Exploring the Harder Side of Caving Vertical 2007 Edtion by Al Warild
I've been reading this edition for the past week or so. It has great descriptions, lots of figures, and well-balanced arguments.

For example, Al Warild spends some time on a subject that is sensitive for me. He has a detailed description of cow's tails where he explains the reasons why we don't use tape (webbing) cow's tails for doing rebelays. I've long been a proponent of using 11mm diameter dynamic rope. Many will remember sessions at WVACS where I climbed onto a soapbox and tried to convince people to ditch their traditional cow's tails (made of stiff webbing and manufactured by Petzl, mostly) and replace them with dynamic rope. Al Warild's argument is much more convincing than mine (he backs it up with break-test data) and hopefully will bring about a change for those who haven't yet made that transition.

Perhaps most prevalent in the book, Al gives a lot of attention to the rebelay method in deference to IRT (indestructible rope technique).  He provides many examples where the former method is not only preferred, but faster and safer. I'm not so sure that IRT will be completely replaced by rebelay, especially for pit bopping in southeast US (TAG), but I do know that the project caves we've rerigged in WV (admittedly much smaller drops than Mexico, Europe, or TAG) are now all set up for rebelay.

Why? As Al explains in his book, it allows the use of much smaller diameter ropes (i.e. less weight) and in certain locations, allows multiple people to be on rope at the same time. Most of these caves previously were very fast going down (clip in a descender and throw oneself over), but extremely slow going up due to nasty undercuts, muddy slopes, and 2" wide cracks that went back 10' which were very accepting of something the size of a rope but not so willing to allow a caver to move through them. Once long ago, I could do 7" squeezes, but 2" is pushing it a bit. ;-)

On the way into such a cave going down drops while fresh and energized is a easy as the breeze. However, coming back out after caving for a long time and having to negotiate bad ascents is not only tedious, wasting of time, and wasting of effort, its also VERY dangerous. People can die in such situations.

In one cave, a drop that we rerigged from IRT to rebelay went from being the single hardest drop I've ever done to one of the easiest. Before rerigging, that section of cave contained four horrendous drops and thoughts of it brought shudders of horror. Now, it contains about 8 or 9 roped sections, and is about as fun a section of vertical caving as there is.

We learned how to do this partly from trial and error and partly from books like Al's. If you haven't gone through that process yet, I say skip the trial-and-error part and just read Al's book (and others like On Rope and Alpine Caving Techniques), and you'll save yourself a whole lot of headache and heartache.

Overall, the book is very readable and that is refreshing, but what I like most about it is the way that Al Warild brings the concept of "efficient vertical caving" to being the focus of the discussion without actually saying it explicitly. He just uses example after example and recommendations for tried-and-true techniques, with detailed descriptions of how to apply them. It would be easy to create a vertical caving training class from his book.

I don't know if this is the best book ever written on vertical caving as I don't believe I'm qualified enough to make such a statement. It is, without question, an extremely valuable book to the caving world and if you do go vertical caving, I really think you should read it and consider the topics that Al Warild brings to the discussion.  Aaron Bird(originally posted to Cavediggers Discussion Board)

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