Rock Climbing Self Rescue

There I was, belaying Michael up from the trad anchor I had just set up on this 5.10a multipitch climb in Owen's River Gorge, CA. All of a sudden my rope went tight. What the heck? That's when I heard the crash of a boulder on the ground and I peered over the edge to find Michael knocked out cold.


...OK... I'm just kidding, that didn't happen, but there's always that chance (dad, don't read that part, climbing is 100% safe). We go climbing nearly every weekend, and we try to be as safe as possible, but what if something out of our control happens? What do we do? Sure, I bet we could figure out something in a mass panic, but who knows where that might get us if we make a mistake... what if it takes us too long? So, this past weekend Michael and I finally ponied up and got some rock climbing self rescue training from Dave Miller's course through the California Alpine Guides.

This was on my to-do list for 2015 since I'm hoping to get out to do more multipitch and alpine climbing this year, and as an added bonus, we got to take the course at Owen's River Gorge near Bishop, CA. Triple bonus was that a few of our friends were climbing there the same weekend and we got to camp with them. Woo Hoo! Gotta love bonuses.

Owen's River Gorge is jaw dropping. Where has this place been all my life. I can't believe I've never been here. If you don't know where Owen's River Gorge is, it is about 20 minutes away from Bishop. Actually, you can see the winding line next to the blue path in the map below is the Gorge. It's huge. I've driven to Mammoth a million times and never knew this places was there. We camped near the marker (below) called "Unnamed Road" in the Pinyons. This is a free (primitive) BLM camping ground and is very close to the gorge. There are good descriptions on how to get to the Gorge on mountain project:

We got in late Friday night and it was super windy in the Pinyons, and kind of cold (ok, really cold, wear layers), but we woke up the next day to perfect climbing weather.

Our first day of Rock Climbing Self Rescue training was going to be done more on the ground, to learn the basics. We began with a thorough review of trad anchors. I'm not going to go through all the details of doing these things, it's probably best to take a course if you'd like to learn or read some literature that better explains things than I do.

WTF is a trad achor you say? Well, there are different types of anchors. Primarily you've got your sport anchors, which are bolts in the rock at the top of a climb, and you've got trad achors,  in which you set pieces of trad gear (cams/nuts) at the top of your climb. We learned the optimal way to set up these trad anchors along with:

  • The difference between the shelf of the anchor and the main anchor loop
  • Basic clove hitch
  • Basic munter hitch

Then, if you are on a multipitch climb for instance, and are belaying your follower up from the top of the anchor, we learned a couple of ways to do this as well. The picture below is showing one example of belaying directly off of the main anchor. Pretty basic stuff.

Then we started to add some more layers. Enter self rescue scenario described at the beginning of the post. So say Michael hurt himself or was unconscious and couldn't climb up anymore. What do I do? Maybe first I decide I need to assess the situation better because I can't see him from where I am belaying.

I need to set up a block. Essentially, I need to allow myself to get hands-free, without dropping Michael so I can decide what I want to do next. I won't go into the nitty-gritty but simply put:

  1. I maintain my break hand through my belay device (so I don't drop Michael)
  2. I tie a mule knot through my device (and back up the mule knot) - Now I can go hands-free, but I don't unclip my belay yet
  3. I need to transfer the load to the anchor by setting up a clemheist knot (similar to a prussik)on the load strand and tying that with a munter-mule knot into the anchor.
  4. I'll back up the climbers rope with another munter-mule knot onto the shelf of the anchor
  5. Now I can free myself from the belay to proceed to my next steps

You can see part of this process in the picture below.

Michael was a good pretend hurt climber for our demonstrations.

We relocated that first day to find some sun, it was a bit cold in the shade. Hiking through the gorge had some cool little obstacles.

And sketchy log crossings...

We finished the day learning:

  • How to lower yourself to check on injured climber
  • Ascending back up to your anchor with a prussik system
  • Setting up a 3-to-1 and 5-to-1 pulley systems to haul the climber up

There was about an hour of sunlight left in the day when we wrapped things up and so we decided to get a climb in. Michael lead this climb in the upper gorge called Lava Haul (5.10a), and I followed.

It was actually a really sick climb. It had some really interesting slabby moves at the bottom and then some fun pockety slightly over hangy and stemmy upper portion. It just barely worked with our 70m rope... The guidebook says 60m rope would be fine, but I'm not convinced that's accurate anymore.

Finished the night by grabbing a bite to eat in Bishop with our friends at Schat's Roadhouse, which has some pretty good food. Then went back to camp, talked a bit around the fire, and went to bed.

The second day of Rock Climbing Self Rescue Training we learned first about rappelling techniques including tandem rapels.

And then we spent the rest of the day putting it all together.... re-running through the scenarios, switching off as victims. We practiced by hanging off of the top of a climb called Land Before Time (5.10a) (which we also got to climb twice! woohoo!).

Anyways, it was a really good course, and I feel much more efficient and well prepared for something like that. Also I gained an even better knowledge base for my knots and being efficient on multipitch climbs and rapels.

And I got to spend time with this guy, right below, doing what we love to do and exploring more of California.

We hope to never have to utilize these techniques, but its always comforting to know that you and your climbing partner are well prepared and ready for anything. Trust is key.

I can't wait to come back to the gorge and get some more climbing in...and I can't wait to do some alpine climbs this year... it's going to be a good year.