Whether it’s for Sup­plies or Peo­ple, Rope’s Uses Are In­fin­itely Prac­ti­cal in an Emer­gency Sit­u­a­tion

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Front Page - Story by An­drew Schrader Photos by An­drew Schrader & Bren­ton Birr

Dur­ing a mass-shoot­ing sce­nario, it may not be tac­ti­cally fea­si­ble to try and evac­u­ate the wounded (or your­self) by drag­ging them down a set of stairs and out the main en­trance. If you’re safely bar­ri­caded in­side a room, wouldn’t it make more sense to evac­u­ate a vic­tim through a win­dow be­fore they bleed to death? Or, for ex­am­ple, you’re do­ing a canyon hike with your fam­ily and some­one falls 20 feet down a sheer cliff. How would you get down to at­tend to them?

Ba­sic knowl­edge of rope res­cue in­clud­ing rais­ing, rap­pelling, and low­er­ing al­lows us to defy grav­ity in which­ever di­rec­tion we choose. In this ar­ti­cle we’ll give you the ba­sics of what you need to know and what gear can aid your mo­bil­ity. If you choose to build and main­tain this per­ish­able skill, you’ll un­lock a res­cue “cheat code” and be able to save lives in ways you’d never pre­vi­ously imag­ined.


This ar­ti­cle is meant to be a brief over­view and not a de­tailed guide on rope res­cue. Check with a cer­ti­fied rap­pelling in­struc­tor or search-and-res­cue pro­fes­sional be­fore at­tempt­ing to use any tools or tech­niques dis­cussed in this story.

Why Ropes?

Rope skills are al­ways use­ful. Per­haps you rou­tinely work and play in places where you can’t dial 911, or maybe you’re in­ter­ested in learn­ing to be an ac­tive by­stander or “first care provider” who is will­ing to make a dif­fer­ence be­fore the pro­fes­sion­als ar­rive. Al­ter­nately, think about an es­cape-and-eva­sion sce­nario. Need to get out of a build­ing quickly, and have a sink­ing feel­ing that the stairs and main en­trance are be­ing watched? Ropes can get you there.

To pro­vide a proper in­tro­duc­tion to rope res­cue we sat down with fire­fighter Do­minick Bri­g­anti. Do­minick is a 27-year vet­eran of the fire ser­vice. He was de­ployed to the World Trade Cen­ter dur­ing Sept. 11 and now works as a lead in­struc­tor for SWAT teams, fire­fight­ers, and spe­cial op­er­a­tions warfight­ers on the sub­ject of tech­ni­cal res­cue.

Rope res­cue, specif­i­cally, is a vast sub­ject and there’s a ton of con­cep­tual the­ory and back­ground be­hind it. Ex­pe­ri­enced climbers could have a field day nit­pick­ing all the things we “should have” noted or warned you about in this ar­ti­cle. But thanks to Do­minick’s in­struc­tion we’re able to give you all the ground-level knowl­edge you need to start down the path — with­out mak­ing you reach for a glass of whiskey and two Ibupro­fen.

The Ba­sics

Rope res­cue tech­niques con­sist pri­mar­ily of three dif­fer­ent ac­tions:

Rap­pelling down to a lower level by your­self

Low­er­ing (or be­ing low­ered) with some­one else’s help Rais­ing (or be­ing raised) with some­one else’s help Rap­pelling is the most sim­ple of these three to rig. It’s also the only one of those ac­tions you can ac­com­plish by your­self, although it’ll re­quire both hands to do so.

This means that you won’t be able to carry tools down in your hands or bran­dish a weapon. It also won’t be as easy to cir­cum­vent tight spa­ces, snags, or ob­struc­tions as it is with some other rope ac­cess meth­ods. On the plus side, you’ll be able to per­son­ally con­trol your rate of de­scent as well as set up and get down quickly. That’s the big ad­van­tage — it’s sim­ple and very fast. Rap­pelling al­lows you to ac­cess an in­ca­pac­i­tated vic­tim very quickly, and can also be used for es­cape/eva­sion should you be hav­ing a se­ri­ously bad day.

