Rock rescue course

This summer I’d really like to try multi-pitch climbing.  I’ve never done it before and there is one cliff face in particular that I’m really psyched to get on – Yamnuska.  Every time I drive out to the mountains, it’s the first mountain I see and it’s always asking to be climbed.  I’ve hiked it several times but now I feel I’m ready to try climbing it.  Anyways, I digress …  The point was that since I’m planning on getting outside more, I thought it would be a good idea to learn some rock rescue skills so I could be more self-sufficient while climbing.

Yamnuska's cliffs on the upper left

Cliffs up close - they're a lot higher and more imposing than they look in this picture

I decided to take a girl’s rock rescue course with Sarah Hueniken through the Alpine Club of Canada.  We met at Yam Bluffs and starting with discussing what everyone hoped to get out of the course.  We were all beginner leaders and multi-pitchers so Sarah decided to teach us some basic rescue skills and also go over efficient climbing practices so we could hopefully avoid using said skills.  In case anyone else is thinking of taking a similar course, here’s a brief overview of what the day was like.

Escaping the belay

Escaping the belay is probably one of the most practical things we went over. To do this, you tie a hitch/knot combo that allows you to take your hands off the rope for say, a picture or a snack (I kid!!).  The next part is removing yourself from the belay by attaching it to something else – i.e. a tree or rock.  It really helped that Sarah explained why we were doing each step as there were a quite a few steps involved.  I’m not great at memorizing but if I know why I’m doing something, I can usually figure the process out.  I knew this was something I’d need to practice to remember, so this past week I had a mini rock rescue lesson after work with a girlfriend.  We got a few odd looks from people passing by – guess you don’t see two girls with crazy rope setups at your local playground everyday!  I wish I had thought to take a picture of us … I’m sure it looked pretty funny.

Getting some feedback from Sarah on my belay escaping skills

Multi-pitch efficiency

Sarah pointed out that as beginners, it would be good for us to learn how NOT to get into a situation that requires rescue techniques.  I’d seen a multi-pitch system once before while ice climbing but I really had no clue what was going on so I was excited to learn.  Assuming our anchors would be off bolts, we covered what you do when you arrive at a belay as a lead or second, then how you would leave the belay if you were switching leads or if only one person was doing all the leading.  Even if I don’t lead multi-pitches this summer, I’ll feel more comfortable now that I understand the systems. One thing that was interesting (that I didn’t realize) was that you can’t lower your second easily when you belay with a reverso.  It’s actually a bit of a process so it was good to learn how to do that.

The setup for belaying my leader up very, very (read: flat) low angled slab

Pulley system for reversing the reverso (aka lowering a second)

Improvised rappel devices

I’ll admit it, I’ve dropped an ATC.  I felt awful about it and it made me realize I had no clue what I’d do if that happened when I didn’t have friends around to bail me out.  Turns out there are two basic ways to deal with this other than just carrying a second ATC.  You can either rappel off a munter hitch or create a ‘device’ with 4 non-locking carabiners – presumably these would be off your quickdraws.  Both methods have a downside: using the munter hitch kinks your rope and using the carabiner device means you need extra biners. Lesson learned? Really avoid dropping anything!

Rappelling down on a munter hitch

Practice, practice, practice …

Lastly we put it all together: rapping down a cliff with an improvised device, setting up a belay to escape, then learning to ascend the rope with prusiks.  Our final ‘test’ was to get in groups and figure out how to connect two ropes and pass the resulting knot through a belay device.  It was a good wrap-up activity because I able to see how far we had all come since the morning!

If you head out to Yam Bluffs, remember spring is tick season! I speak from experience because I found one in my hair.