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.