Crevasse Rescue – Prusiking

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

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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

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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

Prusik Knots: Different Types Explained

This article about prusik knots is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

A prusik (also known as a friction hitch) is a short piece of cord which can be wrapped around your climbing rope to add friction. They can slide up and down easily, but lock around the rope when weighted.

They are most commonly used for abseiling but are also incredibly useful in a variety of emergency situations such as ascending a rope or escaping the system.

Four types of prusik knot (friction hitch) are described below:
- Classic
- Autoblock (French)
- Klemheist
- Bachmann

prusik knot

Prusik Cord: Size

The diameter of your cord should be 60% to 80% of the rope’s diameter, whether you are using the prusik on one rope or two. If you use a cord that is too thin, it will tighten easily around the rope and will be difficult to move freely. If you use a cord that is too thick, it won’t have enough friction to lock up when you need it to.

In general, 6mm cord works well on 10mm ropes, whereas 5mm cord is better for 8mm ropes.

The cord length should be 1.2m - 1.5m.

Prusik Cord: Material

Prusiks are usually made out of nylon cord, tied together with a double fisherman's bend.

If the cord is too stiff, it won’t lock properly around the rope. The stiffness may also make it difficult to create the knot itself. Test your cord before you take it climbing so you can be sure that it works.

If you are planning to use your prusiks frequently, you should consider buying some pre-sewn prusik loops. These come in a variety of forms, either without a bulky knot or with the knot sewn together and covered by a plastic sleeve.

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Prusik Types: The Classic

- Very secure when loaded
- Locks in both directions

- Often difficult to release when tightly loaded

Best Uses
- In situations where you don’t need to keep sliding the prusik (e.g; escaping the system)

classic prusik knot

How To Tie the Classic Prusik

Step 1
Pass the cord around the rope and through itself as shown, making sure the double fisherman’s bend is at the end.

classic prusik knot

Step 2
Pass the cord around the rope and through itself again.

how to tie a prusik knot

Step 3
Make at least three wraps around the rope, pull the cord tight and clip a carabiner through the loop. Make sure the knot is neat.

tie prusik knot

Step 4
Pinch the knot to loosen it. This allows you to move it up or down the rope. Weight the knot in either direction to lock it. If the knot gets stuck, you can push some cord in from the center of the knot to loosen it.

prusik knot classic

Prusik Types: The Autoblock (French)

- Easy to tie and untie
- Can be released under load

- Tends to slip when used to ascend ropes

Best Uses
- As a back-up when abseiling

autoblock prusik knot

How To Tie the Autoblock Prusik

Step 1
Wrap the prusik neatly around the rope a few times as shown.

autoblock prusik knot

Step 2
Clip the ends together with a carabiner. More wraps will create more friction around the ropes, though four wraps are generally enough. Make sure the autoblock is neat and the double fisherman's knot is away from the ropes.

auto block prusik knot

Step 3
Pinch the knot to loosen it. This allows you to move it down the rope. Weight the knot to lock it. The autoblock locks in both directions, but the double fisherman's knot tends to wrap itself into the prusik when the direction is switched, making it much less effective.

prusik knot autoblock

Prusik Types: The Klemheist Knot

- Easy to release after being loaded
- Can be tied with webbing

- Only works in one direction

Best Uses
- Ascending a rope

Klemheist knot

How To Tie the Klemheist Knot

Step 1
Wrap the prusik neatly around the rope a few times as shown.

Klemheist knot

Step 2
Pass the rest of the cord through the loop.

Klemheist prusik knot

Step 3
Weight the knot downwards to lock it, or push it upwards to release.

