Saturday, January 29, 2011

La Cueva: OMTRS companion rescue and a few climbs with NASA co-op John

One of the skills I was most interested in learning from folks on the rescue team is slef-rescue and companion rescue. The full-on, 10:1 safety factor rescue stuff is important to know, nad working in large teams to raise and lower a litter off of high-angled terrain are all well and good, but I want to know what to do in "climbing situations". Somethine has happenned to you or your partner on a climb. How do you get yourselves safely down? One of the OMTRS team leaders had solicited for ideas for our next "on-rock" training and thought this was a good topic. Espicially in light of our recent mission in the Floridas, where the techniques we used were more in-line with companion rescue techniques.

Because of a concurrent Winter Skills training in northern NM, I had thought that not many people would show up to this training, but was surprised when there were over a dozen folks, many of them new. We were split into to groups, one more advanced group led by Bob Cort would work on companion rescue techniques, while Bruce would lead the newer people in basic equipment use, rappelling and climbing. This worked out very well for our group, 5 of us were enough people to have redundant safety lines while we experimented with new techniques, but also small enough where we could each try out the techniques.

The first skill we worked on was lowering yourself down to an injured partner (if you were belaying a second up at the top of a pitch), and then using a counter-balance rappel to lower yourself and partner down.

  1. Bob Cort demonstrated this first, using an auto-blocking belay device. The advantage of this device is that he already has his hands free and the weight of his second on the anchor to start with. 
  2. Next he placed a prussic on the loaded rope and attached it to the anchor with a load-releasing device. In this case, he used his purcell prussic system, a didn't have to tie a fancy rescue knot on the spot (although a purcell prussic is a fancy rescue knot, most of the rescue guys have these already made and ready to use). 
  3. Prussic inplace it was simple to feed some slack into the belay device and transfer the weight of the 2nd onto the prussic. 
  4. This accomplished, you can then clear the belay device and rig it for rappel. 
  5. Once rigged for rappel, the load can be transferred onto the belay device (lengthening the load release). The weight of the 2nd is now counterbalanced by your weight.
  6. Rappel down to the 2nd. If you're careful, you can prevent the 2nd from slipping down.
  7. Once at your 2nd, you can clip directly to them, and then continue to rappel. The rope slips thorough the anchor and lowers the 2nd with you.
It's easy to see how you could then re-build an anchor, tie bot of off, and then continue down, using the same kind of counterbalance rappel, or using a tandem rappel. All five of us got to try this technique, with minor variations. For instance, if you are belaying your 2nd up through a directional on the master-point of the anchor, then you are already set for a counterbalance rappel.

The second skill we worked on was carrying a subject piggy-back, using a simple sling made from 15ft of webbing. It worked pretty well, and we all took turns carrying someone on our backs and rappelling/lowering with someone on our backs.

Both of these skills were good to practice, and seem much more applicable to a pair of climbers operating on their own, than many of the other trainings that OMTRS runs. I do worry though that I lack a certain required judgement. Essentially this boils down to me making decisions that I know are not the safest, but that I deem appropriate for the situation at hand. For example, when practicing one of the techniques above, I opened up a locking carabiner that connected me to the anchor. To most this is something tht would be obvious to avoid, and if I had an extra locking carabiner and sling on me, I wouldn't have bothered. But with what I had on my harness, it simply made sense to me to perform this "risky" operation, in order to achieve a certain desired goal. I guess that's what my apprehension boils down to, the people I see excelling at this rescue business (and for that matter, safety culture at work) do not compromise an operation by taking a risk in order to achieve a certain goal. It is drilled into our heads that this is the source of countless avoidable accidents, and yet I continue to assess certain risks as acceptable.

After the training was done, John and I jumped on a few climbs.John is a new NASA intern and is gung-ho to climb. He led up Piton Power and Hive Mind, making the latter look easy. I always struggled on Hive Mind, and today was no exception. I struggled again, even on top-rope, and after a few minutes of frustration, grabbed the crux bolt to pull through, and cursed myself. I'm woindering if my climbing skills are at a low-point. I've only jumped on a few difficult climbs in the last year, and mostly they freak me out, even on top rope. Mostly, I've been peak-bagging, and scrambling on 4th and low-5th terrain when i do go out. It saddens me a bit, because I know I won't be getting out any more this next year, and regaining my climbing ability will take just that.

1 comment:

Eugene Smith said...


I love reading your posts, even though much of what you describe comes as a foreign language to me as a non-climber. I've gone climbing with Kenny Coppedge a few times and every time I found myself asking, "How do climbers ever get used to this!?" If weather permits this weekend and snow doesn't accumulate to the point of making the trail up "technical", myself and two other guys are going to hike the Needles and possibly overnight on the summit, should be cold. If the weather holds as predicted it's looking rather grim.