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

The Figure-8: How to Tie In to a Climbing Rope

This article about the figure of 8 knot is part of the book - Rock Climbing Basics: The Beginner's Guide.

VDiff learn to climb e-book book

Unless you are bouldering, you'll need to tie the end of the rope to your harness before you climb. The best way to do this is using a rethreaded figure of 8 knot. It's important that you do it correctly, as this knot connects you to the whole climbing system and keeps you safe. Try to avoid talking to someone or distracting them while they tie in.

Likewise, once you start tying your figure-8, keep going until you’ve finished before responding to any questions. Accidents have happened because climbers were distracted halfway through tying in and then fell with a half-completed or incorrect knot.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure 8

How To Tie In with the Figure of 8 Knot

Step 1
Make a loop about a meter from the end of the rope. Wrap the end of the rope around the base of the loop, then push the end through as shown.

How to tie in to a climbing rope

Step 2
You should end up with an '8'. Make sure the knot is around 90cm from the end of the rope. The exact length varies with ropes of different diameters.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing

Step 3
Pass the end of the rope through both of the two points on the front centre of your harness – the same ones your belay loop runs through. It is important that the rope goes through your harness in exactly the same way as your belay loop does.

How not to tie a figure of 8 knot to a rope for rock climbing

Step 4
Use the end of the rope to re-trace the figure-8. Follow the twists of the rope starting from where it joins your harness.

How to tie into a climbing rope with a figure eight

Step 5
Continue following the twists until you end up back at the start of the knot.

Pull the whole thing tight.

Figure of 8 knot and stopper knot climbing rope

Step 6
Make sure the end of the rope is around 25cm long. If it is shorter, you'll have to untie and start again. After this, you will need to tie a stopper knot. Loop the short section of rope around the main length.

Tie into a rope for rock climbing

Step 7
Do this twice, with the second loop closer to you than the first.

How to tie into a rope with a figure of 8 knot for rock climbing

Step 8
Push the end of the rope through these two loops as shown.

Step 9
Make sure the stopper knot is pushed right up against your figure-8 knot. Pull it tight.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure eight

The Stopper Knot
The stopper knot has no bearing on safety as long as you tied your figure-8 correctly, so don’t panic if the stopper knot starts to unravel as you climb.

The purpose of the stopper knot is to ensure that you have left enough tail to stop the figure-8 failing – a short tail could slip through the knot.

Also, if you left a long tail dangling without a stopper knot, it could be mistaken for the main rope when clipping quickdraws, or the anchor. Always tie a stopper knot for these reasons.

If you didn't have enough rope left to tie a stopper knot, you'll need to retie the figure-8 so that you do.

How to tie in to a rope for rock climbing with a figure 8

Tying In To a Climbing Rope: Common Mistakes

Incorrect 8 shapes

tie to a rope for rock climbing with a figure eight

Only threading rope though one part of the harness.

tie to a climbing rope with a figure eight

VDiff climbing book

Safety Check: Have You Tied In Correctly?

Rock Climbing Infographic: Have you tied in to the rope correctly?

Visually inspect your knot, and your partner’s knot, before every climb.

If someone asks you a question or distracts you when you are tying your knot, wait until you have finished before answering. Do nothing else until the knot is complete.

How To Coil a Climbing Rope

If you are storing your rope for a while or stuffing it away in a back pack, coiling a climbing rope is worth the effort and will save you lots of time untangling knots that have mysteriously tied themselves in the middle of it.

Coiling a Climbing Rope

Step 1
Hold the middle of your rope in one hand and loop both strands over your shoulders.

Some ropes have a convenient middle marker to make this easy. If yours doesn't, find both ends and hold them together. Then shuffle both the strands of rope through your hands until you get to the middle point.

How to coil a climbing rope

Step 2
Reach across and grab the rope below your other hand.

How to coil a climbing rope

Step 3
Pull your hand along the rope, creating enough space to flick the next two strands over your head, so they rest on your shoulders with the first two.