Klemheist prusik

Prusik Types: The Bachmann Knot

- Easy to operate when wearing gloves

- Not good on icy or slick ropes
- Doesn’t grip as well as other types of prusik

Best Uses
Ascending ropes when wearing bulky gloves

bachmann prusik knot

How To Tie the Bachmann Knot

Step 1
Clip the cord through a carabiner.

bachmann prusik knot

Step 2
Wrap the cord around the rope, feeding it through the carabiner each time. Keep the wraps snug to each other.

prusik knot bachmann

Step 3
Allow the end of the cord to hang down through the carabiner. Clip your load to this end. Do not clip your load to the carabiner which functions as the ‘handle’ – this will release the knot!

bachmann knot

Step 4
Push the handle carabiner up the rope to release the knot. Weight the lower carabiner to lock it.

bachmann prusik

Prusik Cord Tips

- Prusiks are not full-strength attachment points. Always have a back-up so you’re attached to the rope ‘properly’.

- Make sure not to wrap the double fisherman’s bend into any friction hitch. This will greatly decrease the knot’s effectiveness.

- The number of wraps should be increased or decreased depending on the cord stiffness, cord diameter and moisture conditions, with three wraps as a minimum. Before using any prusik knot, test it to see that it grips and releases well.

- If you don’t have a prusik cord, you can use a sling instead. Slings don’t work quite as well but it’ll help you get out of a tricky situation. A narrow nylon sling is better than dyneema (spectra). Don’t use a sling for anything except a prusik after using it once as a prusik.

- If using prusiks in conditions where they might fail (e.g; prusiking up a wet or icy rope), it’s better to use two different types of friction hitch (and a full strength back-up, of course). If conditions exist to cause one to slip or fail, the likelihood is that the other prusik would not fail under the same conditions.

- Check your prusik cord for wear and tear regularly. Make sure the double fisherman’s knot isn’t slipping and the cord isn’t abraded. When it’s looking worn, retire it and get a new one – cord is cheap.

Self Rescue > Prusiking Up a Rope

Knowing how to prusik up a rope transforms a potential epic into a mere inconvenience.

This article explains how to ascend a rope using prusiks, assuming that you already know how to tie one. If you don’t know how to tie a prusik knot, you can learn here.

Prusiking is most commonly needed when:
- You abseiled too far
- You abseiled the wrong way
- Your ropes get stuck after abseiling
- If you fall while leading or following a steep pitch.

abseil and prusik up a rope

Before You Prusik up a Rope

Only prusik up a rope which is properly attached to an anchor
Sounds obvious, but many accidents have happened because a climber was ascending a ‘stuck’ rope which then came free.

Another fatal mistake is to ascend only one rope on a double rope abseil, hoping that the knot will remain jammed in the anchor. Never do this! When under load, even large knots can squeeze through carabiners and certain types of chains or rings. If you descended both ropes, you’ll need to ascend both too. Remember that prusiks work equally well on one rope or two.

Always back up your prusiks.
Prusiks are not full-strength attachment points. Tie a back-up knot in any rope which you are ascending. Clip this knot to your belay loop and re-tie it frequently as you ascend. When you re-tie it, make sure to tie the new back-up knot before removing the old one.

how to prusik up a rope

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How To Prusik up a Rope: The Standard Technique

- Safe to use in almost any rope-ascending situation.

- Often more strenuous than other methods, such as the slingshot.

Step 1
Tie a back-up knot (clovehitch, overhand or figure-8 on a bight work well) in the slack rope(s) beneath you. Clip this knot to your belay loop with a screwgate. If you are ascending two ropes, make sure to tie back-ups in both of them.

If you are mid-abseil, simply weight your prusik and tie the back-up knots.

If you are abseiling without a prusik and dangling in space, you can wrap the rope around your leg at least three times, tie a prusik, release the rope from around your leg, weight the prusik and then tie the back-up knots. Whatever you do, make sure to keep hold of the brake rope until you have tied the back-up knots.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 2
Attach two prusiks (classic or klemheist types work well) to the rope(s) above you.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 3
Girth-hitch a 60 cm sling to your belay loop and clip it to the top prusik (if it’s too long you can tie a knot to shorten it).

