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? – Charlie Brumbaugh Apr 20 '17 at 23:40
  • Correct. They can't do much wading ankle deep between two mountain cliffs – Garrett Carson Apr 21 '17 at 0:15
  • 2
    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 '17 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? – unforgettableidSupportsMonica Apr 25 '17 at 18:33

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 MonicaNotForgotten Apr 22 '17 at 20:45
  • +1 for asking local rescue services what they are capable of. – user11603 Jun 27 '17 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.

  • Knowing the walk-able 2.5 mi route to share with rescuers might actually be really helpful. – user11603 Jun 27 '17 at 9:30

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