Advanced Trad Anchors > Part 1 of 5 > Getting Perfect Equalization

'Advanced Trad Anchors' is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

In Trad Climbing Basics, we introduced various methods of creating belay master points by tying an overhand knot in a sling or cordelette.

These methods are safe, simple and perfect for most situations that a beginner trad climber would find themselves in. However, they have drawbacks in more complicated belay setups.

The main problem with the overhand knot is that it does not spread the load equally between the pieces, especially if one strand is short, or if the loading direction changes.

This uneven distribution of force could mean that all of the force is applied to the poorest piece of the anchor.

Advanced Trad Anchors - Loading Direction

When loaded directly downwards, each piece of this anchor will take 33.3% of the load.

Advanced Trad Anchors climbing anchor

If the loading direction changes (e.g; the climber moves to one side and then falls), 100% of the force will go onto one piece.

This could cause that piece to fail.

trad climbing advanced trad anchors

Advanced Trad Anchors - Strand Length

If one strand of the cordelette is much shorter than the others, more force will be applied to the short strand when weighted.

This is because a short strand reaches maximum stretch before a longer strand.

These concepts are easier to understand if you imagine how elastic bands would stretch in these situations.

how to equalize trad climbing anchor

The same is true for dynamic rope. More force is applied to the top bolt in this case.

using rope in trad anchor


Advanced Trad Anchors - Number of Strands

A double strand of cord (or rope) stretches less than a single strand when weighted.

While this is a good method of equalizing pieces which are far apart, more force is applied to the right piece in this anchor.

advanced trad anchors equalizing cordelettes

In this anchor, the strand of cord on the center piece has been doubled up to keep the master point higher.

Because of this, more force will be applied to the center piece when weighted.

equalizing cordelettes trad climbing anchor

Similarly, more force is applied to the upper two pieces in this anchor.

using rope in advanced trad anchors

Getting perfect equalization is not so important for most situations when each piece of the belay is bomber.

In most cases, the variations of the overhand knot method described here are fine. However, in more tenuous or complicated belay setups, a self-equalizing method could be much safer.

Advanced Trad Anchors > Part 4 of 5 > The Equalizing Figure-8

This article about the 'Equalizing Figure-8' is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

In Trad Climbing Basics, we described methods of building an equalized anchor without the use of slings or a cordelette – great if you’ve used them all during the pitch. Many variations are possible. Two simple methods are shown below, along with the more advanced equalizing figure-8. These methods use up quite a lot of rope, so you might not have enough on those long pitches.

Rope Anchors – Simple Methods

Advantages
- Can equalize pieces which are very far apart.

Disadvantages
- Often uses a lot of rope.
- Must belay directly from harness.
- Difficult to get perfect equalization.
- Very difficult or impossible to escape the belay in an emergency situation.
- Not great for multi-pitch belays if the same person is leading every pitch. To attach to the anchor, the belayer will have to clip each piece in the same way as the leader did. This is time consuming and can be a bit awkward.

using rope in trad anchor

Tying an alpine butterfly knot as shown will use less rope, but still has the same disadvantages as the previous method.

trad anchor using rope


Rope Anchors – The Equalizing Figure-8

The ‘equalizing figure-8’ is a rarely used knot which could be useful in some belay setups.

Advantages
- Creates a master point in the rope so you can belay directly from the anchor in guide mode.
- Much easier to escape the belay than the previous two methods.

Disadvantages
- Difficult to equalize anchor points which are very far apart.
- Difficult to adjust belay position once set up.
- The equalizing figure-8 is not redundant. If one piece fails, the whole anchor shifts down. Only use this method with bomber gear, such as bolts
- In the unlikely event that one rope loop is cut, the whole anchor could fail.

equalize rope in trad anchor

How To Tie the Equalizing Figure-8

Step 1
Tie a figure-8 with a large loop.

using rope to equalize trad anchor

Step 2
Pass the loop back through the figure-8 as shown.

equalizing figure 8 trad anchor

Step 3
This creates three new loops. Clip each loop into an anchor piece and adjust them as necessary.

equalizing figure 8 knot climbing

Alternatively, collapse one loop for clipping into two pieces.

equalizing figure 8 knot trad anchor

Step 4
To create a master point, tie a figure-8 loop in the rope just below the equalizing figure-8.

You can belay in guide mode directly from this.

equalizing figure 8 knot

Advanced Trad Anchors > Part 5 of 5 > Minimal Gear Anchors

'Minimal Gear Anchors' is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

The following minimal gear anchors are great to know in case you reach the top of a pitch without a cordelette, only a meter of rope to spare and not quite enough slings to create a self-equalizing anchor.

Endless variations and combinations are possible depending on the equipment you have and where the gear placements are. A few examples are given below.

It’s hard to get any of these anchors equalized perfectly, but if you’re short on slings and rope, these are probably your best options.

Example 1

A double-length sling equalizes the two pieces on the left.

An overhand knot is tied in the shoulder-length sling on the right to equalize it with the others.

Trad anchors with minimal gear anchors

Example 2

A double-length sling can join three pieces, if two of them are in line with each other.

Simply tie an overhand knot in the sling above the lower piece.

Building trad anchors with minimal gear

Example 3

The upper cam is clipped through the sling of the lower cam. This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than just having one cam.

Often you can slide cams up or down a placement to fine tune their position.

Trad anchors with no gear


Example 4

The upper two pieces are equalized with a double-length sling.

The overhand knot is adjusted so the lower piece can contribute to the anchor.

minimal gear anchors how to make trad climbing anchor

Advanced Trad Anchors - Summary

There isn’t a ‘best’ method of equalizing anchors, since every trad anchor situation is different. Understanding the advantages and limitations of a wide range of anchor systems gives you more options. Use your knowledge to select the best method for each unique situation.

Trad Climbing Gear > Ball Nuts

Ball nuts are a seldom used type of climbing gear which offer protection in thin cracks, filling the void where even the smallest cams are too big to fit.

They are comprised of two halves: one half is a paddle and the other is a flat ball which tracks up and down a central groove on the paddle when the trigger is pulled or released.

When weighted, the paddle is pulled down while the ball remains stuck in position. As the paddle moves down, it slides over the ball, therefore expanding the whole unit and causing it to lock into the crack.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Ball Nuts: How They Work

The key to using ball nuts is understanding the physics which cause them to lock into the crack:
- Ball travel
- Topology
- Surface texture
- Rock hardness.

Each of these are described below.

