Leader rescue

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Leader rescue is a general term for a set of rope skills used when the leader has taken a fall and was injured. The solution described here is very much a worse case scenario, where the climber was using a single rope on a multi-pitch route. The idea is to free the rope, so you can use it for rappelling down. The problem is, that in order to do so, one must first climb to the leader and untie him. The ability to rescue your a is a very important skill to master for any climber. However, this is a complicated rescue and it is highly recommended that time is dedicated and a few variations are tried out before it is executed in reallife event.


The case considered is a leader who has taken a fall, lost consciousness and needs to be rescued, a rescue team is unavailable, and his partner (yourself) is the only person around, and therefore must do all the work. If the leader is hanging from a piece of protection that is close (less than half the rope length away from the belay), he can be lowered down to the belay, and rappel from there.

where the a leader who has taken a fall, lost contciousness and needs to be rescued, when and a resxcue team is unavailable, and; his their partner (yourself) is the only person around, and therefore must do all the work. If the leader is hanging from a piece of protection that's is close (less than half the rope length away from the belay), he they can obviously be lowered down to the belay, and rappel from there.

When the last piece, the one the leader is hanging from, is further away than half the rope length, the situation is a little more complicated. One possible solution is described here. This is a very generalized solution, and one that suits the worse case scenario. In most cases, it is sufficient to go through some of the stages described here. Remember, whenever available, a rescue team is the preferred option.

Stage 1: escaping the belay

If the belay device is attached to an anchor rather than directly to the belayer's harness (to the belay, for example), tying the belay device is sufficient and you are free to skip to the next stage. If the belay device is connected to your harness, you will have to tie the belay device, transfer the load onto a webbing or a prussik that bypasses your harness and connects the rope directly to the anchor. It is advised that the bypass be one that can slide while loaded, such as a mariner knot or a French prussik knot. Since this is a single point of failure, it might be better to tie the slack rope behind it to the anchor, or simply to re-connect the tied belay device, so the injured leader will not be hanging from a single prussik.

An important consideration at this stage is the directionality of the anchor and the direction of loading. Most belays are set so that they can be loaded from below. This is suitable for most cases, as it is meant to hold a fall. At this case, however, the anchor will be pulled upwards. If the belay is built of tapered nuts, for example, it would be suited for downward pull, but not for upward pull. The belay should be rigged so that it is multidirectional.

Stage 2: climbing to the leader

You can climb to the leader using any technique available: free climbing with a self belay on the tight rope, aid climbing, jummarring or prussiking. In general, free climbing is preferable to climbing on the rope, because the latter loads the single anchor from which the leader is hanging. Since you have no way of knowing how good this piece is, it might be a bad idea to load it unnecessarily. On the other hand, if the free climbing is hard and there is a risk of falling, it might be a wiser choice to climb the rope.

Upon arriving to the leader, inspect the anchor from which he's hanging, and improve it if necessary, or set a new anchor. Remember, you'll both have to rap from that anchor soon.

When you're happy with the anchor, check on your partner and take care of his injuries, if necessary, and if possible. This is meant only for first aid and pressing dangers: intensive bleeding etc.

Next, you'll have to free the rope, so you can use it to rap off the route. You'll have to hang your partner from the improved anchor, and attach the rope separately to that same anchor. Again, hanging the leader is best done through a device that can slide while loaded, so the load can be easily transfered later.

Stage 3: freeing the rope and getting ready to rap

If there's enough slack, you use the rope to rap back to the belay. Else, you can prussik your way down. At the belay, clean it, and re-climb the rope. As you climb the rope, clean the pitch.

Stage 4: rappeling

Double the rope through the anchor and rappel using a extended friction device: to the device, connected to the rope, clip two webbings, one to your harness, and the other to your partner's. Your extension should be so that the device is approximately at face height. Your partner's extension should be so that his feet are a little higher than your own. if the route is not steep, you might consider positioning your injured partner behind your back. A long webbing that goes around his shoulder blades might prove useful for that purpose.

Rappel to the ends of the rope. Set a new anchor, tie yourself and your partner in, retrieve the rope and rappel the next pitch.

remember, on long routes there is a possibility the the rope be stuck when trying to retrieve it. During a rescue, this is a much more serious problem. It might be wise to leave a maillon or a biner and each anchor, to reduce friction. When rapping from a large ledge, you may also have to extend the anchor over the edge. this is especially true when rapping with a double rope, that has a knot connecting the two half ropes.

other issues

It is very important that no unnecessary risks are taken. The rescuer must not get hurt when attempting a rescue. should this happen, there will be two injured climbers and no one to go for help.

If a rescue team is available and can arrive in within a reasonable time frame, this is always the best, most safe option.

The sequence described here is not the most efficient. If, for example, you have two ropes (as when aiding, or using a double or twinropes, the best solution can be much faster and more simple. One should understand the situation and choose the safest and quickest way out.

This article is based on a short paper written by Daniel Paykes, who was killed in the French Alps, Summer, 1989. The original paper was published in the ILAC (Israeli alpine Clab) bulletin in 1993.

Further Reading


Contributions to this page were made by Mica Yaniv and others...