Glacier Travel – Fundamentals

These Glacier Travel articles are part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

Travelling on a glacier is an exciting element of exploring the high mountains. Many alpine rock climbs can only be accessed by travelling across glaciers, or the glacier itself may be the best route to an alluring summit. Before stepping onto a glacier, it is important to learn how to safely negotiate their hazards.

What is a Glacier?

A glacier is a mass of consolidated snow and ice which flows very slowly down a mountain. Different parts of a glacier move at different speeds, similar to the flow rate of water in a river – faster at the center and surface, slower at the sides and bottom where bedrock creates friction. Glacial flow fractures the surface of the ice, creating large cracks (crevasses) which can be up to 45 meters deep, 20 meters wide and hundreds of meters long. Crevasses are the main hazard to people wishing to cross a glacier.

Dry Glaciers
You will encounter dry glaciers in summer, particularly at lower altitudes, when the winter snow has melted and bare ice is exposed.

Because dry glaciers are completely free of snow, it is possible to see all the crevasses and therefore much easier to pick a route to avoid them.

climbers on glacier greenland

Wet Glaciers
Wet glaciers are snow-covered and much more dangerous. The snow does not fill the crevasses, but instead forms a layer on the surface which hides them.

The layer of snow covering a crevasse is known as a snow bridge.

climbers on glacier in greenland

Snow Bridges
A snow bridge can be thick, well frozen and strong enough to support the weight of a person. Or it could be thin, unfrozen and weak, allowing an unsuspecting climber to fall through into the crevasse beneath. Because of this, it is very important to be roped up as part of a team to help reduce the consequences of falling into a crevasse. Snow bridges are at their strongest early in the morning when the snow is well frozen. Remember this when you’re following your footprints back later in the afternoon.

snow bridge over crevasse

Glacier Travel - Crevasses

Although crevasses could be almost anywhere and orientated in any direction, there are certain parts of a glacier where they are more commonly found. Crevasses often form in the places shown.

Points of Stress and Compression
As the ice moves over undulations and around corners, points of stress are created on the outside edge, causing the ice to rip apart and form crevasses. These cracks in the ice typically (but not always) run perpendicular to the flow of the glacier.

Points of compression are created on the inside edges where ice is being pushed together. These areas have the least number of crevasses and usually present the safest route to travel. This is easier to understand if you imagine bending a Mars Bar. Cracks form on the outside of the bend, and chocolate is pushed together on the inside edge.

where are crevasses

Finding Crevasses
The first step in choosing a route across a glacier is to figure out where the crevasses are. Here are some tips:

- Study photographs of the glacier before the trip, as some crevasse patterns remain the same year after year.

- On the approach, try to get a good look at the glacier before you reach it. A maze is much easier to negotiate when viewed from outside than from within.

- Look out for sagging trenches on the surface of the snow. Snow covering a large crevasse gradually deforms and sags under its own weight.

- Probe suspect areas using an axe or ski pole (with the basket removed). Push the shaft of the axe into the snow with a smooth motion. If there is suddenly less resistance, you have most likely found a hole.

- If you find a crevasse, there are probably more nearby.

glacier crossing in greenland

Other Glacier Hazards

A serac is a block or column of glacial ice often formed:
- Where two crevasses intersect
- At the lower end of a glacier
- Where a glacier steepens dramatically

Seracs are dangerous because they can collapse with no warning. If you are below them, you could be hit by ice blocks.

Rockfall is a hazard if travelling on glaciers bordered by steep mountains, or when climbing on rock faces. Rockfall is reduced overnight when the cold temperatures freeze rock in place. The most dangerous times to be exposed to this risk are late morning when direct sunlight melts the bonds between ice and rock, and also in the evenings when meltwater freezes and expands.

Exposure to Seracs and Rockfall
The only way to increase safety when travelling beneath seracs or potential rockfall is to reduce the amount of time you are exposed to the risk. Either alter your route or move efficiently without stopping to minimize the exposure. Factor this in when planning your climb.

Reaching an alpine climbing objective can involve travelling on snow slopes which are prone to avalanches. Avalanche hazard is a complex subject and is not covered in this manual. An excellent resource is Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper.

When fog or cloud descend on a glacier, snow and sky become one indistinguishable blur of white, with no apparent up or down. Travelling on complicated glaciated terrain in poor visibility can be very serious, as making the correct route choice can be nearly impossible. Even if the weather is clear on the approach, it is worth tracking your route via GPS, so if clouds close in during the day, you will be able to follow your path back.

VDiff glacier travel book

Assessing Glacier Hazards

With all of these dangers, you may be wondering how anyone has ever survived a glacier crossing! While there are many hazards, there are also many ways of reducing your exposure to them. This mostly boils down to:
- Prior planning (bring the right gear and study maps of your intended route beforehand).
- Waiting for the correct weather and conditions.
- Practising skills (see below)
- Making decisions based on facts, rather than emotions (don’t be afraid of turning back if it’s too dangerous, even if you want to continue).

glacier climbing canada

Training for Glacier Travel

Training for glacier travel means practising the techniques described in these articles. Plenty of practise is essential. Skills such as prusiking out of a crevasse or hauling someone out are strenuous, slow and clunky at first, but with practise you’ll develop a slick and fast technique.

You should aim to reach a level of competence where your snow anchors are always bomber and you can set up any crevasse rescue system quickly and efficiently. Always practise in a group and tell someone at home where you are going.

What To Practise
- Tying into the end of the rope and taking coils
- Tying into the middle of the rope
- Measuring the rope accurately with arm spans
- Tying jamming knots
- Moving on snow of different angles using an ice axe and crampons
- Snow probing
- Wearing the right clothing in different temperatures and conditions
- Moving together with a taut rope
- Various methods of crossing crevasses
- Self-arresting in different positions
- Making snow and ice anchors in different conditions
- Prusiking out of a crevasse
- Hauling a victim out of a crevasse
- Navigating in poor weather
- Map reading and planning a safe route

Where To Practise
It’s important to build up your experience progressively with regards to terrain. The ideal venue to have your first practise sessions is on a low-angled, non-glacial snow slope which has a safe runout and zero risk of:
- Avalanches
- Crevasses
- Rockfall
- Seracs

Find a safe windscoop to simulate a crevasse, or take some shovels and dig a hole. Once you have built up some skills, progress to a simple glacier which has easy access. Go in a large group for increased safety and fun. With the experience gained from easier terrain, you can then travel onmore complicated glaciers. Only head off on remote, gnarly glacial adventures once you have gained enough real experience.

After each session, review what worked and what didn’t. Focus on improving the things you found most difficult. As with anything worthwhile, it will take time to build up a good level of competence. Trying to shortcut this process is extremely dangerous and will probably result in disaster. Once you have practised and become competent at the skills listed above, you will be ready to do your first real glacier crossing. It is recommended that at least one member of the team has plenty of glacier travel experience, because it takes many glacier crossings to build up skills such as spotting crevasses and other hazards, and negotiating a route through them.

Glacier Gear

This Glacier Gear article is part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

What gear you take on the glacier will depend entirely on what you plan to do once across it. The list below covers equipment that is recommended for the glacier crossing itself. You will obviously need extra equipment if planning a rock climb or an overnight camp.

Glacier Gear - Clothing

Glaciers can present extremes of temperature. On a clear summer’s day, it can feel like you’re standing on an inescapable boiling hot mirror, as the sun reflects off the snow and burns the underside of your nose. Conversely, when the clouds roll in and the wind picks up, it’s like being inside a giant fridge-freezer.

In a rescue situation, you may be standing around for hours in these conditions. It’s important to bring the correct clothing so you can withstand this variable climate. The clothing system in this chapter is for typical summer alpinism and will need to be adjusted to be warmer or lighter for specific objectives or different times of year.

Upper Body
Wear layers that you can easily adjust for different temperatures, as differences throughout the day can be huge. The layering system starts with a long-sleeved base layer (wool is ideal). It helps to protect you from the sun when worn on its own and wicks sweat away from your skin.

A mid-weight fleece (preferably with a hood) can be worn over your base layer, with a waterproof jacket on the top. This will keep the wind, rain or snow off when necessary. These three layers combined are a reasonably warm ‘active’ set up for an average summer alpine environment.

glacier travel gear

Spare Warm Layer
This is a layer that you will only wear on windy summits, long lunch breaks or during rescue situations. Down jackets are excellent in dry climates below freezing and are very lightweight for their warmth. Puffy synthetic jackets are much better in warmer weather, especially if rain is forecast. Some down jackets will repel a small amount of moisture, but the feathers will clump together in a rain storm and then you’ll freeze.

Mid-weight soft shell trousers are the best choice. They are breathable, fast drying, offer some wind resistance and can shed a bit of snow. It's also important to carry a pair of lightweight waterproof over-trousers. These will add warmth if necessary and provide protection from wind, snow and rain. Thermal leggings can be worn under these layers to add warmth in colder weather.

Good quality wool socks are warm and help prevent blisters. A windproof woollen hat is small and lightweight for the amount of warmth it provides. Keep it in your pocket when not in use so you can adjust temperature quickly without going into your rucksack. Take a pair of thin gloves that you can handle the rope with (close fitting leather gloves are good) and a thicker pair to wear if these get wet or the temperature drops.

You will need stiff mountaineering boots which are crampon compatible – either B2 or B3 mountain boots. Which type you choose depends on what else you’ll be using them for. B2’s are lighter, making them the best choice for general alpinism and summer rock scrambling. B3’s are heavier, warmer and more suitable if you plan to use them for ice climbing too. Short gaiters are worn over your boots to stop snow entering into the top of them.

VDiff glacier travel book

Glacier Gear - Snow Climbing Equipment

Any pair of 12-point crampons will be suitable to cross a low-angled glacier. Crampons improve traction on hard snow or ice, but are less useful in softer snow.

It is standard practice to wear crampons at all times when roped together on a glacier. Without them, you’re unlikely to hold a falling climber.

glacier travel crampons

A straight-shafted 50-60cm ice axe is a good choice for general alpinism.