Ball Travel

When you pull the trigger, the ball travels along the paddle’s central groove. On most units, the ball can travel beyond the paddle at either end.

how to use ball nuts climbing

During a fall, the ball stays still and the paddle is pulled down a tiny amount. Essentially, the ball ‘travels’ relative to the paddle. This cinches the whole unit tight into the crack.

how to use ball nuts climbing

There will be some amount of ball travel in every fall, but the exact amount depends on the rock type and the placement (see below). The key to using ball nuts is anticipating and accommodating for the distance the ball will travel.

In a typical placement, the ball nut should be placed so the ball starts about 25% of the way up the paddle. When it cinches up in a fall, the ball moves to around 50-70% up the paddle.

how to use ball nuts climbing

If the ball starts at the very bottom of the paddle (so the ball nut is at its narrowest setting), it may be difficult to remove.

If the ball starts close to the top of the paddle, there is a good chance that the ball will ride over the top end of the paddle, therefore causing the piece to fail.

Topology

Ball nuts are best placed in a slight constriction as opposed to an absolutely parallel sided crack. Gear which is better suited to parallel sided cracks are:
- Micro cams (if they will fit)
- Pitons (if you are aiding with a hammer)
- Cam hooks (if you are aiding without a hammer)

In very tapering constrictions, a micro nut will be a better choice. This is because ball nuts are more sensitive to rotating upward/outward with movements in your rope as you climb above.

how to use ball nuts climbing

In addition to getting the ball in an appropriate spot on the paddle, you’ll need to find the best spot for the ball to ‘stick’ in the crack.

Remember that the paddle moves under load, not the ball. If the ball moves too, the whole piece will probably pull out. Look for more texture, a tiny protrusion or constriction for the ball to rest on.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Surface Texture
In completely slick or icy rock, the ball will struggle to grip the side of the crack as the paddle is pulled down. This means the ball nut will slip right out. A slightly rougher surface is much better.

Be aware of tiny crystals or grains of rock which may crunch into dust under the force of a fall. This could cause the unit to expand beyond its limit and fail.


Rock Hardness
Harder rock (such as granite) is much better suited for ball nuts. When weighted in very soft, loose or expanding rock, the ball is likely to travel the full length of the paddle and slip off the end. This is especially true in the smaller sizes.



Ball Nuts: The Placement

Step 1
When you find a suitable placement, grab your rack of ball nuts and try a few that are most likely to fit. Assess the texture and taper of the crack and the quality of the rock.

Step 2
Retract the trigger so the ball slides down to the bottom of the paddle slot. Place it in the crack and release the trigger. Closely inspect the placement to take advantage of every subtle feature.


Step 3
Tug downwards (in the direction of loading) on the ball nut to seat it into position. The ball should now be around 25% of the way up the paddle.

Make a final assessment to check there is no possibility of it cinching up so much that the ball rides over the end of the paddle.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Step 4
Extend the ball nut with a quickdraw or sling.

Think carefully about where your rope will pull on the piece as you climb above. Ball nuts should stay exactly where you placed them. Rotation can make them blow.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Ball Nuts: Removal

To remove a ball nut, you have to reverse the cinching action. For many placements, this can be done by retracting the trigger, just the same as a cam.

If this doesn’t work, the strategy is to get the paddle to slide into the crack further while the ball stays where it is. You can assist this by hooking a nut tool over the ball (if there’s space for it) while you pull the trigger and push the whole unit in.

The ball is made of a softer metal than the paddle. Under high forces (such as in a fall), the ball deforms slightly. This helps it to stay in position and stick in the crack. To remove stubborn ball nuts like this, you can free up the ball by rotating or tapping the paddle in with your nut tool.

Ball Nuts: Racking

Ball nuts can be racked in the same way as nuts: Just put them in small groups on a carabiner.

If you are only carrying one or two, they can be added to your small nut rack.

how to use ball nuts climbing

Ball Nuts: Summary

Armed with a set of ball nuts, you can protect or aid tiny cracks that you’d otherwise have to leave unprotected or hammer in a piton.

If you often climb in venues that feature very small cracks or pin scars, you will benefit by adding a set of ball nuts and the skills to place them to your arsenal.

Trad Anchors – Part 1 of 4 > Introduction

This 'Trad Anchors' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Trad Anchors: Gear Placements

The climb isn't over when you reach the top. You still need to make an anchor to attach yourself and belay your partner from. You should produce an anchor with at least two (preferably three) good pieces of gear. Gear placements are sometimes obvious and close together, and sometimes not so obvious and far apart.

making a trad climbing anchor

If you can't find enough gear to make a secure anchor, you'll have to go somewhere else! Try a little further back or along the crag top. On a multi-pitch, you may have to climb up a bit higher, or down-climb if you've just passed a suitable place. It is essential that you find a place to make a solid anchor. Never accept that an anchor is poor quality. There are always other options.

Trad Anchors: The Central Point

Your gear placements need to be equalized together to form a central point. This is where you attach yourself and belay from. How you create the central point will depend on what gear is available, how spaced it is, if you have one rope or two, and whether the climb is a single or a multi-pitch.

It's essential to know each technique and be able to adapt your anchor building skills for each unique situation.

trad climbing anchor

Top Tip
Once you've got one piece of gear in, clip the rope through it as if you're still climbing. This will protect you if you slip while building the rest of your anchor. You can unclip this later when you are safely attached to the anchor.

how to set up a trad belay anchor

Trad Anchors: The Six-Point Rule

You should create an anchor which is worth at least 6 points. Only experience can teach you how many points your piece of gear is really worth. As a guideline, points are awarded as follows:

3 points: A new bolt or a sling around a large tree.

rock climbing bolt trad anchors

2 points: A well placed piece of trad gear.

rock climbing cam

1 point: A well placed micro nut or micro cam.

rock climbing micro nut

0 points: Any suspect gear which is either placed incorrectly or in bad rock.

bad rock climbing gear

Warning! Loose Features
Don't place all of the anchor pieces behind the same feature (especially with flakes or blocks). If that feature is loose, your entire anchor will fall out when weighted!

For this reason, it’s better to place gear in different cracks and features.

rock climbing trad anchors


Trad Anchors: Belay Plan

When you've found enough good gear placements for the anchor, you'll need to make a belay plan. Your plan will include:

1) How you will equalize the gear together.
2) Exactly where you will sit or stand to belay.
3) How you will attach yourself to the anchor.
4) Which belay technique you will use.
5) Where you will put the extra rope.

When your plan is complete, you can start making the anchor. Each part of the belay plan is explained in the following articles.

