Sunday, April 24, 2011

Get the Rope! BASART Rappelling and Ascending

"Rappelling, the technique of descending a rope by using friction to safety control the rate of descent is indispensable to technical climbing in the mountains.  Unfortunately, rappelling is also one of the more dangerous techniques employed by climbers, because it is often so easy and routine that the inherent risks may be forgotten or ignored.  Proper rappelling technique, learned thoroughly and employed carefully, allows for a safe descent of almost any climbing pitch. In fact, rappelling is often the only way to get down some rock or ice faces."  --Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills  

Since rappelling maybe the only way down hill it's absolutely necessary for Search and Rescue members to be comfortable and knowledgeable about their rappelling skills, especially since we may be required to assist a subject down.  This past Saturday the BASARTs practiced rappels and ascend after having been taught how each system works in class Wednesday night and practicing them at the cache before heading up the hill.

Having some experience climbing, I was a little more at ease knowing what to expect, but I think the day was a huge success for our team members who have not.  I was very excited to get more training in vertical rope technique.  I love it and it's hard to find knowledgeable people willing to put in the time to training someone else, who doesn't have much gear. (Climbing gear is expensive and it’s hard to find a reason to buy it if you don’t know how to use it, I’ve slowly been acquiring climbing gear over the past few years.)  Some of the LCSAR members even took vacation days to train us, which is pretty selfless.  Most people enthusiastic about climbing are REALLY enthusiastic about it and I’m hoping they have a follow up training to teach more advanced techniques.  

Ascending was the second part of the day and was the part that I had no experience.  I loved it because it's a technique I've wanted to learn and practice but haven't yet had the opportunity.  It's amazing to me that by understanding rope systems it's possible to safely ascend another rope.  That beats the heck out of climbing a rope like you would in gym class.  (Which means that I would go NOWHERE) or more realistically, trying to scramble up some sketchy rock face.

Another important thing about climbing and activities is that it builds trust between you to those who are watching your butt, double checking your gear, and generally helping you to not die.  While camaraderie has been growing amongst the BASARTs, I left the afternoon feeling like I was getting to know the other Search and Rescue people and had the sense I am making some long-term friends that I'll get to see somewhat regularly.

Here were three things I learned:
1.) Prusik loops are pretty sweet.
2.) I would like to know how to set anchors and also how to make longer rappels.
3.) Ascending with a pack is much more difficult.  

Finally, and I know I’ve mentioned this book before but I’ve really found Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills published by The Mountaineers Books to be a great resource to supplement the things I’ve been learning in class.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn anything about mountaineering.

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