Monday, September 29, 2014

Survival Cord

Practicing rope ascending - 505 Rescue (1995).

From various internet social groups, and mingling with outdoor communities - I’ve observed the popularity of emergency cords – thanks to the likes of Bear Grylls who promoted its use. 
I’ve seen many write-ups about ‘100 uses of paracord’ and other related stuff, which most preppers immersed themselves into.  The good news for most outdoor-trained people (mountaineers specifically) is that, they are trained on ropemanship and knotting techniques, along with other critical survival skills.  While newbie enthusiasts immersed themselves in the ‘how tos’ of cord braiding and knotting – (and I must add, but minus the more critical training on survival (food, water, etc.)).

So in general - it’s good news that the need for emergency cord is now widely known and the fact that one may need such supply as aid or tool for minor, to more critical survival situation.
I've seen many already started 'wearing' or carrying utility cords.

But will this be enough?

12-foot High Strength Cord
It would be nice to have all necessary things available in each critical situation, but chances are – one will rely on his EDC (everyday carry), on his/her friend’s stock, or be creative to find tools or materials in one’s immediate surroundings.  So a realistic, stockable, carry-able add-on cord is a short high tensile strength, climbing-rated accessory cord (5-6mm in diameter), or even short rope (9-11mm).

I first learned about the 12ft cord when I joined 505 Air Rescue Auxiliary way back 1995.  (12ft cord is a standard individual ‘equipment’ even for some military units). We used the cord mostly as our DIY harness (even rappelled more than a hundred meters from a helicopter using this), and occasional anchor or sling during climb or haul trainings.
one of my 12ft high strength cords. 1. gasket coil, easily clipped on packs.  2. used as walking stick handle cushion.

I recall using this effectively in an adventure race in Camiguin island where I used 2x12ft (high strength flat webbing cord) to go down (and up) a vertical obstacle in the river section.  (My team carried a length of cord each). We didn’t have to, but we got lost and needed to scout the bottom area of the river (which I judged to be ‘unfriendly’ so we backed out).   Going up, we experienced a minor landslide where a teammate found himself hanging by a tree’s root, dangling at around 20ft above ground.  And shouting “I’m falling!  Call for rescue!!!”  I attempted a cautious rescue only to cause the ground beneath me to collapse – we were in a very unstable place. Instead, I handed him the extra cordage for his self-rescue (with my team’s shouted instruction), moving himself from one tree/root/branch to the next using lengths of cord as anchor or rope.  Then again, in my Carstensz expedition in West Papua, my ascender failed and needed extra cordage (loop) to ‘prussic on the rope’.  It would have been nasty if I suddenly fall without any immediate protection, so my prussic provided both protection and (climb) aid.
Although these are outdoor situations – it proved that some high strength cordage can save the day, or someone’s life. Even your own. 

Paracords or other low-rated utility cord cannot be used for many life-saving situations.  Standard 3mm paracord's 550lbf (strength rating) is not advisable for climb/rescue/life-support use, things like knots, over-use, UV exposure, unseen breaks, sudden weight – all can snap the cord.  So the message here is, keep 1 or 2 pieces of 12foot high strength accessory cord (accessible via outdoor shop), pick something in excess of 1KN (kilo newton) rating.  This is in addition to your other low-strength utility cords.

Storing, Care and Carry
Avoid prolonged exposure to UV/direct sunlight.  Avoid storing cord/rope with tight knots. Keep dry.  Keep coiled for easy access but not tightly coiled or knotted.
When carrying, a 12foot cord easily fits the pack’s side pockets, or inside the zipped bag, or just clipped-and-hanging in one of the pack’s strap and loops.  Best coiled in gasket fashion, or even lightly knotted quick release coiling (like ‘bird’s nest’).  A rated cord have solid/hard core and difficult to knot and braid to make things like a survival bracelet.  A lightly braided ‘belt’ design is more feasible (i.e. to make it functional vs. just-for-emergency). 
1. quick-release coil (lightly coiled to preserve the core), deploy-able and ready in 2-5 seconds. 2. 'belt', standard 3-strand braiding (here I did a 1,1,2 strands to keep it as single piece).

Niche Uses
1.      Emergency short rope.  Combine several pieces to make a good length.  Good enough for short, manual (arm/body) rappels, with enough length - even river-crossing.  Or to pull /haul someone up or down.
2.      “Railings” or support cord for dangerous crossings (ledge, broken bridge, raging river).
3.      Anchor or even climb aid (extra hand or foot hold) for climbing (building, house, cliff, tree).
4.      With 2 pieces (and harness), one can climb tall trees ex. to get coconut.  With honed skill, one can even climb a tree / post with just one piece of cord.
5.      Towing or hauling. Ex. kayak/boat with another,  bike to bike, runner to runner or dog to owner : )
6.      Stronger Binding.  Wild animal? Captured criminal? Heavy and big stuff?  Although paracord or aba-cord could be used, I’ll trust high strength cord (or duct tape) more.
7.      Emergency harness. (Combined with other climb aids).  Needed if one is climbing up or going down a dangerous wall or cliff.
8.      General utility cord similar to most para/aba-cord use.  (tent guy line, binding cord, clothesline, trapping, etc.)

Last tip – know your knots.  Ropes or cords, when used improperly (ex. wrong knots) can cause injury or death.

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