Trad Anchors – Part 2 of 4 > Equalizing Gear

This 'Equalize Trad Anchors' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Equalizing Trad Anchors - The Basics

Let's assume you've got two incredibly good pieces of gear or two bolts at the anchor. The easiest way to equalize them together is by using a long (120cm or 240cm) sling, or a cordelette (a loop of 7 or 8mm cord).

Step 1
Clip the sling or cordelette to both pieces of gear, using screwgate carabiners. Pull it down in the middle so both strands of sling are equal.

trad climbing anchor equalized

Step 2
Tie an overhand knot in it. This creates a central point.

equalize climbing gear overhand knot in sling

Step 3
Clip a screwgate carabiner into the central point.

trad climbing anchor equalized

An overhand knot in your sling will equalize the anchor pieces in a basic sense. However, it must be tied in a way which meets the following three criteria:

1) Each piece of gear only takes around 50% of the total weight of the belay.
2) The anchor is set up for the direction that the 'pull' will come from.
3) If one piece of gear was to fail, the other would not be shock loaded.

These criteria are explained below.



Criteria 1: The V-Angle

In theory, if you have two pieces of gear with 100kg hanging from them, each will take 50kg, right? Unfortunately not. This depends on the angle the sling makes just above the overhand knot (the V-angle). The smaller the V-angle, the smaller the force on each piece of gear.

You don't need to know how to calculate these numbers, but an angle of anything up to 60 degrees is acceptable. At this point, 58% of the total weight of the belay (the weight of both climbers) will go onto each piece. This is good.

trad climbing bolted anchor equalized

At 90 degrees, 71% of the force will go onto each piece. This isn't too good.

climbing bolted anchor equalized

At 120 degrees, each piece of gear takes 100% of the force! Never equalize gear with such a large angle.

trad climbing bolted anchor equalizing

You can decrease the V-angle by using a longer sling or cordelette. If you don't have one, you can extend a piece with a short sling.

trad climbing bolted anchor equalize

Criteria 2: Direction of Pull

Your gear needs to be equalized together in the 'direction of pull'. This is the direction that it would be weighted if your partner falls.

If you've climbed straight up to an anchor and will be standing or sitting directly below it, this will be straight down. But if you've traversed in to a ledge and the rope is running off to the side, the pull will be in that direction. You'll need to place and equalize the gear to suit that.

When you're setting the anchor up, think about the direction that the pull will be in. Tie your overhand knot accordingly, then test it by pulling hard in that direction. Are both strands of the sling taking the weight? If one is slack, then adjust your knot accordingly.

equalizing bolts with cordelette


Criteria 3: Shock Loading

Imagine hanging a heavy shopping bag from a nail on your kitchen wall. If you place it there gently, the nail might strain a bit, but it'll hold.

Now imagine extending that shopping bag with a piece of string. Hold it up high, then drop it. What happens? The increased force will likely break either the nail, string or bag, dumping your shopping in an untidy pile of broken eggs and plasterboard.

This principle is exactly the same at a belay. If one piece fails and the anchor isn't equalized correctly, all the weight of you and your partner will 'fall' onto the other piece, shock loading it. The extra force caused by shock loading could pull out or break the remaining piece.

There should be no slack in any part of your anchor, so that if any piece failed, there would be no movement or shock loading.

shock load climbing anchor

How To Equalize Three or More Pieces

The previous example explained how to equalize an anchor with only two pieces of gear. This is fine if both pieces of gear are absolutely bomber (such as a new bolt or a sling around a big, sturdy tree).

However, in most cases you'll be building trad anchors out of regular trad gear – nuts, hexes and cams. These are not as strong as bolts or massive trees, so you'll need to use more of them.

If you're not sure how many pieces of gear to use, see
The 6 Point Rule.

To equalize three pieces of gear, simply use a longer sling or cordelette. Pull two loops down and tie one big overhand knot in it. Then clip a screwgate through all three loops. You may need to fiddle with the knot slightly to get all strands to pull equally tight – often the middle one can go a little slack as you tie it.

three piece climbing anchor

If you have two pieces of gear close together but the other one far away, it can help to use two slings. First, use one sling to equalize the two pieces which are close together. Next, equalize the central point of that with the third piece of gear using another sling.

You may need more than three pieces of gear to make a secure anchor. Use the same method to equalize as many pieces together as you need.

If you don't have enough slings, you can use the rope as part of the anchor (this is explained in the next article).

trad climbing anchor equalized with slings


Cordelette Craft

If equalizing the anchor with a cordelette, it is typically better to create the central point at head to chest level. This provides a convenient workstation to attach yourself and belay your partner from.

The following methods describe a few ways to adjust the height of the central point.

trad climbing belay equalized with cordelette

Cordelette Craft: Keeping the Central Point High

Double Up
One or more strands can be doubled up. The double loops don’t stretch as much, so they may give the higher piece more than it’s share of the load.

Consider this when equalizing the pieces together.

trad climbing anchor equalized with cordelette

Tie a Knot
Tie an overhand in the cordelette to shorten it.

trad climbing anchor equalized with cordelette

Figure 8
Tie a figure 8 instead of an overhand at the central point. Or wrap the cord around itself one more time to create a figure 9.

When using any of these methods to adjust the height of the central point, make sure your V-angle does not exceed 90 degrees.

trad climbing anchor equalized with cordelette

Cordelette Craft: Extending the Central Point

If you would prefer to use a cordelette to equalize the anchor (rather than the rope), but it isn’t long enough, try extending the furthest away piece with a sling.

Alternatively, unfasten the double-fisherman’s bend and tie a figure-8 loop in each end of the cordelette. Clip the ends into the furthest away pieces and equalize with an overhand knot.

The disadvantages of this setup are a reduced strength on the outer pieces (one strand of cordelette is weaker than two) and there is no top shelf.

trad climbing anchor equalized with cordelette

Trad Anchors – Part 3 of 4 > Attaching to the Anchor

This 'Trad Anchor' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

You'll need to attach yourself to the anchor in a way that you can see your partner as they follow the pitch and brace yourself if they fall.

Make sure you are positioned in a straight line between the anchor and the climber. You shouldn’t be pulled sideways if the climber falls. You may need to extend your anchor to get into the optimal belay position. There are many ways to do this, each with their own advantages and limitations.

Some of the most common methods are described below. With practise, you should develop the ability to adapt and combine these methods to suit every belay situation.

trad anchor belay position

Method 1: Clip Directly

Clip your belay loop into the central point directly with a screwgate carabiner.

