On the Memorial

Entries in Technical Rope (11)


Cave Team and West Valley SAR Successfuly Complete Reaccreditation

Once a year the teams of the California Region of the Mountain Rescue Association meet to complete a reaccreditaion in one of three disciplines. This year was the technical rock test, and it was held in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine CA. Rain, wind, and a possibility of snow were in the forecast for the weekend, but as the date approached, the weather eased a bit. No rain or snow, but plenty of wind.

Each team must contribute a patient and two evaluators. The evaluators must have more than 5 years of experience, be a recognized leader on the team, and complete an online evaluator certification. Before the general briefing there is a team leader briefing, and a briefing for the patients. After the general briefing, each team is introduced to their evaluators and given a map to their test location.

Each team must quickly reach their subject, assess their condition, and evacuate them to definitive care. Teams are evaluated on a variety of criteria. Some examples are: timeliness, safety, technical proficiency, medical care, and leadership. 

While these evaluations can be a bit nerve wracking, I have come to enjoy them. My team grows and strengthens every time it is tested, and I get to continue relationships with fellow teams from accross the state. 

West Valley SAR and the Cave Rescue Team successfully completed their reaccreditation in technical rope rescue this year. Both of these teams are fully accredited with the MRA. Wrightwood SAR is accredited in search management, and SB Mountain SAR is progressing toward an accreditation with the MRA.



Autoblock Self-Belay

This is a discussion concerning the use of self-belay while on rappel with an autoblock.

It should be noted that all self-belays have some trade off of one sort or another. None are perfect. All must be used with caution. No belay of any sort should be used while rappelling in a significant amount of moving water. In this situation the forces on the body can be huge, resulting in a catastrophe, that is; death. An autoblock self-belay is a particular style of self-belay wherein the belay device is below the rappel device. By having it in this position, it mitigates some of the disadvantages of having the belay device above the rappel device.

The nomenclature for rope grab hitches can be confusing. The word “prusik” can be a verb as well as a noun. Similarly, the term “autoblock” has come to mean a friction hitch tied below the rappel device that can stop the descent. Often it is referred to as a “French Prusik,” which can also be used to describe an entirely different hitch. Or it may be referred to as a “third hand.” For this discussion, the generic meaning for autoblock will be used. There may be a variety of materials and hitches used to create the autoblock. This discussion covers just one of these possibilities.

Click to read more ...


Naked Hands


It is easy to become complacent when working around rope. Gloves definitely hamper tying
knots. Good quality gloves that actually fit are expensive and wear out. But they can be critical
in protecting your hands. Here is a related story that happened to me. I hope it helps drive
home the importance of wearing gloves when working around moving rope. I trust you can
learn from my experience. One picture says it all.
Once upon a time I was rock climbing with best friend Pete. We finished a class five climb and
were starting to clean up gear. We were standing about 20 feet from each other. We were
talking while looking at each other. I had disconnected from our 11 mm dynamic rope. It was
laying on the ground. I was slowly coiling it while Pete began to untie from his harness. He
suddenly fell backwards over a rock, tumbling about 6 vertical feet. He quickly picked up a fair
amount of speed. I instinctively grabbed the moving rope. OUCH!!
It took quite a long time for the wounds to heal. I still have deep scar tissue that affects the
fingers. I learned an important lesson that day!



VT Prusik

Many individuals on technical rope teams have been using VT prusiks for personal rope access. I thought a short article on its history might be interesting.

The Valdotain Tresse was developed many years ago in France. It was used as a rescue device in wet canyons or caves. A short section of 11 mm dynamic rope (used for rock climbing) was cut open. A few strands of the core were removed. The ends were sealed. Figure eight on a bit knots were made at both ends, i.e., “end eyes.” Thus, it was very flexible. It could be tied in a certain way around the main rope such that it would grab like a prusik. Or, it could be released while under load. A person could use it as a rappel device. In particular, if a subject was hanging on the rope below, the rescuer could use the Valdotain Tresse to descend the loaded rope and pickoff the subject. There is one huge drawback to this device. It is nylon acting on nylon. If both the Valdotain and the main rope were dry, the Valdotain would quickly melt through in a very short distance. The rescuer would fall to his/her death. Hence it could only be used on ropes that were saturated with water. Rich Carlson, an American rock climbing/canyoneering guide, imported the technology to the USA many years ago. However, at the time, canyoneering involved mostly dry canyons. The Valdotain Tresse as described above was not so useful.