Adjustable ski or trekking poles provide extra balance when travelling on low-angled glaciers where an axe is too short to reach the ground. They are also useful for probing crevasses. Poles can be compressed and stored on the outside of your rucksack when not in use.

ice axe

Skis are only recommended for glacier travel if each member of the team is a competent skier. Techniques such as self arresting and keeping the rope taut when moving downhill are difficult for most skiers, and will be impossible for newbies.

Glacier Gear - Crevasse Rescue Rack

Each climber should keep the following gear clipped to their harness:
- 4x screwgate carabiners
- 2x snapgate carabiners
- 2x prusik cords
- 2x ice screws (medium to long size)
- 1x 120cm sling
- 1x 30cm sling
- 1x locking pulley (optional)

Prusik Length
Prusiks are commonly made from 120cm of 5mm cord tied into a loop using a double fisherman’s bend. This creates a finished loop of around 45cm.

crevasse rescue equipment

Other Personal Glacier Equipment

Each climber should also bring:

- 40-litre rucksack
- Harness
- Helmet
- Headlamp with spare batteries
- Sun protection (sunscreen, category 3 or 4 sunglasses, lip balm, hat)
- Emergency blizzard bag
- Food
- Water bottle (1 litre is generally fine if there are streams to resupply, otherwise bring more

Group Glacier Equipment

Each group should carry:

- Rope (a 50 meter single rope, 9mm in diameter with dry treatment is a good choice for summer alpine use, though this may change depending on your specific objective)
- 1st aid kit
- Navigation (map, compass and GPS)
- Communication (mobile or sat phone with relevant rescue numbers)
- Group shelter
- Spare headlamp
- V-thread tool
- Small repair kit (duck tape, short pieces of wire, knife, thin cord)

Glacier Travel – Using the Rope

These Glacier Travel articles are part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

It can be tempting to cross a glacier without bothering to get the rope out, especially if it looks easy or if other climbers have crossed without problems before. This attitude is extremely dangerous. Not being roped up will greatly reduce the chance of being rescued from a glacier’s main hazard – falling into a crevasse.

The process of roping up is:
1) Two climbers tie into the ends of the rope.
2) The appropriate length of rope is measured between climbers.
3) The middle climbers tie in (for a team of three or four) or jamming knots are tied (for a team of two).
4) Chest coils are taken with the extra rope.

Each of these steps are described in detail in this article.

jumping over crevasse

Glacier Group Size

A roped team of three is a standard size for travel on a non-technical glacier. It is safer than a team of two (with an extra climber to hold a fall) and easier to manage than a team of four. Never travel on a glacier alone. Two or more independent teams is beneficial (e.g; six climbers split into two teams of three). If a team is involved in an accident, they will have backup help.

Glacier travel is very risky for a team of two if no other roped teams are nearby. The climber who stops the fall must build an anchor while in the arrest position, set up a hauling system and complete the entire rescue by themselves. In this scenario, it is essential that both climbers are proficient at crevasse rescue.

Glacier Rope Length

The minimum length of rope required for glacier travel is:
- 40 meters for a team of two
- 50 meters for a team of three or four

Tying Into the End of the Rope

The rethreaded figure-8 is widely recognised as being the safest way to connect the end of the rope to your harness.

The climbers who tie into the end will also take chest coils.

figure-8 knot climbing harness

Glacier Travel - Measuring the Rope

Climbers should tie into the rope at certain distances from each other. This spaces people far enough apart so that when crossing a typical crevasse, only one person is at risk of falling in at any time. A general guide of the minimum distances are given below.

glacier rope distance and chest coils

Being closer than these recommended minimums is dangerous because it puts the whole team at risk of falling into the same crevasse. Consider tying in with more distance on glaciers that may have bigger crevasses. Basically, being further apart is safer. The only downsides of being far apart is that communication can become harder and it is more difficult to keep the rope taut.

Arm Spans
The distance of rope is easily measured using arm spans. For many people, a double arm span of rope is about 1.5 meters (check this beforehand and adjust your calculation as necessary).

Remember that 1.5 meters of rope (1 span) is used when tying into the middle or when tying a jamming knot. For example, a team of two climbers need to be 20 meters apart (approx 13 spans) with 4 jamming knots (4 spans). So a total of 17 spans of rope must be measured.

measure rope for glaciers

Glacier Travel - Tying Into the Middle of the Rope

The remaining climbers in a three or four person team must tie into the middle of the rope. This will be the very middle in a team of three (a rope with a middle marker helps). For a team of four, the middle two climbers will be evenly spaced from the rope’s center.

Step 1
Tie an overhand knot with a long bight of rope, from waist height to the floor.

Step 2
Tie a second overhand 6 inches down from the first.

tie into middle of rope climbing

Step 3
Thread the bight through your harness and back through the overhand knot as shown.

how to tie into middle of rope on a glacier

Step 4
Tie a stopper knot.

how to tie into middle of climbing rope

Step 5
Clip the tail back to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

tying into the middle of a rope for climbing on glaciers

Glacier Travel - Jamming Knots

It will be very challenging to hold the weight of a falling climber when travelling in a team of two. To help with this, you should tie jamming knots in the rope. During a fall, the rope cuts through the snow on the lip of the crevasse, creating a slot which the knot (hopefully) jams into.

This knot won’t hold the fall by itself – it merely adds some friction which assists the climber in arresting the fall. Knots should be tied at 4 meter intervals.

Step 1
Tie a figure-8 on a bight, with a 60cm long loop.

glacier knot

Step 2
Pull the bight around the back of the knot and though the figure-8 as shown.

tie knot for crossing glaciers

Step 3
Do this again...

jamming knot for glaciers

...twice more, to create a large jamming knot.

climbers knots for glaciers

Jamming knots add complications during a crevasse rescue. In a team of two, it is still worth having the knots and then dealing with the extra problem of passing them during a rescue.

Without the knots, both climbers are much more likely to end up in the crevasse, which is a far worse situation! In a larger group, with more climbers to hold the fall, it is usually better to travel without jamming knots.

crevasse rescue knot

VDiff glacier travel book

Glacier Travel - Chest Coils

When travelling in alpine terrain, it is often preferable for the rope to be shorter than its full length. A good way to achieve this is for the climber at each end of the rope to use chest coils. This keeps the rope easily accessible in the event of a rescue, and also means the length of rope can be adjusted quickly if needed.

Taking the Coils Off
Reverse this process, taking the coils off one at a time. If you take them all off at once and drop them in the snow, it will make the most epic tangle!

Step 1
Tie in with a neat figure-8 and put your jacket hood up.

Step 2
Take the rope straight up the right side of your chest and around your neck, making sure the rope is snug, not slack.

how to tie chest coils for glacier

Step 3
With your left hand held at waist height, coil the rope between your neck and left hand, making sure each coil is of equal length and tension. Keep taking chest coils until the desired length of rope remains between you and your partner.

how to tie chest coils for glacier crossing

Step 4
Put your left arm through the coils, so they hang on your right shoulder across your body.

how to tie chest coils for glacier travel

Step 5
With your left hand, reach through the coils and behind the initial vertical strand and grab the live rope. Pull this back out through the coils until you have a 40cm bight of rope.

how to tie chest coils to climb on a glacier

Step 6
Tie this bight of rope in an overhand knot, incorporating the live rope as shown. If the chest coils are tied correctly, you should be able to pull the live rope without getting strangled.

chest coils for glaciers

Step 7
Clip the remaining bight of rope to your belay loop.

tying chest coils for glaciers

Step 8
Tie a clove hitch on the live rope and clip it to your belay loop. This redirects the pull from chest height down to waist height, meaning that if your partner falls in a crevasse, you stand a better chance of holding the fall and not being pulled over head first!

tying chest coils for glacier climbing

Glacier Travel - Ropework Tips

Travel Perpendicular
Travelling with the rope at 90 degrees to crevasses only exposes one climber at a time to the hazard of falling into the crevasse.

how to walk on a glacier using chest coils

If the rope is running parallel to a crevasse, the whole team risks falling in at the same time!

how to walk on a glacier with crevasses

Tight Rope
Keep the rope tight between each person at all times to reduce shock loading. Not only would a climber fall further if the rope is slack, but it will be much harder for the climber on the surface to hold the fall.

Ideally, the most experienced mountaineer who is the best at spotting crevasses and choosing a route through them should be at the front.

using rope on a glacier

Weight Differences
If there is a significant weight difference between climbers, the lighter climber should be in the down slope position, so that gravity assists them when trying to hold the fall of the heavier climber.

Roping Up on a Dry Glacier
Moving together while roped up on a dry glacier (one that is completely free of snow) can be more dangerous than going un-roped. Arresting a fall on hard ice is nearly impossible and will likely result in broken ankles and more climbers in the crevasse. However, when crossing crevasses on a dry glacier, consider making an anchor and belaying each other across.

climbers use chest coils with rope on glacier

Glacier Travel – Moving on Snow

These Glacier Travel articles are part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

The snow which covers a glacier is very variable. Sometimes a 20 degree slope is easy to walk up, with the front team member kicking in steps as they go. On the same slope at other times, you’ll be wallowing in powder up to your armpits, or using crampons to front-point up snow which is as hard as ice. Or maybe the snow has transformed and you’ll actually be on ice.

It’s important to learn how to move on all snow types and how to regain control if you start sliding down a slope.

Kicking Steps
If the snow is hard, the front climber will need to kick steps to create an easy path for the rest of the team. Steps that are slightly incut will be more secure. When following, kick into the steps to improve them. Simply standing in them is not as stable.

climbers walking on snow

Moving on Low-Angled Snow
Travelling across a fairly flat glacier is simple – just walk and try not to trip over your crampons. But as the slope increases, you will need to adapt your walking technique from what you normally use on city streets.

Hold the axe in your uphill hand and place the shaft into the snow above you. Then move your feet up, one at a time, and repeat. The axe provides balance while you walk uphill – a bit like holding onto a railing when walking up stairs.

Carrying an Ice Axe

In Your Hand
Hold the axe in your hand with your thumb under the adze and the pick pointing back as shown. This means you are always ready for an ice axe arrest if you slip.