Advantages
- Simple

Disadvantages
- No dynamic aspect to the anchor (using the rope is much better. See methods 2-5 below)
- Very difficult to adjust belay position

Best Situation to Use This Method
If extending the anchor with the rope would put you in a bad position to belay.

attach to climbing trad anchor

Method 2: Tie to the Central Point

Tie your rope to the central point using a clovehitch. Then fine-tune your belay position by adjusting the clovehitch; just shuffle rope through and pull it tight. The rope between you and the central point will need to be fairly tight.

Advantages
- Only uses a small amount of rope

Disadvantages
- Belay position must be close to the central point

Best Situation to Use This Method
If the central point is within reasonable reach of your belay position (up to 2 meters or so).

attach to climbing anchor rope


Method 3: Loop Through the Central Point

Clip the rope through the screwgate on the central point, then walk to your belay position. Attach a screwgate to your rope loop and then clovehitch the rope to it.

Advantages
- You can fine-tune your belay position without moving back to the anchor.

Disadvantages
- Uses more rope and one extra screwgate than method 2

Best Situation to Use This Method
If the central point is out of reach from your belay position.

attach to climbing anchor with two central points

Method 4: Attaching to Two Points

Attach the rope to the nearest anchor point with a clovehitch. Then clovehitch the rope to the other anchor point, leaving a little slack between the two. Next, clovehitch the rope to your rope loop with another screwgate.

Advantages
- Equalizes two points
- Uses less rope than method 5

Disadvantages
- Must be close to the first anchor point in order to fine-tune your belay position.
- The central point is created at your belay loop. This means that you must belay directly from your harness (you can't use guide mode).

Best Situation to Use This Method
If you have two anchor points which are too far apart to equalize with a sling/cordelette.

attach to climbing anchor using the rope

Method 5: Attaching to Three or More Points

Step 1
Clip the rope through the furthest away point, then walk to your belay position. Attach a screwgate to your rope loop and then clovehitch the rope to it, just the same as method 3.

Step 2
Repeat this step with the second point.

Step 3
Tie your rope to the third point using a clovehitch, as described in method 2.

You can fine-tune the clovehitches to equalize the three points. This is a good method if you arrive at a belay with no slings or cordelette.

Advantages
- You can use this method to equalize as many points as you need. Just keep repeating step 1 until you've equalized all your pieces.

Disadvantages
- Uses up a lot of rope.
- You must belay directly from your harness.

Best Situation to Use This Method
If you arrive at a belay with no slings or cordelette.

attach to many climbing anchors with rope


Tree Anchors

Walking around a large tree and clipping the rope back to your rope loop is a quick way to make an anchor with only one screwgate carabiner. The clovehitch or figure-8 on a bight are good knots to use. It is only suitable to do this with very large trees. Watch out for tree sap.

climbing belay from tree

Attaching to a Trad Anchor with Half Ropes

When climbing with half ropes, you can use any of the previously described methods with either one or both ropes.

attach to climbing anchor with two ropes

Attaching to a Trad Anchor with a Sling

Slings are designed to be used with a dynamic rope in the system to lessen the impact on them. It's only safe to attach yourself to an anchor with a sling if you won't be moving above it (such as when setting up an abseil).

If you fall when above an anchor (even if you are only a foot above), unusually large forces will be generated.

You can damage internal organs with just a 10kN force - falling onto a sling directly is likely to be much higher than this. It could also break the sling, or the anchor.

If there is any chance that you will move sideways or above the anchor, make sure to attach to it with the rope.

clipping to climbing anchor with sling

Trad Anchor Checklist

You can use any of the previously described methods in any combination with either a single rope or half ropes. Whichever you choose, make sure:

1) Enough pieces of gear to satisfy 'the 6 point rule'
2) Each piece is placed as well as it can be
3) The rock around the gear is solid
4) The pieces of gear are equalized correctly
5) The V-angle is less than 60 degrees at each point of equalization
6) The anchor is perfectly aligned with the direction that the pull will come from
7) Each piece is independent from the others to prevent shock loading
8) You are attached to the anchor with a tight rope
9)All knots are tied neatly
10) All the screwgates are fastened up.

Once you can answer 'yes' to all of these, you can tell your partner that you are 'safe' or 'off belay'.

Trad Anchors – Part 4 of 4 > Belaying the Second

This 'Belaying the Second' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Belaying from an Anchor

Once you’ve climbed a pitch and built an anchor, you will need to belay your partner up. Pull up all the slack rope in the system until it's tight on your partner, then choose a method to belay them.

Three of the most common belaying methods are described below. It's important to understand the advantages and limitations of each, and be able to adapt these methods to suit any situation.

Method 1: Re-directed Belay

Clip a screwgate to the central point. Run your partner’s rope through this and down to your belay device. You'll be able to belay as you normally would on a top-rope. Your belay device will need to be at least 1.5 meters away from the central point. This reduces the chance of you being pulled into it if your partner falls. Also, make sure that the rope isn't rubbing against your attachment knot at the central point. Consider attaching to the top shelf to avoid this if possible.

Advantages
- Most of the weight of a falling climber is transferred to the anchor, not your harness.

Disadvantages
- It's possible to get pulled into the central point if your partner falls, particularly if they are heavier than you. In this case, there is a real danger of losing control of the brake rope.
- More difficult to set up when using half ropes (you'll need a separate point for each rope)

redirected belay anchor

Best Situation to Use This Method
When you have a nice ledge to stand on and the central point is just above your head.

Method 2: Belaying Directly from your Harness

Attach your belay device to either your belay loop or rope loop. This can be set up so the brake rope comes out of either the top or bottom of the belay device – choose whichever way is easier to lock off the brake rope.

In most situations, the weight of a falling climber will pull down from you, not up. Because of this, you will need to lock off upwards not downwards.

Advantages
- You can use this method for almost every belay situation.

Disadvantages
- If your partner falls, it's possible that their weight will pull uncomfortably on your harness or over your legs.

Best Situation to Use This Method
If you have used your rope to equalize the anchor.

belaying from harness at anchor


Method 3: Belaying in Guide Mode

Some belay devices have a guide mode function - they can be set up in a way which locks automatically if a climber falls. They can be used as a normal belay device too.

You can set up guide mode as shown, with one rope or two.

Simply pull the brake strands through as the climber moves up. If they fall, the device will lock by itself almost instantly. Even though guide mode belay devices are auto-locking, you should always keep hold of the brake rope.

