In order to keep our pack weight down we must be able to improvise efficiently. It is always nice to have the best new gear available to accomplish any task but it all comes at a price; this price normally comes in two parts… Cost and weight. If we are going climbing we need the right gear and the weight is secondary, as it is with camping and many other things. The adventurer however, may be faced with basic climbing, scrambling, camping, backpacking, caving, river crossings and navigating as well as having to provide food and water and being able to get themselves out of any trouble they may get into.
If the adventurer were to take all the correct equipment for every eventuality it would weigh a ton! It should be said that if at all possible you should endeavour to have the best equipment for the task in hand; however, the adventurer falls into a category well outside of the norm. As an adventurer you accept that the risks are much greater and that you will rely greatly on your own ability to deal with any situation. It’s only your knowledge, experience, determination and character that will see you through all those sticky situations, of which there will be plenty. One of the things that you always take with you is some ‘Paracord’ sometimes referred to as ‘550 Type 3’; this is really just a small kernmantle rope about 4mm in diameter. It is extremely useful and can be used in hundreds of applications. Always take 10m if you can; it’s light and takes up no room at all. The following improvisations are based around this cord.
The Tarbuck Knot
It was climber Ken Tarbuck who thought this one up in the early 1950’s and although its original intended use was somewhat different it is ideal for guy lines, washing lines, tarp lines; in fact any application that requires an adjustable loop. It is unsuitable for heavy shock loads on kernmantle rope as it can strip-off the outer sheath. I have used this knot more times than I can remember for all sorts of things. The knot forms a loop that when not under load is easily adjustable but when a load is applied it automatically locks. It’s an easy knot to learn and you’ll be amazed at how often you use it.
The Bachman Knot
This is a well known knot amongst climbers and is normally associated with self rescue. You would normally use a ‘Jumar’ for ascending a kernmantle rope but they are much, much heavier than a few meters of paracord and are of little use for anything outside of their primary design. The karabiner is to move the Bachman knot further up the rope and should never be under load. If the knot slips when loaded just add another wrap. With two or three
of these you can ascend a rope with a good deal of practice but normally you can use just one to offer fall arrest when climbing out of a hole or cave that you have lowered yourself into. To work properly the cord must be much thinner than the climbing rope with which it is to be used. Start by making yourself a loop with the cord of the correct length for its intended use; this should be done using a ‘Triple Fisherman’s Knot’. Clip the loop into the karabiner and then wrap the loop around the rope and karabiner together about four or five times. When under load it will lock and when the load is removed you can slide the Bachman knot up the rope using the karabiner. The Bachman knot works extremely well when used on ropes that are wet or icy. There are two other similar knots; the first is the ‘Prusik Knot’ and the second is the ‘Klemheist Knot’, they are both easy to learn should you wish to know all three.
Safety should always be a priority but when improvising we have to acknowledge that there will be higher risks. Each situation is different and your assessment of the risks involved will vary with the situation; it’s ‘the nature of the beast’ you might say. Always look at the alternatives to lower the risk but what may be the best alternative now, may not be the best alternative in thirty minutes time. The lone adventurer is an increasingly rare beast that due to all the ‘Health & Safety’ propaganda constantly administered is in grave danger of becoming extinct. If you can, find a good instructor to learn the basics or, if you can track down one of these elusive beasts, ask if you can tag along occasionally.
Get out there!