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Self rescue report and discussion- Partner becomes disoriented and nearly passes out mid-trad lead.


Original Post
Daniel James · · 2018/19: Bristol, England · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 125

Not sure if this is the best section of the forum to post this in, but if anyone cares to read/weigh in this is the summary I wrote after doing a self rescue when a buddy of mine suddenly became disoriented and risked passing out mid-trad lead.

tl;dr: Friend got dizzy/blurred vision/risked passing out mid trad lead, more than half a rope length from the ground.  His belayer escaped and got me to prusik up my rap line to the top of the formation so I could move over and rappel to his ledge and then build an anchor and lower the first friend to the ground safely (salvaging all gear save the anchor).
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Location: Dinas Cromlech, North Wales.  ~45m routes up a large open book type formation.  No walk off [edit: that I was aware of at least, apparently], mandatory 2 rope rappels off of slung tree anchors. Difficult scrambling approach, but in sight of road (no cell service). Chilly, but not freezing weather.  Air is dry, some rock is wet.

Issue: J, the person leading Cemetery Gates (E1/5.10) started to have blurred vision and become disoriented after pulling the crux onto a narrow ledge 35m up, with past medical history indicating high probability of passing out.  J was too high up to be lowered with the 50m ropes he was on, and could not necessarily be trusted to build a trustworthy anchor and definitely could not be trusted to rappel on his doubles in the event of passing out. The sun is going down.

Our solution:  J secured himself in direct to a few pieces on the ledge, and his belayer, A, escaped the belay and tied off one of his lines to a tree at the base of the climb.  I was informed of the situation, and conveniently having just finished my route but having not pulled the rope (largely because our plan required J to finish his route and use my anchor to get down as I only had a single 60m rope and thus had to fix it with a biner block and rappel on one line), used my fixed line to prusik up. I had a prusik loop and a petzl basic, and so was able to use those with a couple of slings to rig a basic frogging-style ascending setup (my preferred method for its efficiency, coming from a caving background).

Once at the upper level (dark enough now to require headlamps), I pulled up my 60m rope, and sought out an anchor above J.  Brush obscured ideally located gear anchor possibilities. There was one other fixed anchor on top that while not directly above, would provide a good enough location. It was a rotted tree backed up with a long sun-bleached rope to another, healthy tree. This being a frankly shit anchor, I was able to add in a just-ok sling on a rock. I tested each part of the anchor with hard tugs, and rappelled down carefully to the ledge, and delicately walked over (still on rappel with a prusik backup) to him.  I clipped myself directly to some of his pieces, and added a couple.  

The rope wouldn't allow me to lower J off of the upper anchor (with the original plan being to do that after tying two ropes together, a plan which would have required passing a knot while lowering) so we condensed a few pieces into a master point, and I lowered him off on one of his ropes to the ground (with him cleaning what gear he could from his route). As I could only pull my line from the top anchor in one direction (out rather than evening the two ropes) and as I wished to avoid testing the anchor with a dramatic swing when getting onto it, I then used two ropes tied together to rappel off of the same gear anchor I lowered J off of. The ascender clipped to my chest also made it easier to pull the rope through when it got slightly stuck when taking it down. In the meantime, my belayer from before, B, packed up all of the gear we had left on the ground, and saw to having A (the least experienced of the group) be lowered off an anchor past the hardest of the scrambling. J and I both added layers for warmth, ate/drank, packed up and carefully headed down.

Take away lessons:  
- Prusiking on just prusiks sucks, having at least one ascender type device makes life a lot easier (/prusking is an important skill), but an ascender will only be good for ascending one line
- Always have each member of your party have their own headlamp
- Walls taller than half rope lengths add seriousness to any route, especially on routes without walk up/off clifftops
- Being able to escape the belay is very useful
- Knowing how to deal with marginal anchors is important (/perhaps the Brits should consider that bolted anchors here and there may actually be worthwhile to not kill trees/remove a need to for littering crags with tat/improve safety)
- Having two separate people that can put together solutions to problems is important, as J was often the only person in a group with skills and knowledge to deal with situations
- Your life is more important than climbing gear

What could have been done differently:
- Look harder for anchor directly above rescue spot?
- When getting on direct to gear in this sort of situation, take time to actually just make a decent master point, as retroactively turning 4 pieces of gears directly attached to a harness into a bail-able anchor makes a horrid mess of biner and sling
- For my route, I should have not been dependent on him to get that rope down (even though in this case it worked out better to have an easy way back up)
- We left a second ascender in the trunk of the car, which would have made prusiking easier
- One member of our party, B, did not have a headlamp, he should've had one

