Crevasse Rescue – Raising Systems

This Crevasse Rescue article is part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

Imagine you are travelling on a glacier as a team of two, and your partner in front suddenly disappears down into the snow.

Step 1
The first and most important thing is to hold the fall. This will not be easy! The best technique is to dig the sides of your feet into the snow (imagine a tug of war type action), while plunging the shaft of your axe into the snow.

If you end up being dragged along the surface, the self arrest position will hopefully stop you as the rope cuts into the lip of the crevasse and increases friction.

how to rescue someone from a crevasse glacier

Step 2
After holding the initial fall, kick a secure platform for your downhill foot, or cut one with your axe. This will give you a bit more security to hold the weight while you are making the anchor. Shout to your partner and check they are okay. It might be very difficult for you to hear them but it’s worth trying. If your partner is uninjured and capable of prusiking up the rope or climbing out of the crevasse then that would be the best solution.


Step 3
If you cannot communicate with your partner or they are unable to climb/prusik out by themselves, then you will continue. Make the appropriate anchor depending on snow condition. This will be difficult because you are also holding the weight of your partner on the rope. The anchor needs to be very good, so don't rush it. Be precise and get it right.

how to rescue someone from glacier

Step 4
Once the anchor is built, put a French prusik on the weighted rope and then clip this to the newly created anchor (using a micro traxion is better if you have one – see below).

Push the prusik forward along the rope in front of you. Cautiously allow the weight to pass from you on to the anchor, watching carefully to see if it is working correctly.

crevasse rescue

Step 5 (If Using a Prusik at the Anchor)
Clip the unweighted strand of rope through the same carabiner that the prusik is on, ideally this should be a small screwgate orientated so that the narrow end is pointing towards the crevasse. This now creates an ‘autoblock’ – meaning that as the rope is pulled through, it locks to capture the progress.

This setup generates a lot more friction (which makes hauling more difficult) than using a micro traxion or other type of pulley, but is simple and works.

two person crevasse rescue

Step 6
Tie an overhand knot in the slack rope to act as a backup in case the prusik/pulley slips.


Step 7
Tie a classic prusik on the weighted rope and connect it to your harness. This is to protect you in case you fall into another crevasse but also acts as a backup in case your snow anchor starts to fail. You can now remove all of your chest coils, but remain tied in to the end of the rope.


Step 8
Move down the weighted rope towards the lip of the crevasse, sliding the prusik as you go. If there are jamming knots in the rope, you’ll need to pass them (see below). Be very cautious as you approach the lip of the crevasse at this point and keep the prusik behind you to protect yourself from falling in.

Check if your partner is okay. If they are fine but cannot prusik out, you will need to haul them. If your partner is severely injured or unconscious it might be necessary to prusik or abseil down to them and administer emergency first aid or call for rescue services. Never haul an unconscious casualty!

crevasse rescue for two people

If You Need to Walk Past Jamming Knots

To pass a jamming knot while moving towards the crevasse, clip into its loop, then move the prusik over to the next section of rope. Repeat as necessary.

A much quicker (but more dangerous) method is to walk past all the jamming knots first and then attach your prusik. This does not offer a backup for the snow anchor and if you fall into a crevasse, the anchor would be shock-loaded.

prusik past a knot

Step 9
Clear the edge of the crevasse. The rope will have cut a slot through into the lip. If it has gone deep, you will need to clear and cut the lip of the crevasse, being careful not to knock anything big onto your partner below. Then pad underneath the rope with walking poles to prevent the rope cutting further into the lip while you are hauling.


Step 10
Move back from the edge of the lip. Clovehitch the slack rope into your harness and unclip from the prusik. Take the rope which now runs between your harness and the anchor and clip it to the prusik as shown. This is now a 3:1 hauling system.

how to do crevasse rescue

Step 11
Using the power in your legs, claw your way back up to the anchor. As you do this, pull down on the dead rope coming from the back side of the pulley to increase efficiency. Pull in a straight line with one leg either side of the ropes.


