Abseiling > How to Deal with Stuck Ropes

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.

abseiling

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


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

Warnings:
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


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


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

French-Free

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


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


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

Warning!
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

Safe Simul Climbing is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

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.

Advantages
- Much faster than belayed climbing.

Disadvantages
- 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


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.

Follower:
- 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

Leader:
- 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

Falling
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.

Awareness
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.

Unroping
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.

Essential Knots: 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.

Uses:
- 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


Warning!
* 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.