Things that could have made this different and how we could have dealt with it?
- If he was <25m from ground, we would have lowered him
- J could have passed out while being lowering. This would have been a two stage lower (down to a large ledge first then past the scramble).
- J could have actually passed out after getting on direct.  Would have mostly been same approach, except I would have made the anchor entirely and would have had to take care of all parts of setting him up.
- J could have passed out before getting on direct.  He would have taken a fairly solid whip, so injuries would be a concern.  I would rap down and evaluate if there was a high possibility of a bad injury.  If not, the proceed as above, just with a less ideal anchor location. If bad injury was involved, send A to get to the road to flag a car down to get help, and evaluate if lowering can be achieved without worsening any injury.
- This scenario could have happened after I pulled my line. Since I could climb his route, I'd've probably gone for a quick lead on my rope up to his ledge, clipping his gear/adding as I felt necessary.  If it was harder than I could climb, then the same approach but aiding through some moves and possibly having to pull up on his line with prusik/ascender (I am reluctant to say that I would have just prusiked up his line as that puts full faith in and extra force on his upper pieces of gear/anchor).

Jared Chrysostom · · Charleston, SC · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 5

The headlamp note is a lesson for me - I always take one on the route when doing multipitch climbs, but it usually lives in the backpack which is at the last belay or on the second's back. If I ended up stuck on lead I would be screwed. 

Heavy on the J · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0

Everyone got out safe, so it sounds like you did fine overall.  

One thing I would recommend for next time is to rap with J rather than lower him.  That way if he passes out on the way down, you can support/control his body.  You can rig the rappel with both of you hanging extended from the same device and a prusic backup.

The rest kind of depends on how urgent it is to get out.  If it was a more urgent injury, instead of a "might pass out" scenario, the basic plan would be: get to the climber, build a bomber anchor, rap to the ground with the climber.  I'm guessing your original plan of lowering J off the top anchor was an attempt to avoid leaving gear at J's location, which is a good idea but should be abandoned as soon as you realize the top anchor is suspect.  Also keep in mind the option of single strand raps on fixed ropes for a faster rescue.  You had a 60m and a 50m available so you could have rapped up to 110m if necessary by leaving ropes behind (not suggesting you needed to do that in this scenario).  

The real questions are... what options would A have if A and J were the only 2 there?  And does the answer to that question affect J's climbing decisions based on his medical history?  

Thanks for posting.

Daniel James · · 2018/19: Bristol, England · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 125
One thing I would recommend for next time is to rap with J rather than lower him.  That way if he passes out on the way down, you can support/control his body.  You can rig the rappel with both of you hanging extended from the same device and a prusic backup.
Yeah I thought about that as an option, and I agree that it probably would be a better one. Thankfully he seemed to be stabilizing/improving at the time so I wasn't as worried, but I've definitely added that to my "skills to practice" list.

I'm guessing your original plan of lowering J off the top anchor was an attempt to avoid leaving gear at J's location, which is a good idea but should be abandoned as soon as you realize the top anchor is suspect.
Also agreed, I should have abandoned that idea immediately, but unfortunately was blinded a bit by the idea of trying to save gear which was agreed not ideal.

The real questions are... what options would A have if A and J were the only 2 there?  And does the answer to that question affect J's climbing decisions based on his medical history?  
Prior to this incident, J's medical history had never come into play while climbing, but now that it has he is very much evaluating what he feels safe doing (non-runout single pitch cragging of heights he can lower to ground at any point) until he gets a better idea of his condition.

Thanks for all your input!
curt86iroc · · Lakewood, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 53

Nice summary, but something immediately sticks out to me: there was never any mention of evaluating the medical condition of J upon your arrival on the ledge. you mention his previous medical history, but move right into the technical solution. it seems prudent to have taken 1 minute to do a quick vital signs, ABC & AVPU assessment. The reason being, you could have started emergency services in route while you managed the technical evac. second, you could baseline his condition so when the lowering was complete, you could judge whether J was stable or trending down.

it sounds like he was stable since he was pulling gear during the lowering, but the symptoms you described could be the result of a more serious condition.

David West · · VA · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 10

Fantastic write-up.  I appreciate how you described the issue, your solution, lessons learned, and afterthoughts.

Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 490

There is a path down.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,631
Nice work - really.  Good comments by others.  And Cemetary Gates - what a great route name for the circumstances.  :)

If J is not aware, he should know about harness-hang syndrome.  It seems not far fetched for him to have died from it had the circumstances been only very-slightly different.  Sounds like he is comfortable making those kinds of decisions - just mentioning it in case he is not aware.
Fritz Nuffer · · The Western Slope · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 430

Excellent write up, Thanks for sharing and subjecting yourself to the armchair vicissitudes of the assclown peanut gallery known as MP. I commend you on having the hard skills and presence of mind to help out in the situation. I once rescued a climber who went into a hypoglycemic coma mid route and was A&O x 2

Re: headlamps, I wear a little one around my neck on every multi, and have an LED squeeze lite in my little 420 essentials satchel that I always wear instead of a chalk bag.

Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0
Jim Titt wrote: There is a path down.

The one and only time I was there - Cenotaph - we walked off the top. In fact if we had rapped from the top getting down the long slab below the actual base of the route would have been tricky - no anchors at the base then (~10 years ago)

Daniel James · · 2018/19: Bristol, England · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 125
there was never any mention of evaluating the medical condition of J upon your arrival on the ledge.
Fair point, I definitely would have considered doing so if his situation didn't seem stable/improving (also I should note that the ledge is a "carefully shuffle along sideways" ledge not a "comfortably be off the anchor walk around" ledge)

he should know about harness-hang syndrome
Good point! I didn't mention it in the write up but we've talked about that.

There is a path down.
Well I must have been misinformed then, but at the very least it would have been quite roundabout to get to and I obviously was unfamiliar (this being more J's home territory), particularly with looming early nightfall.

no anchors at the base then
Still no anchors, it's England after all.  Any rapping happened from trees, with the more comfortable members of the party down-scrambling some bits. Rapping with two ropes from that ledge also got us below the worst of the scrambles.

Excellent write up, Thanks for sharing and subjecting yourself to the armchair vicissitudes of the assclown peanut gallery known as MP. I commend you on having the hard skills and presence of mind to help out in the situation. I once rescued a climber who went into a hypoglycemic coma mid route and was A&O x 2
Thanks! I figured the value in insight gained (/benefits to anyone else who read and thought about the situation) outweighed any cons of possible negative comments.  That sounds like quite a situation, I was very thankful that he was AOx4, made life a lot easier.  How abouts did you end up rescuing them?
Fritz Nuffer · · The Western Slope · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 430
Daniel James wrote: Fair point, I definitely would have considered doing so if his situation didn't seem stable/improving (also I should note that the ledge is a "carefully shuffle along sideways" ledge not a "comfortably be off the anchor walk around" ledge)

Good point! I didn't mention it in the write up but we've talked about that.

Well I must have been misinformed then, but at the very least it would have been quite roundabout to get to and I obviously was unfamiliar (this being more J's home territory), particularly with looming early nightfall.

Still no anchors, it's England after all.  Any rapping happened from trees, with the more comfortable members of the party down-scrambling some bits. Rapping with two ropes from that ledge also got us below the worst of the scrambles.

Thanks! I figured the value in insight gained (/benefits to anyone else who read and thought about the situation) outweighed any cons of possible negative comments.  That sounds like quite a situation, I was very thankful that he was AOx4, made life a lot easier.  How abouts did you end up rescuing them?

She was seconding a single pitch with me above, so I tied her off, rapped the other strand, administered Snickers. She was still pretty woozy so at that point we tandem rapped and I got the gear back later. I always get my gear back

 ;-) 
JaredG · · Tucson, AZ · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0

Nice write-up.  Not sure if I missed something, but what did A do after escaping the belay?  Why was it useful to do so?  I don't mean to be snarky, but I often wonder if skills like escaping the belay are over-emphasized, to the detriment emphasizing that you should try really hard to avoid situations where escaping is necessary.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,631
JaredG wrote: Nice write-up.  Not sure if I missed something, but what did A do after escaping the belay?  Why was it useful to do so?  I don't mean to be snarky, but I often wonder if skills like escaping the belay are over-emphasized, to the detriment emphasizing that you should try really hard to avoid situations where escaping is necessary.

While D ascends, finds & builds an anchor, descends, traverses and secures himself and the leader ... make A stay actively on belay to try to get him to think harder about avoiding getting in the situation in the first place? Sounds not so much snarky as cruel.

Daniel James · · 2018/19: Bristol, England · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 125
JaredG wrote: Nice write-up.  Not sure if I missed something, but what did A do after escaping the belay?  Why was it useful to do so?  I don't mean to be snarky, but I often wonder if skills like escaping the belay are over-emphasized, to the detriment emphasizing that you should try really hard to avoid situations where escaping is necessary.

In addition to what Bill said, A was by far our least experienced person, and so while I was dealing with J, B was getting everything together and saw to it that A could get down from the exposed scramble while it was still light.  In this case, A was assisted in escaping the belay, however as far as utility of the knowledge, if B and I were not in shouting distance of A & J then escaping the belay would have been needed to get assistance.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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