MakeShift Challenge: Save a Man Stuck in a Fissure: Most Plausible Entry

Erik Brown’s Most Plausible Winning Entry
by Lee D. Zlotoff
January 05, 2007

We are in luck with this MakeShift challenge because our hiker is awake and at least marginally functional. It will be great to get his help in pulling him out of this pit. So my general plan is this: Get the guy some fresh air to breath, extract him from the pit, and go to the hot springs and round up some of the naked hippies there to help me help get him out of the forest.

While things don’t seem to be going all that well for our hiking victim, his luck is about to turn. His rescuer (me) happens to only carry top notch camping equipment, so my two-man tent comes with two very long (10’+), hollow, strong and lightweight aluminum poles. My plan is to fashion a giant straw out of these poles through which the guy can breathe fresh air. Using my Leatherman, I quickly cut through the two ends of the poles (because there are small plugs that would block air passage through the tubes), and stick all the sections of the poles together, holding the sections together with small strips of duct tape and sticks where necessary to make the straw sturdy. Then I yell down to the guy and tell him that the straw is coming. I gently feed the large straw over the edge and down to him, and instruct him to breath in through the straw and out into the pit. With the straw sticking out over the edge of the pit, he now has at least mildly fresh air to breath while I get him out. The concentration of sulfurous smelling gas should be non-lethal just outside the rim of the fissure, especially with this nice breeze we have going.

With my backpack, rope, and first aid kit, I quickly (but carefully) scale down the walls into the pit. The plan is to very securely attach the backpack to the hiker, very securely tie the rope to the backpack, and then quickly climb back out holding the rope. But first, I need to make sure he doesn’t pass out from shock, so I quickly scan him to make sure that his broken leg is his only physical problem, while at the same time keeping him focused on the task at hand – getting out of this smelly-a#% hole. If he is seriously bleeding from anywhere, I take off my shirt and use it as a bandage. While I am in the pit, the hiker and I take turns breathing out of the straw. Getting back to business, I firmly put the backpack on his back – attaching the chest strap and the hip strap, and pull them tight (I also knot all the zip lines/webbing to make sure they can’t accidentally loosen). I then feed the nylon rope under the shoulder straps, and tie the rope back on itself so that I have a single line attached equally to both shoulder straps (i.e. when I pull up on the rope, the whole backpack is lifted). Good thing this nylon rope is so strong that a single strand could hold 600+ lbs, but if he can stand, I could double up the rope so that when I pull him out, I am pulling with two strands of rope instead of one. However, one strand should be strong enough … I move him so that he is facing the nearest wall, and help him sit or stand – depending on his condition – with the straw elevating up over the edge of the pit. With the tail of the rope in my teeth, I climb out of the pit.

Now to get the hiker out. In the clearing near the fissure, I happen to find a nice, long, thick, sturdy, and basically straight branch. Using the duct tape, I tightly wrap this branch to my walking stick, and the 6’ combo-unit will be used as a lever to slowly but surely pull Large out of the pit. I securely attach the rope to approximately the middle of my lever, and place the air mattress, towel, sleeping bag, water bottle, and anything else soft between the rope and the edge of the pit (to prevent the rope from fraying against the rocks). See Diagram 1 below:

Once the rope is tight, as I push the top of the lever forward, rotating it about the end touching the ground, the hiker is pulled upward a small amount. Since I am pushing at the top of the lever and the rope is attached to the center (~3’ up from the base), I have “leverage”, and I only need to generate a force of a little more than ½ the hiker’s weight in order to pull him up. If he is still too heavy, I can just tie the rope lower on my lever to generate more leverage. However, it is quite clear that one stroke of the lever will not get him out of the pit. Assuming I stand a short distance from the edge of the pit, and the axis of the lever starts approximately 45 degrees off the ground, if I push until the lever is a little shy of 90 degrees, he will be lifted by about 1’-2’ with each stroke. Now comes time for our injured hiker to help out. After each stroke of the lever, I need him to grab the walls of the pit with his hands (and potentially his one working leg) to support his own weight while I reposition the lever for the next stroke (see Diagram 2 below):

So, the whole cycle is this: I push the lever from 45 degrees to 85 degrees while the hiker enjoys the ride and breathes through his straw. Then I yell to him to hold onto the wall and he yells back when he has a good grip. I reposition the lever from 85 to 45 degrees again, keeping the rope tight (as shown in Diagram 2 above), and lift him up another few feet. This cycle continues 10-20 times until he is free of the pit.

After successfully pulling the hiker from the sulfur bomb and getting him a safe distance away from the edge where we can breath clean air, we both have a drink of water and I make up a small amount of food for us while we recover a bit. I examine his wounds, and make an assessment if it is at all possible for him to hike out. In all likelihood, we conclude that he won’t be able to make the very long trek out, so the next step is to find some help. Luckily, hot springs, even very remote ones, always seem to have at least a few rather interesting people hanging around. Since we are fairly close to the springs, I complete the hike there, and recruit everybody to help us out. Realistically, a 12-hour downhill journey with a badly broken leg is nearly impossible, so the solution is probably to have one person stay with the hiker, while two others hike down and get a helicopter to come pick him up. Otherwise, we fashion all sorts of braces and supports, and begin the long journey as a team back to civilization. If no one is available at the hot springs, the hiker and I will try to hike out. If that doesn’t work, I’ll construct a shelter for him, leave him with food, water, medicine, and the sleeping bag, and carefully hike out to get more help. I think he’ll survive this one.

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