes with a single line of flecks – Beal use a single line of red and black and Mammut a single black line.

Preparation for use:
As with all new ropes, the first thing I do is soak them in a bucket of water. This serves a duel purpose, allowing the rope to shrink and washing any residue of the manufacturing process off (that slippy white liquid). The shrinkage I will measure and report back on. The rope appears to have been pre washed and shrunk because after one hour there has been no discolouration to the water. The rope’s colour changes to a nice dark shade of orange once wetted, a small point but you’d easily be able to tell if it was dry.

Next step:
I will leave the rope to soak over night and hang to dry tomorrow. I will measure the length to the nearest half metre and mark it up with gear tape.
I’ll be using the rope as much as possible in the coming weeks to get a real feel for it. After a dozen or so uses I’ll remeasure it and report on any further shrinkage.

I’ll put up a more in depth reveiw of the rope after I’ve used it a bit more, but for now the manufacturer’s site is here and the Hitch n Hike site is here.

Gleistein GeoStatic NE 9mm
4% stretch
0.7% shrinkage
39/61 sheath to core ratio
27kN breaking strength (epic)
54g per metre

The 2012 Season Gets Going

2012 has had one of the slowest starts to the outdoor season for many years. Every instructor I’ve spoken too recently has reported a far poorer April than recent years.
It has been no different here, the first few months have been quiet but it has allowed me plenty of time to prepare for the year ahead, road testing some new ideas and forging new parnerships.

One of the first new items you may have seen is the addition of more films via our YouTube channel. All these have been shot so far on my Olympus Tough camera which will be a standard part of the kit for any day out with Peak Instruction. Photo & video memories, especially in the digital age, are really important and we will provide as many memories of your day as we can.
To take this a step further our new GoPro HD Hero camera is on its way to our office. A truely go anywhere system that can be mounted on a helmet, kayak or anything you can think of and can accompany groups through their whole caving trip or give a climbers-eye view of a rock climbing experience. We will also be using the GoPro to produce a number of cave ‘trailers’ to give people a taste of what they may experience on a day with Peak Instruction. I may even find the time to record a few of our local kayak runs to inspire you to have a go.

The next new area to our service is not really new at all. In the background Beth has been producing caving undersuits on demand to cave instructors for a few years but soon we’ll be offering the same fully tailored items to clients and the public.
Her suits are made to measure out of whatever weight fleece you desire and most importantly from an unlimited pallet of designs. Chances are that if you’ve seen a crazy looking suit in the Derbyshire area, it could be one of Beth’s.
It’s not just cave suits, we’ll be introducing outdoor gear repairs, group survival shelters and canoe sails, and this is just the start.
Keep a look out for the outdoor kit specific page on our site – appearing this spring/summer.

We are also planning on introducing a new selection of activites to our range, including things like archery, bushcraft and raft building. I’ve also been working on some corporate/team building adventure packages.

I believe we are all the masters of our own destiny and although the economic climate is not as bouyant as we’d like, a positive approach to the future is our goal. We’ll continue to seek improvement in every aspect of our service throughout 2012 and into the future.

The Common Lizard

So, how many of you have ever seen a ‘common’ Lizard?

This little one was brought to me last week on a baking hot day by a group of kids from the Notts area. It must have been fresh out from its winter sleep as it was really dosile until I put it near a stream in the sun and it shot off.
Not one of the group of kids who’d assembled had ever seen a lizard before (outside a zoo), in fact most did not even know that we had them in this country.
Now this is forgivable, I’ve not seen many myself. I’ve only ever seen one Adder despite being outdoorsy all my life.
What is shocking is that some kids coming to the Peak District have never seen a sheep before! Some people do not have the luxury of escaping to the countryside either because of background, society or money and those kids who never leave the city miss out on those experiences that some of us take for granted.

The moral of the story – assume nothing and be prepared to introduce people to everything you are already used to. A perfect opportunity to inspire and encourage a love of the natural world and a reason to stay passionate about it as a practitioner.
Not everyone has the same experiences and peoples’ backgrounds can be poles apart, even in the same country. After all, they could probably tell you loads that you don’t know – all about their local graffiti tags or Angry Birds and other stuff, even if they have never seen a Common Lizard.

Practice Makes Permanent

“Practice Makes Perfect” – Not necessarily.

