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New ‘Vertical’, & discuss SRT practises and preferences

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  tom-aberdeen 6 years, 7 months ago.

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    Peter Freeman

    If you subscribe to Ozcavers you will have seen that Al Warild has recently web-published a new edition of ‘Vertical’.

    It is interesting to note that he now advocates usage of a double-overhand-noose knot for retaining the karabiner on a cowstails. I have always used this knot – it is compact, slightly shock-absorbing, and discourages the krab from flipping around. It’s tied sort-of like half a double fishermans bend.

    Also, he recommends against usage of a 3rd cowstail (QAS). Vive La France!

    I think these have been Al’s personal practises for a long time, but in previous editions I believe the wording was more equivocal, ie. it did not make firm recommendations.



    I’ve just viewed and saved the 10 chapters. Just over 7 MB total size. Lots of colored diagrams for clarity. For those with slow internet connection, I will bring copy to meeting on USB key.



    Hi all,

    I have said this to Peter, and many others in person, but I will repeat it for the forum. I firmly believe in a ‘3rd cowstail’ (cord/rope permanently attaching hand ascender to D maillon). Main reasons are that it ensures the ascender is never dropped, and also allows use in unusual situations (such as when the hand ascender can be used on a difficult re-belay) without messing around with gear. I think the main reason the French and Al Warild don’t use it is to save weight and bulk – but really, look at the caves we are doing! We are bottoming short pitches in Buchan most of the time, with the occasional trip to more vertical areas in Tassie. We are not doing the Berger in France where every gram counts. I say go for the 3rd cowstail. Only my humble opinion though. Anyone else have thoughts?




    Yes. I agree with the 3rd cowstail for the same reasons and suggest it’s use to anyone I’m instructing as well (though ultimately it’s up to the individual’s personal preference).

    I remember one VSA member in M-53 not using a 3rd cowstail and dropping their hand ascender to the bottom of the first pitch while attempting to exit the cave. <img src=” title=”Razz” />


    Peter Freeman

    Yes, 3rd cowstail does have the advantage of ensuring that the hand ascender is ALWAYS attached to you and therefore can’t be dropped. There are also certain other rare situations where it is nice to have.

    Dropping my ascender in M53 has always stayed with me (I could have got an ineptitude award for that? – too late now!). But remember Brett, it WAS my first EVER srt (under instruction from you!). I doubt whether that could fairly be put down to number of cowstails – butter-fingers and beginner’s bad luck I think.

    More relevant was a recent incident where I dropped my ascender in M170: my only other such occurrence. Fortunately it went only a metre or so, and then lodged delicately between the rope and the shaft wall. Tom and I performed a nervous but successful slow-motion exercise to retrieve it without it falling further! This incident WAS a good and classic example of losing the ascender due to using the long cowstail for another purpose (safety on upwards arrival at the pitch head). Since then I have put much thought into the topic, and have made myself concentrate on it during each ascent. It is really just a matter of being totally systematic and having invariable routine: ALWAYS shift the ascender AND the footloop onto a gear-loop krab when the long cowstail comes out of it (footloop in the krab keeps the ascender attached to you when you want the hand-ascender still on the rope as a pulling-point). I have never come near to such a mishap again, and never will.

    I agree it’s a marginal issue – the fact that both practises continue widely proves that. My main reason for preferring 2 over 3 is not so much weight (you’re right Tom, we’re not in fierce endurance caves here), but bulk and complexity. In horizontal passages between pitches, when it’s just not worth de-harnessing, the fewer items to snag the better. And in more general terms, the simpler and more elegant the rig, the better. This is why I also made several other adjustments as I gained experience – the krab knots as mentioned, but also ditching my expensive SRTE adjustable double footloops. I now use a simple single loop made from 12mm tape. It is great – light and compact, easy on and off, never in the way, traps the unweighted rope well at the start of ascent, etc.

    As an interesting aside on this subject, when using just two cowstails, the short cowstail is used not only when passing rebelays downwards, but also when ascending (the long one stays in the hand ascender as safety). Because of this, it is best to have the short cowstail just slightly longer than otherwise optimum. The result of this is that in certain other situations, where a REALLY short cowstail is required, you halve the length of it by clipping the cowstail krab into the harness maillon, then clipping another krab into the resulting loop. The extra krab is the one that now goes onto the safety point, traverse line, etc.


    Peter Freeman

    Here’s another practise of mine that may be of interest. And this one is not in Al’s book.

    The pack tether (or Donkey’s D*** as some UK and Aus cavers call it) is an important equipment item that does not receive the attention it deserves. I use a tether made of 6mm static accessory cord, which began as a beautiful deep purple but is now a mucky light-brown genuine cave colour. It is tied as follows:

    [i:12sstvz4][b:12sstvz4]screw karabiner + double overhand noose


    alpine butterfly


    fig eight on bight + screw karabiner.[/b:12sstvz4][/i:12sstvz4]

    You may be able to see from this that it can be instantly adjusted to many different lengths (anywhere between 30cm and 140cm) by moving the karabiners to various loops or doubling sections. In raw form it is approx 140cm long including krabs. This is ideal for towing the pack along a tight but smooth, dry or wet horizontal crawl. It is also good for abseiling or prussiking on clean pitches where there is no possibility of pack snagging. Such a long tether allows you to be well-sorted ascending on the rope even before your pack follows you off the pitch base, and to get off-rope at the top before easily dragging your pack over the lip. It can be thought of as shortening the pitch by two or three metres!

