Abseiling skills day

Party: Kosta Seiler, Tom Tramby, Tim Vollmer, Angie Bulic, Trang Pham, Denis Alexandrov, Nirupan (Niro) Yoganathan, May Ho, Sky Reidy, Melissa Freer, Senthuran (Senna) Eswaralingam, Stephen Sheehan, Monica Wang, David Kyle, Laura Ashton-Ross

Following up from a few very successful SUBW beginner canyoning weekends in the last couple months Kosta had the great idea of running an abseil training day to teach a few more advanced techniques to people who now knew the basics.

Tom — a survivor of the rarely mentioned ‘Cedar Creek Death March‘ — offered to help lead the trip and some great little cliffs at Yellow Rock lookout were decided upon for the venue.

I’d been hoping to go along myself, given how rarely I practice the essential safety techniques like prusiking, but with work on I didn’t have the time to offer any assistance with the epic organisational requirements that ended up delivering 15 people, ropes, gear, and more quirky descenders than you could poke a stick at to the the required venue.

Despite a week of stunning sunny days, the weather decided to take a turn for the worst, and we endured light to heavy rain for most of the day. Thankfully the chosen spot was close to the cars and came complete with a large shelter with strong beams that provided the basis for the prusik lessons.

I’d been getting sick for a few days, so was thinking it would be wise to pike, but given it was less than half an hour from my place (and my well known views about people who bail at the last minute) I went along with the plan of helping out but leaving the physically demanding stuff to everyone else.

With a few people there who had never abseiled before, and plenty of beginners keen for a refresher, we set up several drops with varying starts and some overhangs to ensure everyone knew what they were doing. While no one seemed to have any major issues, we did end up with three people flipping upside down (unfortunately not in front of the camera) but all were able to stand back up without difficulty.

With that complete we moved on to the more important stuff. Despite being the least fun part of canyoning, the ability to safely ascend a rope if it gets stuck on the pulldown, someone else gets stuck on the rope or there is some other emergency meant prusiking was the next skill to focus on.

Kosta had given everyone details of the requirements of what to bring, so there was plenty of 5-6mm cord available for everyone to make up their own, individually suited prusik loops. With a little practice tying double fisherman’s knots they were ready, and people were quickly discovering that the theory of ascending a rope is quite simple.

Once everyone was confident ascending the metre or so to the roof we went back to the ropes. Everyone had the theory right, but they soon discovered just how physically demanding it is, and how difficult it can be when overhangs are involved.

While everyone else was exhausting themselves making repeated, painful ascents, I decided to have a quick play with the ‘classic abseil’ technique, which can be used when all you have is a rope. It looks pretty dodgy, so I started on a very small drop of only a few metres, but found that it is actually quite simple and feels fairly secure. A long drop however could cause rope burn on the shoulder and some serious pain in the groin region, so I don’t recommend leaving the harness at home any time soon.

We eventually had a late lunch as the rain got heavier again. While we were standing around Kosta and Tom demonstrated two techniques for abseiling with an injured person. Kosta’s was by far the best for taking a severely injured or unconscious person down from the top of an abseil, strapped to your back, while Tom’s allowed you to prusik up or down to someone trapped mid rope. For both Angie did a great job as the injured abseiler!

Just after 3pm we had to decide whether to head back into the rain and expand our knowledge by using prusik knots to cross a knot in the rope, but between the lure of a beer and the miserable weather there was a fairly unanimous decision to do that another time.

Thanks again to Kosta and Tom. While I didn’t take part in much of the physical activity it was a great chance to refresh the theory about a few of the techniques that can get you out of trouble when the shit really hits the fan in a canyon.

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