To learn a new skill or movement we must repeat it over and over again so that it passes from Short Term Memory into Long Term Memory. Repeated practice forms a memory ‘engram’ which is like a brain program in computing terms.
Skills only retained in the STM will fade if not used and be unreliable, often they have to be accessed consciously, i.e. you have to think about it to do it.
Skills practiced until they become instinctive will have fixed themselves into LTM and are available to us on a subconscious level, i.e. you will react to external stimulus without having to think.

“Practice Makes Permanent”

It is at the stage where we try to commit the skill or movement into LTM that it is most important that we are precise with our practice.
Practicing a skill poorly will create a LTM of that poor skill, simply repeating a bad skill will never make it better, only harder to correct. Changing a skill that is set in our LTM is far harder than learning the skill correctly in the first place.

As a coach we must strive for perfection in our learners otherwise we are simply allowing them to absorb a sub-standard skill. In the long term they will not thank us for the extra work they have to do in the future to correct a poorly learnt skill. It is our job to find ways of making this perfect practice enjoyable and varied to keep our learners happy.

As learners ourselves it is important to know when to stop practicing. Tiredness or repetitiveness usually leads to a drop in concentration and a slipping of standards of practice. It is far better to stop and rest or move onto something else than continue to practice in a tired or agitated state. Stop, have fun, and when recovered, return to the skill.

So next time you hear “Practice Makes Perfect” you can politely correct the speaker by explaining the modern coaching take on this old phrase:

“Practice Makes Permanent – Only Perfect Practice Makes Permanent Perfection”

Varied Practice

Varied Practice:

Practicing a skill or technique with only one set of variables will produce a memory ‘engram’ (or brain ‘program’ if you like) that will be reliable when used in real life only when those same variables present themselves. The danger comes when we try to use a skill in a different scenario.
If the skill is only practiced in one scenario then the skill – however good – will only be reliable when that scenario happens.
Take a skill or technique and practice it with as many variables as possible using different environments and equipment. Only doing this creates a truely all round skill that is reliable in all environments.

Practice should be fun and even messing about with a skill is valuable learning –
Try rolling a kayak with someone hugging it!

Goal Setting For Cluttered Minds

I had a conversation recently about how when things in life build up in a huge mental to-do list we can become overwhelmed and loose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. Now I’m not talking about ‘go shopping’ type things but big life events like qualifications, marriage, work etc… My theory on this is that we can be subconsciously worried that we’ll forget about something important or something that we have to do. We won’t let the to-do list be forgotten in case we miss something. This (if your anything like me) will lead to poor sleep at night and a general inability to concentrate on other things.

The first step to clearing your head is to get it all out. Grab a pen and paper and write down everything that you are thinking about. Transfer the pressure of memory to the piece of paper and free up some mental space!
List each worry/job/task/impending event as it comes to you.
Put a timescale against the things that have a fixed date or time pressure on them.
Write down all the smaller jobs you have in the back of your mind that contribute towards the bigger items.

So now you’ve poured your concerns and jobs onto the paper you can switch off your brain without fear of forgetting things.

To begin to tackle the associated worries remember this: throwing and catching 1 ball is far easier than juggling with 5 or 6. Deal with each item one at a time in order of their deadline.
Identify the items that are not important and move them to the bottom of your list.
Write down things that you need to do , even if its only one sleep away i.e. ‘Ring Dave in morning re interview’.

Work through your list methodically over time and always add new items in but more importantly, don’t forget to cross out what you’ve done. This is a huge mental relaxer as you’ll be able to see that you’re making progress.

I am an obsessive diary scribbler, I regularly take notes of things I need to do, even on that day I’ll be doing them and also making notes of what I’ve done. When idle my diary tends to sit open and display the colour co-ordinated year planner with all my work and meeting commitments.
I’ve done this for years but have only now come to realise as a result of that conversation that this is my own coping strategy and the staring at the year planner is probably all down to my dominant visual learning/memory style.

In summary – Don’t keep everything in your head, get it down on paper so you can switch off.

Anyone who is involved in coaching will know the benefit of goal setting to learners but how many of us have really tried to apply the same coaching principals we use on others to our own lives. Next time you have a problem, think ‘how would I coach someone through this?’ and apply answer to yourself.

Lastly, never forget that you have friends and partners to talk to. A problem shared…..