Use screwgate carabiners for all connections. If you don’t have enough screwgates, you can substitute two snapgates with gates opposite and opposed.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 4
Girth-hitch another sling to your belay loop and clip it to the bottom prusik.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 5
Make a foot loop by clipping a long sling/piece of cord to the bottom prusik.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 6
Now the hard work begins. To ascend, push the top prusik up the rope as far as you can, then sit back in your harness to rest your weight on it.

Step 7
Slide the unweighted bottom prusik up the rope and stand in the foot loop. As you stand up, slide the now unweighted top prusik up the rope.

Step 8
Repeat this process, making sure to adjust your back-up knots as you ascend.

how to prusik up a rope

How To Prusik up a Rope: The Slingshot Technique

The ‘slingshot’ is a similar technique to the one used when winching yourself back up to your high point after falling on a steep sport route.

- Less strenuous to ascend the rope than the standard technique.

- Only works in an abseiling situation. You cannot use this technique to regain your high-point if you fall into space when leading or following a steep pitch.
- Difficult to set up if you can’t unweight the rope.
- Causes the rope to rub over the main anchor point. Never use this method if your rope is threaded through webbing, a sling or any fairly worn-out anchor point. The sawing action of this technique can cause the rope to cut the sling!

Step 1
Anchor yourself independently of the abseil ropes (if you’re not already on the ground) and remove your belay device.

Step 2
Tie a figure-8 on a bight in both strands of rope. Clip both of these to your belay loop, each with their own screwgate. One of these will remain weighted as you ascend, the other is your back-up knot.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 3
Tie both prusiks on the side of the rope which has the knot joining the two ropes. Attach yourself to both prusiks and rig a foot loop as previously described.

If you anchored independently from the abseil ropes, you will need to detach yourself from the anchor at this point.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 4
Prusik up the rope, using the same technique described above. As you pull down on one side of the rope, the opposite side will pull up, assuming there isn’t much friction at the anchor point. This makes the ascent easier, but slower, than using the standard method.

Re-tie your back-up knot as you ascend (on the blue rope). Make sure to get the right knot though - do not untie the weighted knot!

how to prusik up a rope

Step 5
In most cases, you’ll have to pass the knot which joins the two ropes. Simply re-tie your prusiks past this knot one at a time.

how to prusik up a rope

How To Prusik up a Rope: Using an Extended Belay Device

- Fairly quick to set up.
- Great for ascending a short distance, such as if you abseil past an anchor.

- Only works if you are abseiling with an extended belay device which has a guide mode function.

Step 1
Fasten a prusik knot (klemheist works well) around both ropes above your belay device with a long piece of 5mm or 6mm cord. This will be your foot loop.

Step 2
Step into the foot-loop and stand up, taking the weight off your belay device. Make sure to keep hold of both brake ropes as you do this.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 3
Connect your belay loop to the auto-block hole on your belay device with a screwgate.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 4
Sit your weight onto your now auto-blocked belay device.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 5
Slide the top prusik up the rope and stand in the foot loop again. This takes the weight off your belay device, allowing you to pull the slack rope through it.

Step 6
Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you reach the anchor.

how to prusik up a rope

Prusiking up a Rope - Summary

Knowing how to prusik up a rope is an essential skill for any trad climber. It is strenuous and awkward at first, and it may take a while to figure out the exact lengths of cord you need. But with a little practise, you will soon become a prusiking pro.

how to prusik up a rope

Abseiling > How To Abseil Past a Knot

How To Abseil Past a Knot is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Times when you might need to abseil past a knot:
- When descending a single strand ‘fixed’ rope, where a knot has been tied to isolate a damaged section
- Passing a knot joining two ropes during an emergency retreat

As always, first try to utilize the terrain to make passing the knot easier. For example, if you have a ledge to stand on, you can bypass the knot without needing prusiks. However, if you are dangling in space with a heavy pack pulling you backwards, you’ll need to follow all the steps described.

