Advanced techniques in traditional climbing - rescue

Advanced techniques in traditional climbing - rescue

Master a few basic rescue techniques to save yourself and partner from some tricky situations.

We always hope it won't happen, but statistics and experience tells us that climbing accidents do occur, so be prepared. Master a few basic techniques and you can save yourself and partner from some tricky situations.

Basic principles

Avoiding problems is far easier than solving them, so use your common sense and be prepared.
Don't go onto a long mountain route unprepared. Carry at least some basic gear appropriate to the route and conditions.
Select from this list and stash them in a close fitting day pack or bum bag

  • Guidebook
  • Warm and or waterproof clothing
  • Abseil 'tat'
  • Knife
  • Head torch
  • Whistle
  • First Aid kit.
Don't abseil in and pull the ropes unless you know you can climb out. Leave an abseil rope in place, learn how to prusik (see Knots).
Know what you and your partner are capable of and choose your objectives accordingly.
Attend on a first aid course.
Don't do anything that may worsen the situation.
Going down is normally the easiest option.

Techniques

Tying off the Belay Plate  

This is straightforward and is always the first step as it frees up your hands. Look at the pictures below and you'll see that it's a case of feeding a bight of rope through a small loop behind the back bar of the karabiner and then tying a couple of half hitches.

Escaping the System

You will not always need to escape the system to sort out a problem so always think first 'Is it absolutely necessary?' If you don't know what the problem is or if your partner needs emergency first aid you must escape the system and get to them quickly. This involves transferring the load from you onto the anchors; think of it as a series of logical steps.

1 Tie off the belay plate as above.
2 Attach a French prusik to the loaded rope in front of you.
3 Connect this using a long sling or extenders to the anchors if you can reach them.
4 If the anchors are out of reach, connect the loaded rope to a second prusik around all the anchor ropes. A klemheist works well here. 
5 Untie the belay plate and slowly let some rope slip through until the load comes onto the prusik loops and off you.
6 BEFORE taking the belay plate off, put in a back up - in case the prusiks slip. This can be any knot but preferably an Italian hitch tied off. 
7 You are now in a position to escape! Untie from the rope but make sure you are still safe by using a sling to clip in to the anchors.

Options

Once you have escaped the system you can do a number of things:
  • Abseil or prusik down to your partner to see what the problem is or to administer first aid
  • If the top of the crag is accessible, go and get help
  • Lower your partner off the crag and abseil down yourself
  • Lower your partner to a ledge where they will be more comfortable while you get help or work out what to do
  • Hoist them up to you with or with out their assistance.
Always choose the simplest and safest option.  

Lowering

This a good and quick option provided that:
  • The injuries will not be made worse
  • You know you will reach the ground or a ledge
  • You have good control of the rope
  • The rope is not running over sharp edges
  • You can see what is going on.
Lowering Past a Knot

You may need to tie two ropes together to reach the ground in one move. In this case you'll need to pass the knot.
1 Ensure knot is secure.
2 Tie French prusik to lowering rope and attach to anchors with a long sling.
3 Lower holding French prusik open until the knot is close.
4 Allow French prusik to take the load.
5 Tie a back up knot in the second rope in case the prusik slips.
6 Take original rope out of belay device and replace with second rope behind knot.
7 Release French prusik so load comes back on to rope.
8Take off French prusik and continue to lower.

Assisted Hoist

If the climber is unable to climb a section or is slightly injured a combination of you both pulling on a simple hoist is very effective.

1 Tie off belay plate.
2 Tie French prusik to loaded rope in front of belay plate and attach with short extender to rope tie in loop.
3 Drop a loop of rope with a screwgate karabiner to your partner, which they clip into their rope tie in loop.
5 Untie belay plate.
6 Pull simultaneously. You pull on the rope coming up from them as they pull on the rope travelling down towards them.

Unassisted Hoist

It is unlikely you would hoist an injured climber further up the route unless you were very close to the top of a big crag or above the sea. It is difficult and could worsen the injuries. However, the principles are not complicated if you think of them a progression from the assisted hoist.

1 Escape the system.
2 Tie French prusik to loaded rope and attach to anchors. This will act as the clutch or autoblock.
3 Tie second ordinary prusik below this. This is the pulling prusik.
4 Run the rope through a screwgate karabiner at the anchors, down to a snaplink on the ordinary prusik and pull up on this rope.
5 You have created a simple Z pulley.

Ensure you are secured on the edge with enough room to pull effectively. Don't be disheartened if it is very slow, it usually is! It'll take lots of practise in a safe setting to get this system right. Dangle a heavy rucksack (rather than your mate) off a crag to see if it works.

Conclusion

Rescue techniques always look more complicated when written down but really they are a series of straightforward steps. Practise the basic techniques somewhere safe, refer to the books listed and get a friend to help you.
Remember, avoiding a problem is easier than solving a problem so use your common sense and be well prepared - you never know when you might need to use these techniques.

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