Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are You Prepared?

Yesterday, I went climbing with a friend.  We were going to try to do five short multipitch routes on the South Side of Looking Glass (First Return, Second Coming, Rat's Ass, Gemini, and Zodiac.)  We hike up and start getting ready at the base of the routes.  My friend has not done a lot of leading but has shown himself to be proficient at leading on traditional gear so far, so I was going to let him lead the easier pitches on the routes.

Our first route was First Return mostly because everything else was wet in the crux sections of the climbs.  I led up to Sentry Box Ledge then brought up my friend.  Since the first pitch of First Return is the crux, I led it.  I set up the belay and bring him up.  At the belay we exchange gear and I tell him a bit about the pitch ahead.  I can see that it is slightly wet but I didn't think it would be too bad.

He headed up the pitch.  He was doing well.  He had gotten what I would consider adequate gear and was just getting into the wet stuff.  As he slowly moved up the wet holds, I could tell when he had found another place to get some gear.  A second after I see him relax a bit, I see him slip and come falling down.  I was only able to take up a little bit of rope.  Once he stopped falling I could tell that he was injured.  His posture and he was obviously in pain from his exclamations.  Since he was alert and it was only one ankle that was bothering him, I lowered him down to the belay.  There we did a quick check on the ankle.  Everything was still in the skin and it wasn't hurting him horribly.  He offered to let me finish the lead to get all my gear back.  I made sure he was cool with that, then headed up.

Upon getting to the base of the wet section I could see what happened on his fall.  The first part of the pitch is slabby terrain and where the water was, it becomes a bit more vertical.  The piece he fell on was a bomber .5 Camalot in an eyebrow.  The only problem was that it was at the beginning of the vertical section.  This means that if you fall on the vertical section you hit the slab below fairly hard.  This is what caused his injury.  I then started climbing into the wetness.  After a few moves, I was above my piece already and unsure of the footing on the wet rock.  I didn't want to risk both of us getting injured so I elected to down climb the pitch and try to get most of the gear back off of that pitch.  I did have to lead one piece.

Once back at the belay, I told my friend that I was going to lower him to Sentry Box ledge and I would rappel down.  I did this to minimize gear left on the route.  Once back at the ledge with my friend, we did a tandem rappel to the ground so that he would be able to balance against me while going down.  Once on the ground we checked out his ankle closer.  He had swelling and tenderness in a few spots.  We figured that he had sprained it pretty bad during the fall. Now we had a 3/4 of a mile hike back to the car with some of the terrain kind of blocky and steep.  I acted as a crutch on his side of the injury and he also had a walking stick we found.  This allowed him to keep all of his weight off of the bad ankle.  We made it back to the car in 1.5 hours.  Normally, this hike only takes 30 minutes.

This was the first real injury that has happened to me and a climbing partner while on a multipitch route.  In single pitch terrain, the general rescue skill you need to know is just to lower your partner back to the ground.  In multipitch settings, it can become much more difficult.  Luckily, I have worked on self rescue skills.  They are tools that I hope to never have to use but as I found out, even just something like a sprained ankle can make getting off of a route more difficult.  Also, having some form of medical training.  A requirement for my job is to have my Wilderness First Responder certification.  In the areas where we work and play, it can take quite a while to get someone to help.  If I hadn't had that training, I might have freaked out with my friends injury and called for help to carry him out on a litter.  If I would have done that, we probably would have been out there many more hours.  Since his injury was not life threatening, we simply just had to take our time to get out.

For those of you who read this and partake in adventurous activities in the outdoors, I would recommend you take a wilderness medicine course and for the climbers, take a self rescue course.  We offer such a course here at Fox Mountain Guides.  Unfortunately, many climbers don't see how important a course like this can be until it is too late.


Adam Beck said...

Great article, Travis. I'm glad the injury wasn't serious. Thanks for sharing.

Travis Weil said...

It turns out that my friend did some serious damage to his ankle. He has an avulsion fracture which may require some surgery. Be safe out there.