Inside Your Rucksack
For extended sections of scrambling/rock climbing, it’s useful to put your axe inside your rucksack, if it will fit. This means it is much less likely to get snagged on something.

On Your Rucksack
If the axe is not needed for a while, attach it securely to the axe-loop on the outside of your bag, as shown below.

how to carry an ice axe
attach ice axe to bag

On a Shoulder Strap
If you need both hands free, you can quickly store your axe down the back of your rucksack so the pick rests on a shoulder strap.

Simply poke the shaft a few inches under your shoulder strap by your collar bone and raise the head of the axe so the shaft levers off your shoulder.

using an ice axe

Then allow the axe to slot down between your back and rucksack.

how to use an ice axe

- If this feels uncomfortable, try loosening your shoulder straps a little.
- If you have chest coils on, use the shoulder strap on the same side as the coils.
- If the shaft of the axe is curved, try putting the axe in with the pick facing the other way so the end of the shaft doesn’t stick out as much.
- If you take your bag off, remember that the axe isn’t attached!

store ice axe on bag

VDiff glacier travel book

Ice Axe Arrest

The ice axe arrest technique is used to stop yourself sliding on snow. The simplest scenario is when sliding on your stomach, feet pointing downhill.

The correct body position is:
- Axe held diagonally across your body.
- Adze pressed into the hollow below your collar bone (if you don’t keep the adze at your shoulder, the pick will be unlikely to bite. It would also be difficult to hold onto the axe if the pick did bite).
- Face turned away from the axe (in case the pick hits something and the adze kicks back and cuts your nose off, like Joe Simpson).

ice axe arrest

- One hand over the head of the axe, the other covering the spike on the end of the shaft (to prevent it from accidentally catching in the snow and being ripped out of your hands or spinning you).
- Elbows tightly tucked in by your sides (stronger position).
- Legs apart and bent at the knees with feet up in the air (this provides stability and having your crampons in the air prevents them from catching and sending you into a cartwheel).

Once in this position, focus all of your weight over your shoulder down through the adze to push the pick into the snow. If you don't stop, just keep trying and try harder. At least it will slow you down.

Sliding on Your Back
If you are sliding on your back then you must roll over. It is best to roll over in the direction of the pick, as this reduces the chance of the spike on the shaft jabbing into the snow by accident.

Sliding Head First
If you are sliding head first you must hold the axe far out to one side, push it into the snow and allow your legs to swing around below you. Then remove the pick from the snow, bring the axe down to your shoulder and get into the correct position described above.

self arrest with ice axe

The ice axe arrest technique needs to be practised to a point where it becomes an instinctive reaction. Try it out on slopes of different angles and snow conditions, making sure there is a safe runout below you. When you need to arrest for real, it must be executed instantly to be most effective.

Crossing Crevasses

There are a few different ways of getting past a crevasse. In order of preference, these are:
- Go around the end
- Cross on a snow bridge
- Jump over
- Climb inside / abseil over

Going Around
This is the preferred method, since you are much less likely to fall in. Crevasses generally narrow towards their ends, but the visible end may not be the actual end. Probe carefully and give the end a lot of space. Look for other nearby crevasses and consider if one of them is actually an extension of this crevasse – you might be crossing a snow bridge.

crossing crevasses on glacier

Crossing a Snow Bridge
The strength of a snow bridge varies considerably with temperature – stronger when frozen overnight and weaker in the midday sun. Just because there are footprints on it doesn’t mean it won’t collapse under your weight. If you’re unsure of the bridge’s stability, make a snow anchor and belay across. Once the leader is across, the rest of the team should follow their footprints exactly.

Jumping Over
Jumping over a deep void in the ground is exhilarating and makes you look like a hero on photos. But it can also be very dangerous. With a solid belay, probe around to find the true edge of the crevasse. Pack down the snow to create a runway for your leap of faith. Make sure to have enough slack rope to complete the jump and keep your axe in the self-arrest position so you can climb up if you land on the lip. The leader then belays the other team members across.

Climbing Inside
Sometimes, it may be possible to climb inside a crevasse, walk across the bottom and climb up the adjacent wall. This really only works in shallow crevasses which have easy exits. Before going in, make sure the bottom of the crevasse really is the bottom and not just a half-sunk snow bridge. As with jumping across, this can be dangerous and requires a solid belay.

Abseiling Over
It is fairly common to abseil over the bergschrund when descending onto the top of a glacier. This is best done from rock anchors (if available), but an anchor could also be made on ice (using a v-thread) or on snow (using a snow bollard) if necessary. Remember to abseil with a prusik and keep your ice axes handy as you may need to climb up and out of the other side of the crevasse.

Glacier Travel - Dynamic Risk Assessment

It is important to understand the risks involved in all types of climbing and mountaineering. The process of evaluating these risks during the activity is often referred to as a dynamic risk assessment.

When looking at a situation, think about the likelihood of a negative incident occurring (e.g: a slip or fall, a hold snapping off, a storm coming in, a rock falling from above), then think about the consequences of this happening. How does the terrain, situation or weather affect the consequences of the negative incident?

dynamic risk assessment for climbing and mountaineering

For example, there might be no serious consequence for a climber who slips on a small snow slope which has a safe runout. Whereas the same incident on a similar slope but with a rocky runout, or a cliff or crevasse below, may lead to serious injury.

It is the relationship between likelihood and consequence that is crucial to evaluating the risks. To stay safe in the mountains we need to continually make these dynamic risk assessments and adjust our plan, or the technique and tactics we use. This will mitigate either the likelihood or consequence to bring risk to an acceptable level for each given situation. Keep asking yourself, what will happen if…?

Crevasse Rescue – Snow Anchors

This article about Crevasse Rescue Anchors is part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

You will need to make an anchor on the glacier when:
- Performing a crevasse rescue
- Belaying/ abseiling across a crevasse or other tricky ground

The anchors described in this section are made using equipment that you already have with you – ice axe, rucksack or ice screws. Anchors can also be made from gear which is designed as lead protection in snow, such as pickets or flukes. However, it is assumed that you do not have these more specialized items with you.

climbers crossing glacier

Snow Quality
The strength of a snow anchor varies dramatically depending on the snow type. For example; an ice axe buried in powder snow will be useless, whereas the same axe buried in hard snow will be bomber. With good judgement of the snowpack, the anchors described in this article will be sufficient for their intended use. However, this judgement is only developed with plenty of practice and experimentation in a safe environment.

Surface Area
Generally, anchors with a bigger surface area are stronger. An ice axe can work well in hard snow, but will not provide sufficient surface area for a secure anchor in soft, unconsolidated snow. A better alternative in this case is to bury a rucksack or a ski.

Be Precise
Precision is everything with snow anchors. A precise and well constructed anchor can be quite strong, with a sloppy one in the same snow being weak. It’s better to take a little longer making a good anchor that works, rather than rush one which fails halfway through a rescue.

Crevasse Rescue Anchors - Ice Axe Anchor

Step 1
Use your pick to score a horizontal line in the snow exactly perpendicular to the direction of pull and slightly longer than the length of your ice axe. It is important not to disturb the snow in the area immediately in front of your anchor as this is where its strength comes from.

crevasse rescue anchors

Step 2
Cut out a slot in the snow, using the initial scored line as a guide. 30cm is the minimum depth in firm, consolidated snow. If the snow is soft, you may need to dig deeper to find more consolidated snow.

how to make an ice axe anchor

Make the front face of the slot uniform and slightly incut in relation to the direction of pull. This helps the axe to pull into the snow when weighted, rather than up and out.

buried ice axe anchor

Step 3
Find the centre of mass on the ice axe. Not the middle of the axe, but the middle of the surface area. This is typically about of ⅔ the way along the shaft, towards the head. Mark where this point would be on the slot you have cut in the snow. Cut a narrow slot at this point using the pick and spike of the axe.

This slot only needs to be wide enough for a fabric sling, but deep enough so that it reaches to the very base of the horizontal slot. It must also be long enough so that when the sling is attached, the angle created pulls the axe into the snow, not upwards.

ice axe anchor on glacier

Step 4
Clovehitch a 120cm sling around the shaft of the axe at the previously identified point.

Then flip one strand of the sling over the shaft as shown. This causes the clovehitch to tighten up around the shaft when weighted.

glacier axe anchor

Step 5
Place the axe in the slot horizontally, with the pick facing down and the shaft securely up against the front face at the very base of the slot. Make sure the sling runs through the narrow slot.

Step 6
Backfill the slot with snow and compact it down. Be careful not to disturb the snow in front of the anchor. In some snow types this adds considerable strength to the anchor.

Step 7
Use the anchor with caution and avoid shock loading.

how to make a belay on glacier

Reinforced Buried Axe
If you have a second axe available, you can slide it in front of the other axe, between the sling’s strands to reinforce it. This adds more surface area and improves the anchor’s strength.

reinforced buried ice axe anchor

VDiff glacier travel book

Crevasse Rescue Anchors in Softer Snow

Anchors which are more suitable in softer snow include a buried rucksack or horizontal ski, with a sling girth-hitched around it.

snow anchor belay crevasse rescue anchors

The principles of these anchors are the same as for burying an ice axe, but the item must be buried deeper.

crevasse rescue anchors using ski

If you are using a ski, be careful to protect the sling from the ski’s sharp edges – these could cut the sling. Position the base of the ski against the front face of the horizontal slot as shown below, and pad the sling with something if possible.

ski belay on glacier

Snow Bollard

A snow bollard is simple a snow anchor that can be used for abseiling. It would be the last choice when a rock or ice anchor is unavailable.

Step 1
Scribe out a horseshoe shape in the snow, with the opening pointing directly in the line of pull. It is usually best to make this about 2.5m at its widest point, but the size depends on the strength of the snow. In very hard snow, the bollard may only need to be 1.5m wide. Whereas in very soft snow it might need to be 3m. It is obviously better to make it too big rather than too small.