    For prussiking up an awkward pitch, where you need to frequently kick or de-snag the pack, it is good to have the pack really close. To do this, simply move one of the krabs into the alpine butterfly instead of an end knot. This makes a tether only about 50cm long. Note that such alterations are easily done while on-rope, if you change your mind.

    The various other lengths that can be configured are all useful in different situations, including pitches where you choose to haul the packs instead of carrying them, and situations involving passing packs around awkward obstacles.

    An area of contention may be the 6mm cord. I find it very convenient and light. However, there is a school of thought that says every item should be capable of multi-use, especially for example in a rescue situation. The pack tether should therefore be of 8, 9 or 10mm static cord. My variable length strategy is still valid of course, but is then slightly more bulky. My next tether will probably use the above shape, but in 8mm cord.



    The force is strong with this one…

    Yes I subscribe to the Freeman Tether as well. Good stuff it is.



    Peter Freeman

    New "Vertical" is now in the VSA Library, donated by Tom Aberdeen November 2008. Available for lending. A recommended read for all vertical cavers.




    Can we bring it to the conference and get him to sign it?



    Paul Brooker

    I have been using the 1/2 double fishermans to secure the snap gates on my cowstail for a number of years and they work great. They certainly jam the knot against the ‘biner however they are not as secure as a figure 8 ie you can get some knot creep when first tied.

    As for using 12mm tape for the foot loop…I’m not an advocate. The tape can easily be fed into the chest ascender during ascent causing the chest ascender to become jamed. An alternate method (which I use) is a combination of a tape footloop (19mm) and a 6-8mm cord connecting it to the top ascender. The cord is far less likely to be fed into the chest ascender with this system. There was a small article published in Nargun a number of years ago by Eric Lenser with spec’s of this setup.


    Peter Freeman

    Very soon after buying my SRTE stop descender in mid-2005, as a beginner to SRT, I extended the handle by slipping a short length of electrical conduit onto it. Only extended about 4cm but it did provide significant extra leverage. I believe some people do this on Petzl Stops too.

    I have recently removed that modification. I now find it unnecessary, not because my left hand muscles have grown but because I soon learnt to use the device properly. A number of my early practises were influenced by my belief (based on mis-information from the manufacturer) that the SRTE stop, unlike the Petzl, could be operated in a mode where the handle pressure was the primary descent speed control. While that is partially true, and will work in limited special situations, the device is best used just like the Petzl – the handle is either in or out.

    The unnecessary extension had the downside that it could easily get caught up – both while travelling through the cave and even occasionally while in use. So, for anyone who has also done this mod, I suggest that you consider removing it.


    Peter Freeman

    My descender is an SRTE single-rope single-brake Stop. I selected it four years ago based on published reviews, as I had at that time no SRT experience. Fortunately, it has proved a sound decision.

    A few weeks ago I used a Petzl Stop for the first time, when Chalky, Lynne and I went for a practise session in the open at Staughton Vale. I was pleasantly surprised – the Petzl’s handle operation felt very nice and I had no trouble with slippage when stopped. However, we WERE using thick rope (11mm IIRC). Slippage on thinner, wet and muddy ropes is one persistent complaint about Petzls, whereas with an SRTE you NEVER need to lock-off, even if you want to dangle while taking photos, halt for a rebelay or any tricky manouevre, or whatever.

    When Chalky mooted buying two sets of SRT training gear for the club (now done), we discussed whether they should include Petzl or SRTE stops (there was NO doubt that they should be STOPS of some kind, rather than racks, etc). We concluded that they should be Petzl, as with most of the other items, simply so that we could say that VSA trainees were learning on world-industry-standard equipment. We reserved that our recommendation when trainees came to buy their OWN kit might well favour something else.

    However, Chalky advises that in fact he has purchased SRTE stops, based on several tests he performed with the Petzl. It seems that the slippage problem is alive and well once away from thick, dry, clean ropes. The SRTE, by contrast, even on its factory-default adjustment, will stop securely on 8mm cord (yes, we have tried it in cave, safely!).

    I suppose the choice depends on your intentions, and also weight. A small caver who doesn’t plan to push the envelope will probably do well on a Petzl. For most, an SRTE would still seem best, to me. The authoritative cave rescue manual (LOAL) recommends against either of them for rescue loads (200Kg).


    Peter Freeman

    I have SRT’d here in Oz for six years now, using the chest harness I first selected: the Petzl ‘Torse’. Having seen, over that time, a large number of alternatives, I must claim to have made the right choice!

    Some of the other chest harness arrangements I’ve noticed are quite amazing. The worst consist of several metres of tape wrapped around the body in various bewildering patterns, requiring contortions by their users to get them on, and often several attempts to get the pattern right!

    The Torse, by comparison, is simple, and quick to don and adjust. The length-adjusting buckle should lie just below the left shoulder so it is easily reachable with your right hand. To tighten the harness, simply pull on the free end; to loosen it, flip up the tongue on the buckle and stretch your body upright.

    Immediately loosening the chest harness is important when arriving at the top or bottom of a pitch, so that you can move easily to get off the rope. Having the chest harness tight (to the point where you can’t stand up straight) is important for efficient prussicking, as it keeps your centre-of-gravity close to the rope.



    Go Peter, way to bump a 3 year old thread!! Although it is an important topic, it makes a big difference when you can loosen your chest harness when getting off rope at the top of a pitch easily. Getting of a pitch hunched over is a pain in the ass.

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