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Thinking About Rescue

Author: Will Isaacson
Date: September 06, 2004
There has been a thread on the Tree Climber International message board that began with the question, "Why is a figure-eight knot tied in the middle of the bridge while climbing DRT?" The thread began there and after taking a few roundabout turns through areas concerning the use of splittails, double splittails, and various entries concerning rescue situations, finally ended with ideas about having lines already in place in trees to help in the event a rescue was called for.

This was good. For me, it got me to thinking about the idea of rescue. I have been climbing now for two years or so and the subject of rescue is something that has never come up, much less been practiced. I have wondered about the idea of rescue and spent quite a bit of time thinking about possible rescue solutions, but the reality of the situation is that I have never practiced a rescue nor seen anyone else ever practice a rescue. It would seem that there is a lot of theoretical knowledge out there about how rescues should be done, but very little practical experience. How many of you climbers out there have ever actually brought a "victim" to the ground in either a real rescue situation or even for practice? Very few, I'll bet!

Rescue seems to be one of those concepts that hang around in the backs of people's minds, for which people have lots of ideas and theories that never get put to use. I would like to suggest that if the idea of rescue is ever to have any meaningful application then these ideas and theories need to be put to the test, tried in the field, and decisions made as to what will really work, and what won't work.

For example: In the message board thread it is suggested by one writer that a DRT rescue could be performed by attaching the rescuee to the rescuer, then unclipping the rescuee from her/his system and then bringing the rescuee to the ground on the rescuer's system. This is a theory that makes good sense on the surface. I suggest that would-be rescuers go out and give it a try. As another writer pointed out, the rescuer has a problem in that the weight of the rescuee has to be raised a short distance in order to create slack in his/her system before that person can be unclipped. I question the ability of any of you to lift the weight of an average adult male high enough to unclip a carabiner while they and you are hanging suspended on a rope. I challenge any of you to climb upward on your own system while supporting the weight of that same person. I challenge any of you to simply unclip that same carabiner without lifting that person's weight. This is just one example of a theory that could be tossed if only those of you who aspire to be rescuers would go out and give it a try. Even the World's Strongest Man would have a problem with this! Think it through: You are expected to raise a one hundred and fifty pound person with one hand, while using the other hand to unclip a carabiner, while both of you are hanging suspended in mid-air. Hmmm!

Those who actually go off the ground to practice this will discover that other options are needed. Cutting the rescuee's bridge is one option, allowing the "victim's" weight to settle onto the harness of the rescuer. Another option would be to slide the "victim's" Blakes hitch downward after having the rescuee attached to the rescuer, which is one other way to get the "victim's" weight onto the rescuer's system. Of course, as pointed out in another message on the thread, if the "victim's" knot will slide, why not just lower her/him to the ground on his/her own climbing bridge? Although I can't think of any at the moment, I am sure there are other options. Those who actually go out and practice will probably discover many more options that are even more acceptable than these two. But other options will never be found as long as we are willing to accept existing theories without going out and giving them a try.

I'm not proposing anything particularly dangerous here. I have taken note of another message on the thread that indicated that more people have been killed or injured while practicing rescues than have died or been injured in real rescue situations. Simulated rescues do not need to be practiced high in order to be of benefit. I have tried out the methods suggested above and never climbed more than six feet off the ground. I have also made it a point to have other people standing about, watching what I am doing, ready to let me know if they see me about to do something dumb. I also make it a point to stop and think about each thing that I am doing, before I do it, and ask myself "Is this really what I need to be doing?" Once I have a clear idea of what will work best, I will practice that way of doing it to the point that I can do it without having to think my way through it; to the point that it is as natural as everything else I do while I am climbing.

I suppose that what I am saying here is that a little hands-on experience would go a long way toward the development of practical methods of rescue. We should give these ideas a try before accepting them as useable.

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