It's been a while! I just realized that I haven't written in this space since June. The good news is that it's because we've had a busy summer.
This time I'm going to get a little more technical and less philisophical. Some questions I often hear are “What is the best rope system for climbing?” or “What is the difference between twin and half half ropes?” or “What should I buy as my first rope?”. I’ve answered these questions often enough that I think it may be of value to write something about this subject in this space.
In my view one rope system is not better than another. Each just has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Each situation that you go into could make optimal use of a different rope system. In a perfect world a person would have a quiver of all the different rope systems and in different lengths and diameters, but that is of course is quite expensive.
Following is a list of the different systems, a few of their characteristics and their advantages and disadvantages:
Single ropes are designed to use for all applications in a single strand. The UIAAA symbol for a single rope is a circle with the number 1 in the middle of it. They range in diameter from traditional fat ropes of 11mm to some very modern singles as thin as 8.6mm!
The advantages of single ropes are that they are easy to manage in belaying and at belay stances and that they have the lightest weight per metre of all three rope options.
One disadvantage of single ropes is that on routes which wander a lot they require long extensions on protection and even then on very circuitous routes you could still end up with rope drag. Single ropes are not as good over edges as twin ropes but better than half ropes in this respect. Strength over edges is a particular concern with the very thin modern singles. Also single ropes give you only half the rappel length that you get with two rope systems.
Half ropes are used in pairs but can be clipped individually to individual points of protection on lead. They are also rated for belaying a second on a single strand though caution is advised in this application in situations where the rope could be loaded over sharp edges. They are also rated for use in a single strand for glacier travel. The UIAA symbol for a half rope is a circle with a 1/2 fraction in the middle of it. Half ropes range in diameter from about 7.5mm to 9mm.
Half rope systems work well on routes that wander a lot without having to put lengthy extensions on placements. As mentioned above they can be used singly for glacier travel and to belay seconds on rock as long as sharp edges are not a concern. Half ropes also give full length rappel capability as you have two ropes.
Disadvantages of half ropes include that they are more difficult to manage in belaying and at stances, they have the heaviest weight per metre of all the rope systems and that they are not as good over edges as single or twin rope options.
Twin ropes are also used in pairs but can not be clipped individually. They are always clipped as a pair as if they were a single rope. They are not rated for use in a single strand though they can be a useful “backpacking” rope for short rappels or doubled for short leads. The UIAA symbol for twin ropes is two intersecting circles. Twin ropes come as thin as 7mm these days.
Because of the cumulative diameter of the two ropes twin ropes are the strongest rope system over sharp edges. Twin ropes of course offer full length rappel capability and they are a lighter weight rope system than half ropes but heavier than a single rope.
As both ropes must be clipped into all protection in a twin system, they are the same as single ropes on routes that wander a lot and will require long extensions on protection to avoid rope drag. As mentioned above one twin rope is does not meet the spec to use as a glacier rope or to belay a second on rock as you can with half ropes but it may have application as a lightweight “walkers rope”. As with half ropes, twins are more difficult to manage in belaying and at stances.
I hope that the above illustrates that there are good reasons to use each rope system in different circumstances. If you can not afford to own a lot of different ropes and are just starting out, it may be that the simplicity and lower cost of a single rope is the way to get going.
There are also questions of lengths, dry treatments, rope care etc. but I think I’ll leave those for another blog.
If you have questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides
This spring we are super excited to be announcing new partnerships with organizations and individuals in our community. Read on to learn about the latest of these:
Island Alpine Guides and North Island College
Recently completed, our new partnership with North Island College has IAG courses being recognized for credit in the NIC Adventure Guiding Certificate program. This partnership can work for you in two ways: 1) If you have taken IAG courses and have been thinking about a career in adventure tourism, you can now apply to have those IAG courses recognized for credit saving you both time and money. These credits go toward your pursit of the Adventure Guiding Certificate at NIC and if you wish to go further can move you toward the two year Tourism and Hospitality Management diploma, which will advance your business education and can provide further credit toward business degrees at NIC as well as tourism management degrees province wide. 2) If you are a student in the Adventure Guiding Certificate program at NIC you can now choose to mix mountain based skills training options in with the watersports currently offered in the program by taking IAG courses and having them recognized for credit. Options include Avalnche Skills Training, Winter Mountain Travel and Mountain Skills Training. Check out www.nic.bc.ca/program/adventure_guiding_certificate and contact the Adventure Guiding Certificate program director at NIC or Island Alpine Guides for more information.