Step 12
Stop just before you reach the anchor and allow the weight to transfer from your harness back to the autoblock/pulley. Do not continue to move past the anchor as you may disturb the snow which provides its strength.


Step 13
Repeat the hauling process as needed. Move back towards the crevasse, adjusting the clovehitch on your harness as you go. Then adjust the prusik back towards the lip to reset the system.


Step 14
The final stage is to get your partner over the lip of the crevasse. They will probably be stuck if the rope has cut in. Don't just keep pulling, as it is possible to cause injury. If they can’t climb out themselves, you will have to go to the lip and help them. Tie yourself in tight and give them a hand, or throw a loop of rope for them to pull on.



Crevasse Rescue - Hauling Past Knots

If you have tied jamming knots in the rope, it will be necessary to deal with them when hauling.

Step 1
Haul as described above, but stop when the first jamming knot is 10cm away from the pulley.

Step 2
Attach a 30cm sling to the anchor. Put a French prusik on the weighted rope below the jamming knot and connect it to the sling.

Step 3
Pull with your harness again to free the pulley so that the weight can be transferred onto the prusik.

Step 4
With the weight now removed from the jamming knot, untie it and pull the slack rope through.

Step 5
Remove the sling, prusik and carabiners and continue hauling as normal. Repeat this process for each jamming knot.

hauling past a knot

Crevasse Rescue - Teams of Three or Four

Holding the initial fall is easier with more climbers on the surface to share the weight. The rescue principles are the same as described above, but the situation is easier to deal with.


Step 1
The middle climber holds the weight, while the back climber moves forward. As they move forward, they should reduce the slack rope by attaching a prusik and sliding it along.

three person crevasse rescue

Step 2
The back climber moves in front of the middle climber and constructs an anchor.


Step 3
Once the weight is transferred to the anchor, the system is the same as for a team of two.

crevasse rescue with three climbers

Step 4
The climber who built the anchor should attach to it and sit in a braced position. This protects them and also creates a backup for the anchor. They can then help to haul from their braced position.


Teams of Four
These steps can be modified for a team of four, with an extra climber to assist with hauling or taking some of the strain from the anchor.

crevasse rescue with three people

Communication

Communication with the casualty is critical in all of these crevasse rescue systems. Often this is only possible by creating an anchor and having one person move to the lip of the crevasse, or by having a second independent rope team acting as a communication relay.

Self Rescue > Introduction

These self-rescue articles are part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Having a good knowledge of self-rescue skills is essential for any climber. The more effectively you are able to improve a poor situation (e.g; if you are able to escape the belay and descend with an injured partner to the ground, instead of waiting in the middle of the crag for assistance), the less risk is required of rescuers and the quicker you and your partner will receive help.

Your self-rescue skills should be accompanied by a solid understanding of first aid (not covered in these articles). We recommend attending a wilderness first aid course to brush up on your skills.

If you are capable of rescuing yourselves, you may not need to call for outside help at all, if that is even an option. Depending on the weather and your position, a rescue may not be possible. Many remote areas do not even have a rescue service available.

eiger north face

The self-rescue techniques described in this manual are merely guidelines. Many of the techniques simply will not work in the pickle you actually find yourself in. For example; you cannot safely descend if there is nowhere to make a reliable anchor. You cannot safely escape the belay and rope solo to an injured leader if you have no gear to make an upwards pulling anchor.

You will often have to use your creativity to find a solution that works for your particular situation. Make a solid plan before attempting any kind of self-rescue and consider the additional risk it puts on you and your climbing partners.



In general, if you can't solve your problem by escaping the belay and setting up a tandem abseil for you and the injured climber, it is unlikely that you'll be able to effect a safe rescue.

In this case, you should consider calling for help or leaving the situation (if possible) and going for help yourself. However, leaving an injured partner alone adds a whole other set of problems to the equation.

If it’s possible to call for help (either using a phone or shouting to nearby climbers for assistance), this is usually by far the best thing you can do if you are not confident solving the problem with your current set of skills.

