Rope rescue for ice – course with Sarah Hueniken

Rope rescue for ice – course with Sarah Hueniken
December 19, 2016 Nathalie Drotar

What I learned from Rope rescue course with Sarah Hueniken

My general take on ice climbing:

Ice climbing is a new sport to me so I decided to take many courses this season to learn how to climb safely.  I’m sharing what I  learned from Rope rescue with Sarah to promote discussion of safe ice climbing practices amongst club members.  This article is not meant to teach skills nor is it a substitute for good judgment or experience.  Any mistakes in this article are mine.

In order to have a great time ice climbing one must be aware of hazards and prepare to mitigate them.  Make sure your vehicle is well maintained, if you drive into the ditch or can’t start your car in -30 C you are going to have a bad time.  Bring a communication device either a cell phone when there is reception, an inreach, spot or satellite phone.  Learn how to use your communication device and know who you are going to call if things go sideways.

Have a good understanding of your climbing ability.  Leading on ice is a no fall activity so choose routes that are appropriate for your skill. Keep in mind that conditions are always changing so get current information and plan to turn around or alter the objective when needed.  

Make sure to bring lots of warm clothes, spare gloves, chemical hand and foot warmers, lots of hot food with high protein and fat content, hot tea in a Thermos, treats for your belayer (I like chocolate!!).  Bringing a stove and pot for making more tea, insulated pad and sleeping bag is a great way to stay warm.  

Make sure that you and your partner have reviewed rescue techniques and know each other’s systems. Before traveling to your icicle of choice, assess if it is in avalanche terrain (see Waterfall Ice Climbing and Avalanches in Canada’s Mountain National parks) check the avalanche bulletin and decide how to safely arrive.  Once you and your huge pile of gear have arrived to the climb, don’t fall into the river.  It’s cold and wet and drowning doesn’t look like a good time. Wow I’m excited to climb now aren’t you?

Things I learned from Sarah:

The best laid plans can go sideways so call for help when needed.  If you attempt a self rescue make sure you have practiced enough to get yourselves out of a bind rather than making the situation worse.  

Escaping the belay to rescue a fallen leader:

We learned how to free our hands from the rope using a munter mule hitch to escape the belay to rescue a fallen leader, how to transfer the loaded rope to an anchor using a prusik and tying it off with a munter mule, to back up the prusik with  a clove hitch.  Finally we learned how to transfer the climber’s weight back onto the anchor using the rope with a munter mule hitch.  This frees up the prusik cordelette.  

Ice screws melt out faster when they are weighted and they will be loaded during a rescue.  Back up the anchor with extra unweighted screws.

Escaping the belay to rescue a fallen second:

Practice escaping the belay in all stances

  1. Belaying off the harness- good choice in alpine terrain because it’s easy to set up.
  2. Belaying off the harness with a redirect- easy to set up but not good in steep terrain if the second is heavier than you.
  3. Belaying off a reverso- The major advantage of this system is it allows you to bring 2 seconds up at the same time.  Tie off the brake rope to get hands free.  

Release the reverso 3 methods:

  1. Wiggle the biner to release rope a small amount of rope
  2. The easiest and safest way is to transfer the load onto a prusik that is tied onto the anchor with a munter mule, back up with a clove hitch on climbing rope this rescues the reverso
  3.  Be very careful to back this method up!!  Back this up with a munter off a biner on your belay loop. Girth hitch the biner on the reverso with a sling, redirect it use body weight to release. There will be no more friction so you need to lower with the munter.

Getting down 2 methods:

  1. Tandem rappel- back up with a prusik and tie knots at the ends of the rope.
  2.  Simul rappel- back up with a prusik, use a blocking knot at the anchor to deal with differences in weight, tie knots at the end of the rope.  Connect the rappellers belay loops with a quick draw to keep them moving together.

Ascending the rope:  Practice ascending the rope with prussiks.

Please have a fun and safe ice climbing season.  If any of these ideas or skills are new to you please learn how and when to apply them and take some classes.  Remember your partner’s life is in your hands so be a great partner and take care of each other.  

Sheena Lambert

1 Comment

  1. Ken Lee 7 years ago

    Thanks for posting what you learned. Ice screws melting out faster when weighted is something that I had not fully considered before, so much appreciated

Leave a reply