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Introduction To Leader Rescue

Contributed to Chockstone by Phil Box

The following is intended only as an introductory overview on the logistics of leader rescue. It will not prepare you for all eventualities, in a situation that could well take lives. No claim is made as to it's accuracy or suitability for the purpose. (See full disclaimer). Get a good book and qualified, in person instruction, to become familiar with this advanced topic.

So you and your partner are way out there in the booneys having a blast up some forgotten or never before climbed horror show. A horrible thought steals over you brain box like a wraith in the night, what will you do if your climbing partner becomes incapacitated for any reason. Nah, it'll never happen, will it, you hope, you pray. Should you wait for the orange people to come (no disrespect intended for the state emergency services but hey we're talking about self rescue and the real world here ok). Will your leader dangle up there like a chrissy decoration until the end of time? Think boyo what are you going to do?

First things first, settle yourself down and don't worry about his blood curdling screaming, pay him no heed at all yet, he got himself into this situation through no fault of your own. Tie your belay device off so that you can work hands free. He's up there and your down here and the only way for him to get down is for you to remain calm and at peace with yourself, let's call it Zen leader rescue 101. There's a very real reason for you to remain calm when the whole situation around you has gone belly up. You are to be able to think clearly. This is the number one tool in your box of tricks which you will employ to get that no good for nothing Christmas decoration down. Do I seem callous and uncaring, good, your getting the idea then, you must remain aloof from him as you start to gather what you have at your disposal.

Second thing you will need to know is that you are not to become another casualty, this is fundamental to retrieving your boat anchor partner. Lessee now, obviously we have a rope and you wouldn't be coming out here without at least some self rescue bits and pieces and your partner will have some gear on him as well. Do we have a first aid kit, what about sports tape or maybe even toilet paper and a clean hanky?

Are you providing a dynamic belay at the ground or are you anchored in, possibly two pitches off the ground? Lets examine the first scenario. You've already tied the belay device off so that you can work hands free so now you will need to either build yourself an upwards oriented anchor or find a handy dirty great tree. Got your anchor happening, good, ok, undo the backup knot from around your belay device and we are going to tie a figure eight on the bight below your belay device and attach this to the anchor. Next we are going to place an autoblock prussik knot above the belay device, clip yourself into this prussik and weight it. You can allow a small amount of slack to go through the belay device. You will notice that you now have no weight on your belay device. You can now undo your belay device and take it off the rope and then let the slack take up so that the anchor now holds all the weight.

I would like to think that in most cases the leader could be let down some of the way and possibly even to a ledge. Best case is if you can let the leader down to the ground but in this case it ain't gunna happen. He's about two thirds the way up the cliff and you can let him down to a ledge about half way. You would do this before anchoring the rope in to the anchor you've just set up.

Well now there's no avoiding the next issue here which is that you are going to have to get yourself up to your leader. Now funny things start to happen inside your head, you realize that you will either have to jug the rope or rope solo up to him. You could solo but this is not an option as the terrain is too steep and we do not want you to become another statistic. You can free climb the pitch using the rope as protection by way of sliding a prussik up as you move, but of course as you are making your way up there is the ever present worry of how good that one top piece of protection is. This is why you should take the option whenever possible of avoiding jugging up the rope. The best case scenario is that you would have another rope so that you can rope solo up to the leader clipping the gear already in the rock as you go. But this is not an option for you in this scenario.

Please ensure that you re-clip all the pieces as you pass them. We are now approaching the leader, you will not, repeat not clip the leader until you have built the awesomest biggest bomberest anchor that the gear that you and your partner have on you allows. Make it absolutely bomber, equalised and redundant, triply so if you have the gear as the two of you will be rapping on it. Make the anchor a high one as this will come in handy if you need to do any hoisting. Once you have made yourself safe then and only then can you show the milk of human compassion to your erstwhile injured leader but first clip him into the power point too.

Time now for first aid and sorting out what he has on his rack. Is he conscious, I hope so otherwise you'll be needing to do everything on your own. Is he swinging in the breeze or on a ledge, well we already discussed that he would be on a ledge which would make things sooo much easier and if he's conscious that makes things even easier as he will be able to help some.

Lets say that he's not conscious and that he is swinging in the breeze. If that is the case it could well be that it is too late for him due to harness hang syndrome. You would have to have gotten to him very quickly to have averted an outright disaster which is why time is of the utmost importance but not at the expense of doing yourself an injury. Are you starting to see the seriousness of the sport you have gotten yourself into? It's all good fun until something like this happens and then you had better know your stuff or else it's curtains for you or your partner.

If the leader is swinging on the end of the rope and you have gotten to him in time but he cannot assist you to transfer his weight to you then this is what needs to happen. You've built your anchor, high I hope, you need to clip the leader in to the power point by way of a mariners hitch which is a releasable load knot. His weight is still on the anchor at the bottom of the cliff. One, you could just cut the rope or you could just clip a long sling to his belay loop and pass it up to a biner attached to a prussik which in turn is wrapped around his lead rope, the long sling then goes down to where you can stand in it thus creating a 1 to 1 counterbalance hoist. A quick and easy way to get the weight off the knot. Attach the harness to the rope and you can hopefully undo the knot.

Once released the leader will have all his weight on the mariners hitch load release knot. Ensure that at all times he is now also backed up and attached to either you or the power point of the anchor, we do not want to drop the leader at this stage of the rescue do we now? You can now retrieve the rope from the pieces above you, yeah I know your pro will have to wait to be retrieved another day. Remember we lowered the leader to a ledge at half height so you may have enough rope to reach the ground otherwise you may well have to rap to the ground cleaning as you go to then be able to disassemble the anchor and free up a whole bunch of rope. You should then have access to the whole rope. Jug back up and you can set up the rap.

So now we are almost ready to transfer the leaders weight to the rescuer. We have some issues to explore here though before we transfer his weight. This will not be a normal rap will it, for a start there will be twice as much weight that you must somehow control so that you do not both plummet to the ground. I like to use a stitch plate extended away up the rope on a 1200mm sling doubled and clipped with locking biners. I then introduce a munter hitch at my belay loop and also fit an autoblock prussik at my leg loop. This set up gives me the freedom of a no hands stop on the rap if I need to attend to my patient.

The stitch plate extended up the rope will also allow me to hang my patient from a sling from it so that we aren't all scrunched up. I also like to have the patient on a short sling so that my legs are underneath him. This way I also have the benefit of being able to eyeball the patient on the way down the cliff. Being able to freely move around the patient is good for being able to give resuscitation or to tend wounds. You'll notice that I am now referring to the leader as a patient now, well as soon as you touch the injured leader he is now your patient and you cannot then leave him uncared for. It's you and him tied at the hip now dude.

You've got the short sling from the high stitch plate to your patient and you have gotten yourself on rap and you can now lower the weight of the patient on to your stitch plate, remove all backups and you can now proceed uneventfully to the ground. Getting yourselves out to the vehicle or to other rescuers is a whole nuther story. Just hope that there are other people that you can call on.

Have an emergency plan that will include letting someone know where you are and when you will be expected home or be able to contact someone. Make sure that you have a failsafe mechanism so that emergency services are not called out because you neglected to contact the person that you said you would. Make sure you have adequate food and shelter and of course a first aid kit and know how to use it.


Chockstone Feedback - Discuss this article by leaving comments in an appropriate topic of the forum.

Further Reading:
Self Rescue - Good book by David J. Fasulo.


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