You look up at the knot but it is not really a knot; it is more of a wrap, the Mariners hitch. You had connected yourself and your climbing partner to one end of a 8mm sling and then turned the other end a couple of times round the bar of a karabiner before you twisted it around itself a few times and then tucked the free end through the sling. You look again at the flimsy length of textile and consider your position. You and your unconscious partner are dangling, 200 metres above the ground and in a second you are about to disconnect from the rope and then the only thing standing between you and certain death will be a slim bit of fabric and an altogether unlikely looking knot. You go through a mental check list one last time and remove the rope from your belay device.
You had both been having a great time on this huge, multi pitch climb. You had led the last pitch, set up an anchor and were belaying your friend up to you. He was obviously enjoying himself as well. Suddenly, you heard a rumbling above you. You pulled hard on the rope, mashing it into the grooves of the belay plate and locking it fast. You pushed yourself as hard as you could against the wall, before a huge block came hurtling past, inches from your body and narrowly missing the rope. The block crashes into the rock and smashes into dozens of smaller missiles. And you watch, in horror, as one of them hurtles towards your friend. It hits hard, smashing his helmet. Your friend slumps over, dangling in his harness.
You are faced with a multitude of possible decisions. You take a couple of breaths. Think. OK, first priority; give first aid. If your partner isn’t dead, he could be dying, so getting to him as quickly as possible is vital. Second priority is to get you both to the ground and safety. Two more breaths and you have formulated a plan. Attach your partner to the anchor. Escape from the system and convert the anchor into one you can abseil from. You take the strain and free his rope from the anchor. You begin the abseil; he is held in place by your weight on the rope. When you reach him you lock off the rope. He is alive and there is no blood but he is still unconscious. You leave the shattered helmet in place. You fashion a chest harness to keep him upright then connect him to you.
You both continue to descend and you keep a close eye on him to see that his condition doesn’t deteriorate. You will be running out of rope soon; you must find a place to set up another abseil anchor. Just in time you find a place and put in the protection to make an anchor. Time to tie the flimsy knot.
It has held. You pull through the rope and set it up ready for another abseil.
That was the scenario; but by the time Andrew had to tie the Mariners hitch he and Buster were suspended only half a metre above the base of the abseil tower. But the anxiety was still there. It was a lot to remember and everything had to be done in the right order and mentally double checked.
This was the final and most complex exercise of the trip and it was done perfectly. Every year, before the Adventure Camp we come to Blackland Farm to practice. We spend a couple of nights and three days setting up abseils, zip wires, top ropes at the rocks and all the thing we do under the tree canopy; prussiking, stirruping, caving ladder and roped tree climbing. This year, for the first time, we also had to practice setting up The Perch.
Andrew and Buster have been volunteering at the Adventure Camp for years and have done the set ups many time. But as we only do it once a year we need to have it well practiced and slick and 100% safe for the people who attend the Camp. This year we had a new volunteer, Becci, which gave Andrew and Buster the opportunity to do some of the teaching. At the end of these sessions we use the abseil tower to practice various advanced rope techniques. Including; lowering and abseiling past a knot and various types of hoist. Even the most complex manoeuvre is just a combination of skills. So by learning the basics you will be prepared to face the worst that could happen to you.
As always it was a physically and mentally exhausting few days but it was also very satisfying and everyone did very well.