Be­ing low­ered al­lows you to descend with both hands free. Now you can use a weapon while de­scend­ing (think sweep­ing a gun into each win­dow on your way down, in­stead of just peer­ing in­side and wait­ing for what may be an un­pleas­ant sur­prise). Mo­bil­ity and flex­i­bil­ity of your de­scent path is im­proved as well. Low­er­ing doesn’t re­quire any ad­di­tional gear, but it does re­quire a sec­ond

per­son at the top of the drop who’ll con­trol your de­scent.

Rais­ing (haul­ing) some­one is like the fi­nal exam for Rope Res­cue 101. It re­quires more com­pli­cated rig­ging and more gear. Since an av­er­age per­son can only haul roughly 50 to 80 pounds ver­ti­cally (much less than what a per­son weighs), you’ll have to use the prin­ci­ples of me­chan­i­cal ad­van­tage and mul­ti­ple pul­leys.

In this ar­ti­cle we’ll fo­cus on rap­pelling. This will give the unini­ti­ated a bite-size in­tro­duc­tion to the sub­ject, and hope­fully whet an ap­petite to level up to the next two tiers of ca­pa­bil­ity.

In­gre­di­ents for Rap­pelling

These are some of the ba­sic com­po­nents for rope res­cue rap­pelling:

An­chor: This will hold you and your rope sys­tem in place. It should be sta­ble and fixed in po­si­tion. In the woods, we might use a tree trunk — in a canyon, a large rock. In an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment such as a ho­tel room or high-rise we could use large heavy fur­ni­ture or sub­stan­tial rail­ings. Al­ter­na­tively, if we wanted to go full Ja­son Bourne we could even at­tach a cara­biner to the end of our rope, feed it through the hinged side of the open door into the hall­way and then close the door. Once the rope is loaded, the cara­biner will pre­vent the rope from be­ing pulled through.

100% Aramid Rope (75 to 100 feet): Ropes made from 100-per­cent aramids like Tech­nora or Kevlar are rel­a­tively new. These ma­te­ri­als of­fer su­perb abra­sion re­sis­tance and brush off the ef­fects of high heat and fire. They also don’t lose strength in wet con­di­tions and can shed wa­ter quickly, un­like ny­lon rope. Last, they’re stupid-strong — a 9mm-thick piece of rope can take roughly 7,000 pounds.

Auto-Lock­ing Cara­bin­ers (2 to 3 to­tal): A cara­biner is a spe­cial­ized shackle used to tem­po­rar­ily con­nect your ropes to your har­ness. Be­cause they’re very easy to ma­nip­u­late with gloved hands, we pre­fer mag­netic-lock­ing cara­bin­ers like the Rock­lock Mag­netron from Black Di­a­mond Equip­ment.

Rap­pel De­vice: Dur­ing the early days of climb­ing, rope was sim­ply wrapped around your body to in­crease fric­tion and slow your de­cent. Although con­ve­nient, us­ing your flesh as a brake pad is ob­vi­ously un­com­fort­able. As an al­ter­na­tive, rap­pelling de­vices (aka de­scen­ders or de­scend­ing de­vices) were de­vel­oped, pro­vid­ing a hand-hold­able forged metal loop through which the rope is passed. As the rope rubs on the metal the fric­tion is in­creased, al­low­ing a con­trol­lable rate of de­scent. There are tons of op­tions too nu­mer­ous to men­tion, but usu­ally we pre­fer a metal-de­scend­ing de­vice such as a Rock Ex­ot­ica Totem — or we make our own by us­ing a sim­ple Munter hitch knot (see photo in side­bar).

Climb­ing Har­ness: For min­i­mal­ist ex­perts, it’s pos­si­ble to make a climb­ing har­ness from web­bing ma­te­rial. But for this

in­tro­duc­tion we’re go­ing to err on the side of safety and com­fort, and sug­gest pur­chas­ing a com­mer­cially avail­able ver­sion, such as the value-priced Patriot Har­ness from Me­tolius.

