A long time ago during Covid we promised we would do a series on SRT set-ups for people who have particular body shapes. The article never materialised, but talking to folk at Hidden Earth there still seems to be a lot of interest. So this is part one.
When I (Ursula) started caving, some time between the Roman invasion of England and the invention of penicillin, I was three-quarters of the weight I am now and that weight was – ahem – more evenly distributed. I didn’t have any problems coping with the endless Pantin-less sit-stand which made up most of expedition SRT in those days. Yes folks, I know some of you indulged in some creative diversions from sit-stand, such as US-style rope-walking (not suitable for Discovery pitch in Marble Sink), or the Texas Two-Step, still used today. But most of us were sit-stand-ers. On the way down, most of us used a rack or some exotica such as a whale tail. No one had the problem, which some of my contemporaries were bewailing recently, of having to exert one’s stomach muscles to maintain the upper body in a vertical state. Nowadays, however, this is the unhappy result (in my case) of being quite a bit heavier but all the extra being in the top half. I know I am not alone in this. A lot of improvement can be achieved by making sure your chest harness and sit harness are well-fitting and suitable for your current body shape. However, there are also little hacks which can help. The first hack which Tony set up for me and which does help with the stomach-muscles-while-abseiling thing, is to mount a swing-cheek pulley on a short length of 5mm dyneema from one shoulder of your chest harness, if your chest harness is solid enough for this purpose. The idea is not to use the pulley actually as a pulley, although it never hurts to have a spare pulley around – the purpose is to run the pulley as a sort of hook, on the rope above your descender, so as to keep you pulled in to the rope while you are going down, or to rest. As with all extra bits of klatch there are disadvantages – the main one here is that it keeps you spun round to the front, so you need to unhook it if you are trying to locate a deviation, say, or a rebelay bolt on the side you have the pulley on. It slightly stops you keeping an eye all round you while descending. If you need to swing across somewhere and get into a parallel shaft, or a crawl like on Goblin route in Sell Gill, maybe don’t use it on that pitch. It is pretty versatile though – doesn’t get in the way, easy to put on and off. Just an idea.
Next time, hacks for the person with a shorter arm reach.