Crevasse Rescue: Rescue Response

By Don Graydon.

The depths of a great crevasse exhibit an awful beauty, both enticing and repellent. On a fine day, the walls are a sheen of soft blue ice in the filtered light from high above, and the cavern is cool and still as a church, or a tomb. It?s a place every climber should visit once in a lifetime?for crevasse rescue practice. But if there?s a second time, we hope it will be in the company of climbers who know the rescue techniques spelled out here.
Here?s the scene: You?re the middle person on a three-person rope team traveling up a moderately angled glacier. The ropemate walking 50 feet in front of you suddenly disappears beneath the snow. What do you do?

Stop the fall immediately! Drop into self-arrest (facing away from the direction of pull) and hold the fall. Your other rope partner will do the same thing.

Once the fall is stopped, the critical steps in crevasse rescue begin. To learn these procedures well requires training in the field, augmented with annual practice.

The principal steps in a successful rescue, beginning the instant the fall is stopped, are the following:
  1. Set up a secure anchor system. The goal is to anchor the climber who is in the crevasse and allow the rescuers safe access to communicate with their fallen comrade.
  2. Communicate with the fallen climber. The goal is to develop a complete understanding of the fallen climber?s situation in order to be able to devise the rescue plan.
  3. Devise a rescue plan. You have two basic choices:
    • Self-rescue?the fallen climber ascends the rope with prusik slings. Often the easiest and fastest form of crevasse rescue, regardless of party size. Of course, it requires that the climber be basically uninjured and able to maneuver in the crevasse.
    • Team rescue?team members use a hauling system to pull the climber out.
  4. Carry out the plan. The goal is to see the fallen climber safely out of the crevasse.
    • For a self-rescue, assist the fallen climber as needed.
    • For a team rescue, set up the chosen hauling system; then haul the climber out.

As you work to save the fallen climber, observe these primary safety considerations:

  • All anchor systems must be absolutely reliable, with backup anchors to guard against failure.
  • All rescuers must be connected to anchors at all times.
  • The rescue must proceed as quickly as is consistent with efficient, thorough execution of every essential step.

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