In the ladder situation below, the piece h8 is a ladder escape, or an escape piece.
It allows Red (the attacking player) to jump a move ahead of the ladder and win the game. Red can play along the ladder, forcing Blue's response at each step. After move 9 at g8, Red is connected to the bottom.
A ladder escape can be thought of as a little boost for the attacker, giving them just enough extra space to get past the defender's chain. The h8 piece is called a second row ladder escape piece because it lets the ladder escape to the bottom edge past blue's defences.
Here is another example.
The two red stones on the right in the following position can be used to escape red's third row ladder and enable red to win the game.
However blue plays the ladder, red will somehow be able to use the stones to connect to the bottom edge and win the game. For example
(here red can connect piece 7 to the group on the right in two ways via the starred hexes, and blue cannot block both). The two red stones on the right form a third row ladder escape template. All players should know the basic ladder escape templates for second and third row ladders. An external resource listing many ladder escape templates is http://www.drking.org.uk/hexagons/hex/templates.html .
Creating a ladder escape
In this example, Red has no third row ladder escape piece. Red 1 provides an escape by threatening to connect to the main group.
After the sequence to Red 3, Blue cannot stop both of Red's non-overlapping connections.
In the example below, Red 1 threatens to connect to the main group either via Red's second row ladder or higher up.
After the sequence to Red 7, Red can now connect 5 back to the main group through either of the spaces marked with *.