Before you use guide mode, you should understand how to lower a climber (see our guide mode article).

guide mode belay anchor

Advantages
- The weight of a falling climber isn't on your harness, which is much more comfortable!
- You can bring up two climbers at the same time (on two different ropes) - great if climbing as a team of three.
- Because you are not directly attached to your belay device, it is easier to detach yourself from the system in an emergency.

Disadvantages
- Time-consuming to lower a climber, even a short distance.

Best Situation to Use This Method
When climbing as a team of three.

Rope Loop or Belay Loop?

You can belay either from your belay loop or from your rope loop. In some situations, using the rope loop can be more comfortable - it allows you to transfer the weight of a fallen climber onto the anchor, rather than having their weight pulling on your harness.

Remember that if you used two ropes in the anchor, you'll need to belay from both rope loops. If you are unsure, just use your belay loop.

belaying from rope loop or belay loop


Where To Put the Spare Rope

There are basically two options. Either stack it into a neat pile somewhere or stack it through a sling.

For the sling method, start by pushing a long loop of rope through the sling. Continue doing this, making smaller loops each time (bigger loops are more likely to get tangled into each other when you are belaying the leader on the next pitch).

However you choose to stack the rope, make sure it is within reach and that you can do it one-handed; you'll need to belay at the same time!

stacking a climbing rope

Trad Climbing > Accident Prevention

This article about preventing climbing accidents is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

The First Bad Decision

The vast majority of climbing accidents are preventable. They typically happen due to a series of bad choices. A single bad decision is often not a problem – if you realize it straight away and can do something about it. The problem begins when you allow your bad decision to lead onto another, and another. When combined, these decisions can result in disaster.

In the summer of 2010, I decided to rope solo a long multi-pitch in Yosemite, California. I chose to use two ropes; a lead rope to belay myself with and a haul rope to pull up a haulbag containing my food, water and other equipment. I’d practised this self-belaying system before, but I didn’t have time to become competent at it before the climb (first bad decision).

El Capitan Yosemite

I knew the theories of self-rescue, but I hadn’t actually practised the techniques in real life (second bad decision). In Yosemite, the temperature was a blistering 100°F and forecast to stay that way for the duration of my climb. My chosen route was in direct sunlight all day, but I decided to climb it anyway (third bad decision). Despite knowing how much water I should bring, I decided to save weight and bring less (fourth bad decision), thinking that I would somehow just be able to climb faster.

I eventually ran out of water, of course, still with many pitches above. The combined effect of my four bad decisions had left me exhausted, dehydrated and completely uncertain that I’d actually be able to retreat to the ground by myself. My mouth was so dry it felt like I was constantly inhaling boiling sand. This caused me to make my fifth bad decision – to rush upwards as fast as I could, placing minimal gear and taking massive risks.

And that’s when it all went wrong.

My haulbag was stuck, 30 meters below. I had to abseil down to dislodge it.

I would just be able to reach by abseiling on the other side of my 60 meter haul rope. Due to some combination of fear, delusion and panic caused by my five previous bad decisions, I neglected to use my other rope as a back-up.

how to big wall climb

The haulbag acted as a counter-weight as I descended.

But only because it was stuck, not because of its weight (it was almost empty).

hauling big wall climbing

I pulled the haulbag free, then realized my sixth bad decision the moment it slid away from my fingertips.

The fall started slow. I tried to keep pace by running down the rock but I immediately tripped over and forward-rolled down the wall in a tangle of slings, screams and wide-eyed terror.

big wall climbing

The haulbag picked up speed exponentially and was soon rocketing up towards the belay, while I tumbled out of control.

It felt like I was falling forever.

Luck was on my side. Instead of hitting ledges and spiky blocks, I fell in between them. The haulbag jammed into the belay and I survived the 30 meter fall with just a few scrapes and a bruised ego.

I continued up, teetering on the brink of a peculiar kind of madness. A few pitches higher, I found an ancient gallon of water on a small ledge. I sat there and drank the whole thing. Life became good again and I made it to the summit.

It’s a good skill to be able to catch yourself making that first bad decision. Think about how this decision narrows your choices further on in the climb and the problems it may create. If you can master that, you are well on your way to having a safe climbing career.

how to haul big wall climbing


Climbing Accidents - Risk

Risks are part of the climbing game. Falling is an obvious risk, but others are more subtle.

For example, if you don’t know how to escape the belay with your chosen setup, you risk being unable to help your partner in an emergency.

The more problems you can solve, the more ‘risks’ you can take.

This doesn’t mean you can climb more dangerous routes. It means you can climb bigger routes in more remote places while being competent enough to solve any problems that you may encounter.

Before making a decision, ask yourself this: If you take the risk and it doesn’t go in your favour, can you solve the problem that it creates?

Climbing Accidents - Exhaustion

Climbers often make decisions differently when tired, hungry, cold or in a rush for whatever reason.

Shortcuts are made. Safety is compromised. Accidents become more likely to happen.

In some situations (such as finishing that final pitch when a huge storm is just starting), it can be safer to cut corners and speed things up. However, in most situations the safer option takes longer.

It is important to understand why you are making a potentially dangerous decision. Have you ever abseiled off a poor anchor because you were cold or tired and wanted to get down faster?

Having the ability to make good decisions when exhausted is a great skill to have.

Climbing Accidents - Confidence Vs Competence

Most accidents involving leader falls happen because the leader did not protect the route as well as they could.

Protection was available, but the leader either placed gear poorly or chose not to place any when they had the option.

There are three types of climber who do not protect routes well:
- Beginners (because they haven’t yet learnt how to place gear properly)
- Competent climbers on easy routes (because the chance of falling is near zero)
- Over confident climbers (because they are trying to appear competent to their belayer or impress whoever is watching)

Climbers often mistake confidence for competence, or to put it more simply – how good you think you are with how good you actually are.

Being overconfident is fine in a safe environment, such as the indoor gym. Confidence will cause you to try hard moves and improve your physical technique.

However, it will not cause good gear placements to appear when you need them, or that loose flake to hold your weight when you stand on it.

Being humble about your ability and immortality will help you make better decisions and prevent problems in the first place.



Heroes

It is often seen as more heroic to climb a route in a more dangerous style, with the ultimate heroes being those who can free-solo everything.

The climbing media only reinforces this message. Photos of helmet-less climbers and videos of Alex Honnold free-soloing El Cap may be impressive to watch, but it encourages everyday climbers to adopt poor safety standards.

