The Benefits of Rope Access in Challenging Terrains
Jaime Schick, CEGPrincipal
Thomas Pallua, PGSenior Associate
Rope access provides a cost-effective and efficient solution for accessing and working in challenging terrains. Traditional methods such as cranes or scaffolding can be expensive and time-consuming to set up, especially in remote or inaccessible areas. Rope access is a flexible and portable alternative that requires minimal equipment and infrastructure. This enables quick mobilization and demobilization, saving both time and resources. A rope access team can safely and efficiently navigate steep slopes, evaluating ground conditions as well as conducting structural inspections on facilities such as bridges and dams.
Delve Underground’s highly skilled rope access team includes engineering geologists and engineers who have decades of technical experience. We provide rope access support for all phases of a project’s life, from initial site characterization to construction support.
Our project work has included:
Rock slope investigations and construction support
Dam inspections for structural integrity, abutment stability, and scour
Bridge and shaft inspections
What sets our program apart is that we offer technical support during emergency responses, such as our support on the Idaho SH-55 rock cut failures. Each team member maintains a “to-go-bag” with all equipment necessary to provide rapid response to rockfall hazards or other geohazards. Timing is critical to identifying hazards and developing solutions in a cost-effective and timely manner. Our clients, particularly those in the transportation sector, greatly benefit from this rapid response capability because it enables them to assess their risk exposure and make quick decisions regarding the continued operation of affected facilities. Being able to deploy our experienced team directly to the hazard location also allows us to make critical observations that inform design and construction processes, ensuring projects stay on schedule and within budget.
For nonemergency design projects, our ability to put highly experienced designers on slope to make critical observations results in significant design efficiencies and cost savings, both during project development and construction.
Idaho SH-55 Rock Cut Emergency Response, 2021
Delve Underground, contracted by Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), provided emergency response and construction support for this highway safety project following the failure of two rock cuts. A total of nine rock cuts were redesigned and a landslide mitigated as part of this effort. Roped access methods were used extensively to map geologic structure and lay out ground support.
Rope Access Training Program
Safety—one of the essential components taught in Delve Underground’s in-house rope access training program—has garnered us the Association of Geohazard Professionals (AGHP) Safety Recognition Award five years in a row. Our program was originally developed by Bill Gates, PE, CEG, over twelve years ago and is reviewed and updated annually by the Delve team leadership. Presently, Jamie Schick leads the Delve team, supported by rope access instructors Ethan Guzek, James Struthers, Luke Ferguson, Thomas Pallua, and Bill Gates.
Our standard three-day training program for entry-level practitioners and the annual refresher cover climbing knots, anchor systems, belay techniques, rappelling techniques, rope ascending techniques, and self-rescue techniques. Single and double rope techniques are taught to provide flexibility and the ability to adapt to site conditions. Advanced training expands on the core principles and also addresses performing rope rescues as well as developing complex rigging to adjust for more complex site access.
Detailed Health and Safety Plans along with a Job Safety Assessment focus on site-specific hazards are developed for every project. Our plans have been reviewed and accepted by multiple agencies including DOTs, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Delve now provides training to many agencies and private consulting firms. This is a unique service primarily focused on rock slope access, as our program provides training that is not covered in other rope access safety certification programs, such as safety belaying of a climber. Because Delve works on rock slopes, we teach placement, development, and use of expedient safety anchor tie offs such as vehicles, trees, large rocks, and mechanical hardware.
Recently, Delve provided rope access training for geotechnical and engineering geologists associated with the Federal Highway Administration Western Federal Lands in Vancouver, WA, and the Washington Department of Transportation.
Rappelling to Set Instrumentation
US-95 Rockslide Near Riggins, Idaho, 2020. Delve, contracted by ITD, provided emergency response and construction support for this large rockslide. Delve used rope access safety methods extensively while investigating and mitigating a large rockfall site. This included installing monitoring equipment on the slope face so that the safety of workers and the traveling public were protected during construction.
Geotechnical Mapping and LiDar Scanning
South Fork Siphon Shaft Inspection, Mountain Tunnel. Delve led a team to access the siphon and conduct geostructural mapping and LiDar scanning. Roped access methods were used for access to the shafts to complete the tasks.