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Shunts, Prusik safeties, & other dangerous stupidity

Discussion in 'Archives - Yahoo Canyons Group' started by, May 2, 2002.

  1. Hello Again

    This is a collection of reports, observations, & no-lie-there-I-was-stories about the use of shunts, Prussik safeties & other dangerous things people do/use to protect rappels. These were taken from Caver's Digest (list server newsletter) Climbing magazines & Nylon Highway's: a Vertical cavers newsletter.

    I have a personal line in this thread, because I was a member of a SAR team who required top prussik safeties anytime members rappelled. They are the worst thing to use for a rappel safety.

    I have read with interest all the suggestions from many corners about safe rappelling techniques. The work’s been done, the tests have been completed & rappel safetys seem to assist only in mental reassurance. Allan Padgett & a large group several years ago did a number of tests under a bridge over water to see if shunts would activate. Blind folded Rappellers hit the water ever time. A group from down under did a similar study & got the same results. Even Don Davidson with his hair trigger mechanism almost broke his back in a 15-foot fall in Alpena, MI at a National NSS Convention & missed death or serious injury by less to 6 inches. Allen & I have long felt (and put it in our book) this way. "There is a school of cavers & climbers that feel "no belay" is the best belay." There contention is that the bulky belay harnesses, the tugging belay rope, & hair-trigger mechanisms that sometimes activate belays, Cause hassles which complicate a climbers or rappeller’s skill execution to the point of failure. They believe the best belay or safety is the precise execution of a classic, controlled rappel or the precise balance of a well-rehearsed prusik. They believe the best belay or safety od achieved by knowing exactly what to do when, and, with deliberate precision, doing it. This approach to safety is, no doubt, for the purist; & for the most part will work for the experienced, careful rappeller & climber. However, many people need the assurance of a belay. In reality, a belay provides mental assurance first & may avert a tragic mishap second." Bruce Smith, author of On Rope (Chapter 9 On Rope: 2nd Ed.)

    IN CD 5494 (Caver Digest) Chris Lloyd said: <In general hanging out at the bottom of a pit when someone is on rope is not a good <idea. As to a top belay…few people are willing to bring in sufficient rope to be able to <do each pit twice especially when it is fat PMI>

    You’d have to be pretty daft to do it that way! How about single ropes long enough to belay the longest drop, which you carry with you through the cave. And while I wholeheartedly agree that it is unwise to hang out in the fall zone at the bottom of a drop, It is usually possible to get a little ways away, out of the fall zone, & take the bottom of the rope with you. It can be pulled hard enough even at an angle to give an effective bottom belay.

    If one gets into a frightful situation & ends up gripping the rope tighter as was suggested, that will serve to brake them just as effectively as the prusik will if they let go completely (I suspect that Minton doesn’t really understand how these prusiks work not having ever used one or been shown how to properly use one). The idea is that you grip the rope just as you normally do with whatever rappel devise you use. The prusik knot is then positioned just below your hand where it continues to slide because your hand is above giving the needed pressure to keep it moving. If you them let go of the rope for whatever reason, the prusik knot is loaded from below bringing you to a stop. And as to letting fo completely, anyone who has taught new people how to rappel will have seen this happen, no matter how many times you tell them-Don’t let go with THAT hand!

    I didn’t say the person in trouble would grip the rope tighter. I said they’d tend to grip whatever safety device they had their hand on tighter. If that safety involves a knot or lever that is supposed to be released, it will not function properly to stop them. I have been at practice sessions where this very thing happened, & that was where people knew it was a practice & that they were suppose to let go! The psychology is wrong. I see that working well only if the victim is knocked unconscious. I seriously doubt anyone could grip the rope itself tightly enough to stop them on a runaway rappel! I do understand how prusik safeties work, thank you, & have indeed tried them myself. I have also been on a few trips where people using safeties had to be rescued because their safety malfunctioned or got stuck somehow. I have not ever been on a trip where someone had a safety & it saved them, to my knowledge. I have been on trips where people had mishaps rappelling, but didn’ t have safeties. I think the answer is indeed in proper training. If you need proper training for a safety prusik, why not just put the time into proper training for rappelling without one? Mark Minton

    In Nylon Highway 42, Gary Storrick has put together an incredible history of Shunts & Prusik/rappel safeties. He quotes article after article after article & accident after accident after accident with people who depend on one of these crutches for SKILL. Storrick puts it. "My attitude is that safety is not given by any gadget but is the property of one’s attitude & experience." Royal Robbins writes, "…Even if we assume that the presence of a Prusik Safety won’t work if needed? The answer appears to be "maybe" but most likely not." The late Don Davidson Jr. wrote,…"Reliance upon the use of the safety prusik should not be encouraged among human troglodytes." Storrick discusses extensive articles from "Off Belay" magazine, by Ray Smutek, Neil Montgomery’ s book, Single Ripe Techniques", Judson’s "Caving Practice & Equipment", Dave Elliott’s book "SRT" Numerous other "Off Belay" magazine articles, & John Long ’s book "How to Rock Climb", among others. All these articles from the experience of the world are saying don’t use them; they are not the answer. Storrick concludes his article with the sentence, "Among Cavers, the Prusik Safety is almost universally rejected." I personally though this to be the case until I read the Caver’s Digest & discovered that it remains a hotly debated topic just as it was 20-25 years ago. Let’s go back to Mark Minton’s thoughts. Let’s use the time we use to practice using a rappel safety to become better rappellers.

    As Ever


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