(If you are abseiling with your own damaged ropes, it may be better to use this technique.)

Here’s how to abseil past a knot:

how to abseil past a knot

Step 1 – Stop

Stop abseiling when your prusik is about 30-40cm before the knot. Allow the prusik to take your weight.

If you are abseiling without a prusik (not recommended), you can wrap the rope around your leg a few times. This adds friction but does not lock your belay device, so make sure to keep hold of the rope for the next couple of steps. And use a prusik next time.

If your belay device jams into the knot, you’ll need to ascend a short amount.

how to abseil past a knot rock climbing

Step 2 – Back Up

Pull up about two meters of rope and fasten a back up knot (clovehitch or figure-8 work well).

Attach this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

how to rappel past a knot

Step 3 – Add Prusik

Fasten a prusik above your belay device (classic or autoblock types work well) and attach it to your belay loop with a short sling.

Abseil down a few inches to allow your weight to be taken by this prusik.

how to rappel past a knot rock climbing

Step 4 – Pass the Knot

Detach the un-weighted lower prusik from your leg loop but keep it in position on the rope.

Remove your belay device and reattach it to the rope immediately beneath the knot. Lock your belay device by tying it off with a mule-overhand.

Step 5 – Add Foot Loop

Clip a short sling to the lower prusik. Stand in this sling to un-weight the upper prusik.

how to abseil past knots

Step 6 – Remove Prusiks

Remove the upper prusik and sit back to weight your tied-off belay device.

If you can’t weight your belay device from this position, you may have to down-prusik a couple of times until you can weight it. Alternate between weighting the upper prusik and standing in the lower foot loop. Adding an extra sling to the lower foot loop makes this easier.

how to rappel past knots

Step 7 – Descend

Reposition the remaining prusik back to your leg loop (without the foot loop sling), unfasten your back up knot and then release your tied-off belay device.

You can now continue your descent.

how to abseil past a knot when climbing

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Abseil Past a Knot - Top Tips

Before you pass the knot, assess if it would be better to:
- Unfasten it
- Re-tie a better knot (alpine butterfly is recommended)
- Ascend back to the anchor and find a different way down

The same technique can be used when abseiling with an extended belay device. During step 6, you will need to down-prusik a few moves to ease your weight onto your tied-off belay device.

If you know there are knots in the rope before you descend, you can speed things up by abseiling with a pre-attached prusik above your belay device.

Abseil Past a Knot - Summary

There are many variations of this same technique. The most important thing to remember is to fasten a back-up knot before you detach your belay device.

It’s highly recommended to practise this technique before you actually need to use it.

Dangling in space with your belay device jammed into the knot and a prusik out of reach above is a common error for first-timers.

Try it out on different angles of rock, with your prusiks at different heights and attached to different lengths of sling.

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

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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.

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

VDiff climbing self rescue book

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

The Double Fisherman’s Bend

"Essential Knots: The Double Fisherman's Bend" is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

The double fisherman's bend is used to tie two ends of equal diameter cord together to make a prusik or cordelette. It can also be used as an alternative to the overhand to join ropes for abseiling.

Step 1
Loop one end of the cord around the other end twice, then push the end through these loops.

double fishermans prusik knot

Step 2
Pull it tight. Make sure the tails are at least ten times the diameter of the cord (5cm tails for 5mm cord).

how to tie double fishermans prusik knot

Step 3
Do the same with the other end of the cord.

double fishermans knot

Step 4
Pull it all tight so that the two knots jam together. It is important that the double fisherman’s bend is fastened tightly.

how to tie a double fishermans knot

VDiff trad climbing book

Triple Fisherman's Bend
Some cord or rope may be too slick or stiff for the double fisherman's to work. In this case, try adding an extra loop to each side of the cord to make a triple fisherman's bend.

triple fishermans knot