How to coil a rope

Repeat this with your other hand in the opposite direction.

How to coil a rope for climbing

Step 4
Keep draping the rope over your shoulders until there is about four meters left.

How to coil a rock climbing rope

Use both hands to take the rope off your shoulders, and drape the middle of the loops over your arm.

How to coil a rope for rock climbing

Step 5
Wrap the two ends of the rope tightly around all the coils near the top. Do this three or four times.

It's best to go from the bottom upwards.

How not to get a tangled climbing rope

Step 6
Push a loop of each end through the top of the main coils as shown.

Coiling a climbing rope so it doesn't tangle

Step 7
Pass the two ends of the rope through these loops.

Pull it all tight and your rope is coiled!

Coiling a climbing rope

Step 8
If the tails of rope are long enough (at least 1 meter), you can tie the rope on your back.

Pull the tails over your shoulders, cross them over your chest, then wrap them in opposite directions around your back. Bring the ends in front of you and tie them together around your waist.

How to coil a climbing rope on your back

VDiff climbing book

How To Stack a Climbing Rope

Coiling a climbing rope is useful when you need to carry it or pack it away neatly, but you'll need to 'stack' the rope so that it will feed out without tangles while you're climbing.

Beginning at one end, simply feed the rope into a pile on top of your rope bag, or a clean area of the ground. Tying the ends of the rope into the straps of your rope bag makes it easier to find them. When preparing to lead climb, the leader will tie into the top end of the rope.

How to neatly stack a climbing rope

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

VDiff self rescue course

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

How To Use Half (Double) Ropes

'How To Use Half Ropes' is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Half ropes (also known as double ropes) are thinner than normal 'single' ropes, and are designed to be used as a pair.

Best Situations to Use Half Ropes
- When climbing a wandering route
- When climbing a long alpine route with an involved descent

Half ropes climbing

- Rope drag is reduced on wandering routes where the protection is not in a straight line
- You have more options for protecting your partner when they follow traversing pitches
- They double the length of abseil you can make
- If one rope is cut on a sharp edge, you still have the other to catch you

- Involves more forward planning
- More difficult to belay
- It's possible to get into a situation where only one half rope would stop you from hitting the ground. They are not designed to be used like this (This is explained later)

Climbing with half or double ropes

Half ropes are marked by a ½ symbol on the end of the rope (a single rope will have a 1 symbol).

Single and half or double ropes

Twin ropes are also available. BE CAREFUL! These are not designed to be clipped individually like half ropes. Instead, you must clip them both into the same carabiners as you climb. They're mainly used for ice and mixed climbing.

Different types of climbing rope are explained here.

Twin climbing ropes

VDiff trad climbing book

Half Ropes: Leading

Two ropes tied into climbing harness

Designate Your Ropes
Tie in to half ropes just as you would a single, but with one rope on either side of your belay loop.

The left rope will be used to clip gear on the left side of the route, and the right rope is for gear on the right.

On a traversing route, it's best to have an 'upper' and a 'lower' rope. The upper rope can help protect the second from taking an enormous sideways swing.

When there are sections of down-climbing, the second will often have worse fall potential than the leader. Plan ahead and place gear high on the upper rope to protect the second.

Rock climber climbing with two ropes

Belay Position
If there is a traverse to the belay, you can protect the second better by building the anchor above the middle of the traverse. Building the anchor to one side could create unnecessary fall potential for the second.

Straight-Up Pitches
On a straight-up pitch, clip your half ropes alternately to each piece. This way, you never rely too much on one rope and you never pull extra slack into the system when clipping a high piece.

Crossing Ropes
Beware of crossing the ropes as you clip gear. It’s possible to trap one rope around a piece of gear, creating very bad rope drag.

Rock climber climbing a traverse with two ropes

Half Ropes: Belaying

Belaying the Second
To belay with half ropes, you'll need an 'ATC style' belay device which has two slots in it. You cannot use a GriGri.

You'll often need to take in or give slack on one rope more than the other to keep the ropes equally tight on your partner.