Skills described in this section include:
- Escaping the belay
- Hauling your partner
- Retreating mid-pitch
- Tandem Abseiling
- Rope soloing
- Prusiking up a rope

Self Rescue > Escaping the Belay

This belay escape article is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

The belay escape is a technique whereby the belayer frees themselves from the responsibilities of belaying. This fundamental skill is necessary for many rescue situations.

Situations when you may need to escape the belay include:
- If your partner needs hauling through a crux while following
- If you need to descend to your partner to give immediate first aid
- If your partner falls and is injured while leading
- If you need to detach yourself from the rope to get outside help

The Belay Escape – How it Works

Any safe version of the belay escape involves the same four checkpoints:
- Get hands-free
- Transfer climber’s weight to anchor
- Transfer climber’s belay to anchor
- Remove all excess prusiks, carabiners and knots

The belayer can detach from the rope completely if needed. The end result is a system which can be released under load and can be used again as a belay. Returning to belay mode is often needed once a rescue has begun.

The full belay escape system is described in this article. Depending on the situation, you may not need to complete all of the steps (e.g: the process is much simpler if your partner is able to un-weight the rope). However, it’s important to know the complete system before taking shortcuts.

Three different methods are described. These cover belaying:
1) From your harness (anchor is within reach)
2) From your harness (anchor is out of reach)
3) Directly from the anchor (e.g: using guide mode)

The Belay Escape – First Considerations

Before starting a belay escape, make sure it is the best course of action for the situation. Maybe a much simpler option exists, such as lowering your partner to a ledge, or getting them to prusik up.

Depending on the direction of loading and your course of action after escaping the belay, you may need to make your anchor stronger. Some rescue techniques (such as hauling) exert high forces on the anchor. Beefing up the anchor is straightforward if you are belaying a second and there are protection points available within reach. With some creative sling craft and fine tuning, you may be able to equalize a few extra pieces to the belay.

If you are belaying a leader on a multi-directional anchor where there is only a single piece holding an upwards pull (example shown), you will need to add gear or build a new anchor before escaping the belay.

upwards pulling trad belay anchor

This is very difficult (or impossible) if the leader has the whole rack with them. However, you may be able to adjust the existing anchor pieces and cordelette to hold an upwards pull. Make sure the anchor still protects you from a fall while you are adjusting pieces.

As a last resort, you might be able to rope solo or prusik a short distance to retrieve gear for backing up the anchor.

The Belay Escape – When Belaying from your Harness (Anchor within Reach)

belay escape trad climbing escaping the belay

Step 2
Tie a prusik hitch on the weighted rope with a long cordelette. Make sure the double fisherman’s bend which joins the cord is close to the prusik hitch.

If you don’t have a long cordelette, you could use a short prusik cord attached to a double-length sling.

belay escape trad climbing

Step 3
Clip a screwgate to the master point of the anchor.

Step 4
Tie a munter hitch with the cordelette to the screwgate. Flip the munter so it’s in the lowering position and pull all the slack through.

trad climbing escaping the belay

Step 5
Tie a mule-overhand backup in the cordelette.

Step 6
Slide the prusik along the rope towards the climber to take up any remaining slack in the cordelette.

trad climbing belay escape

Step 7
Carefully release your tied-off belay device and let a small amount of slack through so the climber’s weight is transferred onto the cordelette.

Keep hold of the brake rope for the next 3 steps.

escaping the belay trad climbing

Step 8
Attach a screwgate (yellow carabiner in this diagram) to the master point and tie a munter hitch on it with the brake rope.

Pull most of the excess rope through so there is just enough slack to remove your belay device.

belay escape

Step 9
Keeping hold of the munter’s brake strand, remove your belay device.

Step 10
Pull the extra slack through the munter hitch and flip it so it’s in the lowering position. Finish the munter with a mule hitch and an overhand backup.

escaping the belay

Step 11
Release the mule-overhand from the cordelette and use the munter to transfer the climber’s weight from the cordelette to the rope.