Island Alpine Guides and Power To Be
For us at IAG some partnerships make good business sense while others just feel good to us. The latter is defiinitely true of our relationship with Power To Be. Power To Be provides adventure-based programs designed for youth and families in need of support. Through a collaborative approach and caring staff, Power To Be inspires connections with nature and the discovery of limitless ability. IAG provides tecnical leadership support to the Wilderness School Program at Power To Be. The Wilderness School fosters positive social development and life skills through outdoor adventure and education. The program offers adventurous overnight weekend programs every month and a multi-day expeditions each summer. As a three-year co-ed program, starting in Grade 8, the Wilderness School is designed to work with a wide range of youth that could benefit from positive and healthy extra-curricular outdoor programs, which they might not otherwise have opportunity to do. Learn more about Power To Be at www.powertobe.ca.
Island Alpine Guides and Lyle Fast
Partnerships are not just about organizations. Sometimes they are with individuals. Such is the case with our new partnership with an old friend and legend of island mountaineering, Lyle Fast. Lyle was Vancouver Islands first fully certified Association of Canadian Mountain Guides Ski Guide when he attained that qualification in 1991. Before and since he has been something of a legend on the island mountain scene logging many firsts and mentoring many people. We are very excited to announce that Lyle is joining the guiding team at IAG. We are also very excited to announce that he will be spearheading our latest winter project starting next winter: Vancouver Island's first ever hut based ski and snowboard touring. You can read more about Lyle here and about our new hut based program here. Watch this space next autumn for the official launch of our but based programs!
Finally, while we have your attention, here are a few things that we have coming up which have some space available on them:
July 18-20 Mountain Skills Fly-in Course. $795pp includes heli.
July 19-20 Intro to Rock. $295pp.
July 26-27 Learn to Lead on Rock. $390pp.
August 2-4 Comox Glacier Hike. $395pp.
August 9-10 Intro to Rock. $295pp.
These are just a few of the things we have coming up. Check our our web site and if you see things that interest you but not available dates, just get in touch and we'll add dates to our offerings that suit you. Most of our programs are done at such a low ratio that one person starting a trip will get us well on our way to filling it!
Have a safe spring and early summer and we'll look forward to seeing you in the mountains this summer!
Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides
This has been a very interesting winter from a snow and avalanche perspective. The season started off of course with very little snow and some impressively long and cold arctic cold snaps. When the snow finally came it buried a troublesome layer on February 10th that would become a player in the avalanche game over most of British Columbia and indeed on the island as well for some time. Though this layer is no longer a player in the island snow pack, I have been guiding in our back yard here in the Mount Waddington area and I can tell you it has been a player here and continues to be.
This February 10th layer is what we call a persistent snowpack instability. The name is very descriptve in that the layer gets buried under successive subsequent snowstorms which bury it deeper and deeper in the snowpack. The problem with these instabilites is both their depth (because with so much snow on top of the the problem layer you are looking at the possibility of very large avalanches) and it's persistence. As these things persist in the snow pack and get more and more load on them, our problem as forecasters is knowing when and where the critical load will make this layer fail. The fact of the matter is that we are not very good at making those predictions with these kinds of instabilities. Indeed these deep and persistent avalanche problems are the ones that we are least good at predicting.
I think that the management of these deep and persistent avalanche problems makes a great metaphor for a range of risk management decisions which we make in the mountains or anywhere in life for that matter. The fact that we are not good at predicting this problem should dictate what "risk treatment" we give it. An important first step I think is that we have to recognize that we have low confidence in our ability to predict. In the case of the persistent slab avalanche problem, given this lack of confidence in our ability to predict when or where these things will happen, we are left really with one option to manage the risk: conservative terrain selection. What this has meant for us at times this winter is not only skiing on low angle terrain that is not avalanche terrain, but also being vigilant about not having avalanche terrain above us either.