It’s important to understand why you are choosing a particular style of ascent. Are you doing something dangerous because you are competent?

Or are you just trying to be a hero?

Fisher Towers climbing

How To Practise

It is essential to practise the techniques described on this website before you actually use them in real life situations. You should aim to reach a level of competence where you can set up any system without needing to refer back to this book.

Some of the skills can be practised at ground level (e.g: tying knots or building anchors), whereas others require a top rope to be set up. This could be done inside at the gym or outside at the crag. Many skills can be practised with the same top rope. For example, with a single rope fixed to an anchor, you can practise the Z-abseil, tandem abseiling, the carabiner brake, abseiling past a knot and prusiking.

However you choose to practise, always go with a partner and always make sure to back up any system which you are not familiar with.

how to top rope climb

There are thousands of poor situations you could encounter when trad climbing, most of which do not have a textbook solution. At the crag or in the mountains, there are an endless amount of ever-changing variables. Problems may be solved much differently depending on what gear you have available, how windy it is, how close you are to the ground or how loose the rock is. These website articles introduce the basics of problem solving and encourage you to develop the flexibility to craft a solution for each unique situation.

However, this website alone is of limited use. An essential part of the learning process is to go to the crag with your climbing partner and physically practise the techniques described. Challenge each other to improvise different solutions for each problem. The more times you solve similar problems with similar variables, the easier they are to solve again. Over time, these common problems will be solved subconsciously. When you combine the theories with real-life practise, your decisions will, hopefully, start to get better and become more subconscious. That is the aim of this website.

See you out there,

Neil Chelton
VDiff Founder

Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing

This 'Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

A multi-pitch route is one that is split into two or more pitches. This may be because it is longer than your rope. Or it could be a wandering route that would involve a lot of rope drag if climbed as a single pitch.

Multi-pitch climbing combines many skills: placing gear on lead, building belays, route-finding, rope management and (often) abseiling down after you reach the top.

Due to the length and complexity of multi-pitch routes, you should develop your problem solving and self-rescue skills before embarking on this kind of adventure.

Multi-pitch: What To Bring

Extra Climbing Gear
You’ll need two anchor kits for a multi-pitch route. Make sure you bring:
- Two cordelettes/ long slings
- At least six screwgates
- Two belay devices

If the descent from your route involves abseiling, make sure to bring ATC style belay devices and prusik cords.

Food and Water
If your multi-pitch is likely to take more than a few hours, consider bringing food and water to snack on at the belays.

Many routes have luxury belay ledges, so if you're not in a rush, why not have a vertical picnic?

Climbing a multi-pitch

Clothes
Any comfortable all-cotton clothes will suffice for single pitch cragging, especially venues with a short approach. For multi-pitch routes, or for any climbs with a long approach, wearing synthetic clothing is a better choice. Synthetics insulate much better than cotton in wet or cold environments.

If you expect cold temperatures, bring a pair of gloves so you can belay with warm hands and then take them off to climb. A thin hat that fits under your helmet is a very lightweight way of keeping you warm too. If the descent is long, it's nice to bring a comfy pair of shoes.

A warm/waterproof jacket, or even a thin wind-proof layer, can make multi-pitches more comfortable when it gets windy and the sun disappears, especially for the belayer.

Down jackets are a poor choice unless you’re climbing in dry climates below freezing. Most down jackets will repel a small amount of moisture, but the feathers will clump together in a storm and you’ll freeze. They also tend to rip very easily on rock.

First Aid Kit
A small first aid kit can be useful, along with a pocket knife for cutting anchor webbing or stuck ropes. Make sure the knife has a folding blade which is impossible to accidentally open when attached to your harness.

Route Description
On a single pitch, it's easy to remember where to climb. However, on a multi-pitch you may have forgotten the details by pitch six.

Bringing the whole guidebook is a bit excessive. But a route description (or topo), neatly folded in your pocket, will help show you the way.

Another option is to take photos of the topo on your phone. Make sure you don’t run out of battery though.

Take descriptions from adjoining routes too, as this can help you figure out where you are.

multi-pitch trad climbing

Extra Rope
You’ll need to bring a second rope if your route involves an abseil descent where the anchors are more than half of your rope’s length apart (i.e: you can only abseil 35 meters with a 70 meter rope). You will also need a second rope if climbing as a team of three.

Headlamp
Headlamps are essential on long multi-pitches. Finishing a climb, or trying to descend in the dark can be incredibly difficult and dangerous.

If you take spare batteries, tape them together in the correct orientation, so you can just plug the whole block in at once. This also means you won’t have random batteries floating around your bag and no idea if they are full or empty.

Backpack
All this stuff can be put into a small backpack and carried by the second.

Alternatively, the load can be split between climbers so neither climber has a particularly heavy bag.

Depending on the route and your tolerance of suffering, you may not need any of it. For routes that are difficult to return to the base, you'll need to bring everything. Plan before you go.

We All Make Mistakes
The VDiff team once got stuck 200 meters up a multi-pitch in the dark with no food, water, jackets or headlamps. It was a long, cold night.

Read the full story.

multi-pitch rock climbing


Multi-pitch Anchors

If the leader falls on a single pitch route, the belayer is often pulled up off the ground when they hold the fall. On a multi-pitch, the belayer would instead be pulled out of position.

This could potentially pull out part, or all, of the anchor if it was built to only hold a downwards force.

Climbing a multi-pitch belaying

For this reason, you should build multi-pitch anchors with both an upwards and a downwards pulling aspect.

If the last pitch traverses into the belay or the next pitch traverses away from it, the anchors could get loaded with a sideways pull. Build the anchor to be strong in any conceivable direction of pull.

How to climb a multi-pitch

If the best upward-pulling gear is just below the downward-pulling anchor pieces, you can incorporate it into the anchor with some cordelette craft to make it multi-directional.

There are many variations to this. One is to tie clovehitches on the lower two pieces as shown.

multi pitch trad anchor

Multi-pitch Belay Changeovers

Efficient belay changeovers will speed up your ascent, making you less likely to get benighted or stranded in a storm.

Sometimes the more experienced climber will lead every pitch. Other times, each climber will choose which pitches they prefer.

A common tactic is to swing leads (lead alternate pitches). Be aware that easier pitches may be runout.

Swinging leads is the most efficient. The rope is already stacked with the new leader’s end on top and the gear from the previous pitch will be racked on their harness.

It’s much more efficient if both climbers can go hands-free during the changeover. How you do this depends on who will lead the next pitch. Two methods are described below.

