Climbing technique in a narrow vertical shaft

michael.11

New member
Me and my friend had went on a vertical caving trip and were unable to prusik out of a really narrow and muddy ~4 meters shaft. It was really snug around our bodies, and it was impossible to move hands or legs at all in order to operate the ascenders properly. Also it was really hard to down-prusik once I decided to abort my initial attempt (not a pleasant experience being stuck there completely cocooned). Later after some struggling I managed to push my buddy's legs high enough until he got to a wider spot, and than he pulled me up. But is there a correct technique for climbing up in such situations? E.g. a mechanical advantage system with a pulley on a hand ascender and petlz stop as progress capture (a person at he bottom pulling the rope)? Or should we have just left a pulley with additional rope at the top before going down?
 
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Pitlamp

Well-known member
That sounds awkward.

Petzl Pantin maybe? (If you get snarled up that can be kicked off hands-free.)
 

michael.11

New member
That sounds awkward.

Petzl Pantin maybe? (If you get snarled up that can be kicked off hands-free.)
We had it, but it kept getting unclipped (and its performance wasn't great because of the mud). Also the tiny amount of lifting which was possible to generate wasn't enough to gain some advance on croll
 

AR

Well-known member
I've been up and down a small mineshaft in the Peak that was so narrow, I had to turn my head sideways to avoid my helmet jamming. I was using a Pantin, and coming back up I recall I was bending my knees out to the side instead of forwards to get enough push to advance
 

michael.11

New member
I've been up and down a small mineshaft in the Peak that was so narrow, I had to turn my head sideways to avoid my helmet jamming. I was using a Pantin, and coming back up I recall I was bending my knees out to the side instead of forwards to get enough push to advance
Same here with the turning the head. But I couldn't progress by knee bending at all in either direction. This is the spot at its wider part...It has exact oval shape to fit the human body
 

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caving_fox

Active member
I'd probably be climbing that rather than prussicking. Use the Croll to keep you from falling back down, and just try to find toe purchase and holds to grab. ... to be honest I'd have thought about it before deciding not to descend it at all.
 

Pitlamp

Well-known member
Hm, I see what you mean Michael.

Stick a bolt and pulley in the roof maybe, so you can assist each other's ascent from top or bottom using a moving rope? (By this I mean prussik for each other, from above or below the tight bit!)
 

michael.11

New member
I'd probably be climbing that rather than prussicking. Use the Croll to keep you from falling back down, and just try to find toe purchase and holds to grab. ... to be honest I'd have thought about it before deciding not to descend it at all.
We did try that - but there is zero feet support because its smooth and muddy. Regarding thinking - it wasn't our strongest trait that time :)
 

Rob

Well-known member
Sounds fun. I've been in a number of situations similar. Definite key for me has been Pantin but ropewalking (i.e. not loading the croll). And accept very small steps.

Main difficulty has been having the space to move my hand jammer up each step. When really bad i've even clipped my cowstail to the top of the jammer (I use a Basic) so i can pull it up with my left hand high above my head. You do need a long cowstail for this to work, or a spare bit of tat.
 

Pitlamp

Well-known member
If a Pantin could be made to work, do you actually need a chest jammer? Could you simulate the action of a chest jammer by breating in if it's so tight?! (It's difficult to make realistic suggestions without actually seeing the nature of the problem.)
 

mikem

Well-known member
You can loop the down rope under your foot & hold it with the top part to give you more push (either just using that or have foot loop on other one) - doesn't really work above rebelays though, or if you can't drop it back down (although a longer rope may allow your mate to keep hold of it)
 

pwhole

Well-known member
My favourite problem (as it's so common) - I find that 'penguin'-style ropewalking with the legs is key, pointing your toes out sideways to keep the Pantin on the rope, as you often can't reach down to put it back on again once committed to the tight bits. I also use a Basic-type ascender, as you must be able to reach the cam release, often difficult on the long-handled ascenders. Use the other hand to grip the rope above the ascender or climb with it if good holds appear, and just aim to 'do a Superman' all the way up, i.e. arms always above the body. And yes, as Rob suggested, aim for small steps to keep within a practical knee-range in the tight space. And also make sure you don't jam your Croll into the knot at the top in your relief at getting out!

The one below on New Rake was particularly nasty - it was at least 15m down the slot section before it widened enough to even consider changing back over to climbing gear - just had to keep going down and praying, with my head turned sideways. The second shot is me shitting myself at the tight bit, trying to pluck up courage to drop it ;)

_IGP9214-9215_sm.jpg


_IGP9222_crop_sm.jpg
 

Fjell

Well-known member
That does look rather more like ventilation than a way in for humans.

My limit these days without having a coronary is prob Link entrance. My other half still rattles around in it.
 

mrodoc

Well-known member
The St. Cuthbert's Swallet entrance rift is the best most used example on Mendip. It was Rostam Namaghi who suggested using a Pantin to me as a way of heaving my septuagenarian frame up it. Worn on the left foot it works well to pass the constriction part way up - worn on the right led to something of an unpleasant and epic struggle as it pulled the rope across.
 

michael.11

New member
In case of rope walking you described - is the croll still connected? And are both hands above ypur head or one is near the harness. I'm wondering about a scenario when pantin unclips or foot loop slips, and there is no way to put them back. And in this case you can't unweight and release the roll - effectively getting stuck on the rope.
 

pwhole

Well-known member
Yes, I always keep the Croll attached (though in my case it's a TurboChest), but ideally it shouldn't be weighted apart from resting, and thought of more as a backup than the primary ascenders - in a shaft that tight you're pretty much vertical by default, and you can't really fall very far either for the same reason - 'reassuringly tight' is how I reprogrammed my brain to cope with it. I'm right-handed, so I tend to keep my left arm available for anything required at the time! But yes, getting a Pantin (or TurboFoot in my case) back on in that sort of space is pretty much impossible, so the small steps help reduce the risk of that happening. One model of the TurboFoot used to have a safety cam like regular ascenders, requiring manual intervention to take it off, but they discontinued it - possibly as folks found they couldn't then reach it in a tight space to take it off!

As far as we know, that shaft is the Founder Shaft for James Hall's Over Engine - JH. It was so narrow I couldn't work out how the miners had done it, as stemples across the slot would mean facing them to climb, and there wasn't room to do that. I suspect employing a workforce of 13 year-olds was probably the best technique. At least it exited to surface - the one we found in JH West would have been pretty grim to have an accident in, not least as the only access into the top of it it is a backward flat-out crawl.
 
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wellyjen

Well-known member
In case of rope walking you described - is the croll still connected? And are both hands above ypur head or one is near the harness. I'm wondering about a scenario when pantin unclips or foot loop slips, and there is no way to put them back. And in this case you can't unweight and release the roll - effectively getting stuck on the rope.
As @pwhole says, the Croll, or Croll-a-Like is on the rope. A pantin isn't a piece of PPE, according to Petzl, so you shouldn't be trusting your life to it, in the way that you do with a Croll, or hand jammer. It's just to make the ascent easier.
 

AR

Well-known member
Pwhole's shaft looks pretty similar in size to the one I dropped, and his description of technique is pretty much what I was doing - small step "sideways" rope walking . I don't think they're ventilation shafts myself, with stemples either side it would have been possible for miners to go up and down them though cutting out the vein and fitting stemples can't have been easy in such a confined space. I suspect they were either cut/fitted from below, or the young lads were "serving their apprenticeship" in creating them...
 

pwhole

Well-known member
As always, I have a photo. This lad was twelve at the time, as I remember, in a 'stemple forest' in a different mine - they are even denser beyond him. This stope is wider than the shaft I dropped, but even so, you can imagine how difficult it would be for a regular-sized guy. I have been through there and could climb those, but as for working in there, with a pick and maybe drill steels too, I dunno!

I get the impression that rather than 'ladders' these were designed more as a climbing-frame, to allow movement in any direction, with planks then laid across for working on.

_IGP0287_sm.jpg
 
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mikem

Well-known member
It all depends on the exact shape of your body & the hole, but a climber's style rig might be easier - take the croll off & attach it to a 2nd footloop (could be sling or end of rope), then both jammers are above you, & keep at least one arm up there to move them as far as you can bend your leg. This will be really strenuous if any of the ascent is freehanging, but could attach abseil device, once free of the slot, to keep yourself closer to the rope (or if you know it beforehand, take a 2nd jammer)
 
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