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Tech Tip: Question Pothole Escaping for Dummies?

Discussion in 'Tech Tips and Gear' started by lostlandscapes, Feb 26, 2013.

  1. lostlandscapes

    lostlandscapes Rope Mule Staff Member

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    For better or worse, one of the items on my spring wishlist is to get some pothole escape experience. The only canyons that I've done that have any semblance of potholes are Ringtail and Neon--and both of those were chock full of water at the times I went through. I'm pretty mesmerized by all of the techniques that I've seen in videos or read about being employed during escapes--and I'm pretty driven to add that knowledge and those abilities to my fledgling skill set. But unlike a couple of the other more "advanced" skills of canyoneering (like ascending or anchor building), pothole escapes can't necessarily be practiced in the backyard or garage.

    The question: What canyons with potholes are the most suitable for noobs? Is there such a thing as a canyon that is "easy" to practice in? One where a small group can test the science of pack tosses or partner assists without fear of succumbing to the throes of hypothermia....or getting stuck? OR, is pothole escapism an endeavor that should not be considered unless under the guidance of one who has the experience???

    Very curious to hear what the board has to say on this subject. For such a formidable canyon obstacle, there doesn't seem to be as much conversation on the topic as one would think. Any recommendations for getting started or even personal anecdotes of your own learning experiences, scary escapes, tech tips, etc, are all appreciated. Thanks!
    Tyler, Nick and Bill like this.
  2. Ram

    Ram

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    [Moderator Note: Response from Tom about his first experience with potholes in quandary is relevant, and posted here - A Quandary in Quandary]

    Woody with about 4 people is a great choice. It is not just the getting OUT of potholes! It's using capture techniques to get the last person IN a pothole too, without stopping to build anchors and freezing by doing so. Of course you want someone OUT of the pothole before the last person goes IN that pothole!;)

    A lot more info out there, on getting out, than getting in, but there tends to be a few more of "IN" challenges than the downcanyon exits, in pothole canyons outside of the bolted up Zion.

    Tom's post directs toward great choices. Knotted Rope is an awesome canyon for both ins and outs and one can make some of the problems artificially more challenging...say making several exits where you use your knees instead of feet to get started out. Do that and you have a "practice field" of infinite possibilities, all in a south facing, largely "open to the sun" environ. And don't miss the opportunity to practice the "IN's" of the lower, open valley section. Yeah, you can walk around, but try staying in the water course only, practicing sequencing and last man pack drags, captures and fun slides, all after the first person is roped or hand lined down to check water depths and unseen obstacles etc.

    That said, Knotted can be pretty intimidating, all by itself when water is low.
    Ram
  3. Mac

    Mac

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  4. Ram

    Ram

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    From Rick Green? Oh yeah! Hard to do better than him. Superior teacher and person.
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  5. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

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    These are by no means a complete list of strategies, but a few that I've learned are very helpful for pothole escapes
    1. Bring a climber - This is probably the biggest advantage you can ever have in difficult pothole canyons. Climbers can get up seemingly featureless obstacles that would have me otherwise stumped. It generally only takes one person to solve a problem for the whole group. A strong climber can defeat a lot of obstacales. See: Spidey.
    2. Bring someone tiny - Even better if they climb well! A small person is a huge advantage, whether they are being boosted out of a pothole, are climbing up ropes attached to potshots or packs, or are the last person down a drop that is being sequenced using partner assist techniques.
    3. Partner Sequencing - Many times, a drop can be defeated by creative teamwork. Strategies include thigh belays, meat anchors, advanced climbing, and pyramid captures.
    4. Potshot and Pack Tosses - If you can't solve a problem by good ol' brute force and partner sequencing, usually you need to use some sort of "aid." On the plateau, pot shots and pack tosses can solve almost any problem (though not ALL). Know how to do it, and know what works. This takes practice and evaluation skills.
    5. Hooking - Doesn't seem like this is being done much at all, with the exception of a couple of canyons in Zion. And that is a good thing. Hooking scars and damages the rock permanently when there aren't features naturally occurring. However, it can be helpful in certain cases. The happy hooker has saved more than a few people in a jam. Jeff Guest has a good video of techniques in Zion.
    Anyone else have some suggestions?
  6. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    As a supplement to Dan's fine post...

    A. Have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C: when you arrive at the obstacle, consider several options, and what to do if Plan A does not work.

    B. Manage the Cold Water Exposure: Plan A usually is to send the best climber down and let them try to climb out. If they go down there and cannot get out, and it is cold, it is often best for them to come back to the entry point and get pulled out. Don't let them get worked too much, or they won't be up for Plan B.

