Climbing – Pluck-off

Scenario: A leader falls and gets stuck/is unconscious hanging on the lead rope. There is more than 30m (½ rope length) of rope already fed out and you are belaying, so you cannot lower them to the ground (NB: you are also not able to perform a complex lower using your weight to counter theirs as described elsewhere). There are no other rescue personnel around and you need to retrieve the patient safely down to your belay position. You have an extra rope not currently being used.

Escaping the Belay (same system as escaping from a top-belay-from-harness, but introducing a ground-anchor)

  1. First, tie the belay device off so you can work with both hands. Set a ground anchor with an equalised load point.
    NB: If there is no access to the top of the cliff meaning you have to solo-lead later, you could use one end of the second rope to set the ground anchor.
    NB2: On second thought – in either case you could use the remaining lead-rope in the ground-anchor instead.
  2. Transfer the patient’s weight to the ground anchor –
    1. Tie a french-prussik above the belay device, with a sling to your ground anchor’s load point. Slide prussik up until tight.
    2. With the brake rope (currently tied off), tie a munter and attach it to a new locking biner in the ground anchor load point.
    3. Undo the tied-off belay device and lower the patient slightly until the prussik takes their weight. While holding the munter’s brake rope, dismantle the belay device, pull any slack through the munter and tie it off securely.
    4. Pull the french-prussik to transfer the load onto the tied-off-munter.
  3. Completed escaping the belay. Retrieve the prussik and sling.

There are now two options – depending on whether or not access to the top of the cliff is available. In both cases the second rope is required.

Access to the top is available

  1. Walk to top above patient. Set abseil line, ensuring it reaches the bottom/where you were belaying.
  2. Set up assisted-abseil sling (thigh-width difference, o/hand or fig-8 knot at the top). Girth hitch longer end to own belay loop, attach abseil device to knot. French-prussik on brake rope, attached to belay loop.
  3. Abseil to top-piece that the patient has fallen on. Equalise/back it up upwards to another piece because you will be counter-weight hauling off of it (albeit briefly).
  4. Continue abseil to patient. Stop above them (~1m).
  5. Reach down and secure patient to own harness with a sling.
    NB: now might be a good time to correct their posture/perform other first-aid – e.g. if unconscious, use a sling as a chest harness so they are sitting upright)
  6. Tie a classic-prussik to the patient’s lead rope, after the last piece of gear. Attach a pulley-biner or locking biner. Slide up until it is ~40cm above your harness load point (enough room for a tied-off munter on your harness). This is the pivot-point of your counter-balance haul, and it will be pulling on the top piece with two body-weights – that is why you backed it up.
  7. Using either a very long sling (~4m) or cordelette, or the end of the abseil line, attach one end to the patient’s belay loop, run it up through the pulley-biner and back down to attach to your belay loop with a tied-off munter/mariner etc. Make this line tight before tying off.
  8. Continue your own abseil until your weight is on the new counter-balance haul system. Give a couple of armfuls of extra slack in the abseil line (good idea to tie a knot below as well as a safety).
  9. Reach down to the patient’s harness and haul them upwards towards and slightly past you. Assuming your own weight is acting as a counter this should be easy – check you have given enough slack on the abseil line.
  10. When the patient is high enough, clip them to the short-sling in your assisted-abseil system with a locking biner.
  11. After checking all biners/safety systems, untie the patient’s lead-rope from their harness, and undo the knot.
  12. Release the munter/mariner on your counter-balance system to lower both of you onto the assisted-abseil system on the abseil line.
  13. Prepare to abseil in assisted-abseil configuration, leaving anything non-urgent (or out of reach) behind. If you can reach the classic-prussik on the lead rope it is good to retrieve this, it means that the lead rope can be pulled down from the ground/belay station. Remember to untie the abseil-line safety-knot below if you tied one.

Access to the top is not available

You must solo-lead up the climb.

  1. Tie a figure-8 in the end of the second rope and clip it to your ground anchor load point.
  2. Attach a gri-gri or other assisted-lock belay device and clip it to your own harness
  3. Taking a few extra pieces to build an anchor (or plan to collect the patient’s remaining pieces on the way past them), solo-lead up the climb, checking and clipping the patient’s pieces as you reach them.
  4. When you reach the patient, collect any gear you need to set an anchor above.
    NB: if possible, now might be a good time to correct their posture/perform other first-aid – e.g. if unconscious, use a sling as a chest harness so they are sitting upright)
  5. Continue past the patient to – or above – their top piece.
  6. Set at least one extra piece above the patient’s last (loaded) one – preferably set a whole new anchor with three new pieces, but you can incorporate their already-proven piece(s) in the anchor if it is practical. Clip yourself to at least two pieces while working. Set a fixed-line with the rope that you just solo-lead on. Ensure it is slack enough to abseil down on (won’t give you a fireman’s belay – though rope stretch should take care of this).
  7. Whether or not you have incorporated the patient’s last piece in the anchor, equalise/back it up upwards to another piece because you will be counter-weight hauling off of it (albeit briefly).
  8. To transfer to the abseil line, set up an assisted-abseil sling (thigh-width difference, o/hand or fig-8 knot at the top). Girth-hitch longer end to own belay loop, attach abseil device to knot on the sling and the new abseil line. French-prussik on brake rope, attached to your belay loop. Back it up with a knot.
  9. Undo the gri-gri (don’t abseil on the gri-gri as you would likely be loading only one of your anchor pieces instead of the load-point) and down-climb until your weight is on the new abseil line.
  10. Undo back-up knot and abseil to patient, stopping ~1m above them.

Continue as for steps 8-16 of Access-to-top-is-available example. The only difference is: after you begin the assisted-abseil you must unclip both ropes from the gear in the wall as you come down.

Simple alternative short-haul system: this 2:1 hoist system may be useful as an alternative to the counter-weight hoist.

At step 9 (Top-access-is-available scenario), where you put a classic-prussik on the patient’s lead-rope, attach a pulley-biner to it or two biners together to reduce friction. Use a long cordelette/sling starting clipped into the pulley-biner, down through a biner on the patient’s belay loop and back up through the pulley-biner again. Pull/push down on the remaining end with your hand/foot to hoist the patient up and clip them into your assisted-abseil system. Remember to untie their lead-climbing knot (double checking everything) before releasing the hoist system with your foot and dismantling. Can’t release the hoist first because the 30m+ lead-rope stretch would mean you still cannot undo the knot.

NB I didn’t try this yesterday – but in my head it is even simpler than the counter-weight hoist if done right – it might mean you can start pretty much level or only ~20cm above the patient rather than 1m… and might mean you don’t have to ever introduce slack into the abseil line.

In other words, instead of Ramon’s first example in the morning where he sets the hoist using the abseil line then moves it to the lead-line to remove the lead-rope knot, simply set it on the lead-line in the first place – assuming the top piece has been backed up/equalised first.

… as I say, yet to try this for real…

Credit goes to Australian Climbing Instructors Association & Aaron Lowndes, Melbourne Climbing School

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