Be careful to make it a horseshoe shape, not a teardrop. A lot of the strength comes from the opening as it joins the snowpack. You are not aiming to make an isolated shape.

snow bollard climbing anchor

Step 2
Using the adze of your axe, cut a slot along the scribed line to form a horseshoe shaped trench. This trench should be a minimum of 30cm deep and should be in the firmest layer of snow. Be careful if digging deeper into softer snow because there is the danger that the rope could cut through the soft layer under the bollard.

snow bollard climbing

Step 3
Put the rope over the bollard, making sure it sits well at the bottom of the trench. Check carefully that when the rope is weighted, it remains at the bottom of the trench all the way around and does not lift at all.

Step 4
Try to test the bollard by committing your weight to it before the situation is consequential.

Step 5
Be very cautious when abseiling, particularly at the start. It is important to stay very low as the rope must not accidentally be pulled in a more upwards direction. It is often best to start the abseil on your knees or slither on your side to keep the load angle as low as possible.

abseil from snow

- Do not disturb the snow in the bollard or immediately in front of it.
- The horseshoe shape should be a smooth curve – sharp angles are weak points.
- It is important that the bollard is slightly incut to prevent the rope rolling up and off.

Frozen Rope
The rope can occasionally become stuck around the bollard if it freezes or becomes buried in spindrift snow. The last person to abseil must check this.

Multiple People
If multiple people are weighting the anchor, it should be reinforced. Slot one or two axes vertically between the rope and the bollard. If only one axe is available, it should be at the back of the bollard. With two axes, place them at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock as shown on the right. This reinforcement can then be removed by the last person to use the anchor.

abseil from snow bollard on glacier

Crevasse Rescue – Ice Anchors

This article about how to place ice screws is part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

How To Place Ice Screws

You can place ice screws to make an anchor on a dry glacier, or you might be able to dig through snow on a wet glacier to reach ice.

Step 1 – Clear
Clear away any surface snow and aerated surface ice and get down to good solid glacial ice.

Step 2 – Position
Position the screw perpendicular to the surface of the ice, or slightly towards the direction of loading. Push the screw against the surface while turning it a few times with your wrist until it bites.

Step 3 – Insert
Using the handle, wind the screw all the way into the ice.

how to place ice screws

Placement Quality
You will get feedback about the quality of the placement as the screw is winding into the ice. Here are some things to consider:

- Feel the resistance of the screw cutting through the ice. Has it gone into an air pocket?

- Look at the core of ice coming out of the back of the screw. In good glacier ice this should come out looking like a crumpled ice cigar! Poorer quality placements will have snow, slush or nothing at all coming out of the hole.

- Look at the surface of the ice around the screw. Is it cracking? Some small surface cracks are okay but large sections of the ice cracking are not good.

how to place ice climbing screws

Step 4 – Loading Direction
You need to finish with the hanger pointing in the direction of pull. Do not force the hanger around – it is better to unwind slightly to get the hanger pointing in the correct direction. Forcing it would start to strip the threads of the ice screw placement.

placing ice screws for climbing

Step 5 – Double Up
A 16cm screw in good ice will hold around 10kN – the same as an average cam in good rock. If possible, place two screws at least 30cm apart and offset. Equalize them with a sling to create an anchor.

placing ice climbing screws

Abalakov Thread (V-Thread)

A V-thread is an ice anchor that is often used for abseiling.

You Will Need
- a long ice screw (21cm)
- a length of 7mm cord
- a V-thread tool

Abalakov v thread tool

Step 1
Clear the surface so you get to solid ice. Place the ice screw perpendicular to the ice, but at a 60 degree angle sideways. Pay attention to the quality of the ice as the screw is being placed. It needs to be good.

Step 2
Remove the screw.

how to do an ice screw v thread

Step 3
Make a second hole at a distance approximately equal to the length of the screw so that you end up with an equilateral triangle.

It helps to look down the first hole to aim the second screw placement.

v thread with ice screw

Step 4
Clean out the holes with your V-thread tool. With the tool at the bottom of the first hole, poke the cord into the second hole.

As the cord passes through into the first hole, hook it with the tool and pull it out.

how to use Abalakov v thread tool

Step 5
Tie both ends of the cord together using a double fisherman's bend.

Make sure the loop is not too tight – the angle when weighting the loop should be around 45 degrees.

ice climbing v thread

VDiff glacier travel book

- As with all ice anchors, the quality of the ice has a massive impact on the strength of the anchor. A well constructed V-thread in good ice will hold around 8kN.

- V-threads can be made in a horizontal or vertical plain. Some evidence shows that vertical Vthreads are slightly stronger, but many people find these to be trickier to construct accurately.

- It’s important to have an accurate construction – with the angles at 60 degrees and having the connection of the two holes at the maximum length.

- If in doubt, make two V-threads (more than 30cm apart) and link them together to make an equalised anchor.

V-Thread Without Cord
To make a V-thread anchor without cord, simply poke the climbing rope through the holes instead of the cord. If abseiling on two ropes, it is important that the joining knot is positioned a good distance away so it does not get pulled into the hole. This will create an unusual strain on the anchor. It is possible for the rope to become stuck if it freezes in place. The last person down should check that the rope slides before they abseil.

Back-Up Your Anchor
To secure the first person's descent, the V-thread can be combined with another ice screw. Connect this backup screw to the rope with a little slack so it isn’t actually weighted when the first person abseils.

Make sure there isn’t too much slack, as this would shock-load the backup screw if the V-thread failed. The last person then removes the ice screw before they descend.

ice climbing v thread for rappel abseil

Crevasse Rescue – Raising Systems

This Crevasse Rescue article is part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

Imagine you are travelling on a glacier as a team of two, and your partner in front suddenly disappears down into the snow.

Step 1
The first and most important thing is to hold the fall. This will not be easy! The best technique is to dig the sides of your feet into the snow (imagine a tug of war type action), while plunging the shaft of your axe into the snow.

If you end up being dragged along the surface, the self arrest position will hopefully stop you as the rope cuts into the lip of the crevasse and increases friction.

how to rescue someone from a crevasse glacier

Step 2
After holding the initial fall, kick a secure platform for your downhill foot, or cut one with your axe. This will give you a bit more security to hold the weight while you are making the anchor. Shout to your partner and check they are okay. It might be very difficult for you to hear them but it’s worth trying. If your partner is uninjured and capable of prusiking up the rope or climbing out of the crevasse then that would be the best solution.

Step 3
If you cannot communicate with your partner or they are unable to climb/prusik out by themselves, then you will continue. Make the appropriate anchor depending on snow condition. This will be difficult because you are also holding the weight of your partner on the rope. The anchor needs to be very good, so don't rush it. Be precise and get it right.

how to rescue someone from glacier

Step 4
Once the anchor is built, put a French prusik on the weighted rope and then clip this to the newly created anchor (using a micro traxion is better if you have one – see below).

Push the prusik forward along the rope in front of you. Cautiously allow the weight to pass from you on to the anchor, watching carefully to see if it is working correctly.

crevasse rescue

Step 5 (If Using a Prusik at the Anchor)
Clip the unweighted strand of rope through the same carabiner that the prusik is on, ideally this should be a small screwgate orientated so that the narrow end is pointing towards the crevasse. This now creates an ‘autoblock’ – meaning that as the rope is pulled through, it locks to capture the progress.

This setup generates a lot more friction (which makes hauling more difficult) than using a micro traxion or other type of pulley, but is simple and works.

two person crevasse rescue

Step 6
Tie an overhand knot in the slack rope to act as a backup in case the prusik/pulley slips.

Step 7
Tie a classic prusik on the weighted rope and connect it to your harness. This is to protect you in case you fall into another crevasse but also acts as a backup in case your snow anchor starts to fail. You can now remove all of your chest coils, but remain tied in to the end of the rope.

Step 8
Move down the weighted rope towards the lip of the crevasse, sliding the prusik as you go. If there are jamming knots in the rope, you’ll need to pass them (see below). Be very cautious as you approach the lip of the crevasse at this point and keep the prusik behind you to protect yourself from falling in.

Check if your partner is okay. If they are fine but cannot prusik out, you will need to haul them. If your partner is severely injured or unconscious it might be necessary to prusik or abseil down to them and administer emergency first aid or call for rescue services. Never haul an unconscious casualty!

crevasse rescue for two people

If You Need to Walk Past Jamming Knots

To pass a jamming knot while moving towards the crevasse, clip into its loop, then move the prusik over to the next section of rope. Repeat as necessary.

A much quicker (but more dangerous) method is to walk past all the jamming knots first and then attach your prusik. This does not offer a backup for the snow anchor and if you fall into a crevasse, the anchor would be shock-loaded.

prusik past a knot

Step 9
Clear the edge of the crevasse. The rope will have cut a slot through into the lip. If it has gone deep, you will need to clear and cut the lip of the crevasse, being careful not to knock anything big onto your partner below. Then pad underneath the rope with walking poles to prevent the rope cutting further into the lip while you are hauling.

Step 10
Move back from the edge of the lip. Clovehitch the slack rope into your harness and unclip from the prusik. Take the rope which now runs between your harness and the anchor and clip it to the prusik as shown. This is now a 3:1 hauling system.

how to do crevasse rescue

Step 11
Using the power in your legs, claw your way back up to the anchor. As you do this, pull down on the dead rope coming from the back side of the pulley to increase efficiency. Pull in a straight line with one leg either side of the ropes.

Step 12
Stop just before you reach the anchor and allow the weight to transfer from your harness back to the autoblock/pulley. Do not continue to move past the anchor as you may disturb the snow which provides its strength.

Step 13
Repeat the hauling process as needed. Move back towards the crevasse, adjusting the clovehitch on your harness as you go. Then adjust the prusik back towards the lip to reset the system.

Step 14
The final stage is to get your partner over the lip of the crevasse. They will probably be stuck if the rope has cut in. Don't just keep pulling, as it is possible to cause injury. If they can’t climb out themselves, you will have to go to the lip and help them. Tie yourself in tight and give them a hand, or throw a loop of rope for them to pull on.

VDiff glacier travel book

Crevasse Rescue - Hauling Past Knots

If you have tied jamming knots in the rope, it will be necessary to deal with them when hauling.