I think that we can take some lessons from the management of this problem into other areas of risk management in the mountains and elsewhere. In any hazard assessment I think it makes sense to try to objectively measure your level of confidence in your assessment. Ask youself how sure are you of the likely hood of realizing the hazard as well as the magnitude of the outcome should you realize it. If your confidence in these predictions is high because you have a lot of really good information and the information at hand relates directly to many experiences that you have had, then you can justifiably have high confidence in your assessment. But if you lack good information and/or what you are seeing does not relate directly or even indirectly to experiences that you have had or if you have not had much experience, then perhaps you should assign a lower confidence to your assessment and choose a more conservative decision around that hazard.
I guess in simple terms what this amounts to is being honest with yourself about how much you really know about a risk that you are trying to assess. If you are not so sure, then rather than flirting with a coin toss maybe the better chocie is to say no and pursue another option. Or even more simply put: If in doubt, don't.
I want readers to know that after 30 years in the avalanche game I am more happy than ever to talk about my lack of confidence and what I don't know. Indeed I think that being able to identify what we don't know and acting accordingly could be one of the most important skills in risk management.
Have a great spring out there and play safe!
Starting this month I am very pleased to announce the beggining of our series of guest blogs by prominent members of our community.
I am honoured to have my friend Rob Wood as our first contributor.
While many of our readers know who Rob Wood is, there is perhaps a younger generation of you who are not as aware of him. Rob came from Yorkshire to Canada in the late sixties. In the early seventies he particpiated in the first ascents of Weepling Wall, Cascade, Takakaw and Bourgueau falls, to name a few, as part of that group of Calgary climbers who invented waterfall ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies. In the Yosemtie Valley, Rob was part of the first non-American ascent of the Nose of El Capitan. Here on Vancouver Island he made the ground breaking first winter ascent of the Grand Central Couloir of Mount Colonel Foster with his friend and fellow climbing legend Doug Scott and American Greg Child. He has a storied history as an outdoor educator and climbing community philosopher and hails from his remote homestead on Maurelle Island here in the northern gulf islands. He is the author of “Toward the Unknown Mountains” a delightful meeting of adventure story and philosophical pondering.
CLIMBING AND THE LOVE OF LIFE
Right from when I first started climbing I experienced a sense of happiness and freedom on the crags and in the mountains and later in deep Canadian wilderness that was way over and above any other aspect of my normal everyday life. The more I experienced this natural high the more convinced I became that climbing manifested, for me at least, an essential ingredient of life that modern society was missing and possibly even precluding.
I spent many hours in steamed up pubs, around smoky campfires, on tent bound storm days and cold dark bivouac ledges, discussing and defending the fascinating and illusive question of what exactly it is about climbing that motivates climbers to risk their lives in such spectacular and dangerous ways. Even though many of us believe passionately that deep inside the rewards outweigh the risks, it seems impossible to explain the reason why to someone who has never done it. In other words the answer is beyond reason, beyond the ken of normality, which probably contributes to the attraction of the mystery.
Now, reflecting on fifty years of knocking about in the mountains, I see a fine line between success with profound satisfaction on the one hand and failure, desperation and even disaster on the other. The difference is determined not so much by quantifiable factors such as good planning, hard skills or even by good or bad luck so much as by state of mind, awareness and perceptions. Things go well when we are positive, focused and in tune with our surroundings and each other; when we are in the moment and in the Zone. Conversely things go badly when we are not paying complete attention and or not getting along with each other; when our minds are distracted and our spirits fragmented and scattered.
I had my fair share of fame and glory but after witnessing close friends getting killed and a few near death experiences myself I came to recognize the lethal impediments of excessive ego gratification and competition. They occupy our minds with deeply engrained and often habitual, culturally conditioned impressions of reality which prevent honest engagement with the actuality of the here and now. If deliberately putting one’s life in danger just to impress other people were really what climbing is about, as might well be assumed by people who don’t do it, it would indeed be a mug’s game of questionable sanity.