Method 1: Tie-Off Your Belay Device
If alternating leads, the easiest method is to tie-off your belay device. When the leader is ready to climb, simply unfasten the knot and they will be on belay immediately. This works well if there is a small ledge to stand on. If not, you may prefer to choose method two.

How to tie off a belay device climbing
Climbing a multi-pitch tying into the anchor

Method 2: Attach to the Central Point
If the same person is leading every pitch, the second will have to attach to the central point, in the same way as the leader.

Use separate screwgates to attach the second's rope to the central point(s). When they are attached, they can be taken off belay.

The leader will need to be put on belay before they detach from the anchor.

Guide mode belaying

Method 3: Using Guide Mode
If belaying with Guide Mode and swapping leads, you'll need to change from Guide Mode to normal belaying when the second has reached the anchor.

To do this, put the second on belay as normal with another belay device, then remove the Guide Mode setup. It's better if the next leader removes the Guide Mode setup so the belayer can keep both hands for belaying.



Multi-pitch: Leaving the Belay

It's a good idea for the leader to clip a high point of the belay as their first piece of gear. This eliminates the chance of a factor two fall should they fall before finding protection on the next pitch.

It's also much easier for the belayer to hold a fall this way.

How to climb a multi-pitch trad climbing

You can reduce the fall factor further by extending the belayer's anchor attachment.

This puts less force on the first pieces of gear if the climber falls.

multi-pitch fall factors

Where To Belay

Recommended belay stations will be described in the guidebook. You don’t have to belay there, but they are usually the best spots.

Experienced climbers often stretch pitches to the full rope length to reduce the number of belay changeovers and therefore speed the climb up.

Teams with an inexperienced partner may do shorter pitches so they can communicate more clearly.

When looking for a belay, choose a place which:
- Has cracks for solid gear placements
- Has protection from rockfall (especially if there are climbers above)
- Does not cause the rope to run across loose rocks
- Allows communication between partners
- Provides a comfortable stance for belaying, if possible

Hanging Belays

If there is no belay ledge, you will have to create a hanging belay. Try to create this in a place which at least has some good footholds.

It can be unnerving at your first few hanging belays, because you must completely trust your anchor and lean all your weight on it.

The key points are making sure the anchor is bomber and having the central point at chest level or higher so you can lean out comfortably.

For long belays, keep moving your feet around to stop your legs from going numb, or stand in a sling to get the weight on your feet if there are no footholds.

Rope Management

Stacking or coiling the rope neatly so it doesn’t tangle is important on multi-pitches.

If the belay ledge has a flat area, simply stack the rope onto it in a place where it won’t slide off. If there isn’t a suitable belay stance to put the rope, you can stack it in neat coils across the rope which goes between your harness and the anchor (lap coils).

Alternatively, stack it through a sling. Either way, the first coils should be the longest, with progressively smaller coils added on top. This ensures the rope feeds out well on the next pitch.

If it is windy or there are bushes or loose rock below you, make sure to keep the coils short enough so they don’t get stuck.

If climbing with half ropes, treat them as one rope and stack them together in the same way.

multi-pitch rope management

Time Budget

Make a realistic estimate of how long the route might take. Figure out what time you need to have finished the route (to avoid thunderstorms or darkness etc..) and then work backwards from there.

Break the climb down into pitches and figure out how long each one will take. Remember to add time for approaching and descending the route and for belay changeovers.

Be conservative with your estimations – it’s much easier to lose time than gain it.

Retreat Options

As part of your time budget, it’s smart to figure out places where you can switch to an easier route if you are running low on time, or places where you could easily descend without leaving most of your rack behind.



Teams of Three

In most situations, a pair of climbers is faster than a team of three. But having someone to chat with at the belay makes climbing as a three more social.

It also means you have an extra person to help carry the gear and lead some of the harder pitches.

There are many ways to connect three climbers to the rope. Two popular methods are described here.

Caterpillar Style

Step 1
The leader climbs a pitch with one rope.

multi-pitch rock climbing with three people

Step 2
The second climber follows on that rope, but trails another rope (Both ropes are tied into the harness tie-in points).

The second climber unclips the gear from the first rope and clips it to the second rope beneath them.

This ensures the third climber is protected from a swinging fall if the pitch traverses. If the pitch is straight up, the second climber could remove the gear.

multi-pitch trad climbing

Step 3
When the second climber has reached the belay, the third climber starts up.

The third climber removes the gear as they follow on the second rope.

multi-pitch rock climbing

Double Rope Style

Note
This technique is often employed with half ropes. However, half ropes are not designed to be used individually when following a pitch. For this reason, it is recommended to use two single rated ropes instead.

Step 1
The leader climbs with both ropes. They clip gear alternately to each rope.

multi-pitch trad climbing with three people

Step 2
The second and third climbers follow, keeping around 5 meters apart from each other, while the leader belays them both at the same time.

It is highly recommended to belay with an auto-blocking belay device directly from the anchor, such as an ATC in guide mode.

When communicating, finish the command with the rope colour, so the belayer knows which rope you mean (e.g: slack on red rope).

multi-pitch climbing with three people

Common Mistake
Clipping both ropes into a carabiner causes the ropes to rub against each other if a climber falls while leading or following.

This could damage your rope or even cut through the sheath.

It also reduces the ropes impact absorbing capabilities, and therefore puts a lot more force on the gear. This makes the gear less likely to hold the fall.

multi-pitch rock climbing with three climbers

If you need to clip both ropes to a piece of gear (e.g: to protect both followers on a traverse), use two quickdraws of different lengths as shown.

These quickdraws are then removed by the third climber.

multi-pitch rock climbing with three


Attaching to the Anchor

After abseiling, attach to the next anchor as described here.

For bolted anchors, make sure to attach to both bolts independently.

multi-pitch abseiling

If there is only space for one climber to attach, the other climber can clip directly into their partner’s screwgates as shown.

However, this means that the climber who descended last must descend first on the next abseil.

multi-pitch rappelling

Removing Your Belay Device

Once securely attached to the next anchor, you can remove your belay device as follows:

Step 1
Unfasten the screwgate. Unclip the device’s cable and both ropes from it.

Step 2
Re-clip the cable. This ensures that you can’t drop it.

rock climbing belay device atc

Step 3
Pull the ropes out of the device.

belay device climbing

Threading Ropes Through the Next Anchor

Thread the rope through the next anchor and tie a stopper knot in it before you pull it down.