Step 1
Haul as described above, but stop when the first jamming knot is 10cm away from the pulley.

Step 2
Attach a 30cm sling to the anchor. Put a French prusik on the weighted rope below the jamming knot and connect it to the sling.

Step 3
Pull with your harness again to free the pulley so that the weight can be transferred onto the prusik.

Step 4
With the weight now removed from the jamming knot, untie it and pull the slack rope through.

Step 5
Remove the sling, prusik and carabiners and continue hauling as normal. Repeat this process for each jamming knot.

hauling past a knot

Crevasse Rescue - Teams of Three or Four

Holding the initial fall is easier with more climbers on the surface to share the weight. The rescue principles are the same as described above, but the situation is easier to deal with.

Step 1
The middle climber holds the weight, while the back climber moves forward. As they move forward, they should reduce the slack rope by attaching a prusik and sliding it along.

three person crevasse rescue

Step 2
The back climber moves in front of the middle climber and constructs an anchor.

Step 3
Once the weight is transferred to the anchor, the system is the same as for a team of two.

crevasse rescue with three climbers

Step 4
The climber who built the anchor should attach to it and sit in a braced position. This protects them and also creates a backup for the anchor. They can then help to haul from their braced position.

Teams of Four
These steps can be modified for a team of four, with an extra climber to assist with hauling or taking some of the strain from the anchor.

crevasse rescue with three people


Communication with the casualty is critical in all of these crevasse rescue systems. Often this is only possible by creating an anchor and having one person move to the lip of the crevasse, or by having a second independent rope team acting as a communication relay.

Crevasse Rescue – Prusiking

This article, 'Crevasse Rescue - Prusiking' is part of the book - Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

VDiff glacier travel crevasse rescue book

Prusiking Out of a Crevasse

Falling into the dark, icy depths of a crevasse sounds like a scene from a bad movie or a worse nightmare. But this is a real risk when travelling across a glacier, so you’ll need to know how to get up to the surface.

Step 1
Imagine you are hanging in free space in your harness. Start by attaching both prusiks on the rope using klemheist knots and clip carabiners to them.

Step 2
Clip the 120cm sling to the lower klemheist and girth-hitch the other end around your foot. You may wish to shorten this sling a bit by simply tying an overhand knot in it, so that your knee is bent.

self rescue on glacier

Step 3
Lift your foot and slide both prusiks up the rope as far as you can.

Step 4
Stand up in the sling by tucking your foot underneath and pressing up with your leg while pulling up with your arms at the same time.

Step 5
Clip the top prusik to your belay loop and push it up so there is a gap between the two prusiks. Sit back in your harness so that your weight is hanging from the top prusik.

crevasse rescue prusik out

Step 6
Lift your foot again and slide the lower prusik up as high as it will go. Keep repeating this process.

how to prusik out of crevasse

Back it Up
When you have climbed up the rope enough to generate a loop of slack, you should attach the rope to your harness with a clovehitch. This acts as a backup in case the prusiks fail.

Sliding the Prusik
You may find it awkward to slide a prusik after it has been weighted. Use your thumb to flick open the strand that crosses the knot to loosen it up.

If you are wearing skis, take them off and attach them to your harness by girth-hitching a sling around them, between the bindings.

prusik out of crevasse

VDiff glacier travel book

Crevasse Rescue - Prusiking Past Knots

To pass a jamming knot, clip into it as a backup and then re-tie your prusiks one at a time above it.

how to prusik past a knot

Abseiling > How to Deal with Stuck Ropes

This article, How to Deal with Stuck Ropes, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book
eiger north face russian route

You try to retrieve your ropes after abseiling and they get stuck. What do you do?

Stuck Ropes – Prevention

If you are about to abseil down complex terrain, consider the following prevention strategies before you throw your ropes.

Reduce Anchor Friction

If there is a lot of friction at the abseil anchor, you can reduce it by:

1) Adding a carabiner if the rope was previously threaded through cord.

stuck ropes abseiling

2) Extending the main abseil point over the lip of a ledge.

extend abseil cord

3) Moving the knot so it is over the lip of a ledge.


Rope Angle

Avoid abseiling from anchors that are low down and far away from an edge, forming a right-angle in the rope. The added friction from the rope running around the edge will make it more difficult to retrieve the rope.

Also, if there is mud or snow on the edge, the rope will cut into it, causing the knot to get stuck.

stuck ropes abseiling

If you must use an anchor like this, you can extend it with cord so that the main point hangs over the edge. If this is not possible, you could make a short abseil over the edge and then set up a second anchor on the face.

Check While Abseiling

As you abseil down, look for places where the knots could get caught as they are pulled down during retrieval.

Flakes, cracks, spikes, trees or constrictions between boulders are classic places for ropes to get stuck.

Flick your ropes so they don’t run over these features.

abseiling single pitch rappel

Windy Abseils

When throwing your ropes down in high winds, they are unlikely to drop where you want them. To combat this, clip the rope to yourself in short loops. Release the loops one at a time as you descend.

Test Pull

If there is a lot of friction between the ropes and the rock or anchor, it is worth doing a test pull. Once the first climber is down, they pull on the retrieving rope.

If the ropes don't move, the second climber can reduce friction at the anchor (see above). Do another quick test pull to see if that solved the problem.

If the ropes still won’t pull, the second climber could abseil part way down the face and make an intermediate anchor to abseil from, before joining the first climber at the lower anchor.

This, however, may cause more problems if the ropes get stuck during retrieval, since it is much harder to retrieve ropes alone.

pulling ropes abseiling

Shorter Abseils

When abseiling down terrain where ropes are likely to get stuck, it is much better to do shorter abseils.

This will allow you to have more control over where the ropes run, and will also mean that you won't have to climb back up as far to retrieve stuck ropes.

When Pulling Ropes

By standing further out from the wall when pulling ropes, the knot is pulled through the air instead of against the rock, meaning that it is less likely to get caught.

It also helps to flick the rope to guide the knot around obstacles.

how to avoid stuck ropes when abseiling

VDiff climbing self rescue book

Stuck Ropes - How To Retrieve Your Ropes

Sometimes, no matter what you do to prevent it, your ropes will get stuck anyway. How you retrieve them depends on:

- If you have both strands within reach
- How much rope you have pulled through
- How easy it is to climb up
- What the rope is stuck on

First Considerations

Be aware that when a stuck rope comes free, it could dislodge loose rock. Try to get yourself into a position where you can move out of the line of rock fall and not shock-load the belay which you are hanging from.

If you have just started pulling the ropes, first make sure you are pulling the correct one, and are not pulling the knot up into the anchor.

Resist the temptation to immediately pull hard on a stuck rope, as this may jam it further. Instead, flick the ropes to see if you can dislodge them from wherever they’re stuck. You can also pull on the other end to see if reversing the ropes unsticks them.

If this doesn’t work, try pulling as hard as you can on the stuck rope. To make this easier, wrap a prusik cord around the rope and lean back with it clipped to your belay loop, or get more weight on the rope by having your partner pull too.

Climbing up to reach a stuck rope

If a stuck rope cannot be freed from below, you must climb back up to deal with whatever is holding it in place. There are two main ways to do this; leading and prusiking.

Leading is the preferred method since it avoids the obvious danger of releasing loose rock if the rope suddenly comes free.

Tie into the end of the rope that you have managed to pull down, then get belayed on this end as you lead back up to the problem. The obvious limitation is that you can only climb back up as far as you have rope available.

If the rock you abseiled down is unclimbable, you will have to climb the rope itself using prusiks.

what to do when your climbing ropes are stuck

Prusiking up to reach a stuck rope

Just because you and your partner have been pulling on the rope doesn’t mean that it won’t suddenly come free while you are prusiking up.

This is especially true when you get higher up and change the direction of pull in the ropes. Therefore, it is essential that you keep yourself safe while you ascend.

The method you use to do this depends on if you have one or both ends of the ropes.

Prusiking - If you have both ends of the ropes

Having both ends of the ropes within reach is much better than just having one. You can either wrap your prusiks around both ropes (described here), or just the ‘pulling’ rope (described below).

Whichever method you choose, make sure to keep re-tying back-up knots (figure 8 on a bight or clovehitch work well) in the ropes as you ascend.

how to prusik for climbing

If you prusik up just one rope, you’ll need to counterbalance it with your partner’s weight in order to be safe. Do this by getting them to attach to the other rope. This closes the system so that you won’t fall if the ropes suddenly come free.

The advantage of this method is that your partner will be able to feel your weight pulling on their harness at the point when the ropes can move freely. This gives you a better idea where the ropes are stuck.

Once you reach the anchor, or a point where the ropes move freely, you can avoid getting them stuck again by re-routing the ropes, building an intermediate anchor or extending the original anchors over an edge.

how to prusik up a rope

1) If the ropes are running through cord at the abseil station (instead of a carabiner), make sure to prusik on both ropes. The sawing action of you prusiking on one rope could melt the cord and cause it to fail.

2) Bouncing up and down on the ropes while prusiking generates more force on the anchor than the force you applied when abseiling from it. If you are uncertain about the quality of your anchor, you can place gear on the rope which you are ascending, while being belayed (described below).

abseil cord

Prusiking - If you only have one end of the ropes

If you were able to pull quite a lot of rope through, you can tie into the end of the rope and get belayed up on this. Place gear and clip it to the lead rope as you prusik up the stuck rope.

Once you have reached the end of the other rope, it will be safer to switch your prusiks to be around both ropes. Make sure to back up your prusiks with a knot on both ropes if you do this.

Before committing to prusiking up a single rope, assess how many gear placements there are above and how much rope you have available to lead with compared to where you think the rope is stuck. If you have a lot of rope, the safest option could be to cut the rope and abandon the section which is stuck above you. You will then be able to make a series of shorter abseils.

how to prusik up a climbing rope

Prusiking - If you only have one end of the ropes but not enough to lead back up

This is a poor situation to be in. One option is to cut whatever rope you have managed to pull down and use this to protect sections of downclimbing and to make short abseils.