Step 12
Once the weight is fully on the rope, remove the cordelette completely. You have now escaped the belay and can move on to the next step of your rescue.

belay escape trad climbing escaping the belay

Note
The same steps can be followed to escape the system if you are belaying from your harness and using a re-directional through the anchor.

redirected trad belay


The Belay Escape – When Belaying from your Harness (Anchor out of Reach)

belay escape trad climbing escaping the belay

Step 2
Fasten a prusik on the weighted rope as shown and attach a screwgate to it.

belay escape trad climbing

Step 3
Reach back to your tie-in at the anchor and grab the free end of your tie-in. If you can’t reach, run through the rope stack until you get to it.

Step 4
Tie a munter-mule-overhand on the screwgate with this part of the rope.

trad climbing escaping the belay

Step 5
Slide the prusik down the rope towards the climber to take out excess slack.

Step 6
Transfer the weight onto the prusik by releasing your tied-off belay device. Be prepared for a bit of rope stretch before the prusik takes the weight.

Keep hold of the brake rope for the next 3 steps.

belay escape trad climbing

Step 7
Move back to the anchor and tie a munter hitch to it with the brake strand of rope.

escaping the belay climbing

Step 8
Remove your belay device.

Step 9
Bring in the excess slack and finish the munter with a mule-overhand.

escaping the belay

Step 10
Release the mule-overhand from the rope which is attached to the prusik. Use the munter to transfer the climber’s weight from the prusik to the munter-mule-overhand on the anchor.

Step 11
Once the weight has been transferred, you can remove the prusik and the munter hitch.

belay escape climbing

The Belay Escape – When Belaying Directly from the Anchor

When belaying directly from the anchor with a self-blocking belay device (such as an ATC in guide mode) or an assisted braking belay device (such as a GriGri), you have already escaped the belay.

These belay methods are not completely hands-free – a light hand must be kept on the brake strand while belaying. Therefore, the only step remaining is to back up the device. Simply tie-off the device with a mule-overhand as shown below.

guide mode belaying
how to belay in guide mode

Self Rescue > Hauling Your Partner

This hauling your partner article is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

This section describes methods of hauling your partner up part of a climb.

Times when you may need to set up a hauling system include:
- Assisting your partner through a short crux.
- If your partner falls while following a steep pitch and is left dangling in space.
- During a multi-pitch rescue for an injured climber, where descending would be more difficult or dangerous.

In most cases, it is easier for the follower to prusik up the rope than it is for the leader to haul them. However, hauling may be the best option if they are injured or cannot use prusiks.

Warning – Unconscious Climber
Dragging a climber up a cliff may cause additional injuries. If the climber is unconscious, they should not be hauled unless directly attended. If a long or complicated haul is required, utilizing search and rescue professionals is usually the best course of action.

Mechanical Advantage

The hauling systems in this section are described using their mechanical advantage. A 3:1 means that for every three meters of rope that you haul, your partner moves up one meter. With a 6:1, six meters of rope must be hauled to move your partner one meter.

In theory, a 3:1 is three times easier than just pulling on the rope (1:1). In reality, improvised hauling systems are fraught with inefficiencies, creating a significant difference between theoretical and actual mechanical advantage. This is primarily due to friction around carabiners and stretch in the rope (explained here). Taking this into consideration, a 3:1 setup is still a simple and effective solution for many situations.



Hauling Your Partner – Drop Line 1:1

Best Use
- Assisting your partner through a short crux near the top of a pitch

Advantages
- Simple

Disadvantages
- Only possible when the climber is less than 1/3 of the rope length from the belayer
- Must be able to drop a rope to the climber easily. Getting your rope stuck will add more problems

Step 1
Tie off your belay device so you can go hands-free.

mule overhand belay device

Step 2
Attach the standing end of the rope to the master point. Often it already is depending on your belay setup.

