Basic Vertical Instruction

Discuss vertical caving, equipment, & techniques. Also visit the NSS Vertical Section.

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Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby cavehunter » Feb 23, 2015 2:08 pm

I have attended a Vertical Techniques Workshop at last NSS conference in Huntsville, AL. I have done some book research on vertical caving techniques by reading the following books; On Rope by Bruce Smith and Alan Padgett, Alpine Caving Techniques by Georges Marbach and Bernard Tourte, and Vertical by Alan Warild. I have recently bought a frog ascending and descending system. Everyone that I have sought out advice on vertical instruction, they have suggested to join a local grotto to become familiar with vertical caving. I'm from Florida so there are not many opportunities for vertical experience. I was looking at the NSS Vertical section website and it seems like it has not been updated since, it still lists Bruce Smith as training coordinator and I though that he had retired. I'm looking for a recommendation of someone that teaches the Basic Vertical Techniques course or someone to act as a mentor. I will be in the TAG area with a friend also looking for instruction during spring break from March 28 until April 5.
Last edited by cavehunter on Feb 24, 2015 6:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby Scott McCrea » Feb 23, 2015 2:54 pm

Welcome to Cavechat, Scott!

I put together a program that I use to teach vertical caving to grotto members or anyone that asks. Instructions and explanations in the link. Feel free to give it a try: http://www.swaygogear.com/basic-vertica ... challenge/
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby GroundquestMSA » Feb 23, 2015 7:20 pm

Hi Scott,
I'm certainly not going to claim that you don't need instruction or a mentor, but it is possible to become proficient without any in-person training. SRT is not difficult, and you can learn safely and well by reading and practicing. Read and re-read the books you have mentioned, and material such as that on Scott McCrea's site, and practice the techniques. You only need 15' or 20' of rope and a tree limb. You can get detailed (overwhelmingly sometimes) answers to specific SRT questions on this site, and can learn a lot by reading the On-Rope section of the forum. As you gain some knowledge, more and more of the discussions on here will make sense. There are also (some) good youtube videos that demonstrate specific maneuvers (someone needs to collect links to some of the better ones and post them on here). Again, you might not be comfortable going "self-taught" into a vertical cave, but you can at least build an extensive foundation of skills at your own convenience. Until a few months ago, I had never climbed rope with anyone that I hadn't taught myself (aka not my brother). I was a little nervous about my abilities but it turned out that I climbed and changed over much more easily than some vastly more experienced and "grotto trained" cavers.

Have fun!
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby msm0711 » Feb 23, 2015 7:33 pm

How far down in Florida are you? The group of guys I cave with are located in Savannah, GA, and Charleston, SC. No vertical here. Hell, no caves here. We head west all the time, though, and if you're willing to drive north on 95 for a few hours on a Friday or Saturday, you're more than welcome to car pool west with us some time. We're all self taught, well traveled guys, most with climbing back grounds, and a few with NCRC training. Most importantly we're all friendly and willing to share our experience. Plus, I spent 7 years in central Florida, so I can sympathize.
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby Stridergdm » Feb 24, 2015 6:09 am

For the record I perfected my change-over technique (something I consider a must for anyone getting on a rope) hanging from a beam in my basement (it was winter). So you don't even need 15'-20'. (Though that helps :-)

Start with that and then head north to TAG and check out a couple of the smaller, easier pits for your first experiences.

I love being on rope myself and just got back from a trip to Georgia where I managed to get a pit in (Lost Canyon)
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby caver.adam » Feb 24, 2015 9:21 am

If you end up teaching yourself please be cognizant of the rookie mistakes. Once you build a bad habit into your technique it becomes hard to unlearn. It's always frustrating when I watch people who have learned a bad habit.

One thing to consider is, "What would happen if something went wrong or I got scared? What would my natural reaction be?" My example of this is that I see people holding on to the standing end of the rope above their rack instead of holding onto their rack. If you get scared or lose control your reaction is to clamp down and be unable to let go. Wouldn't it be better to clamp down on the bars of your rack than on the rope above it? Another example is when people let go of the braking end of the rope even for just a second.
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby Stridergdm » Feb 24, 2015 10:10 am

caver.adam wrote:If you end up teaching yourself please be cognizant of the rookie mistakes. Once you build a bad habit into your technique it becomes hard to unlearn. It's always frustrating when I watch people who have learned a bad habit.

One thing to consider is, "What would happen if something went wrong or I got scared? What would my natural reaction be?" My example of this is that I see people holding on to the standing end of the rope above their rack instead of holding onto their rack. If you get scared or lose control your reaction is to clamp down and be unable to let go. Wouldn't it be better to clamp down on the bars of your rack than on the rope above it? Another example is when people let go of the braking end of the rope even for just a second.


These are good points. Many built-in reflexes, such as grabbing the rope above the rack, are hard to overcome without good practice.

One reaction I finally figured out with frogs causes a common mistake during changeovers and the like. Our brain is used to gravity and using our feet to push against it.
So often I see folks trying to do stuff on a frog (and I presume other systems) like a change-over and they start to put weight into the footloop(s). (from what I can best determine it's a feedback loop, the brain feels pressure under the foot from the loop so encourages the body to brace against it).

So, for example, they'll be trying to raise their upper ascender and meet resistance (the weight of their feet in the footloop) so will try to brace against the footloop to get more force to work with. Of course this makes it even harder to bring up the upper ascender, so they'll brace/stand even more in their footloop and so on.

Once I saw how common this mistake was and what was apparently causing it, it became far easier to teach others how to avoid it.
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby Chads93GT » Feb 24, 2015 3:05 pm

I am self taught. All books and practice in a tree or garage. Then obviously ton's of real world application to get experience. In my case we were surveying a cave and just found a pit entrance and we were in there every weekend for a few years so my learning curve was very fast. We were also surveying lots of other caves at the time with pit entrances and finding new pits so the learning curve was shorter still.

Just be conscience of what you are doing.
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby DStud » Feb 24, 2015 8:09 pm

Where in Florida are you? River City Grotto in Jacksonville puts on vertical practice days fairly regularly.
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Re: Basic Vertical Instruction

Postby leeboop » Feb 27, 2015 9:46 am

The Tampa Bay Area Grotto (email swad99ATgmailDOTcom) and the Karst Research Group (a student group at the University of South Florida; email jmsampsoATmailDOTusfDOTedu), have vertical workshops from time to time. Get in touch with either group.

The Florida Cave Cavort is also coming up this weekend. You might be able to coerce someone into showing you a few things there. http://www.cavort.rivercitygrotto.com/index.html
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