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Prusik knot not working...interresting story...!

Discussion in 'Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group' started by beadysee, Mar 18, 2005.

  1. beadysee

    beadysee Guest

    Scarfed from a climbing website. Story by Middendorf on a soloing system relying on a Prusik knot to hold in a fall. Scary movies.


    -Brian in SLC

    Middendorf says:

    Here's a story about a whipper: (by request)

    Thinking myself pretty bad-ass back in around 1980 for having soloed the Prow on Washington Column, I decide to take on the Zodiac solo in 1981. This was back in the day of not really that many wall climbers: the Lepton man, Mike O'Donnell, a few other folks interested in the big stones were hanging around the Lodge and Camp 4 parking lots, but you wouldn't call it a big wall heyday, making it tough to find partners willing to take on a novice, so soloing was really the only option (plus back then you were pretty much a hardman if you did a wall or two a year, and seven walls in a year was only in the legendary realm of folks like Porter). The only instructional books of any use at the time were Robbin's outdated bibles, "Basic and Advanced Rockcraft" (though Harding's book Downward Bound gave a few hints here and there interspersed with the hilarity). On the Prow, I had used the technique described in Robbins book: some sort of funky open ended prussik type knot suspended by a pulley attached to a chest harness--I forget what it was called. There's a Sheridan cartoon in Robbin's book of guy with a wierd Viking helmet demonstating the system. Anyway, it was pretty lame: I took a short 15' fall free climbing to the ledge on pitch 3 on the Prow and burned the prussik knot pretty bad, and had to climb the rest of the route not certain that the prussik would survive another burn, and too scared to switch to another system midstream.

    In prepping for the Zodiac, I had heard about a "figure 8" system for soloing. In fact, this referred to a simple system of tying multiple figure 8 knots in the rope, creating loops that could be clipped into the harness and unclipped in sucession as needed during upward progress. But in my brilliance, I thought it had something to do with a Figure 8 descender device. So I rigged up a system with Figure 8 descender, with a prussik anchored to the side of my harness. The idea was the Figure 8 would slow down the pull of the rope allowing the semi-loose prussik to have time to catch. I climbed up a few feet in a tree in Camp 4 to test my new brilliantly engineered system, and dropped a few feet: the prussik held the "belay" end of the rope my short fall was stopped.

    Confident, I put the system in action and began soloing the Zodiac. The first pitch went well. On the second pitch, extremely confident, I remember considering, but in the end decided not, to even tie a back up knot--I didn't want to be slowed down once I got over the roof. I placed the first pin off the belay, then the second. Knowing that I would be also cleaning the route, I placed the pins rather lightly. I can't remember if I was just lazy or wanted more speed (or maybe just general overconfidence), but it was a conscious choice to not hammer the pins too hard due to later removal effort (I wasn't always so kind to my partners, though). On the third pin from the belay (all these initial placements were straight up into a overlapping crack formed by a roof flake), the second pin blew and I was out of there.

    Time slowed. The first microsecond I became aware of the fall and thought calmly about all the things you can in such a millisecond: if I could safely let go of the hammer that what was in my hand, where my jumars were to get back to the belay after my expected short swing, whether the pin was tied off correctly so it wouldn't be lost, etc.

    The second millisecond a suspicion crept in: something unexpected was happening. Subsequent microseconds involved panic and paralyzing fear, but that's when the mind shuts down of course. The next millisecond I became aware of the battle of my mind struggling to gain control, and accept the fact that I was falling, and falling fast. Toward the ground. "AND YOU HAVE NO BACK UP, DODOHEAD!" I became aware that very shortly, I was going to splat at the base. All these things came to me in an internal struggle of acceptance, in what seemed like a slow sucession of awareness over a long period of time but was really only a fraction of an actual second.

    Though not part of my specific recognition at the time, the Figure 8 wasn't slowing me down much, the prussik wasn't holding, and I had fallen about halfway of the 90 feet to the ground by this time. Finally translating the mind's awareness into action--any action, I grabbed some loops of rope that were floating with me in space-- didn't really know what parts of which rope they actually represented--and wrapped them around my chest, and holding on to them as tight as I could.

    Then, wham! The ropes went tight around my chest, then a rebound bouncy feeling as the fall turned into upside down suspension in space. Then that magic moment of utter stillness as time regains it's normal pace, as I realized I was still alive. It was a mild positive feeling of acceptance, not really a "yahoo!" but more like a passive moment of joy.

    Tangled in a mass of ropes, I went back upright, still cleching the ropes around my chest, and I realized that the ropes had dug in and burned my flesh badly in long grooves, and the first micro drops of blood were beginning to ooze through. I felt no pain just then, but I knew that very, very shortly it was going to be excruciating. Somehow because of the tangles, I couldn't just rap down, so I had to first jug back up to the belay. That's when the pain began. It took a very long time to make it back to the belay at the first pitch, organize the ropes and rappel back to the base.

    At the base, I was immobilized with pain for several hours. With no water and an incredible thirst, I remember watching the bathers at the Devil's Elbow far, far below, wishing life could be so simple as that, while suffering, biting rocks to assuage the pain, and weeping and wailing massively for quite some time before I was able to stoically stumble back down the talus, and walk straight into the Merced much to the astonished looks of the tourists at the river's edge.
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