Jump ahead a few years, new aramid materials become popular for cords and ropes. In particular is Technora which has a much higher melting point than nylon. Rich Carlson partnered with BlueWater Ropes to make the VT Prusik. It has kernmantel construction with a Technora sheath over nylon core with sewn eyes. This allowed the device to be used on dry ropes. It has slowly caught on in the USA canyoneering world. It comes in two sizes for different diameter ropes. It has many uses beyond those mentioned above. A creative technical rope user will come up with many applications.

The concept has progressed in the USA canyoneering world. Atwood Gear now makes various sizes of Tech VT with Technora sheath over nylon or polyester core.

Meanwhile arborists around the world have incorporated the Valdotain Tresse in their tree climbing systems. They too have developed specialized double sewn eye hitch cords.

There are two main methods of tying the hitch such that it releases under load. They are depicted in the video linked here:  ( A person must experiment with the two methods in order to determine which is best. Variables include the body weight of the rescuer as well as conditions of the prusik and rope; material the cord and rope are made of, new vs. used, clean vs. dirty, wet vs. dry.


Technical Rescue Basics Course in August 2013

The dates for TRBC have been set. The course will be at the Sheriff's Heartbar Training Facility on Aug 9-11 and Aug 23-25. 

Download the docs for details.

2013 Course Flyer

2013 Course Info


ITRS 2011

Once again the International Technical Rescue Symposium met in November to discuss a variety of technical rescue topics. A few representatives from SBSAR were on hand to participate. Below are a sample of some of the presentations offered:

Empirically Derived Breaking Strengths for Basket Hitches and Wrap Three Pull Two Webbing Anchors

Does Nylon Lose 15% of its Strength When Wet?

Suspension Trauma Revisited

If you are interested in attending or presenting, the 2012 call for papers has been posted, and the registration will open soon. In 2012 the symposium will be in Seattle, WA.


News From The Rope Rescue Oversight Committee

The Rope Rescue Oversight Committee (RROC) is comprised of two members from each technical rope rescue certified team in San Bernardino County. This committee is responsible for setting rope rescue guidelines in the county as well as conducting team certifications. Recently a few changes have been made to the guidelines and to the team certification procedure.

There are two additional individual rope certifications: Basic Rigging Specialist and Intermediate Rigging Specialist. These certifications are identical to the Basic Rope Technician and Intermediate Rope Technician certifications except that they require a modified Personal Vertical Skills (PVS) check-off. The "specialist" categories do not require the ascending/descending portions of the PVS check-off. Details of these categories can be found in Rope Rescue and the Wilderness SAR Card.

All "basic" rope certifications and PVS are valid for 3 years. All "intermediate" rope certifications are valid for 4 years.

All rope-certified teams are evaluated by the Rope Rescue Oversight Committee every 3 years. There is an exception for MRA, rope-certified teams, as they are evaluated every 3 years by the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA). As of Jan 1, 2010 the team re-certification process has changed, and is the same for all teams. Every 18 months, each rope-certified team must prepare a Periodic Performance Review. The details of this report can be found in the Rope Team Periodic Performance Review. Each rope-certified team must be re-certified every 3 years, and can choose either the RROC or the MRA as their accrediting body.

All of the documents referenced above can be found at Scroll down the page to the "RROC" section. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact Dan Whitten at


The International Technical Rescue Symposium (ITRS) 2009

If you are interested in broken gear, and a series of differential equations that can explain the dynamic events that lead up to the breaking of the gear, then ITRS is for you. For three days in November each year, rope rescue practicioners from around the world converge in a conference room to present, argue, and discuss the finer points of rope rescue. While much of the audience is involved in wilderness rescue, representatives from many organizations and jurisdictions fill the room.

Click to read more ...


RIM SAR Passes Technical Rope Evaluation

Congratulations to RIM SAR, who successfully passed their rope re-certification on Sunday, October 25. To maintain rope rescue status, teams must pass a certification every two years. The certification process is comprehensive, and includes a gear check as well as a rescue scenario. Members of the Rope Rescue Oversight Committee (RROC) are the evaluators, and they look for a safe and efficient process.  RROC is composed of two members from each rope-certified team. Currently there are five rope-certified teams in San Bernardino County: The Cave & Technical Rescue Team, Rim of the World SAR, San Gorgonio SAR, West Valley SAR, and Wrightwood/Phelan SAR.


Ropes that Rescue 2009

Technical rope rescue is one of the more involved activities in which a SAR team can participate. Staying proficient requires regular team and individual practice. 12 students just finished a 7 day Ropes That Rescue course taught by Reed Thorne. There were three days of classroom presentation followed by four days in the field. Rim SAR, West Valley SAR, San Gorgonio SAR, Wrightwood/Phelan SAR, SB Mountain SAR, and the Cave Team sent students to the course.

Click to read more ...