Step 3
Lower the rope stack to the climber.

rock climbing belay setup

Step 4
Release your tied off belay device. They can now pull on the standing end of the rope while you belay them up – they do all the hard work! Make sure the climber pulls on the correct side of the rope. You could also pre-tie some loops in the rope so it is easier for them to pull.

rock climbing trad belay

Hauling Your Partner – Drop Line 2:1 / 3:1

Best Use
- Assisting your partner through a short crux near the top of a pitch when belaying in guide mode

Advantages
- Simple

Disadvantages
- Only possible when the climber is less than 1/3 of the rope length from the belayer
- Must be able to drop a rope to the climber easily. Getting your rope stuck will add more problems

Step 1
Attach a screwgate to the rope stack and lower it down to the climber.

Step 2
The climber clips this to their belay loop.

Step 3
Tie a back up knot (such as a figure-8) to the anchor. This back up knot should be adjusted every few meters.

Step 4
The climber pulls down (with a 2:1 advantage) while the belayer pulls up (with a 3:1 advantage).

self rescue how to haul your partner guide mode

Hauling Your Partner – Simple 3:1

Best Use
- Hauling your partner through a crux when passing the rope to them is not possible

Advantages
- Only requires a few meters of rope to set up

Disadvantages
- The climber cannot assist


Step 1
If belaying from your harness, you’ll need to escape the belay.

Step 2
Tie a prusik on the weighted rope and clip it to the master point with a screwgate (depending on how you escaped the system, you may already have this).

self rescue hauling your partner

Step 3
Tie another prusik to the weighted rope as far down as you can reach. Clip this to the loose brake strand with a screwgate (Use a pulley here if you have one).


Step 4
Connect the rope to the master point with a screwgate as shown.


Step 5
Tie a back up knot (such as a figure-8) in the slack rope and attach this to the anchor.

self rescue how to haul your partner

Step 6
Transfer the load onto the upper prusik by slowly unfastening the munter-mule. Make sure you keep hold of the brake rope from now on.


Step 7
Remove the carabiner which the munter-mule was tied to. Pull in all slack.


Step 8
You are now ready to haul. Keep one hand over the upper prusik to maintain its position while pulling upwards on the rope. (Make sure the prusik does not get sucked through the carabiner)

self rescue hauling your partner

Step 9
The lower prusik will eventually join the upper prusik. At this point you will need to reset it. With the weight on the upper prusik, push the lower prusik down the rope as far as you can.

This would be a good time to re-tie your back-up knot (Tie a new one before untying the old one). Repeat as necessary.


Step 10
When your partner is able to continue climbing, re-attach your belay device and remove the prusiks.

self rescue how to haul your partner

Hauling Your Partner – 3:1 Tips

Self-Sliding Prusik
If an ATC is available, you can add it to the master point during Step 4.

The ATC will not add friction, but it can help to prevent the upper prusik from getting sucked through the carabiner.

self rescue hauling your partner

Downwards Hauling
If pulling upwards is difficult, you can re-direct the rope through the anchor to change the hauling direction. This will allow you to more easily put your weight into the haul.

The disadvantage is that it adds more friction to the system without adding any mechanical advantage.

self rescue hauling your partner

Hauling Your Partner – 3:1 with Guide Mode

You can easily set up a 3:1 system if you are belaying directly from the anchor in guide mode.

Advantages
- Quick to set up. There is no need to escape the belay or attach the upper prusik

Disadvantages
- Adds more friction to the system


Step 1
Attach a prusik to the rope as previously described.

Step 2
You are now ready to haul.

self rescue hauling guide mode belay

Hauling Your Partner – 3:1 with a Garda Hitch

A garda hitch is an improvised ratchet pulley.

Advantages
- Eliminates the need for the upper prusik

Disadvantages
- Adds more friction to the system
- The garda hitch is almost impossible to release when loaded. It is essentially a one-way hitch


Step 1
Instead of tying a munter-mule when escaping the system, tie a garda hitch with a back-up as shown.

Step 2
Attach a prusik to the rope as previously described, and you are ready to haul.

garda hitch alpine clutch

Hauling Your Partner – 3:1 from Your Harness

The same system can be set up from your harness.

