The low season is upon us, and tour guide training is in full swing. The tours guides started off their training with basic refresher courses in our Phong Nha headquarters, led by Deb Limbert and Howard Limbert of the British Cave Research Association. Their two full days included reviewing ropes, practicing rope ascending, taking turns abseiling off of Oxalis Home, putting harnesses on customers, clipping into safety lines, making customers feel comfortable on ropes, as well as a public speaking & effective communication course to improve interactions with customers.
After the end of their refresher course, the team headed off on a group trip to Saigon, where training would continue both at the Vertical Academy and outdoors at Buu Long Park. The team was split into different groups and they started at Vertical Academy with theory classes run enthusiastically by Cedric Deguilhem, Director of Operations at the Academy. Cedric is a Petzl importer and distributor, and he trains people in occupational safety and rope access work. He certifies those working on offshore oil rigs, as lighting riggers, and he has recently updated his course to make it more appropriate for caving (which is perfect for Oxalis)! His friendly demeanor and excellent Vietnamese made him a huge hit with the tour guides.
The morning of the first day included lessons on proper use and care of equipment, including how to check, clean, and store gear. Cedric taught the history of how and why each piece of equipment is used, and how to determine the level of wear and tear on such equipment as harnesses, carabiners, ropes, helmets, lights and more. It gave our newer tour guides a chance to familiarize themselves with some equipment which was less well-known to them, such as hand jammer ascenders, grigri belay devices and descenders. Our more senior tour guides helped oversee our junior tour guides as they continue to acquire more caving and technical skills.
The afternoon of the first day continued with lessons on static vs dynamic ropes, the theory behind fall factor and why this knowledge is so vital in injury prevention, and an introduction to bolting and creating new routes. Cedric explained how on the final day they would go to the mountain to actually bolt and create new routes. In the meantime, he instructed them on how bolting is done, how to drill by hand, what part of the limestone to drill into, and then how to do a handline.
Most tour guide groups were given a couple days off to review the things they had learned so far, go over their notes, and practice on their own. Of course they also had time to enjoy themselves, country boys getting to explore the big city of Saigon — they had a blast!
The second official day of training proceeded with an extensive review of knot tying and its importance in climbing and use of safety ropes. Everyone went over the use of each type of equipment and gained practice in using it all quickly and efficiently. They had fun abseiling on descenders, climbing, belaying, and continuing their lessons in ropes. Cedric taught the importance of changing out ropes, how to do it properly, and what deviation is. Each tour guide had a chance to apply the lectures of the morning session and the previous day’s teachings.
On the last day, the great outdoors awaited the tour guides as they made their way to Buu Long Park, an hour away from Saigon, to test their prowess and get some last practice in before the course finished up. Here they were able to try out their new skills of bolting and creating new routes, taking everything they learned in consideration, such as fall factor and the best placement of bolts in limestone rock. They also had the opportunity to perfect their abseiling, climbing, and belaying capabilities.
The training course in Saigon has increased the excitement of the tour guide team, according to tour guide Kien, who said that the guides are all ready to come back to Phong Nha and further explore our caves with new exhilaration. He also noted that the training has made the guides more confident when using ropes and caving equipment.
The tour guide team is looking forward to honing their skills at our office throughout the rest of the rainy period, in preparation of a busy season ahead starting November 9. In the meantime, stay tuned for a posting about our upcoming annual team building trip!