Crevasse Rescue

Date #867 — Sunday, July 10, 2016

B: While A was in Ottawa I did a lot of preparing for our upcoming mountaineering camp. One of the things I did was take a crevasse rescue clinic offered by the Alpine Club of Canada. I also read up a lot on glacier travel and rope rescue.

I wanted to practice my skills again and teach A. The thought of falling in to a crevasse — which is like falling in to a giant crack in the ice — is terrifying. Without the proper training, it easily could mean death.

I knew how important this training would be. I wanted A to practice. I knew it would be a lot of info and also terrifying, but I hoped A would feel better after.

The whole time she was away I would have trouble sleeping. During all my reading of safety materials I would think of worst-case scenarios. We were going into a terrain we’d never experienced. Mountains are some of the most dangerous places to be in the world — the weather can change swiftly, you can fall to your death, there may be an avalanche, and you’re extremely isolated and far from rescue services.

To stay calm I tried to only focus on the task at hand — to work on each stage of prep and not think about the rest. So, while at the gym, I just thought, “we’re practising at a gym,” and I didn’t allow other thoughts to enter.

To create safer travelling conditions on glaciers we would be travelling roped-in (3–4 people tied to a rope with 5–15 meters between each person), carrying ice-axes, wearing crampons and helmets, and hopefully carrying the knowledge of how to hoist ourselves our of a crevasse or hoist someone else out.

A and I both practised the rescue techniques. We had to wait until the climbing gym was closed at 10pm and then we went to work.

I first showed A what to do if she was tangling from a rope in a crevasse. The basic idea is that if someone falls in, the other people on the rope stop the fall by throwing themselves to the ground and digging in their ice axe — this also prevents the others from being dragged in to the crevasse. Not stopping a fall most likely means death.

So, I showed A how to tie two prussiks into the rope she would be dangling from. A prussik is great because it can slide up and down a rope by sinches tight and holds when you pull on it. I showed A how to tie one to her harness and close the ends of the other into a loop using two keeper knots. I then showed how she would slide the bottom one up and step on the loop to stand up, this would allow her to raise the top prussik (the one tied to her harness) so she then could sit back, take pressure of the bottom prussik, and repeat the process. Basically, it’s like constantly shifting your weight from one prussik to the other and pulling each one up — back and forth, back and forth.

The kind of ropes at the gym made it tough and that was a bit frustrating. I just thought, “this is good practice.”

I then showed A what to do if she dropped one prussik — how she would use two carabiners to ascend using Garda Hitch. We then practised being on the other end of the rope, outside of the crevasse. I showed A how after arresting the fall we would make an anchor in the snow, transfer our weight off of the rope but stay tied in using prussiks, and how we would make a pulley system to haul a person if they were unable to get themselves out.

I’m happy A was so keen to learn one we got in to it. For me it can be tough teaching someone close to myself. I think both sides have expectations. I try to stay as neutral and calm as possible. During the experience I tried to think of A as another student.

I also put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. So, when I’m teaching A something I just learned — like in this case — I get frustrated when I come to something I’m unsure of. This time around I told A, “remember, I just learned this, so there may be a better way of doing this that we’ll learn in camp or later.” It was a good exercise. I felt way more prepared for camp. I hope A was feeling prepared too.

A: I complained about going out late at night to practice crevasse rescue but I’m so glad we did this. First of all, it was a lot of fun. It was challenging, too, and B did a great job at teaching me what he learned at the clinic. It was a lot of information to take in but when I got to hoist myself up all on my own with knots I tied by myself I felt accomplished and confident.

Crevasse rescue is crucial to alpine safety. I was working in Ottawa when B did the clinic so I’m so happy he was able to show me the ropes (hehehehe).

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