Conducting a Tree Self-Rescue Clinic
by Lowell Skoog

This article is a companion to Tree Self-Rescue for Paraglider Pilots which describes equipment and techniques for self-rescue after a tree landing. This article offers tips for organizing a self-rescue clinic. If you have comments on any of this material, please let me know.


An ideal setting for a tree self-rescue clinic is a mountaineering equipment shop with in indoor climbing wall. Students can purchase and assemble their rescue kits in the store. The climbing wall can be used for rappel practice. An indoor climbing gym is another good venue. Lacking these alternatives, a playground with monkey bars or a high school gymnasium with bleachers could also work well. Use your imagination.

Check in advance whether the structure to be used for rappel practice has an easy way up. If not, you'll need a ladder. The structure must have points at which you can anchor a rappel rope and a belay rope. The clinic instructors should be familiar with rock climbing techniques, especially knot tying and belaying.

If you hold the clinic in a climbing shop and invite students to purchase their kits there, be sure to notify the shop ahead of time. A large clinic group can consume thousands of feet of climbing rope and dozens of slings and carabiners. Few shops are well enough stocked to accommodate this without advance notice. See my companion article for the rescue kit list.

The clinic is organized in three parts. For a large group it is best to have several instructors and teaching stations.

Part 1 - Demonstration

The instructor most familiar with tree self-rescue should handle the lecture and demonstration. This instructor will answer a lot of questions and may need to explain the reasoning behind the various techniques. The instructor should also discuss situations where self-rescue may not be appropriate (for example, the rope doesn't reach the ground) and encourage students to think through alternative scenarios.

The lecture begins by describing the contents of the rescue kit. Demonstrate how to pack the kit and stow it on a paragliding harness. Then walk through the self-rescue sequence, showing how set up an anchor point, secure the rappel line, setup the rappel carabiner, and begin the rappel. A good setting is one where the instructor can anchor the rappel rope to a structure close to the ground (a beam or railing will do), stand on a chair and actually weight the rappel system.

Following the demonstration, the instructor works individually with students to assemble their kits and find a place on each student's harness where the kit can be stored. The instructor may also inspect kits that have already been prepared. In a large clinic, the instructor may have to go through the demonstration several times.

Part 2 - Ground Practice

Each student should walk through the self-rescue sequence close to the ground, under an instructor's guidance. It's best if you can find a structure (like a beam or railing) close to the ground that can support a person's weight. Then each student can get anchored, setup the rappel, and actually weight the rappel rope.

If time is short, it is probably best to practice the free-hanging scenario rather than the scenario in which a tree is within reach. Free-hanging rescue is less intuitive and it is the situation in which an unprepared pilot will be most helpless. If there is enough time, try practicing both scenarios.

Standing on a chair works well for setting up the rappel. Once the rappel system has been arranged, remove the chair and let the students lower themselves a couple feet to the ground. This helps students gain confidence in the rappel system before trying a high rappel. They can also determine whether they need to adjust the amount of braking friction in the rappel system.

Even if you don't have a structure to setup the rappel rope, it is valuable to walk through the rescue sequence on the ground. A stick or a student's arm can simulate a tree branch. A few slings can simulate risers and line bundles. Rigging the rappel carabiner is sometimes problematic, so it is best to practice on flat ground where the instructor can troubleshoot problems.

Part 3 - Belayed Rappel

The final part of the clinic gives each student a chance to setup and control a longer rappel while on belay. It also requires them to practice what they've learned in a more realistic and stressful setting, which could pay off if they ever have to do a real self-rescue. Ideally, each student should perform the rappel using their own kit. If this isn't practical, then you should setup a fixed rappel line, perhaps using thicker than normal rope to withstand repeated use.

The belayer stands on the ground and belays each student using a climbing rope threaded through a locking carabiner anchored securely above the rappel point. You'll need a second sling and locking carabiner to anchor the rappel rope. The climbing rope is tied to the two short slings clipped into the student's harness. (See companion article.) This is the same point at which the rappel carabiner is clipped.

Each student is belayed as they climb up, setup the rappel, and lower themselves back to the ground. Beware of students untying the belay rope after they prepare to rappel. To be doubly certain that students get properly set up before rappeling, station an instructor on the rappel structure, anchored at the point where students begin the rappel. That instructor double-checks the rappel system before each student starts off.

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