To me the more profound, inestimable rewards of climbing occur when we break through the fearful, conditioned constraints of ego and conventional perception of being separate individual entities and engage ourselves with the dynamic flow of the powerful energy fields of the natural environment. Then, not only is our physical performance guided and enhanced but also our fear and anxiety is released, replaced by a secure and euphoric sense of love and unity with something much larger than our selves. While effectively reducing the risk of losing life, momentary as these transcendental experiences may be, they easily justify what remains of it by creating the freedom to be more fully conscious of the joy, unity and wonder of being alive.
Rob Wood Maurelle Island January 2014
My headline may seem a bit provocative. Of course practicing your companion rescue skills is a good, indeed a neccessary thing you say! You'll be happy top know that I agree. Just having learned companion rescue is not enough. These skills need to be practiced with regularity if you want them to be really effective when it matters.
But there are a lot of ways to practice these skills and some are much better than others in making you effective should you ever have to use these skills for real. And goodness knows you want to be good at this should you ever have to use it for real (I speak from experience on this one).
The bad version of practice is the one where someone hides a transceiver a few centimeters under the snow withing range of the person searching. The person doing the search turns their transceiver to receive, gets a signal immediately and then quickly hones in on the barely buried transceiver and has no trouble at all finding it thus assuming that they've got the skillls dialed.
But what really has the person in the above example practiced? They turned one transceiver from sending to receiving and they did just the easieast part of a transciever search (the secondary or coarse search). Really they practiced two of the easiest skills and nothing else.
Real companion rescue is a much more complex animal than just a coarse transceiver search. It typically involves groups of people who have to communicate effectively and organize themselves to be effective. It requires that someone takes charge and delegates tasks. It is critical that a concious deicision is made about whether to initiate a rescue or not (remember Sparwood?). It includes assessing available information such as a last seen point and visual clues. it involves having do a primary (singnal) search before you even get a signal from a buried transceiver. It requires further coordination and communication to make sure that resources are applied as efficiently as possible (when a fine search with a transceiver is complete is there an assembled probe at hand or did that get overlooked?). And good practice involves real probing for real objects that are buried at realistic depths in the snow. FInally, complete rescue practice involves practicing digging because there are a whole set of skills and practice associated with this that have the potential to dramatically change the outcomes of a real rescue.
So good practice is much more than a short transceiver search. The best practice involves groups of people enacting realistic scenarios that have as much detail designed into them as possible so that you give yourself as many chances as possible to make mistakes which become fantastic learning opportunities. You may not be surprised to hear that these learning opportunities more often than not, are not around transceiver skills. More likley they will be lessons in things like leadership, group management, communication, allocation of resources, fine search technique, probing and shoveling.
Here are some tips for making really good companion rescue practices:
1) Always set up realistic scenariios and force yourself to enact them from start to finish following all of the steps through.
2) Practice carrying a companion rescue reference card and make it part of your rescue response to pull out that card and use it as your guide through the entire rescue.
3) If you have enough people, include actors playing distressed, non buried victims in your scenarios. It doesn't take an acadamey performance to quickly amp up the urgency and tension creating yet more learing opportunities.
4) Don't skip over important steps like deciding if it is safe to even initiate a rescue and checking for visual clues.
5) Have more than one "victim" buried. The goal here is not neccessarily to set up complex multible burial transceiver searches, in fact these are quite rare in recreational acccidents. Rather the goal is to stretch the resources of the searchers so that they have to get smart about how they allocate their resources (poeple). So bury the transceivers far apart to keep the transceiver searching simple but still stretching resources.
6) Have everyone travelling on their normal mode of transport with all their rescue gear int thier pack on their back (no pre assembled shovels and probes!)
7) Bury transciers deep (at least a metre) so that fine transceiver search, probing and shoveling are all real. Bury inside objects that feel like people (packs work well)
8) Have well structured debrief sessions after each scenario to maximize the learning.
I hope that this information is of value and that if you are stoked to get out into the snow that we've finally received you are asking yourself "are my companion rescue skills up to scratch" and are planning some good practice with some friends very soon.
See you out there,
Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides.