Apologies for the word problem. I'm sure there's a simple solution or two, but I'm trying to work out a real world scenario. We used to indoor top rope belay but that was years ago in boy Scouts so our rock climbing knowledge is incomplete and rusty. We've fished this area for years without needing rescue equipment but as everyone gets older and with the level of parkour required to fish this creek, I feel it's time to be more prepared.

Likely scenario: pair of fisherman radio for help with sprained/broken ankle. Unable to follow creek rest of the way to the exit point.

Worst case scenario: single fisherman misses 15 minute radio check-in. Assume unconscious.

Environment: single lane (shared w/ oncoming traffic) mountain road follows creek being fished. Approximately 5 miles between entry/exit points. Road can be as much as 50 feet above creek and incline can be as steep as sheer cliff face though it's usually a sharp incline with near unclimbable shifting gravel. 1 hour drive from cell service, another 1 hour drive to Gunnison hospital.

Rescue team: pickup truck with two adults. We'll drive up till we spot fisherman. Probably anchor to the truck or nearby pine trees, blocking the road for other campers/fisherman. Alternate route for them would be a 5 hour drive around so I believe blocked traffic will wait.

Question: What gear should we prep for potential emergency rescue? I'm assuming this is similar to crevasse rescue without ice picks?

  • So basically, you are trying to get them up the hill to the road? Apr 20, 2017 at 23:40
  • Correct. They can't do much wading ankle deep between two mountain cliffs Apr 21, 2017 at 0:15
  • 3
    I'd go with a Sat phone for the first piece of equipment. If you cannot afford one, a PLB. In an emergency, comms is vital. Based on "indoor top rope belay at Scouts" you do not have the skill to safely do any form of rope rescue, getting the training and skills needed to use them would be the next step.
    – user5330
    Apr 21, 2017 at 3:16
  • It's good that you came here to ask us for safety advice! Still, maybe it would be better to fish in a location which is slightly less remote? Apr 25, 2017 at 18:33

6 Answers 6


Unless you are properly trained in rope rescue techniques I would not advise attempting a rescue unless it is pretty clear that the casualty is in immediate danger.

The issue here is that a sprained ankle is not going to immediately kill anyone however a botched attempt to winch them up a cliff very well could. As soon as you start they are in a significantly more dangerous situation than they were at the bottom and if they suddenly deteriorate it is much more difficult to stabilise their condition.

You could also set yourself up for legal liability. If someone is climbing they take responsibility for the fact that they are undertaking a dangerous activity. By contrast in an amateur rescue attempt the casualty may not be in a position to give informed consent for what you are trying to do.

Much better is to make sure you have the equipment to contact the emergency services reliably as well as satellite phones there are various beacon systems designed for exactly this sort of situation. Similarly up to date first aid training and equipment to stabilise a casualty untill help arrives is probably a better investment of effort.

Even if you did get training in rope rescue techniques, unless that is backed up by a degree of experience and regular practice there is a good chance that you will make a dangerous mistake in the heat of the moment.

Probably the worst case is that you have a casualty with a suspected spinal injury (which seems a distinct possibility in the scenario you describe) in which case you don't want to move them at all unless it is to get them out of real imminent danger

It may be that the local fire or ambulance service can give you some more detailed advice which takes into account the facilities available in the area.

  • +1 I suggest you emphasis third paragraph from the bottom "even if you did get..."
    – ab2
    Apr 22, 2017 at 20:45
  • +1 for asking local rescue services what they are capable of.
    – user11603
    Jun 27, 2017 at 9:26


Given your description and your background: Don't even try it! Hauling any load up a slope is much harder than up a vertical cliff, and to attempt that with an injured person... just don't! You'll only end up wasting precious time and quite possibly harm the victim even more.

In your scenario, I'd drive that hour for cell reception rather than attempt to set uo a hauling system, and I know how to do it.

If you feel the extra security is needed, get a sat phone, PLB, VHF radio or whatever works and is available/affordable.


The simplest way that I can think of is to have all of the fishermen carry a climbing harness and enough gear that they could ascend the rope. Have two climbing ropes in the truck, one for use and one for backup and if a a fisherman needs help getting up the cliff, anchor the rope, toss the end down to the fisherman and have them pull themselves out.

If they need extra assistance, you can set up a z-pulley and help pull them up the cliff.

For your worst case scenario, I would carry a spinal board in your truck and get the training to use it.


It is good that you are planning ahead. Assuming no communications, and recovery with your group and available assets is the best choice.

Beyond basic first aid, you need a couple of things.

  • Rescue sled (random web link) these run about $1,000 (US)
  • A winch rated for human lifting, there are several considerations here. While a standard vehicle or manually operated winch has potential you should understand the risks before betting someones life on one.
  • Safety equipment for rescue personal.
  • Training, you will need to be trained and gain some experience in the types of rescues you are anticipating. People die and/or kill their friends, when they make poor choices trying to save them. You need to "KNOW" how and what to do.

The most important thing above is training and experience. The best place to get that is volunteering with your local fire department or rescue organization. You don't say where you live, but if you are rural enough to go fishing, where the bypass road is a 5 hour trip, you should be rural enough that the majority of fire/rescue has available volunteer positions that will get you the training and experience you need to keep yourself and your friends alive when an emergency occurs.


It sounds like this would fall under the category of high angle rescue. This is not something that you want to get into. It sounds like you would be at most 2.5 miles from the an easy extraction point. Faced with a vertical haul on a 50' cliff with lose gravel and a 2.5 mile carry, most rescuers will opt for the carry.

The first piece of gear you need is a sat phone or some sort of emergency PLB to call for help. This will reduce the rescue time by at least 1 hour. You will also want a spotting scope and megaphone to help you communicate with the injured individual and assess the situation. You will want a medium size first aid kit, some food and water, extra clothes, a shelter, and a pair of high quality walkie talkies in a backpack in the truck.

If you are willing to undergo some training, a static line, harness, and some gear to set an anchor, on trees, rocks, or possibly the truck, to enable one of you to rappel down to the injured individual would not be unreasonable. Remember to do this far enough downstream to prevent knocking rocks onto the person below.

When you get to the scene you need to assess the situation for severity and your ability to get to the person. You need to determine if you can safely walk to their location (possibly by driving the 2.5 miles) or, if you have the training, if you can rappel to them. You will want to make sure your rescue kit has everything you need to spend the night in the stream.

  • 1
    Knowing the walk-able 2.5 mi route to share with rescuers might actually be really helpful.
    – user11603
    Jun 27, 2017 at 9:30

Your rescue team of "2 guys and a pickup" is insufficient, the minimum trained people we would attempt this rescue with [we have done more then one of these] would be 8, 12+ would be better.

First off, like someone suggested, a reasonably safe stretcher carry is preferred over high angle. Presuming our fishermen are built like most fishermen, carrying one for more than 10 minutes is going to be a chore. generally 6 people required to carry a stretcher, unless terrain forces less, and those 6, unless there big guys in tip top shape [think on the better side of young firefighters], will need to switch off the stretcher every 6 minuets or so. 2.5 miles is going to take forever on a rough trail, think 4-10 hours. additionally if there is no trail along the one side of the river, you now half-to consider taking someone who is totally immobilized, over water, were worse came to worse you could drown them. this may not be your best option.

As for going strait over the cliff, what you describe is High angle rescue. Our protocols require a 2 rope system [NEVER WINCH PEOPLE!!!!! if they get caught on a snag you could pull the rope, harness or the person apart before you noticed.] A well practiced rope team can do a top down rescue like this in less than 25 minutes, If you barely remember your knots, and don't know what a rope system means, I wouldn't even try. Seriously if you drop someone 40 feet down a scree slope they will be in much worse shape than a night with a broken ankle.

The advice of carrying a satellite beacon is a good one, get one with 2 way communication [inreach/spot connect], Carry a suitable first aid kit, flashlights [rescue may take a few hours], insulation/dry clothing [in a waterproof container ie. drybag], if an ankle injury is what your expecting carry an ankle splint, [sam splint, a self inflating mattress like a thermarest is both thermal protection, and a great improvised splint. Take a wilderness First Aid course, make sure your friends take one [keep in mind, there the ones who will be treating you.

If your dead set on the rescue side, the most technical thing I would consider, would be a simple repel off the road, as suggested by strong bad, but even then, you should understand what your doing, be well practiced, and carry self rescue equipment [rope asenders etc.]

edit, it may be relevant that most jurisdictions will NEVER charge for rescue, it is always easier to do a quick call that may not have been totally necessary, than arrive in the middle of the night when it has devolved into an emergency.

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