Crevasse Rescue: Special Rescue Considerations

By Don Graydon.

A crevasse rescue can be complicated by any number of unusual twists. The following are some special situations you could encounter, and ideas on how to deal with them. The situations can become complicated, and you?ll have to adapt your response to the conditions of the moment. Anything that works safely is fine.
When the Middle Person Falls In

The climbers begin by deciding which side of the crevasse will be the rescue side; that is, which side should the fallen climber come out on? After the climber on the rescue side sets up the rescue anchor, the climber in self-arrest on the other side of the crevasse can slowly release tension on the climbing rope and ease the fallen climber?s weight onto the anchor. The climber on the rescue side now tries to belay the climber on the wrong side over to the rescue side, assuming that the second person is needed to help in the operation.

The most advantageous rescue plan now is for the fallen climber to ascend the rope on prusik slings, coming out on the rescue side, where the anchor has been placed. If a self-rescue by prusiking is not possible, then a Z-pulley or a piggyback system could be tried.

A Two-Person Team Alone

Let?s say you end up as the sole rescuer in a two-person rope team, holding your partner?s fall with your self-arrest. Begin your rescue efforts by augmenting the security of your arrest position by digging in your feet and pressing the ice ax more firmly into the snow. Try to free one hand by rotating the upper half of your body?but keep leaning on the ax and bracing yourself with at least one stiff leg. Don?t have the rope clipped into your chest harness.

When you get one hand free, place a fluke, picket, ice screw, second ice tool?anything secure enough to hold and allow you to get up and create a main anchor. Now you?ll go through the steps of rescue response. Set up a secure main anchor. Communicate with your fallen partner, settle on a rescue plan, and carry it out. Ideally, your partner will be able to handle self-rescue, prusiking out. If not, you would probably try a Z-pulley or piggyback hauling system.

The Adapted Kiwi Coil

An adaptation of the Kiwi coil that was developed by alpine glacier guides in New Zealand is the preferred tie-in method for two-person glacier travel teams. The technique results in closer spacing between rope partners for more efficient, comfortable travel, and provides free rope for a hauling system or other rescue use.

An Unconscious Fallen Climber

To help an unconscious climber, send a rescuer down by rappelling or being lowered on belay. This rescuer can administer first aid and also get the climber right-side up if necessary. Any of the standard hauling methods can then be considered for use.

More Than One Victim

In a case where more than one person has fallen into a crevasse, assess each person?s condition and the best method for getting each one out, and then decide the order of rescue.

Cramped Working Space

The climber who drops into self-arrest position to stop a ropemate?s fall could be lying so close to the lip of the crevasse that there?s very little room for an anchor or pulley system. A solution to this situation is to set up the main anchor where there is enough room?on the up-rope side of the rescuer in self-arrest (instead of the usual place between the rescuer and the crevasse).

Between Two Crevasses

Rescuers trying to work in a very narrow area between two crevasses can consider moving the operation. The rescue might proceed better if it is run from the opposite side of the crevasse that holds the fallen climber. Another option is to change the direction of pull on a Z-pulley system to a direction more parallel to the crevasses.

A rope that has dug itself into the lip calls for some improvisation. A rescuer can attach prusik slings or etriers above the entrenched portion of the rope and drop them down for the climber to step into. Another option is to switch to a new rescue rope.

Roofed Crevasses

Wide roofed crevasses present special problems. The fallen climber may be hanging free, without a stabilizing wall for support, and the accident rope typically entrenches itself deeply into the snow of the crevasse roof. The climber may be bombarded by snow and ice dislodged by the rescuers above, who will be working in an area of proven instability.

Sometimes it?s necessary for a well-belayed rescuer to take a shovel or ax and enlarge the hole the climber fell through. Do your best to keep snow and ice from hitting the climber.

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