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Crevasse Rescue

December 10, 2008

Diagrams courtesy of Petzl Sport. How do you rescue a mountaineer who's fallen in a crevasse? All mountaineers should know the answer to this question and be well-practiced in hauling techniques. But in reality, few take the time to learn these rescue techniques. It's important to get the victim quickly to safety so that he can be treated in case of injury. In addition, a fallen climber hanging in his harness runs two major risks: * Hypothermia: the temperature between the ice walls of a crevasse is much lower than on the surface. Compounding the problem, hypothermia is accelerated by the shock of an accident. * Hanging inactive from a harness can cause serious physiological problems. If the victim is unconscious, it's an emergency. Petzl organized clinics to address these issues on the Girose glacier before the Derby de la Meije, the large skier rally. Here's what the La Grave guides, who ran the clinics, taught participants.

crevesse-haulerRecommendations for Glacier Traverse

1. The number one rule: each skier or mountaineer should wear a harness. How are you to going to raise someone out of a crevasse if he doesn't have a harness? 2. Hauling equipment must be within reach at all times, i.e. on the gear loops of the harness. 3. In heavily crevassed areas or where the snow bridges are fragile, don't hesitate to operate roped-up (20 to 30 meters apart with the rope taut). That allows you to stop a fall in a crevasse and quickly install a hauling system. This set-up may slow you down, but it's quick to rope-up is and is easy to undo when out of danger's way.

Standard Scenario

The technique taught here is based on a best-case scenario: the activists are roped up, with a length of extra rope at each end of the roped team. One person on the team falls in the crevasse and the others must stop his fall and build a hauling system off a dead-man. The dead-man is built using a pair of skis tied together with a sling and buried in the snow. You can also use an ice axe, backpack, etc.

Equipment on the Harness

The hauling kit everyone should have on their harness will allow you to build a simple hauling system and increase the mechanical advantage if necessary. That doesn't mean that you'll be carrying lots of extra weight or be bogged down by bulky equipment. Only a few pieces of equipment are needed: crevesse-rescue-kit
  • A self-jamming pulley (MICRO TRAXION and Prusik cord)
  • A progress capture device (TIBLOC for a Prusik)
  • Slings and karabiners (a minimum of three)
  • Two ice screws
The Petzl Crevasse Rescue Kit contains all the basic equipment to set up a rescue pulley system (bar the ice screws), and comes in an easily accessible pack which even saves you a bit of cash on the individual components.

Rescuing an Uninjured Climber from a Crevasse

Once the weight of the fallen climber has been transferred to a solid anchor, he or she must be raised. If the victim is uninjured, the procedure is rapid. 1. The climber on the surface lowers a self-jamming pulley to the victim (or a combination of prusik-pulley and prusik knot) on a loop of spare rope, which is attached to the anchor. 2. The victim installs the system onto the harness, and pulls up on the rope which he or she is tied into. The climber on the surface helps and belays at the same time using the self-jamming pulley. It may be possible for the victim to raise his or her weight by using one or two rope clamps / grabs.  

crevesse-rescue1

NOTE:Guard against further accidents: the climbers on the surface must remain roped up during the rescue maneuvers. Also, take care that the self-jamming pulley is installed the right way round.

Rescuing an Injured Climber from a Crevasse

Once the weight of the fallen climber has been transferred to a solid anchor, he or she must be raised. If the victim is injured, a hauling system is required. If the fallen climber cannot help with the rescue maneuvers (if he or she is injured or unconscious), it will be necessary to set up a reduction system to reduce the force necessary to raise the victim.

The Hauling Technique

The hauling system presented at the clinics is called the Mariner reduction or Z-Drag hauling system.
  • The self-jamming MINI TRAXION pulley is placed at the anchor point of the system, connected directly to the dead-man, to haul the victim and to prevent him from lowering back down.
  • The TIBLOC is placed on the rope that leads to the victim. The free end of the rope coming from the pulley runs through a locking karabiner connected to the TIBLOC. The free end of the rope is pulled to haul up the victim.
If the system is not efficient enough, the mechanical advantage of the Mariner can be increased by adding another turn in the system (double Mariner). 

Key Points

1. The rope must be directly tied to the harness's attachment point, without using a connecting karabiner. The same goes for the mountaineer's coil around the shoulder: they must be tied directly to the harness. 2. The dead-man anchor point must be bomber. It if were to pull, the whole roped team would be in danger. Transferring the victim from the rescuer's harness to the dead-man must be made gradually to avoid shock-loading the system. Since hauling increases the load on the anchor, sit or stand on the dead-man when hauling. 3. Those on the surface must stay tied in or attached to a fixed line to prevent another accident. 4. While hauling, the rope will cut through the lip of the crevasse. A ski pole, pack or jacket placed under the rope will reduce this effect. Be careful when approaching the edge of the crevasse: the lip could break. NOTE: Guard against further accidents: the climbers on the surface must remain roped up during the rescue maneuvers. Also, take care that the self-jamming pulley is installed the right way round.

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