You can add extra distance to your abseils by descending on one rope and joining together a collection of slings/cord to use as a pull down cord (learn how here).

A second option is to prusik up the stuck rope, placing gear on it as you go. Your partner belays you on this rope. Here’s how:

Step 1
Tie a clovehitch (figure 8 on a bight is fine too) on a screwgate and attach it to your belay loop.

This is your tie-in point.

clovehitch rock climbing

Step 2
Your partner ties into the end of the stuck rope (to close the system) and then puts you on belay.

close the system climbing

Step 3
Prusik up the rope. You will need to re-tie the clovehitch as you ascend. Tie a new one before untying the old one.

You could also shuffle rope through the clovehitch to adjust it, but be aware that if the stuck rope pulls free while you are mid-shuffle, there is a real danger of severing your finger in the suddenly tightened knot.

Step 4
Place gear as you ascend and clip this into the rope between you and your partner. If the stuck rope suddenly pulls free, you will fall and be protected by the gear you placed.

Your belayer will need to give slack as you ascend and take in slack when you adjust your clovehitch.

ascend climbing rope

Stuck ropes - Summary

The techniques described in this article are merely a guideline to the basics of staying safe in standard 'stuck ropes' situations.

There are endless possible situations of varying complexity and danger. Practise the basic skills outlined above in a safe environment and use your judgement.

Abseiling > Bad Anchors and Loose Rock

Bad Anchors and Loose Rock, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Poor abseil anchors are often found on seldom travelled multi-pitch descents or alpine ridge traverses. Sometimes there is no anchor where you need one, or the existing anchor is untrustworthy. It is your responsibility to fully inspect every anchor before you use it.

Never trust an anchor if you have any doubts about its reliability. Other options include:

- Belayed downclimbing
- Beefing up the anchor
- Backing up the anchor

Bad Anchors - Belayed Downclimbing

If the terrain is easy enough, it may be possible to downclimb. This means you don’t need to leave any of your own gear behind.

The leader climbs down first, placing gear as they descend. Once they reach an anchor (or the ground), they can belay the follower, who removes the gear on their way down.

The last climber must be careful as they will downclimb above gear which they didn’t place.

You will need some sort of anchor at the top to begin the descent. This anchor needs to be solid but can be fairly unsuitable for abseiling, such as a few cams which are widely spaced apart.

bad anchors poor belay abseil

Bad Anchors - Beefing Up the Anchor

If you embark on a route which has a complicated descent, it is worth bringing ‘leaver’ slings, nuts and carabiners for beefing up anchors.

Poor anchors do not necessarily need replacing entirely. Often one extra piece equalized to the anchor will make it good enough. If you make a new anchor, be sure to remove any ancient gear that you replace so no-one uses it in the future.

Sometimes the anchor pieces are good, but the carabiner or maillon (quick link) at the main point is worn. This is a critical part, since it is the only thing connecting the rope to the anchor. Add another if you are unsure. If you leave a snapgate carabiner, make sure to tape the gate closed so it can’t unclip during your descent.

Sacrificing your expensive climbing gear to beef up an anchor is painful. But it’s not as painful as falling down a mountain after the anchor fails. Make sure it is bomber.

bad anchors belay abseil

Bad Anchors - Backing Up the Anchor

If an anchor is okay but not completely bomber, you can add a separate backup to test it’s strength without fully committing to it. Your backup must be:

1) Connected in such a way which means it doesn’t hold any of the weight
2) Positioned appropriately for any potential direction of pull
3) Capable of holding the load should the initial anchor fail

The heaviest climber descends first with most of the gear or the heaviest bag. The second climber carefully watches the anchor for any signs of failure and then decides whether to leave the backup in place or to remove it and trust the original anchor alone.

The original anchor has not passed the test if the backup holds any of the weight. In this case, the backup should be left in place when the last climber descends.

If you’re not sure, just leave the backup there and enjoy a stress-free and safe descent.

bad rappel anchor

Reaching a Poor Anchor when Leading

If you reach a poor anchor after leading a pitch, you can use these techniques to get down safely.

retreat bail from climb

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Descending Loose Rock

Abseiling down loose rock is a climber’s nightmare. Seek out other options (such as downclimbing or abseiling a different way) before committing to the abseil.

However, if you encounter a choss-pile in the middle of a multi-pitch descent, you can ‘zigzag abseil’ to reduce the chances of being hit by rocks when you pull your ropes.

Move sideways as you descend (pendulum or tension traverse) and make the next abseil anchor as far to one side as you can. This might mean leaving gear behind, but it puts you out of the line of rockfall when you pull your ropes.

abseil loose rock rappel

Leading > Pendulums and Tension Traverses

This article, Pendulums and Tension Traverses, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Pendulums and tension traverses are great techniques for moving sideways across a section which is too difficult to climb.

A pendulum involves swinging across the wall to reach a certain point. A tension traverse involves climbing across while assisted by a tight rope.

Knowing how to ‘bail sideways’ is a good skill to have. Maybe you’ve climbed off-route and now have a blank expanse between you and the right route, or maybe you’re halfway up a pitch and the climbing gets too difficult. Your problems may be solved if you can swing across to easier ground.

Pendulums can also be used when abseiling (see our article here).

Step 1
Place a piece of gear which can hold a downwards and a sideways pull (you may want to equalize a few together). This gear needs to be bomber, and you may not be able to retrieve it later.

Step 2
Clip your rope into the gear and get your belayer to take you tight on the rope.

rock climbing cam

Step 3
Get your belayer to lower you. If you plan to pendulum, you can start swinging as you are being lowered. Do this by running sideways across the wall. Communicate with your belayer so you don't get lowered too far – make sure you know where you're trying to swing to!

Step 4
Keep your momentum and swing a little higher each time. Often, you'll need to grab a hold at the pinnacle of your swing, so be ready for this.

Once you've stuck the pendulum, continue climbing as normal, making sure to extend the next few pieces of gear after this to reduce rope drag. A tension traverse is similar but involves semi-climbing across with some of your weight on the rope.

tension traverse pendulum rock climbing

Pendulums and Tension Traverses > Top Tips

* Your partner will need plenty of slack rope to follow the traverse (around twice the diagonal distance of the pendulum). This usually isn't a problem, but if you climb a full rope length with a pendulum at the start of a pitch, your partner won’t have enough rope to follow it safely.

* If using half ropes, clip one to the pendulum point and the other to the pieces after the traverse. This will reduce your rope drag and make it easier for your partner to follow.

tension traversing pendulum rock climbing

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Following Pendulums and Tension Traverses

Following is easy if the leader did a short traverse and extended gear well afterwards. Just follow the pitch as normal and gently swing/tension across the traverse section.

If the traverse section is long but easy enough to climb, you may choose to use the simpler
back rope technique.

However, for longer traverses across unclimbable terrain, you won’t be able to remove the gear which the leader traversed from or else you'll swing uncontrollably across the wall. To avoid this, you'll need to do a 'lower out'. It’s important to communicate well with your partner during this process.

There is no completely safe way to follow a long traverse because there is always the danger of the lower-out piece failing. Using a belay device as described on the following pages significantly reduces the consequences of a fall if the piece fails during the lower out. If it fails, your belay device (in most cases) will lock, stopping you from falling to the end of the rope. You will still swing across the rock, but much less than if you had lowered out without a belay device.

GriGri’s (or similar) will lock in the majority of cases that they are suddenly loaded. However, they are not actually designed for this. Depending on the distance, difficulty and consequences of the traverse and the quality of your lower-out piece, you may want to backup your attachment with a prusik.

Step 1
When you reach the gear which the leader traversed from, clip into it with a sling. If you have a good hands-free stance, you don’t need to clip in. Make sure the gear is still bomber after being pulled sideways by the leader. If you’re not certain about it, back it up with another piece.

Step 2
Attach an assisted-braking belay device to the rope as shown.

tension traverse climbing

Step 3
Tell your partner that you are ready to lower. They will pull in the slack so the rope comes tight.

You can now remove your clip-in sling if you are using one.

Step 4
Communicate with your partner as they lower you down and across. If semi-climbing (tension traversing) across, your partner may have to alternate between taking in and lowering out.

pendulum rock climbing

Step 5
Once you make it across, you’ll need to retrieve your rope from the lower-out point and then transition back to normal climbing. This is much easier if you have a hands-free stance. If you don’t, you could clip directly into a piece of gear to un-weight the rope. Either way, tie-off your belay device and remove any prusiks.

Step 6
Untie from the end of the rope and pull it through the lower-out point. Make sure to remove the knot before you let go of the rope!

tension traverse pendulum climbing

Step 7
Tie back in to the end of the rope.

Step 8
Release your tied-off belay device and belay the slack rope through while your partner takes it in at the same time. This protects you from falling to the end of the rope should you fall at this point.

Step 9
Remove your belay device once your partner has taken in all the slack. You are now ready to continue following as normal.

If you have lowered down too far, or still cannot climb the pitch, you can prusik up the rope until you reach easier ground. It may be possible to retrieve the lower-out gear by penduluming to it when you are higher up.

Improvised Aid Climbing

This article, Improvised Aid Climbing, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

* This article is about using improvised basic aid techniques while trad climbing. To learn more about aid climbing on big walls, see our articles here.

Using protection pieces as hand or foot holds is generally regarded as a poor style of ascent.

But using this simple technique to get yourself out of trouble is very good style.

Many alpine routes have sections that, in poor weather, may be impossible without using aid. Just a few aid moves may be all that is needed to reach a summit or a safer descent.

Knowledge of aid techniques can also provide a way to safely move up or down a crag in an emergency.

basic aid climbing


This is the most basic form of aid climbing which means grabbing hold of a piece of gear and pulling on it to miss out a move. You could also clip a sling directly to the gear to use as a foot loop.

If you think your partner may struggle to follow a section of the climb, you can help them by placing gear frequently enough so they can pull from one piece to the next.