Simply go through the normal belaying motion, but hold one rope tight while letting the other slide through your hand. Obviously, never let go of either rope.

Rock climber belays with two ropes

Another option is to use guide mode.

Rock climber belays in guide mode with two ropes
Rock climber belays with two ropes

Lead Belaying
Sometimes you'll need to feed out more slack on one rope than the other, as the climber pulls it up to clip.

Once they've clipped one rope higher than the other, you'll need to take in that rope, while giving out slack on the other.

This can be pretty tricky to do well and takes some practise. It helps to keep the two ropes separated in your hand above the belay device. Remember to keep hold of both of them together in your lower hand.

Using Half Ropes in the Belay

Half ropes make building a gear belay much easier, as you can use both ropes to equalize yourself to the gear. Rather than having one central point that you tie into, you can have two, with one rope going to each. Use a clovehitch to attach yourself to the screwgate carabiner at each main point.

Rock climber belays with two ropes at belay

Can You Fall on Just One Half Rope?

There's no simple answer to this. Half ropes are designed to be used together and are fall-tested by the UIAA with a smaller falling mass than for a single rope. The theory is that one rope will take most, but not all, of the force in a fall.

In reality, all of the force goes on one rope if you fall.

You should be very cautious of creating situations where only one rope would hold a large fall. This situation would also reduce the redundancy that is inherent in half ropes on complicated terrain, where there is any risk of a rope being cut by a sharp edge.

If you need to use half ropes 'separately' (e.g. if you have to clip gear to one rope for the first half of a route and then use the other rope for the last half) you should consider using two single rated ropes instead of a pair of halves.

We also recommend using two single ropes (instead of two half ropes) if you are climbing as a team of three.

Some ropes are available that are rated as both a single and a half rope; a perfect compromise!

The Statistics
For a single rope to pass UIAA testing, it must hold five falls of 80kg at a fall factor of 1.77. A half rope must hold the same five falls at the same fall factor, but only with a mass of 55kg.

If half ropes are tested as single ropes (with the full 80kg), most hold between one and three falls before failing.

This means that half ropes are safe to fall on individually. However, they shouldn't be relied upon to hold massive whippers. If you were to take a large fall on one half rope, you should retire that rope afterwards.

How to rock climb with two ropes

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

VDiff climbing self rescue book

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 > Pendulums

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

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Multi-pitch descents are not always straightforward. The next abseil station may be far to the side of the previous one (they often are when descending loose ground). Or maybe you need to bail down an overhanging wall.

Being able to swing or tension across to reach the next abseil station is key in these situations.

(You can pendulum when leading too).

It is recommended to abseil with an extended belay device and a prusik for tricky abseils like these. Being able to go hands-free is crucial.

extend rappel device

Step 1
To swing to an abseil station on overhanging ground, you’ll need to start the pendulum early. Push out from the rock with your legs as you descend. Keep your momentum and be ready to clip or grab the next anchor.

If you end up stranded in space, you’ll need to prusik back up and try again.

On traversing ground, it’s often better to tension across (semi-climb while weighting the rope), so your rope isn’t rubbing over possible sharp edges of rock. If this is too difficult, a pendulum will get you further across, but be very careful of loose rock and sharp edges when doing this.

pendulum abseil swinging rappel

Step 2
Once you have made it to the next station, tie the end of the ‘pulling’ rope (the one you will pull to retrieve your ropes) to the anchor.

This gives your partner something to grab so they can get to the anchor without having to pendulum there. It also ensures that you cannot drop your ropes.

On long traverses, you can help by belaying them in too.

Step 3
Once all climbers are at the lower station, pull your ropes and repeat.

pendulum abseil rappel

VDiff climbing self rescue book

Pendulum Abseils - Top Tips

* It’s better for the first climber to descend with the minimum gear needed. The other climber(s) should take the heavier loads since it is much easier to follow than ‘lead’ a descent like this.

* To avoid getting your ropes stuck when traversing, consider abseiling with them in coils clipped to your harness. Release them one at a time as you descend.