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Assisting Partners in X Canyons

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Canyonero, May 28, 2022.

  1. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    The primary difficulty in X canyons is climbing. You may spend anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours without actually touching the ground and can be anywhere from 20 to 80 feet above the bottom of the canyon at any given time. A fall at the wrong place could easily result in serious injury or even death. While there are often both serious up-climbs and down-climbs, the primary direction of movement is lateral. Lateral climbing is difficult to protect in the traditional climbing style. There are three reasons for this:

    1) Most X canyoneers prefer to ghost the canyon so few bolts are ever placed
    2) In a canyon wide enough to allow passage, there are few useful natural anchors
    3) Canyons are just too long to run a line of bolts down them. It could be the equivalent of bolting a 10 pitch climb.

    The bottom line is that X canyoneering has long been considered the equivalent of free soloing. Every X-man/woman for him or herself. Either you can do it, or you can't and nobody can really help you.

    But that's not exactly true. And on a recent canyon, I had the opportunity to assist another canyoneer in at least five different ways. That made me curious about what else could be done to assist others while in an X canyon. So I thought it would be fun to call upon the hive-mind for other ideas to add to the list. Here's what I have so far:

    1) Demonstration

    So much of X canyoneering techniques are learned by simply watching others. See one, do one, teach one. I've learned so much from simply following others and doing what they do. I figure, if they can do it I can do it. Sometimes it is as simple as pointing out holds or showing you the easiest level to be at.

    "Go up here"

    "Go down here"

    "Aim for that ledge."

    "Stay at this level."

    "It's easier higher."

    "The ground actually goes here but it's tight."

    "Careful here, it bomb-bays."


    2) Carrying, passing, or hauling a bag

    Depending on what else the day and canyon involves, one can sometimes be in an X canyon with a sizeable or heavy pack. This definitely adds difficulty to the experience. One of the first things that can be done for a struggling X canyoneer is to get their pack away from them. It will then take less strength, energy, and skill for them to negotiate the canyon's obstacles. Obviously, this now makes it harder for the person carrying two bags, but so long as they are sufficiently strong/skilled, the team may be better off for it.


    3) Meat rappel anchors

    It is often much easier to rappel than to downclimb, even if the rappel anchor consists only of your partner stemming above you. The better your partner can wedge themselves in or the better their stance, the more weight that can be placed on the partner as a meat anchor. Taking even just 50 or 100 lbs for just 5 or 10 feet can make a downclimb dramatically easier.


    4) 2:1 hauls

    Sometimes one of the most difficult things in an X canyon is to maintain your level as you move laterally through the canyon. It's easy to slowly lose elevation as you move across and that can sometimes result in you being too low to make easy passage (or any passage at all.) If your partner ends up in this situation, they may face a very difficult upclimb back to the level they should be at. That climb can be made dramatically easier with some hauling assistance, even if the only anchors for that haul are canyoneering partners wedged/stemming above you. A 2:1 haul (two partners pulling on a rope tied to your harness) combined with your own climbing efforts can be a very powerful technique.


    5) Belays

    A tight belay can also take some weight off of you (aside from the psychological effect of being tied to someone else.) The key to a useful belay, of course, is being much higher than the person you are belaying. However, this is often very doable for a silo crossing, especially if the belayer is on the far side of the silo. The stronger canyoneer crosses the silo, upclimbs 20 or 30 or 40 feet to a good stance, throws a rope back to the weaker canyoneer, and provides a tight belay to assist the weaker canyoneer across the silo. It's less about catching a fall than preventing one in the first place. More of an assist than a safety.

    While X canyoneering will never be the realm of the novice canyoneer, it's not the same as free soloing. Your partners can assist you in some ways. Canyoneering, as always, remains a team sport.

    What other techniques have you used to assist others in an X canyon?
    Last edited: May 28, 2022
  2. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Excellent!
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  3. Yellow Dart

    Yellow Dart It's only hubris if I fail.

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    Beer in the trunk
  4. Flapbag

    Flapbag

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    Kind of like what you say about your belaying from above but with a twist. I once was in an X canyon that went from a very very tight stem spot to an open silo. I realized that it was tight enough that I could basically cam my whole body in place like a cannon ball and belay my partner directly horizontal across the silo and if they would have fallen I am pretty sure I would have been able to catch them even if it was a full fledged fall. Might actually not be a good idea but it felt good at the time.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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  5. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    I've been thinking about this. I think the issue with catching a "real fall" (rather than just having someone on toprope) is that rope you're carrying isn't dynamic. That brings on real risk of breaking components of the system designed for use with a dynamic rope, including the bodies of both the belayee and the belayer. Imagine a Fall factor 2 rope on a static line. Even if it didn't rip your body out of where you're wedged, would the harness break? The rope? Your pelvis? I dunno.
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  6. Flapbag

    Flapbag

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    @Canyonero

    Yeah I would agree. It was probably more safety theater than actual protection. But it got us across haha ;)


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  7. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    We used to call that psychological protection in climbing. You know, that stopper you put in that would have never held a real fall. After a few years, you just stop putting them in and realize it's safer to use your limited energy not falling!
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  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I disagree.

    The first energy dissipation effect in a fall onto a rope is the flexing of the human body, which absorbs energy and extends the catch in time thus decreasing the peak force. (Thus, dropping 80 kg of steel plates onto slings as DMM loves to do is dramatic, but unrelated to the real world). Keeping the fall short, thus the energy involved moderate, is important to keep the peak force low so that this is the MAIN effect.

    A penduluming fall has some of these same effects - the force comes onto the rope more slowly than a direct fall, and some of the energy is dissipated when the belayed slams into the wall.

    Past the 'short fall model', the next place the belay fails is the belayer. I am not sure how you are belaying, but you are unlikely to be able to hold a fall that is strong enough to break any other component of the system. Pulling the belayer out of their stance is likely, as is letting go of the belay rope.

    Harnesses are strong enough (when new) that the human contained is dead before the harness breaks.

    In a sense, much of such belays are theater... although a belay on a rope also allows a bit of helpful tension, and a "take" if things are not going well - which can be very useful. In addition to elevating confidence, which can be helpful.

    Tom
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  9. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Canyon ropes aren't dynamic to be sure, but, they still have some elongation.

    What device are folks using to belay someone? A super hard fall on a thin cord is pretty hard to hold on an ATC, a device which works fairly well for belaying. Nice that most canyon rappel devices have a slot which can be used for belay.

    Sometimes "psych pro" actually holds...and sometimes you end up in the ER...(from personal experience).

    Belaying an unprotected traverse gives me the willies. On either end of the rope. One of my longer falls rock climbing was on a traverse my partner didn't protect well. Yikes.

    "Take!!" Ha ha. Overheard at the crag recently when a new leader was 10 feet above his last piece...
  10. John Diener

    John Diener

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    Not as qualified as some, but this is the internet, so I'll throw out a few additional thoughts anyways...

    The first is really just an extension of "demonstration" - I think it is very helpful, especially in the more complex X canyons, to have people willing to be up front route-finding. This can be mentally and physically tiring work, and someone good at it can make the experience much more efficient and safer for followers. Related to this... up front the group should perhaps discuss whether to keep close, break into a couple of smaller cohesive groups, etc. This can be particularly important if there is only one rope amongst the group and it isn't where it is needed (I've almost screwed up on that front a time or two).

    Second, attitude. When the group is positive and festive, these places seem more like a playground than full of frightening death exposure - some light banter is almost like a belay.

    -john
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