Advantages
- Can be used with non-cordelette belay setups
- No need to escape the belay

Disadvantages
- The weight of the climber hanging from your harness can be uncomfortable
- Your range of motion is restricted. Pulling the rope and adjusting prusiks is much more difficult


Step 1
Tie-off your belay device to get hands-free.

Step 2
Follow steps 2-10 of 'Simple 3:1'.

self rescue hauling your partner 3:1

Hauling Your Partner – Adding More Advantage

Endless variations are possible by adding more prusiks, slings and carabiners. Two of the most common systems are shown below.

5:1 System

A 3:1 can be converted into a 5:1 by adding a sling and 2 carabiners.

5:1 hauling

9:1 System

A 3:1 can be converted into a 9:1 by adding 2 carabiners and a prusik.

9:1 hauling

Hauling Your Partner – Forces, Friction and Efficiency

Forces on the Anchor
Mechanical advantage hauling systems place increased forces on your anchor. If you continue hauling with something stuck (e.g: a prusik or carabiner gets caught in a crack), the forces on the anchor increase exponentially.

Don’t force the haul if it feels like something is stuck. It may be wise to beef up your anchor with more gear prior to hauling.

Friction
More friction means harder hauling. Friction is increased by:
- More weight on the rope
- More carabiners in the system
- Rope running over more surfaces

In a simple 3:1 setup, the weighted rope runs around 2 carabiners. This is the minimum number for a 3:1 haul, and therefore this system has the least friction.

Creating a 5:1 or a 9:1 may not necessarily make the haul easier, especially if your anchor is built on the ground and the rope is zigzagging over rough rock. Not only does this generate a lot of friction, it also means that you will have to haul five (or nine) meters of rope to get your partner one meter up.

Depending on how far you can reach to reset the prusiks, you may only get your partner up a few inches between each reset. If set up on an awkward stance, it could literally take hours to haul a person half a rope length.

Carabiner and Pulley Efficiency
Pulleys significantly reduce friction in hauling systems, but are rarely taken on climbs because they are unlikely to ever get used.

A good compromise is the DMM Revolver Carabiner which features a tiny pulley. It reduces friction and can be used as a normal carabiner too.

dmm revolver carabiner

Hauling Your Partner – Summary

Keeping your system simple, straight and away from unnecessary friction will help more than adding mechanical advantage to an inefficient system.

If you can throw some rope to your partner, the drop line techniques will be quickest. If not, a 3:1 will be the next best option. It is often more efficient to pull harder on a 3:1 than it is to add carabiners (and friction) to set up a 9:1. Only add more mechanical advantage if you need it.

Complicated belays and loose rock on belay ledges can add more problems than a hauling setup may solve. Consider alternative solutions (such as lowering your partner, or getting them to prusik up) before you set up a hauling system.

Self Rescue > Mid-Pitch Retreat

This article, Self Rescue > Mid-Pitch Retreat, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Sometimes, a climb may prove to be too difficult, forcing you into a mid-pitch retreat. This is fairly straightforward if you:
- Can downclimb
- Are less than half a rope length up a pitch
- Can reach an anchor by french-freeing, aiding or penduluming

However, if you are more than half a rope length up a pitch, cannot downclimb or make a belay, you can still get down.

Mid-Pitch Retreat with a Single Rope

This method assumes that the gear you lower from is very reliable. It is recommended that you back up the lower-off piece either by equalizing it with another or by leaving a couple of protection pieces below the top piece.


Step 1
Get lowered to a place where you can make an anchor.

self rescue bail from climb

Step 2
Attach to the anchor with a sling.

self rescue bailing from climb

Step 3
Pull a bight of rope through the anchor, tie a figure 8 and attach it to your belay loop.

self rescue mid-pitch retreat from climb

Step 4
Untie from the end of the rope, pull the rope through and re-tie back into the end.

self rescue retreating from climb

Step 5
Remove the figure 8 on a bight and ask the belayer to take in the slack. If there is a huge amount of slack, consider tying intermediate knots while the slack is being taken in.