10 Steps to Your First De­scent

Once you’ve as­sem­bled the in­gre­di­ents, you’re ready for your first rap­pel. The steps shown be­low il­lus­trate a sim­pli­fied method, which doesn’t in­clude a con­tin­gency to lower you down if you get stuck. For this rea­son it’s ap­pro­pri­ate only in dire emer­gen­cies, or in train­ing when you have a part­ner watch­ing, and at heights which you feel com­fort­able jumping down from.

Tie a Fig­ure 8 Stop­per Knot to the end of your rope. This en­sures you don’t rap­pel off the end of the rope and into the his­tory books un­der the chap­ter ti­tled “Dumb Ways to Die.”

Check your drop dis­tance by low­er­ing the rope to the ground. If your rope can’t touch the ground from your po­si­tion, re­lo­cate. You should have enough rope to touch the ground be­low you plus at least 5 feet ex­tra.

Tie the rope around your an­chor. The most sim­ple and ef­fec­tive way to do this is by us­ing a bow­line knot with a Yosemite fin­ish (see photo in side­bar), which strength­ens the knot and pre­vents the knot from com­ing loose.

Keep the an­chor point as low as pos­si­ble. Don’t tie it at eye-level just be­cause it’s con­ve­nient. This will help min­i­mize shock-load­ing or jar­ring of the an­chor.

At­tach your an­chored rope to your de­scend­ing de­vice us­ing a ver­taco-mode con­fig­u­ra­tion. This means that the rope comes back to the cara­biner, and if you’re right-handed it will go from the left side of the cara­biner, through the right side, then back up (see side­bar photos for ref­er­ence). Then at­tach the de­scend­ing de­vice to a cara­biner on your climb­ing har­ness.

Dou­ble-check your sys­tem. Most rap­pelling deaths aren’t due to fail­ures of the equip­ment. In­stead, they’re caused by pre­ventable mis­takes that could have been de­tected if the climber had both­ered to dou­ble-check their an­chor, knots, and climb­ing har­ness.

Stay low, go slow. In­stead of stand­ing up and walk­ing back­ward over the edge, keep your cen­ter of grav­ity close to the ground and roll over. This will help pre­vent your an­chor from dis­lodg­ing and also main­tains a lower pro­file in a tac­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion.

Once you’re over the edge, face the wall and plant your feet shoul­der-width apart. Main­tain a sit­ting po­si­tion in the har­ness and pro­ceed step by step down the wall while slowfeed­ing line through the de­scend­ing de­vice. The bound­ing, large down­ward jumps you see the SWAT teams do­ing in the movies are pure fan­tasy (and poor prac­tice). The cor­rect pace and pos­ture is kind of like walk­ing down, but you main­tain an “L” po­si­tion in­stead of straight­en­ing up.

Use fric­tion to con­trol your speed and keep both hands out in front of your face. Be­cause we’re us­ing the ver­taco con­fig­u­ra­tion, we can keep our hands out in front in­stead of hav­ing one hand down by our hips as is tra­di­tion­ally seen.

This al­lows us to as­sume a lower-pro­file po­si­tion on the wall and more eas­ily lock off the rope to stop our de­scent.

Once you’re on the ground, un­hook your cara­biner from the rap­pel de­vice. Then, go to work.

We hope this ar­ti­cle gives you the head start you need to add rope work to your bug-out and res­cue skillset. As you learn more, you’ll find that you can en­hance your ca­pa­bil­i­ties by us­ing dif­fer­ent knots and gear con­fig­u­ra­tions, in­stead of sim­ply buy­ing more com­po­nents. You’ll be able to do more with less gear. Un­like many of our other in­ter­ests, this makes rope res­cue a unique pur­suit that re­wards the crafti­est and most knowl­edge­able — not just the guys who can drop top dol­lar on the most ex­pen­sive of­fer­ings.

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