Depth through thought
OUCC News 17th October 2012
Volume 22, Number 13
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Editor: Andrew Morgan email@example.com
Having just done two 'easy' trips with complete SRT novices, a few thoughts.
1) Make sure you know the cave is easy for SRT, not just an 'easy' cave. Since I had last done Sell Gill over 30 years ago, when SRT as we know it was little more than a gleam in Fernie Petzl's eye, I had neglected to think that a cave well known as an SRT training ground might be so because some bits are (mildly) technical. As it happens I was able to hang off the bolts at rebelays and guide my novices past, but it's just as well I could.
2) Make sure your seconder on the party has or knows about the same kit that the novices have. Phil S, sound chap that he is, is still a rack user, and couldn't help much with less medieval kit like Petzl stops.
3) The thing my novices found most difficult was getting the chest ascender off the rope at the pitch head, despite several dry runs at the pitch bases. Once one is familiar with the combination of simultaneously unloading the Croll slightly, pulling down on the catch-lock, and swinging the cam out of the way, it's second-nature. But before then, it is very complex, especially when at the head of even a short pitch, the last thing anyone instinctively wants to do is to release that nice safe point of attachment. Not much one can do except practice as much as possible before hand, and to make sure there is a helping hand at the pitch head. And of course make sure the route / rigging is chosen so that the pitch head is as non-technical as possible, with handy ledges to stand on.
4) Have a penknife handy, just in case the very unlikely happens and one of your party gets her hair wrapped into her descender. Forming human pyramids to take the load off while it is sorted out is second best.
5) On longer pitches, a parallel rope for instructor to go down and up with the novice is rather nice, spreads cheer and good will, and provides a helping hand if needed. Just watch out for possible entanglements.
On the whole, despite Flanders and Swann, practicing beforehand does not spoil all the fun; in fact it's quite a good idea.