Step 6
Once the slack has been taken in, you can unclip your sling attachment and lower down to the belayer, or to another anchor to repeat the process.

self rescue get down off climb mid-pitch retreat

If the route traverses or overhangs, make sure to lower down with a sling attaching you to the rope. This prevents you from getting stranded.

You’ll have to clip past any gear that you are leaving.

self rescue climbing


Mid-Pitch Retreat with Two Ropes

If you are climbing with a lead rope and trailing another rope (e.g: a lightweight ‘tag’ rope for hauling or adding distance to your abseils), it is possible to use a different technique which is slightly safer (if you protected the pitch well) and means you can leave less gear behind.

To set up the two rope retreat:

Step 1
Clip the middle of the tag rope (green in this diagram) into your highest good piece of gear.

self rescue trad climbing

Step 2
Abseil on the tag rope while getting belayed down on the lead rope. Remove protection as you descend.


Step 3
This technique allows you to descend up to half the length of the tag rope. At this point, you will need to create an anchor and repeat the process.

self rescue descent climbing

The Cost of Leaving Gear Behind

These methods involve leaving gear behind. When deciding on which pieces or how many to leave behind, remember that the cost of climbing gear is far less than the cost of being seriously injured. It is obviously very dangerous if the lower-off piece fails. Leave behind solid gear and worry about replacing it later.

Depending on the location, it may also be possible to retrieve your gear later by abseiling in from the top on a fixed rope and then prusiking out.

Self Rescue > Tandem Abseiling

This article, Self Rescue > Tandem Abseiling, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Tandem abseiling means two people descending with the same device. It is most useful when descending with an injured climber.

A simple tandem abseil setup:
- ‘Lead’ abseiler is attached to the belay device with a shoulder-length sling girth-hitched through their belay loop.
- Lead abseiler uses a prusik.
- Second abseiler is attached to the belay device with a shoulder-length sling doubled through their harness. This allows the climbers to be staggered slightly.
- Both climbers are attached with separate screwgates to the belay device. The two carabiners add extra friction therefore making it easier to control the descent. They also allow each climber to be on independent systems.

Because of the doubled weight, you might benefit from adding extra friction to the abseil.

self rescue tandem abseiling rappelling

Multiple Tandem Abseils

If your partner is incapacitated, you should attach them to each station with a releasable clip-in (such as a length of cord tied with a munter-mule-overhand), backed up with a sling.

Pre-attach this to their harness before you begin the descent.

self rescue tandem rappel


Tandem Abseiling > Chest Harness

You could make an improvised chest harness to keep your partner in a better position during the descent.


Step 1
Tie an overhand knot in the middle of a double-length sling.

rock climbing sling

Step 2
Insert your partner’s arms into the loops, as if you were helping them put a jacket on.

self rescue chest harness

Step 3
Clip the two ends of the sling around the abseil rope (no knot is needed – the carabiner should run freely down the ropes).

chest harness rock climbing

An alternative is to clip the chest harness to your partner’s abseil sling.

Be careful not to descend past your next abseil station – prusiking back up with an extra person hanging from your harness may be impossible.

self rescue tandem abseiling

Self Rescue > Rope Soloing

This article, Self Rescue > Rope Soloing, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Rope soloing is a technique where you belay yourself instead of being belayed by your partner. You can use this technique to lead or top rope belay.

More complicated techniques are needed to solo an overnight alpine route or aid-solo a big wall. These skills are outside the scope of this article. Only the basic technique is described here.

Times when you may need to rope-solo include:
- Climbing up to reach an injured leader after escaping the belay
- Assisting an injured partner who cannot belay and when the easiest way out is up
- Setting up a top rope anchor by yourself

rope solo el cap shortest straw

Photo: Neil Chelton rope soloing The Shortest Straw, El Cap. Photographer: Tom Evans.

Rope Solo Devices

Devices exist which are specifically designed for rope-soloing (such as the Silent Partner). Assisted braking belay devices (such as the GriGri) work to some extent, but are fairly unreliable for rope soloing and must be backed up with the technique described here anyway.

