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Another response To Worst Case Scenario

Author: W. Isaacson
Date: February 10, 2004
Another response to "Worst Case Scenario"

The rescue problem presented in the article "Worst Case Scenario" has run through my mind a number of times since I first read it. I have come up with several thought of my own but before discussing them I would like to do an analysis of the solution offered by Dan House.

The situation, as I understand it, involves a climber in need of rescue at a height of eighty feet on a rope anchored at ninety feet. The rope is a one hundred and fifty footer and has been tied off at the anchor utilizing a figure-eight-on-a-bight and a screw link. The climber in need of rescue is climbing single rope technique using two ascenders. He has a fifty-foot length of rope with him, which he was going to use to advance himself once reaching the anchor. The climber on the ground, who is expected to rescue the injured climber, has no extra rope; it was his intention to climb on the one hundred and fifty footer after the lead climber had reached the anchor and re-set on the fifty-footer. There is no mention of lanyards.

The area is quite remote and going for more help or more equipment is not an option. Because they were carrying their equipment and because weight was a consideration in their planning, they had only minimal equipment, only that which was necessary for the climb and not much else.

Dan's solution to the problem was to climb up to the injured climber using SRT on the same rope as the injured climber. Next, to upright the climber, assess the injury, and perform necessary first aid. Next Dan suggests that the rescuer attach him/herself to the anchor utilizing a lanyard. At that point Dan would use the bitter end of the one-fifty climbing rope, after passing it through a belay device rigged to the anchor, to lower the injured climber to the ground. The rescuer could then rappel to the ground on the one-fifty.

This solution leaves me with a number of questions. First, there was no mention of lanyards, therefore I can only assume that we are having to work without the use of a lanyard. No problem here, because the injured climber has a fifty foot piece of rope dangling from his harness. The fifty-footer can replace the lanyard. The most pressing question, then, involves the issue of how to remove the injured climber's weight from his/her ascenders so that the ascenders can be released and lowering can take place. Dan's solution involved using the newly rigged lowering rope to raise the injured climber enough so that the ascenders could be detached. My feeling is that this could not be done by the average climber trying to rescue another climber of average weight. Some sort of a pulley system would be needed in order to lift the injured climber. Better yet, why not just cut the webbing between injured climber and the ascender after attaching the climber to the lowering rope. This would allow the injured climber to be lowered quicker than if the rescuer tried to raise the climber and detach the ascender.

My solution to this problem would be to climb SRT up to the injured climber using the same rope that the climber is on. Then, just as Dan has suggested, I would upright the climber, assess the injury, and perform first aid. At this point I would attach myself to the injured climber utilizing some sort of pickup strap. His fifty-footer would suffice if nothing else were available, although I would want to make this strap as short as possible to minimize any drop that might occur. At this point I would now rig my own descending device to the rope, below the attachment of the injured climber, but as high as possible. I would secure my descending device, then detach my own ascenders from the rope. I am now ready to rappel. I make sure that the attachment between myself and the injured climber is as short as I can make it. I wrap my legs around the injured climber in a scissors grip, then take my knife and cut the webbing attaching the injured climber to his ascenders. He is now dangling next to me, attached to me and my harness, and I rappel both of us to the ground.

Not wanting to place anyone in imminent danger of falling prey to my own misguided thinking, I have tried this method using a weighted bag in place of an injured climber. I placed the "injured climber" ten feet off the ground. It worked nicely, but I have yet to try it at eighty feet! My next move will be to try Dan's solution, with the same weighted bag, and then to compare the two solutions. My suspicion is that either would be suitable but that the one that I have suggested would be both quicker and simpler. I will emphasize that the strap or rope serving as a pickup connection be as short as possible to minimize the drop when the ascender straps are cut. I would further emphasize that using this proposed solution requires that the rescuer be sure and attach his/her rappel device below the injured climber's ascenders and that the rescuer have his/her weight entirely on the descending device, with the descending device secured, before letting the victim's weight settle onto his/her own. Otherwise there would be a situation in which both climbers would need to be rescued!

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