Times when you might french-free:
- To avoid a tough move
- If you need to move quickly and don’t have time to figure out a crux sequence
- If you think you’ll fall while clipping a piece of gear. You can hold onto the gear, then clip, then continue climbing

Basic Aid Climbing Setup

Aid climbing is more efficient when using daisy chains and etriers, but these are not worth taking on a climb unless you specifically plan on aiding sections.

aid climbing setup

Here is an improvised set of ‘aiders’:

* Two double-length slings girth hitched through tie-in points (or belay loop), with overhand knots tied at intervals. Knots are offset so the loops stay open (improvised daisy chains).

* Two long slings/pieces of webbing attached to daisy chains with a carabiner. Offset overhand knots are tied at intervals (improvised etriers).

* Carabiner attached to belay loop. This is used for shortening the daisy chain or clipping yourself directly into gear

basic aid climbing

It’s better if the daisy chain is on the spine side of the carabiner, and the etrier is on the gate side.

This allows your daisy to slide up the spine (rather than get stuck in the gate, or unclip from it) when you stand up high.

basic aid climbing

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Basic Aid Climbing Technique

Step 1 – Place Gear
Place a piece of gear and clip an aider to it.

basic aid climbing

Step 2 – Test Gear
Unless you've just clipped a bolt or an obviously bomber piece of gear, you should test it before fully committing. How you test it depends on what the gear is.

First, ease your weight onto the piece, until the majority of your body weight is on it.

Nuts, slings and pitons can be ‘bounce tested’. Do this by bouncing your weight on your top daisy, with a slightly increased force each time. This puts more force on the piece than just your bodyweight will, so if it survives the bounce test it's unlikely to randomly pull out when you're weighting it. If it fails, you'll swing gently onto your daisy on the lower piece, which should still hold because you bounce tested it – right?

More easily damaged or low-strength gear, (such as cams or micro nuts) should only be very gently bounced.

basic aid climbing

Tiny cams or skyhooks shouldn't be bounce tested, as they would be damaged over time. To test, weight them and press your body away from the wall to generate a little more force than bodyweight without the harsh impact of a bounce. Move side-to-side and outwards from the wall a little, too. This simulates the direction you might pull the piece when you're higher up on it.

Try not to look directly at the piece you are testing – if it fails, it'll hit you in the face! Look away, and wear a helmet.

Step 3 – Commit
Once you're happy that the piece will at least hold your weight, it's time to commit. Shorten your daisy or clip in directly to the piece so you can sit in your harness.

Step 4 – Reset
Reach back down and clip your lead rope into the lower piece. Then remove your aider from it.

how to aid climb

Step 5 – Get High
Getting as high on your top piece as you can means less moves to the top.

On slabby terrain, use the steps of your aider to walk upwards. With practise you should be able to stand in the top step. Your daisy will slide up the spine of its carabiner. Adjust your daisy shorter to give you some downwards tension for balance. This also means that if you lose balance you won't fall the full length of the daisy.

Vertical or overhanging terrain is more strenuous. Pull on the gear while walking up the steps until you can clip directly into the gear with the carabiner on your belay loop. Once you are as high up as you can get, it's time to place a piece of gear and repeat step one.

Basic Aid Climbing > Following

To follow a section of aid, you can either prusik up the rope or aid up using the same technique as the leader. Make sure to communicate with the leader so they know whether to belay you or fix the rope to the anchor.

Removing Gear while Prusiking

If the rope isn't pulling tight on to a piece of gear, you can simply unclip the gear from the rope and remove it. Make sure to unclip the gear when your prusik is still a few inches below it; your prusik will jam into it if you go too close.

Often, the rope will be pulling the gear tight and it is very hard to unclip. In this situation:
- Weight your lower prusik
- Remove your upper prusik from the rope
- Re-tie the prusik on the rope above the gear and weight it
- Now you can more easily remove or unclip the gear

how to aid climb

Sometimes, this results in your lower prusik getting ‘sucked in’ to the piece of gear (particularly if the route is slightly traversing or overhanging). For pitches like this, it is useful to have a belay device (GriGri’s work best) setup on your belay loop. Here’s how:

Step 1
Prusik close to the piece.

Step 2
Pull slack through your GriGri and weight it.

Step 3
Remove both prusiks (one at a time) and re-attach them above the piece.

how to prusik

Step 4
Release rope through your GriGri so that you are weighting the prusiks.

how to prusik aid climbing

Step 5
Now you can remove the gear.

how to prusik trad climbing

Basic Aid Climbing > Traverses and Overhangs

The system for aiding a roof is basically the same as a traverse. Just place a piece, reach as far sideways as you can, and place your next piece.

It's hard to transfer your weight to your new piece to test it, so try stamping in your etrier instead of weighting your daisy. Remember that your follower will have to clip from piece to piece to clean the pitch, so don't back clean them!

To clean a traverse or a steep overhang, you'll need to take your prusiks off the rope and clip directly into the gear that the leader placed. Effectively, you are 'leading on top rope’. Simply clip across the pieces, removing the ones behind you as you go. Make sure to re-adjust your back up knots frequently, so you won’t fall far if a piece fails.

Basic Aid Climbing > Top Tips

* When leading, clip as high on the piece as possible (e.g; in the plastic thumb-loop of a cam, rather than the sling). This gives you more height, meaning quicker overall progress.

* Always use a back up (such as a clovehitch attached to your belay loop with a screwgate) when prusiking up a rope.

* It's better to use a 'keyhole' style carabiner for your aiders, as it will be less likely to get stuck on slings and wires than a 'nose' style carabiner. You can use either a snapgate or screwgate.

* When switching from aid to free climbing in the middle of a pitch, attach a sling to your top piece. This will be your final foot step before you free climb. Make sure to clip your aiders and daisies away on the back of your harness so you won't trip over them.

aid climbing carabiner

Improvised Hauling

This article, Improvised Hauling, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

* This article is about using improvised basic hauling techniques while trad climbing. To learn more about hauling on big walls, see our article here.

Hauling a bag on a separate rope can be much easier than climbing with it on your back. This technique is useful for:
- Long, steep multi-pitches when your daypack is heavy
- Overnight routes

Hauling is typically only beneficial on terrain steeper than 80 degrees, where there are few obstacles and no loose rock. Otherwise, you’ll be better carrying the load on your back.

Basic Hauling Equipment

For a basic hauling set up, you’ll need:
- A second rope
- A hauling device (such as a Petzl Micro Traxion)
- A durable bag

how to haul trad climbing

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How To Haul

Step 1
Attach one end of the haul rope to the back of your harness. If your harness doesn’t have a designated ‘haul loop’, you can loop a short sling around the waist belt and attach the rope to that.

Be careful of using gear loops – they can break if the rope gets stuck.

tie haul rope to climbing harness

Step 2
Attach the bag to the other end of the haul rope and also directly to the anchor with a sling.

climbing haul bag

Step 3
When the leader arrives at the top of the pitch, they attach the hauling device to the master point.

Feed the rope through the device first, then unclip the rope from your harness (this ensures that you cannot drop the rope).

Pull through slack until the rope is tight on the bag.

micro traxion climbing

Step 4
The belayer releases the bag from the lower anchor.

haul bag climbing

Step 5
The leader hauls the bag up, stacking the rope neatly as they go. For light loads, it is quickest to hand-over-hand the rope and periodically pull slack through the hauling device.

For heavier loads, it is much easier to use your body weight to pull the bag up. Use an assisted-braking belay device (such as a GriGri) as shown.

Step 6
Clip the bag to the anchor with a sling and remove the hauling setup. You can now belay your partner.

petzl micro traxion hauling

Some hauling devices may not always lock with certain rope diameters. If your chosen technique involves letting go of the rope, you should add the occasional back up knot so the bag cannot fall the full length of the rope.

Basic Hauling Tips

* A specifically designed ‘mini haulbag’ is best, but any backpack can be used, providing the terrain is suitable.

Hauling a lightweight pack up low-angled rock will most likely result in you losing all your belongings and dislodging rocks. Make sure to attach the pack securely, tuck away any straps and use common sense.

* Using a dynamic lead rope (instead of a static rope or cord) as your haul line gives you more options. It acts as a back up if your main rope is damaged, or it can be used in conjunction with the main rope for wandering pitches (i.e: treat them as half ropes). Having a second rope also doubles the length of your abseils.

* On long traversing pitches, the bag should be attached to the middle of the rope (with an alpine butterfly) at the point when the leader reaches the anchor.

This enables the belayer to lower the bag out gently with the remaining rope. If the bag is fairly light, you can simply lower it out by hand. Heavier loads may need to be lowered out using a munter hitch or belay device.

rock climbing haul bag

* If you don’t have a pulley, an alternative for light loads is to simply belay the bag up with an auto-blocking belay device (such as a GriGri or an ATC in guide mode) or a garda hitch.

If the bag gets stuck, you can pause hauling and begin belaying your partner. Once they have climbed up and freed the bag, you can tie-off the belay and continue hauling.

garda hitch hauling

* Some hauling devices are easily dropped. To prevent this, the leader can trail the haul rope with the device pre-attached as shown.

After leading a pitch, the device can be attached to the anchor before removing the rope from your harness. This means that you can’t drop either the device or the rope while setting up the haul.

micro traxion climbing harness

Safe Simul Climbing

Simul climbing is a technique where all climbers move at the same time while tied into the same rope. Protection is placed by the first climber and removed by the last.

This technique allows climbers to extend the length of their pitches, without extending the length of their rope. With experience, a simul-pitch can stretch for 300m or more, whereas a belayed pitch is limited by the length of your rope.

- Much faster than belayed climbing.

- Much more dangerous than belayed climbing. If the follower falls, they could pull the leader off too.

Simul climbing on alpine route
Simul climbing on snow

Simul Climbing is Most Useful:
- On long, easy routes when it is safer to move fast (e.g: climbing pitch-by-pitch would result in getting hit by a storm or stranded overnight).
- On a long, exposed approach or descent when a fall is very unlikely, but the consequences would be severe.
- If a pitch is slightly longer than your rope length. A short section of simul climbing can allow the leader to reach a more solid belay.