In keeping with the improvised character of self-rescue, we will assume that you don’t have a rope-solo device with you.



How To Rope Solo – The Basics

Step 1
Build a bomber, multi-directional anchor (a bolted anchor is best when first learning this technique) and tie one end of the rope to it. This anchor primarily needs to hold an upwards pull.

You can maintain the position of the anchor by tying a clovehitch to a separate piece of gear above the anchor as shown (other knots work too, such as the alpine butterfly, but the clovehitch is much easier to cinch tight).

Alternatively, you can use a prusik to maintain the anchor’s position. Be aware that prusiks may slip when left on an unattended, moving rope like this.

If it is critical that your anchor stays in position, use the clovehitch technique instead.

self rescue rope solo

Step 2
Tie in to the other end of the rope.


Step 3
Stack the rope neatly so that it feeds out from both ends.
The rope will feed out twice as fast from the anchor side than from your tie-in side, so factor this in when stacking.

self rescue how to rope solo

Step 4
Pull a few meters of rope through from the anchor side and tie a clove hitch to a screwgate. Attach this to your belay loop. This is your primary tie-in point.


Step 5
Tie another clove hitch a couple more meters further down the rope. This is your back up.

rope soloing rescue

Step 6
You are now ready to climb. As you ascend, place gear on the rope between your primary clove hitch and the anchor.


Step 7
You’ll need to adjust your clovehitch just before the rope comes tight. Pull up a few meters of slack rope, tie another clove hitch, then remove the old one.

Remember that the extra slack from untying will add to the distance you can fall as well as the distance you can climb up. Re-tie the clove hitches as often as you need to keep yourself safe.

rope solo climbing

Alternative Rope Solo Method

The main reason to be tied into the end of the rope is so that it’s impossible to become completely detached from the system. Depending on your level of competence with rope-soloing, you may choose to only be attached to the system via the clovehitches. This means you have less rope hanging from your harness and therefore less chance of a loop getting caught on something out of reach below.

A good compromise is to carry the rope with you in a backpack while climbing. Tie into the end of the rope and stack it inside the backpack (your tie-in end is stacked at the bottom). Keep your backpack open so you can pull rope out easily while you climb.

Rope Soloing Dangers

Rope Management
One of the main difficulties of rope soloing is judging the amount of rope you need to get to the next gear placement or good stance.

Due to the extra slack in the system, you will need to place gear more frequently than you would when being belayed by a partner, especially when climbing off the ground or a ledge. It’s a hard balance between having enough rope to move up, and keeping fall potential to a minimum.


Dynamic Belay
Without a partner, you will not have a dynamic belay. This means more force is applied to your gear in a fall – another reason to place solid gear more frequently.


Stuck Ropes
Another common problem (especially on lower-angle terrain, or if it’s windy) is getting a loop of rope stuck on something.

You can reduce these dangers by:
- Placing good gear more frequently than you normally would.
- Identifying upcoming gear placements before you reach them.
- Making sure you don’t need to re-tie your clove hitches in the middle of a difficult move.
- Only climbing terrain you find easy.
- Having a sling pre-attached to your belay loop. This allows you to quickly clip in to a piece of gear – useful for getting your hands free to adjust knots.
- Managing your rope well. If your rope is likely to get stuck far below, you could carry it in coils on your harness (this works better higher up the pitch when there is less rope to deal with), or take it with you from the start in a small backpack.

Top Rope Self-Belaying

Other situations exist where you may need to self-belay up a rope above you. For example, if the rope above gets stuck when you’re following a pitch. A solution would be to self-belay to the point where the rope is stuck.

In most situations like this, the rope remains still while you ascend. Simply climb up and tie backup knots as you go.

Depending on the situation, you may reach a point where you can be put on belay. In this case, you should adjust the backup knots while the belayer takes in rope. This ensures that you do not create unnecessary fall potential while the rope is being taken in.

self rescue rope solo climbing