Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

Rope Bar

Guiding Newsletter

October, 1998 - Tech Tip Supplement


Self Rescue Skills Checklist

Your partner is leading with 2/3 of the rope out and falls. They are injured and cannot complete the climb. What do you do?

Among the most important skills for climbers on steep terrain are those related to self-rescue. Hopefully you never need these skills, but should the need for them arise they can be essential. These skills range from the basic (such as escaping a belay) to the complicated and risky (such as counterweight rappels or ascending a rope to an injured partner when the top anchor cannot be inspected).

This brief note will not teach any of these skills, but will point out a few of the basics which climbers should consider learning.

If the belayer is belaying off the harness and their partner requires assistance or rescue it will be necessary to transfer the load to an anchor. In most cases this will involve tying off the belay to free the hands. An anchor must be constructed if there is not one in place. (Which is sometimes the case when belaying from the ground.) A gripping knot such as a prusik is then attached to the loaded strand and clipped to the anchor. The tied off belay must then be released (under load) and the weight can be cautiously transferred to the anchor. Since it will most likely be necessary to transfer the load off of the anchor again at some point a releasable hitch is preferable for attaching the gripping knot to the anchor. Back the system up with a figure eight a couple feet behind the gripping knot so that if anything slips the rope cannot feed out beyond the backup knot.

What to do next depends on the situation at hand and the skills available. However, having escaped the belay it is now possible to go for assistance or resources. Perhaps another rope is needed for lowering the full distance. If there are others around somebody with more rescue capability can be summoned, or somebody can be sent for outside assistance. The climber who cannot escape the belay is stuck where they are - and this has happened.

Note that one of the pros of belaying directly off an anchor is that this process is greatly simplified. However, there are cons as well and this is a good approach in some situations but not in others.

Checklist of skills involved:

  • Anchor construction
  • Gripping knot(s) - Prussic, Klemheist, etc
  • Releasable hitches - Mariner, munter-mule, load releasing hitch, etc

For many people this is only a few new knots and a practice session to put it all together in a controlled situation with safety backups.

The upcoming self-rescue class will cover this as well as some techniques for lowering/raising once you have escaped the belay.


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