    C. Plan B: next thing to try is using the high-floating pack to get up higher. Those drybags with valves on them can be blown up with more air. While this makes them more prone to failure when tossed into a pool (so don't do that), it also makes them floaty. The climber can straddle the pack, though the balance can be dicey, and reach much higher than without the floaty pack. In some cases, the pack shoulder strap can be used as a footloop.

    D. Plan C: often, the next thing to try is an assistant. If the water is not full swimmer, partner assists work well, sometimes with 2 or 3 people assisting.

    E. Plan D: If the water is full swimmer, it is hard to assist the climber. Try taking a high-floating pack, and having the assistant push this while swimming against the wall; the climber pushes off against this with his feet. (This works much better than getting kicked in the face while just trying to be helpful.) Or, can also carabiner two or three packs together and make a "raft". If you carry a Supai raft, you could blow that up.

    F. Plan E: next phase is to throw stuff. This can be your partner's pack with a rope tied to it, though Pot Shots and rope bags tend to throw better. The tossed pack or bag might catch on something, but usually it counterweights over an edge (if available). (In Heaps, there are a couple potholes where it is smooth and flat after the pothole - throwing does not work here. In Neon, the place to throw to is steeply sloping toward the pothole, and sand. Unless you are throwing a boat anchor (it has been done), throwing does not work here.) Throwing is done before rappelling into the pothole. Sometimes "throwing" means chimneying over the top until a bag on a rope can be lowered into place. Sometimes, it means traversing a ledge to get to a place where a bag on a rope can be lowered into place. If the rappel is longer than say 10 feet, it may be better to rap part way down, then do the toss from there. If you toss the bag from too high, it will burst on impact (even going into a pool).

    G. Plan E2: once you have something over there, the climber may be able to pull on the rope with their hands to get up there. Often, the bag will need to be pulled up to a "catch point" before it can be tugged on. Often, pulling from where the bag is thrown can easily pull the bag back out, while pulling from in-the-water will have more friction/resistance, and allow exit.

    H. Plan E3: larger potholes and/or less-strong climbers may require using tools to climb the rope. The good news is that this might put less force on the PotShot. The bad news is that it tends to be slower. (If the water being climbed out of is not deep, spotters down there might be a good idea.)

    I. Plan E4: longer throws might require non-full PotShots, and thus might require two, three or four successful tosses. We have tried multiple tosses on one rope, with no success. Generally, each toss will require a separate rope; which generally means climbing them hand-over-hand rather than with mechanical means.

    Z. Plan Z: Hooking

    Hooking natural features rarely is necessary. Pothole exits do not usually have hookable features on em, and if they do, they can often be used as a handhold to climb out.

    I consider hooking man-made holes to be a "taint" and should be avoided, unless it can't. It is the last resort, "nuclear-option". Imlay and a couple spots in Heaps have drilled holes from prior descents, some drilled with a 3/8" drill, some chopped in by Mr. Kelsey. The drilled holes work much better, and hook reasonably well with a Black Diamond Talon. Mr. Kelsey's blots work much more poorly, and are much bigger and uglier. All the previous Plans apply - starting your hook climb higher by moving up on a floaty pack can be quite useful. The hooking kit consists of two Talon hooks (with floats) plus etriers or slings to hang on the hooks so you can climb up. Starting as high as possible is a good idea. When you stand up on the hook, put your hand over the hook so that if it pops out, it won't hit you in the face.

    Sometimes the hook holes need to be cleaned up - which generally can be done with a drill bit and holder, without using a hammer - so include a drill bit and holder in your hooking kit.

    ---
    A lot of this requires experience and practice to get good at. Quandary Direct is a good beginner pothole canyon. Tosses work well there, and are easy. Enjoy it, but realize it is pretty easy, and harder ones await you.

    Tom
  7. Mike

    Mike epic blarneys

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    Potholes are so interesting. There are many nuances that you can only pick up through trial and error, and by far the best way to learn is to go with the experienced. Many thanks to those who showed me how, and let me experience the escapes.

    Notable lessons learned:
    How much sand will hold me with favorable geometry (geometry is huge)
    Potshots sitting in water will slowly (or quickly) leak their sand, so pull them up out of a pool quickly
    Try to learn the to balance while on ascent between two potshots if using ascenders (subtle movements)
    Gaining the crest of the pothole is the crucial moment where geometry starts falling out of your favor, stay low and try your best not to pull out (difficult when the rope is lying tensioned on the horizontal lip). Heal/toe hooking works well here, but is more of a flexible climbing move (insert Ram's picture sequence of Mike Macfee escaping the pit of despair!)

