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Get Your Swerve Off

There is something I am incredibly inefficient about teaching.

A lost line drill.

We discuss. And I demonstrate. And we dry drill it. Occasionally (as with this week) I get some folks who are doing it for a second time because they did it in Intro and now they're doing it in Full Cave.

The key points as I present them: If you can't see and lose the line... first thing to do is stop and think about where you think the line is. Mentally mark that direction.

Then find something obvious... a rock that feels weird, a little crack in the ground, a slope in the silt. Something you can use to say, "I think the line is that way in relation to this thing."

Then you find something to tie off to. Think about your suspected relationship to the line to this, new thing.

Tie off to it. Give it a couple of wraps.

If it's super obvious and weird-shaped as shit, all the better. Now you've got a directional reference. If it's just some boring stalagmite or nondescript rock, find a secondary tie-off to act as a directional indicator. And just in case your primary pops free.

In any case, once you've got your suspected relationship to the line, you're tied off to where you noticed the line was missing, and you've got some security and directional indication, you're ready to start searching.

And this is where I turn sucky.

To move from your tie-offs, the way I teach it (here, at least) is as follows:

Point your spool in the direction you want to go. It is both a steering-wheel and a home base. Do not waver in that direction. If you do any of the following steps wrong, you are going to start turn and you are not going to find the line.

90+% of people start with the right idea of where the line is.

Everyone who can't find the line makes the mistake of letting the spool start turning.




Don't change the direction of the spool and make small movements.

Making minimal contact with the ground put your non-spool hand DIRECTLY in front of the spool about two feet in front of it. If it feels like silt, use only your fingertips.

Move the spool to that exact point.

Do not let the spool turn.


You are changing direction. You are not going to find the line unless it's an unlikely accident.

Don't change the direction of the spool and make small movements.

Don't follow the contour of the ground. Go in the direction you think the line is. Go over or past things in your way.

Don't change the direction of the spool and make small movements.

If you didn't find the line in one direction, use your directional indicator to determine a search in a different direction. Most people who don't find the line... it's because you searched the exact same 20 feet of nothing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and use what you know of the cave. Was the line uphill or downhill last time I saw it? Is it tucked into a corner, or in the middle of huge passage? Is there flow I can use to spin my feet towards the exit. There's lots of little tricks to think about in that moment of, "What do I know about this cave, the relationship of the line to the cave, and what I think my relationship to that line is?"

But the core:

Don't change the direction of the spool and make small movements.

I don't know how to be any more concise about that sentence.

Don't change the direction of the spool and make small movements.

But I, apparently, just suck at delivering that information to people.

Because I watch as people's fingertips come within milimeters of the line all the time. Followed by them swimming off in exactly the wrong direction as they reach forward, spool first, as far as they can possibly reach.

At which point right-handed people tend to cut right and left-handed people... well... tend to be witches anyway and don't drown. So it's no big deal.

I just don't know.

Being able to capably convey, "Slow steps, keep the spool pointed in the right direction," is like my El Dorado at this point.

However... making students do that lonely-ass, frustrating skill over and over... at least it drives home the real lesson:

Don't lose the line or your chances of dying (alone, scared, and frustrated) go up exponentially.


An image I frequently invoke. Which, apparently, doesn't work.

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