Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Harness Alternatives

A few years ago, I was running a trip up on Mount Shuksan. One of the climbers on the trip had a problem with her harness. The end of the waist belt strap was slightly damaged and the belt simply wouldn't double back.

I decided that the best alternative was to give her my harness. I then proceeded to guide the route wearing a bowline-on-a-coil. I descended the rock portion of the route by rappelling in a diaper harness made out of a double shoulder-length sling...and everything worked out fine.

While that experience wasn't the most comfortable of my life, I definitely drew on my knowledge of harness alternatives to make it happen the trip happen. It's important for every climber to have a small bag of tricks to reach into when something weird goes down.

In this Blog, I have assembled a couple of short articles on harness alternatives and have found a nice video that will help you develop your own bag of tricks.

The following demonstration of how to tie a bowline on a coil is from the website for the Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group.

Bowline on a Coil

Start with 15 or so feet of the belay line wrapped around your torso with about 3 feet left over
Create a loop in the long end of the line, just like you would for the regular bowline.
Use the short piece on the other side of the wraps to finish off the bowline
The finished knot.
This was often used long ago as an impromptu harness. this is not recommended today because of the availability of pre-fabricated harnesses and the ability to tie a much better harness from 1 inch tubular webbing. If none of those are available, however, this method is preferable to a single loop around the body because it distributes the weight much more across all those wraps.

There are two options when it comes to creating a harness out of webbing. The first option is to use a long sling or runner and to wear it like a diaper. The second option is to create a hasty harness, also known as a swiss seat harness. Naomi Judd wrote the following breakdown of how to do this for trails.com:

Step 1

Find a piece of webbing that is 7 to 9 feet long, depending on how large the person using the harness will be.
Step 2

Tie a water knot with the ends of the webbing so that it creates one big loop. Do this by making a loose overhand knot with one end of the webbing, then take the other end of the webbing and insert it into the loose overhand following the curves of the knot. Pull tight so that the knot has the two ends coming out on opposite sides.

Step 3

Wrap the webbing around the back of the person with one strand above the hips and one below.
Step 4

Reach for the lower strand, and bring it between the legs and to the front of the body.

Step 5

Attach a locking carabiner to the three strands meeting in the front of the body, near the navel. You now have your makeshift harness.

Following is a nice video that demonstrates how to build a hasty or Swiss harness out of webbing. Clearly a harness made out of webbing -- as well as a harness made out of a long sling -- would be very uncomfortable to hang in...not to mention the fact that it would be far easier to fall out of such a harness. But occasionally you need something on the fly.

In the video you are about to watch, the climber says that you should get instruction at a climbing gym. I would argue that one should never go to a local indoor climbing gym to learn about anything funky at all. Climbing gyms do a good job at teaching the basics of belaying and tying in. But you should never turn to a climbing gym person for instruction beyond that.

Obviously these techniques are unusual. As Scott in the video says, practice them, but then get checked out by a guide. A mistake in any of these harness alternatives could put your life in danger.

--Jason D. Martin


Anonymous said...

I came across this link: http://www.student.virginia.edu/~brmrg/knots/seat.html, which has a triple-redundant way to tie a webbing harness. I have used the method with 2-inch webbing on one occasion, and it worked out well. What are your thoughts on this approach?

Anonymous said...

The term "Swiss Seat" to me has always meant the military sling rope harness, which was missing from your blog. It takes 12-15' of rope. There are plenty of videos out there, some wackier than others, which could show it better than I can describe. Thanks for showing me a few more techniques for emergency situations.

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