    I think Knotted Rope is a great one to create mock escapes with an uninitiated crew. Some of those upper pots might be real keepers...
    Chasetharp, Ram and lostlandscapes like this.
  8. Jman

    Jman

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    X2. That is a good canyon to practice in, yet not so deep where beginners will get trapped. A 1man boost can get you out of the potholes in Knotted easily if you can't get your tool of choice to work.
    Chasetharp, Nick and lostlandscapes like this.
  9. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    One of the cool things is that often the geometry is out of sight. So you don't really find out if the bag will stick until you get over there and start pulling on it...

    Tom
  10. Moab Mark

    Moab Mark

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    Here is a video of me and some other dummies escaping some potholes. Our techniques aren't the best but we survived.
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  11. Jenny

    Jenny

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    Last month, in a chilly Squeeze, the need to get out of a cold swimmer inspired me to try something a bit different rather than waiting for the second person to come help me out. I had made a good pack toss with enough counter weight to get out but it was slightly overhung and I lacked the strength to hand-over-hand my way up the strap. So I pulled ithe pack back within reach and quickly made a loop and tossed it again. With a gentle step-up and smearing against the rock, I was out. A tad less time in that icy hole as a reward. What is it Gramma Edna used to say, "Freezing is the mother of invention?", or something like that.
  12. Jen C

    Jen C

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    Dan, this just made me laugh while looking through the forums. as a tiny person who is a strong climber, i offer myself up to teams looking to practice pothole escapes... apparently i am a valuable accessory!
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  13. Jenny

    Jenny

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    Jen,
    Ha, and you made me laugh too. Have you heard the term; "Toss the dwarf"? Not a politically correct term but maybe equal to being an "accessory".
    Another Jen(ny)
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  14. Stevee B

    Stevee B

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    A caveat I would add to Dan's and Tom's lists - rather than try several different plans, pick one plan (or combine several) into one fullproof plan and make one golden attempt. There are consequences to failed plans, including hypothermic dwarves and injurious falls from not-enough-pot-shots.
    Overprepare. Then blast.

    A mechanical ascender (and, I'm told, tiblocs) can capture and ascend two 8mm ropes in one mechanism. Two 8mm and a 5mm pullcord, however, will cause the ascender to fail.
  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Tried out the Supai Raft for a couple pothole escapes in Imlay, this past Tuesday. With low water, most potholes yielded relatively easily to partner-assist techniques, but two near the end were full swimmer with large exits. The raft has to be held steady by swimmers or people standing on tip-toes nearby. Conrad did an excellent job of climbing off of the Supai Raft aka Pool Toy.

    Supai Pothole Escape1 Imlay. Supai Pothole Escape2 Imlay.
  16. Dan Ransom

    Dan Ransom Staff Member

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  17. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    Very cool! Well done. I know you have been wanting to try it.

    Looks easier for sure.

    We are heading to Imlay this weekend.

    Anchors in good shape?
    Did you survive with the heat wave?

    Any clear springs rather than skanky pools? :eek:
  18. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Made a separate post for Imlay Conditions.

    Tom
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  19. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    bump this baby to the front page...
  20. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Something else to think about...

    Don't commit to a serious looking pothole without a plan, and, without maybe exporing the avoidance option. If you can...don't commit, but, either climb up and around without dropping in, or, tossing a pack/potshot past the pothole without dropping in, which can work in getting past a pothole but also give you an escape option should you want to try your hand at it.

    Having done both heavy handed drilling, as well as creative partner assists and hooking of natural features, the creative solutions are more fun to be sure.

    Part of the issue with all this is that some of it will smack of elitism. Having to have a very good climber along to defeat a difficult pothole and/or feature in a canyon can be a tough row to hoe. Maybe not doing a canyon is the option. Maybe a rim crew. Maybe fixing all the drops so you can re-ascend and go back.

    Canyons are weird compared to climbing for this reason...you can drop in, commit, and pull your ropes. No one has to be "good" enough especially given that there are heavy handed options. On a fair number of climbs, you have to be at a certain level to give a route a fair shake.

    Funny...but...in Europe, on the keeper potholes I've seen, they via ferrata around them, fix rope, sometimes cables, sometimes steel ladders. Its much more rare that you have to climb up and out with a certain amount of climbing talent (not always the case, to be sure).
    ratagonia and Chasetharp like this.
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