Simul Climbing is Dangerous:
- If any member of the team might find the route difficult (especially the follower)
- On loose rock
- On runout routes (climbs which offer little protection)
- For inexperienced climbers

Prerequisite Skills
Simul climbing introduces a level of risk that is completely inappropriate for beginner climbers. This section is written for experienced trad climbers who are proficient at:
- Placing trad gear and building anchors
- Route-finding on complex terrain
- Leading long multi-pitch routes
- Self rescue
- Analysing and managing risk

The Basic Simul Climbing System

Step 1
The leader begins climbing. They place gear and are belayed with a GriGri.

Simul climbing on alpine route

Step 2
When the leader has climbed the full length of the available rope, the belayer simply begins climbing (leaving their GriGri attached to their belay loop).

Simul climbing with PCD micro traxion

Step 3
Both climbers continue up, moving at the exact same speed and keeping protection on the rope between them.

Simul climbing route

Step 4
When the leader reaches a suitable anchor, they stop climbing and belay the follower up.

Simul-climbing on alpine route

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Simul Climbing Equipment

What To Take
With both climbers constantly moving, it is easier to stay warm, and so belay jackets could be left behind. With a faster style of ascent, you could take less food and water.

The less you bring, the easier the climbing will feel, and the less chance you will have of getting exhausted or benighted on a long route. However, the decision to leave critical items behind should only be made with lots of experience.

Depending on how long you plan to stretch your simul-pitches, you may want to bring a bigger rack. Having more gear enables you to climb the route in less pitches and therefore spend less time changing over belays.

Gear Distribution
It’s better to distribute the gear fairly evenly between the leader and the follower so that neither climber has an excessively heavy load. Often, the leader will take a little more weight so the follower will be able to stay as light and nimble as possible. Remember that the leader will start the simul-pitch with the whole rack, but the follower will have it all by the end.

Simul Climbing Devices
In addition to the equipment you would normally take on a multi-pitch, these two devices give you more options for simul climbing:
- Progress capture devices (such as the RollNLock or Tibloc)
- An assisted braking belay device (such as a GriGri)

simul climbing roll n lock petzl micro traxion

The Simul Climbing Setup

For most situations, the optimum distance between climbers while simul climbing is around 30m. This is close enough that you can communicate well with each other and manage rope drag, while being long enough to ensure adequate protection between climbers.

Simply using a 30m rope has drawbacks, especially if your route has an involved descent. Shortening a full length rope with coils will give you more options on the route. There are several ways of doing this. A simple setup is described below.

- Tied in to the end of the rope with a figure-8.
- 20-30m of rope is neatly coiled over the shoulder, then pulled tight to belay loop with an alpine butterfly.
- GriGri pre-attached to belay loop with a small amount of slack in the rope.

Simul climbing rope coils

- Tied in to the end of the rope with a figure-8.
- GriGri pre-attached to belay loop (this allows a quick transition to belaying when needed).

Simul climbing on alpine route with PCD

Optional Rope Coils
The leader could also attach to the rope with coils in the same way as the follower. Each climber takes half the number of coils so the length of rope between them is still the same. This enables the leader to quickly release some extra rope without needing to communicate this to the follower.

Make sure to keep your rope coils tight so they are unlikely to snag on rock features as you climb. Whenever releasing coils, always keep a hand on the brake strand of rope until you either re-tie your coils or reach the end of the rope – GriGri’s are not designed to be hands-free.

Simul Climbing – Understanding Dangers

The main danger with simul climbing is falling. This isn’t a big deal if the leader falls (assuming they protected the climb well and the follower hasn’t allowed slack into the system). However, if the follower falls, they will probably pull the leader off too. The leader will then be sucked, crotch first, into their last piece of gear.

Simulclimbing on alpine route

The force on that piece of gear is far greater than in a normal climbing situation. This is because:
- There is twice as much weight falling on the piece.
- The second cannot give a dynamic belay because they are falling.

The force generated is much more likely to explode that gear from the rock. For this reason, it is not safe to simul climb on routes that are loose, runout, or that either member of the team may find difficult. Using progress-capture devices reduces the chance of this type of fall.

It’s easy to get swept up in the flow of a long simul-lead, and take unnecessary risks.

As a simul-leader, you should:
- Communicate clearly with your partner about your plan.
- Ensure that you protect the climb well when needed.
- Save enough gear to make a solid anchor.
- Be prepared to switch to belayed climbing anytime, even if this involves downclimbing.
- Be aware of your partners position on the route. If there is a tricky section, you should place gear on the rope in front of you just before they climb it, so that you are both protected. Or better, make an anchor and belay them up.

On long ridges, there are often stretches of non-exposed hiking between steeper rock sections. A rope which is dragged through hiking terrain is likely to get stuck or dislodge rocks. It may be safer to put the rope away and stay close together, therefore avoiding any self-inflicted rockfall danger, and being able communicate more easily about route-finding.

Make sure you have a solid belay when transitioning back to belaying or simul climbing. Being unroped on exposed and/or difficult terrain is obviously very dangerous.

Climbing at Different Speeds – The Accordion Effect

It is important for both climbers to move at the same pace so there is no unnecessary slack in the system. Having too much slack can result in either an unnecessarily long fall for the leader, or a high loading of the progress-capture device if the follower falls. The follower also risks pulling the leader off the wall if they are not keeping up the pace, or if they have to down-climb.

Keeping the exact same pace all the time is extremely difficult. However, using rope coils makes this much easier.

For example, the leader may stop to place gear, while the follower is in a strenuous or awkward position. Instead of staying there, the follower can move up to a comfortable position while pulling the excess slack through their GriGri. From a resting position, the follower can then belay the slack rope back while the leader climbs up.

Also, if the follower would prefer a real belay for a difficult section, but the leader needs more rope to reach a solid anchor, the follower can release some coils and belay the leader until they find an anchor.

Once the leader has made a suitable anchor, the follower can either tie-off the coils again or continue belaying out the rest of their coils while the leader belays the rope in. This ensures there is never any unnecessary slack in the system. Once all the slack has been taken in, the leader can continue to belay the follower up to the anchor.

Similarly, if the leader encounters more difficult ground, the follower can stop at a good stance and/or make an anchor. The follower can then release their coils and belay the leader. Being able to quickly transition between simuling and belayed climbing allows you to safely navigate crux sections while cruising across the easier terrain.

Using Progress-Capture Devices

The use of a progress-capture device (such as the RollNLock or Tibloc) can protect the leader from receiving too hard of a pull on their rope if the follower falls.

The leader simply attaches a PCD to a piece of gear as shown. In theory, if the follower falls, the device will lock on the rope and hold the fall without affecting the leader.

In reality, there are serious drawbacks, which could make the situation more dangerous if the system is not fully understood.

PCD simul climbing

PCD’s should be attached to bomber multi-directional gear with minimum extension. Clipping one directly to a bolt is the best option, but they can also work well with trad gear if some cunning sling craft is used. Make sure your rope is able to run freely through the device.

The more the device can move up or down, the more the leader will ‘feel’ a tug if the follower falls and therefore have a greater chance of being pulled off. This will also exert a greater force on the rope, increasing the chance of ruining the sheath. Do not extend a PCD.

The leader should place another progress-capture device before the follower removes the previous one, so there is always one in the system.

Simul climbing pcd

Dangers of Progress-Capture Devices

* A high force (such as the follower falling when there is slack in the system, or falling on a ridge traverse) could sever the rope’s sheath.

* On wandering climbs, the PCD may get pulled to one side, causing it to (depending on the type of device) disengage or add rope drag.

* Many types of PCD work poorly on wet or icy ropes.

* If the leader needs to downclimb, the follower cannot take in any of the slack created. In this case, the leader must belay themselves down with their GriGri.

* If the follower needs to downclimb, they will have to remove their coils and self-belay down.

Types of Progress-Capture Device

There are many PCD’s available, but some are more suitable than others for simul climbing.

A device with a ribbed camming style is less harsh on rope sheaths than a toothed device. A PCD with a ball bearing pulley will feed rope through smoother than one without.

A good device is the Climbing Technology RollNLock which features a ribbed cam and a ball bearing pulley.

roll n lock petzl micro traxion

Another commonly used device with a ball bearing pulley is the Petzl Micro Traxion. However, this is a toothed device and so is more likely to damage a rope’s sheath.

Other ribbed devices include the Kong Duck and the Wild Country Ropeman. These do not have a pulley, so do not feed as smoothly as the RollNLock. A much simpler device is the Petzl Tibloc which is cheaper and lighter than the others but is toothed and has no pulley.

Simul Climbing – Summary

Simul climbing does not need to be epic. For example, if after climbing a full rope length, the leader is still 3 meters away from a belay, the follower may be able to safely provide them with enough rope by removing their belay and walking 3 meters across a ledge. This may be much safer than the leader attempting a desperate downclimb.

The techniques discussed in this section are for advanced, experienced climbers who are looking for creative ways to solve problems and climb faster. Make sure you fully understand the dangers and only apply simul climbing techniques to situations when it is safe to do so.

The Garda Hitch (Alpine Clutch)

This 'Garda Hitch' article is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

The garda hitch uses two parallel carabiners to create a system where a loaded rope can move in one direction but not the other.

- As a ratchet pulley for improvised hauling

Step 1
Secure two D-shaped carabiners together with a girth hitch so they lie parallel with the gates on the same side.

garda hitch

Step 2
Clip the rope through both carabiners.

Step 3
Form a loop in the non-loaded strand as shown.

garda hitch alpine clutch climbing

Step 4
Clip this loop through the left carabiner and fasten the screwgates.

alpine clutch climbing

Step 5
Pull the loop back so it sits around the spine of the carabiners.

garda hitch alpine clutch

Step 6
The garda hitch is now complete.

You will be able to pull rope through in one direction only. Make sure you have it the right way around.

garda hitch climbing

VDiff climbing self rescue book

* The garda hitch is a one-direction knot – it cannot be released under load. Be careful how you employ it.

* It’s vital that you use D-shaped carabiners. A garda hitch tied on HMS or oval carabiners is prone to slipping down which causes the knot to fail.

* You must girth hitch the two carabiners together. If you simply clip the carabiners through a sling or another carabiner, the garda hitch will not function correctly.