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Climber Self Rescue

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Last Sunday a few of us got together at a friend’s hay barn in Snohomish to practice some climber self rescue. I don’t think it’s any secret that CBS and I are Everett Mountaineers. At the committee level we’ve been talking about putting together a self rescue course for some time. We’re now workign through scenarios building a base of knowledge from which to teach. Among us were members of Everett Mountain Rescue and some of our more seasoned climbers. We were armed with David Fasulo’s book, Self Rescue, and nothing more than what we would actually carry on an alpine rock climb. For me, this was comprised of the following. While this may seem like a lot, I used every single piece as well as most of my partner’s gear.

 

2 HMS locking biners

1 ATC

5 locking biners

4 Doval biners

1 cordalette

2 sewn double runners

1 single runner

2 hero loops of 6mm perlon

1 daisy chain as a personal anchor

 

This was actually our second convening. Previously we had practiced rescuing a second, descent via counter weighted rappel and passing a knot on rappel. Also, as part of teaching the Everett Basic climbing course we were all versed in the fundamentals of emergency tie off and escaping the belay. None of that was a match for the complexity of rescuing a fallen leader who was more than half a rope length out. That was the scenario this time around. In short, this covers escaping the belay, ascending to the fallen leader, securing them to an anchor, descending to release the belay anchor tie off, re-ascending to the new anchor, set up for a rappel and descent (both assisted rappel and counter weight rappel variations,) and likely a second or more rappel if this were for real. Knots used included a variety of friction knots (prusik, klemheist, autobloc,) and a variety of releasable hitches (mule knot, munter mule, mariner knot.)

 

Most of the things that seemed excessive at first glance of Fasulo’s descriptions are actually well advised. While I initially thought this was a modestly complex affair that I could wing on the fly, I was truly humbled by how many times I trapped myself. In a real situation, that would involve reascending to clear the fat boy, and possibly having to rig a haul to relase tension on the system. Also, this seemed to take forever, almost an hour per scenario, and we were only ascending maybe 30’. Think if this were a real climb and the leader fell 100’ above you. That’s a hundred feet up, a hundred feet down, a hundred feet up… I think you get the picture. I never want to have to do this for real, but I’m glad I’ve run through this scenario, and I plan to do this a few more times till I am versed in the systems.

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Hi Tony,

 

Good on you guys for practicing that stuff. Our rescue unit recently held a "field day" at the barn and specifically trained on a single-man pick-off (retrieve a fallen leader, not on your rope - you arrive, descend to unconscious leader, secure him, transfer him to your line, release him from his rope, and descend with him to ground). While that sounds easy, it is easy to get trapped as well in this scenario. It is by far easier than what you guys were working on. Good job! I believe a lot of climbers are not thinking about these situations...

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When you try this stuff, you realize just how nice it would be to climb with half ropes. You have more options. If you have to lower a disabled leader who is more than half a rope length from the belay, the half ropes simply things greatly. It saves a one trip up the rope.

 

Lower leader to within 1/2 ropelength of belay. Tie leader off. Tie off slack rope with about a foot of slack (if lead strand anchor fails, the slack rope will catch you).

 

Ascend to ropes to the leader, build a new bomber anchor just above him. Untie slack rope from leader, pull it through top anchor, rethread through locking biner on new secure anchor and retie to climber.

 

Descend to belay and remove slack on slack rope and tie a Munter Mule to the anchor. Release hitch on the original rope holding fall until it is taken up by second rope (original slack rope). Lower climber to ground using second rope. The first rope is completely released so it can fall through top anchor.

 

Can you think of any "pitfalls" in this system? The way I see it you are depending completely on the piece that held the leader's fall, but that is no different than in the case with the single rope. It seems to me that you get redundancy by having two ropes.

 

Okay here's one. The first rope can possibly hit the victim as it falls.

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...Ascend to ropes to the leader, build a new bomber anchor just above him. Untie slack rope from leader, pull it through top anchor, rethread through locking biner on new secure anchor and retie to climber...

 

Can you think of any "pitfalls" in this system?...

 

CBS,

I'm a little unclear on this part. Isn't the (originally) slack line still anchored at the bottom at this point, with only about a foot of slack in it? How do you "...pull it through top anchor and rethread through locking biner on new secure anchor..." if it's still tied up below with only about a foot of working length? Wouldn't you need to descend to untie it, or is that an omitted, obvious step, or am I really missing something here?

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The foot of slack allows you to tie an overhand loop to the bight of the slack rope and clip it to your harness, so you don't lose it, and then to untie it from the fallen climber. Pull it through the top anchors. Rethread through new anchor you just built. Tie the rope to the fallen climber. Untie overhand and let excess rope drop. Down climb taut rope + slack rope (backup), cleaning pro as you go. Now lower fallen leader.

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When you try this stuff, you realize just how nice it would be to climb with half ropes. You have more options.

 

After I spent a few hours practicing these scenarios with a single rope, I thought about this same thing. Next time I'll try it with half ropes! This is something every climber should practice and know how to do- I feel foolish for not learning sooner, but better late than never!

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