This outing was another session of the Boealps Intermediate Climbing Class I'm participating in this year - the objectives were to give us all experience in lowering a rescuer (or an injured climber), including passing knots through our belay setups; lowering a rescuer to an injured climber and then building a raising system with prusiks and pulleys to raise both people back to the top of a cliff; and finally to build a litter out of a climbing rope and transport a volunteer instructor from our practice area back to the road.
All of the exercises were quite informative - it's one thing to read about rescue systems and see pictures in books, and another thing entirely to actually build them in the mountain environment with temperatures below freezing (handling all those metal 'biners in temperatures like that was tough on the fingers). The first series of exercises focused on building a lowering system utilizing a carabiner brake system for belaying, a double prusik for safety backup, and a mariner hitch to aid in passing a knot through the carabiner brake system. This setup proved fairly straight forward (although we did let the knot get a little too close to our carabiner brake system, and had to raise our instructor a tad before continuing with the lower), and we were able to work through the scenario smoothly. In doing the exercise a second time, our instructor had us assume that we knew we were going to have to pass a knot during the lowering, build two separate carabiner brake systems, and transfer the rope from one to the other when the knot came close to the lower of the 'biner brakes. At first glance we thought this would be a piece of cake, but it proved a bit more complex than we suspected. We were still able to think through the process of what had to happen, lock off the rope at the correct time, transfer the weight of the system using the mariner hitch, and finish the lower.
The next scenario had us assuming that a climber had been injured on the rope, and that we were too far from the base of the cliff to lower. In turn, each student was lowered down to an "injured" instructor, attached themselves to the instructor's harness so there were two ropes in the system for safety, tied the instructor to their back using a quadruple sling, and then waited for the remaining three students up top to build a Z pulley system (which gives a 3-to-1 mechanical advantage). After trying to pull the weight of 2 people back up the cliff, the top side students modified the rope system to a 5-to-1, and continued raising. We found the 5-to-1, while a lot of work, to be most optimal in terms of effort expended to distance moved. As the injured instructor and his rescuer approached the top of the cliff, the rope system was changed once more to a 9-to-1 system - while this provided the easiest raising, the distance the climbers on the cliff face covered for each rope length pulled was frustratingly small - you'd never want to use that if you had most of a rope length out unless it was just you trying to raise someone. In the process of this exercise (there were four students teamed up, so four "rescues") we actually managed to shred a rope. During the last raise (on whice I was the rescuer!), the sheath on the rope was completely torn away over about 3 inches of the rope, and several of the actual nylon rope strands themselves were cut. This was a real eye opener to all of us (and the owner of the rope!), and emphasized the importance of padding the lip of any rock the rope was going to run over while weighted.
The final exercise of the day was to weave a litter out of a climbing rope. After padding it with foam pads, one lucky instructor volunteer (thanks Mike!) was tied into the litter with slings, and as a group we proceeded to transport him back down to the cars, sometimes down quite steep sections of the crag we were on. At times eight of us simply carried Mike, other times where footing was treacherous or the pitch was steep, we'd form a "litter brigade", and pass the litter from one person to the next. On the steepest sections, one student would also set up a quick belay, and we'd clip Mike into it, just in case the liter got away from us (which, thankfully, it never did). Although he was mysteriously pummeled with snow balls (just because he was tied into the litter, and couldn't retaliate?), Mike emerged at the road relatively unscathed by his ordeal. What was interesting to me was that a distance that had taken us 20 minutes to ascend in the morning took over and hour and a half to descend while transporting the litter, and that was with a contingent of 30 people! A true wilderness rescue over several miles would take an amazing amount of time - I hope I never have the chance to find out how long!
We spent the night at the Bridge Creek campground, and had another fabulous pot luck dinner - there was, again, way more food than we could eat, but we stuffed ourselves on tortellini, home made chili, barbecued chicken, beef stroganoff, smoked salmon, multiple salads, chocolate cake, cookies, and more! It started getting pretty cold, and we were planning a semi-early start on more skills training the next day, so most of us turned in fairly early. With the work we'd done during the day, the surfeit of food, and the Icicle Creek only a few yards from our tents providing a sleep inducing soundtrack, it was easy to drift off for a good night's rest.
Sunday morning we headed down to Mountaineer's Dome. Our first skills practice was on placing pro, and then building anchors. Although this was all basically a review for me, it was still good practice, and since the sun had come out and warmed things up to the mid-60's, I really didn't care what we were doing, as long as it was outside! After building a few anchors, we started practicing running belays - this started to look surreal! All over the mellow bouldered slopes of Mountaineer's Dome were rope teams of three (two students with an instructor in the middle), meandering on terrain that none of us would even think about using a rope on. Yet, there we were, slinging rock horns, dropping the occasional piece of pro into a handy rock crack, or winding the rope around a tree - it really looked funny! Once we got fairly high up on the dome, our instructor had us rig a rappel anchor, drop over a short cliff, pull our rope, and then high tail it for the cars, pretending we had just completed an alpine climb, and it was starting to get dark. I think we managed to move more quickly than he was anticipating, and we were back down well within the time limits he had set for us to have a "successful" exercise.
After that, it was in to Leavenworth for beers and brats and Gustav's, and then the long drive home over Blewitt (really Suak) Pass. Only two more skills outings to go (covering rock technique, and multi-picth routes - I think it'll be mostly more review for me), and then we'll start on the real alpine climbs in June. Even with the big snow year we've had, it should be a kick!