The SWR Conference: High Angle Rope Rescue & The Munter Mule

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Last October, I attended the ACA Swiftwater Rescue Conference near Bryson City, NC with several of my fellow TVCC safety soldiers. My inner nerd was on high alert as I was preparing for just about any situation (think payback for all the crazy stuff we’ve thrown at you during the SWR classes but times 10) pertaining to rescue techniques.

by LaDawn Wolfe

In preparation I had studied up on knots, clinches and mechanical advantages (my heart picks up a beat or two just by typing the words), and had packed my Arsenal of ropes, carabiners, prussiks and pulleys.

The Saturday before the SWR Conference while I was working with the Obed Rangers and their climbing program, I jumped at the opportunity to practice my knot tying and relished the chance to impress the Rangers. During the “after climb” safety training, Ranger Matt mentioned a knot I had never heard of: the Munter Mule.

After several attempts, I had a workable understanding of how to tie it, and its use in relation to climbing, which is to stop the passage of the rope beyond the carabiner (that’s what the Munter hitch does) and is an essential part of the climbing system when escaping a belay, improvising rescues or used with a prussik to pass a knot in a rappel rope. I was so stoked about the knot that I sang its praises on the way to the conference and made plans to practice tying it over the weekend during spare moments.

So when Ty Tuff, one of the ACA instructors for the High Angle Rope Rescue session at the conference, mentioned the Munter Mule, I couldn’t contain myself: I fist pumped! Something Ty Tuff stated that he had NEVER seen someone do for the Munter Mule before that moment. He liked my enthusiasm. (Hello, My name is LaDawn and I am a rope geek. It’s been 5 days since I tied my last Munter Mule.)

For the next two and a half hours, our group tied Munter hitches, Munter Mules, rappelled and and hauled people up utilizing new and old techniques. The High Angle Rope Rescue session dealt with situations that might present themselves in a gorge or canyon, where there are no river banks and the walls are steep. Our fearless, well…mostly fearless Safety Marshal, Mike Shillinger was one of the first to rappel off of the 90 degree, 6 foot wall.

Everyone was encouraged to try every aspect of the session as it was “challenge by choice”, but getting everyone to participate wasn’t an issue as the activities were challenging but extremely fun. It also helped that the instructors were witty, clever and obviously enjoyed it as much as we did.

The conference help solidify many SWR techniques for me, as well reinforced the importance of a more interactive approach to teaching these skills. I knew the instructors were extremely knowledgeable but I was equally impressed by their enthusiasm, quick-witted humor and entertaining presentations that made the material not just a review but a renewed passion, even in the pouring rain!