Tie the stopper knot big enough so that it cannot fit through the main abseil point. This ensures that you cannot lose your ropes.

thread climbing ropes through anchor

Alternatively, tie the rope to yourself so it cannot be dropped.

clovehitch rope to harness

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.



Prusik Types: The Classic

Advantages
- Very secure when loaded
- Locks in both directions

Disadvantages
- 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)

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

Disadvantages
- 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

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

Disadvantages
- 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

Advantages
- Easy to operate when wearing gloves

Disadvantages
- 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.

How To Abseil

This 'How To Abseil' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Abseiling (or rappelling) is a simple method of descending ropes that gets you back to the ground quickly.

You can walk down from the top of many climbs, but if that isn't an option, you'll have to abseil.

climber abseiling rappelling

How To Abseil: Check the Anchor

In most situations, there will be a fixed abseil point (such as two equalized bolts or some slings around a tree). This anchor must be bomber. Check the bolts, webbing or cord carefully. If the anchor fails, you will most likely die, so be prepared to replace it.

A bolted abseil anchor should have two bolts of 3/8” diameter or thicker, which are well placed in solid rock. Inspect the rings or maillons too. If they are rusty or have a groove worn in them, consider backing them up with a carabiner.

Rock climbing bolts

Closely inspect anchors made with webbing or cord, especially around the back of the feature. Slings which have been in place for years may be stiff or faded – signs that they have been severely weakened by ultraviolet radiation. Animals sometimes chew webbing too, so check thoroughly. If in doubt, add to it or replace it with webbing, cord or slings of your own.

Some anchors in seldom-climbed areas may be missing a ring or carabiner at the central point. In this case, you’ll need to add one of your own.

Rock climbing tree anchor

The rope should not run directly over nylon slings or cord. Nylon on nylon generates tremendous friction. When you pull your ropes, they will cut into the abseil slings, leaving them dangerously weak for the next team. For the same reason, you should never be lowered from an anchor this way. Your rope will probably cut through the slings before you reach the ground.

Always make sure your ropes are attached to the anchor with metal. Two carabiners with gates opposite and opposed works well.

lowering from a sport climb

How To Abseil: Attaching to the Anchor

The entire climbing team should attach to the anchor while rigging abseils. A common way of doing this is to girth hitch a short sling through your belay loop and clip it to the anchor with a screwgate.

On bolted abseil anchors where the two bolts aren't joined together, you can use two slings with separate screwgates. Attach one sling to each bolt.

Climbing slings girth hitched to belay loop on climbing harness
Ready for abseiling

Warning
Make sure not to climb above the anchor when attached only with a sling. High forces are generated if you 'static' fall (without a rope in the system) the full length of your sling which may damage or break it. Learn more.



How To Abseil: Tying the Ropes Together

You can abseil with either one rope or two. Whichever you use, you'll need to get the middle of your total length of rope onto the anchor.

If you're using one rope to abseil, feed one end through the abseil point. Then holding both rope ends together, pull the ropes through until the mid-point of the rope is at the abseil point. Some ropes have a 'middle marker' to make this easier.

If you are using two ropes, you'll need to tie them together. A simple and safe way to do this is to use the overhand knot described below.

Step 1
Thread the end of one rope through the anchor.

Then hold one end of each rope together and make a loop at least 60cm from the end.

How to tie climbing ropes together to abseil

Step 2
Put the ends through the loop to make an overhand knot.

How to tie climbing ropes together to rappel

Step 3
Pull each strand of rope very tight on either side of the knot, making sure the knot is neat.

How to tie climbing ropes together for rappelling

Step 4
Back it up with another overhand knot immediately next to it. Pull that tight too.
You should have at least 30cm of rope left after the knots.

How to tie climbing ropes together for abseiling

How To Abseil: Throwing Ropes

You should throw your ropes down in a way that they are unlikely to get tangled together or stuck on something. The following is a simple method of reducing your chances of a stuck rope.

Step 1
Tie knots (such as the triple barrel or overhand) in the bottom end of both strands of rope. This stops you from accidentally abseiling off the end.

Tie knots in the end of climbing ropes for rappelling

Step 2
Prepare to throw the ropes down. It's better to do this one rope at a time. Starting from the end, stack one rope in coils over your arm.

How to throw ropes when rappelling

Step 3
Shout ‘rope’ to anyone who may be in the area below. When you are certain that no-one could get hit by your ropes, you can throw them.

Take the first half of the coils in one hand and the second half in your other hand. Throw the second half of the coils down, closely followed by the first. Keep an eye on the ropes at the anchor. With all the weight on one side, the rope could zip through the anchor at this point.

How to throw ropes when abseiling

Step 4
Stack the other rope and throw it down in the same way. If there are climbers below, either wait for them to finish climbing, or ask them if you can slowly lower the ends of your ropes down. This may cause your ropes to snag on features, but will be much less dangerous for the person leading up.



How To Abseil: Attaching your Belay Device

Step 1
Clip your belay device to your belay loop with a screwgate (don’t lock it yet).

How to abseil

Step 2
Pull up about a meter of both strands of rope.

It will be heavy, so have your partner hold the rope up, or step on it to create slack so it’s easier to clip in.

How to abseil rock climbing

Step 3
Push the ropes through your belay device making sure it is orientated the correct way up.

How to abseil for climbing

Step 4
Clip both of the ropes and your belay device through the screwgate carabiner and fasten it.

You don't need to remove the screwgate from your belay loop when doing this; you are more likely to drop it if you do.

How to abseil a rope

Step 5
Lean into the anchor and pull any slack rope through your belay device.

Then holding the ropes in the lock-off position, sit back and apply your weight to the belay device. This allows you to easily check the setup.

How to abseil ropes

Using a Prusik Knot

For most abseils, it's wise to backup with a prusik knot. A correctly tied prusik will autolock if you let go of the ropes.

Step 1
Wrap the prusik around both ropes a few times and then clip the ends together with a screwgate carabiner. More wraps will create more friction around the ropes, though four wraps are generally enough. Pull the knot tight, make sure it is neat and the double fisherman’s bend is away from the ropes.

How to tie a Prusik knot for abseiling and rappelling

Step 2
Clip the prusik to your leg loop. The prusik will slide down the ropes if you hold it close to your leg loop and lock around the ropes if you let go. Test this before you abseil.

If it doesn't lock, take it off and re-tie it with an extra wrap around the ropes.

If your prusik loop is too long, it's possible that it could jam into your belay device during the abseil. If this happens, it can be difficult to control your descent. To avoid this, you can extend your belay device with a sling.

Attaching a prusik to belay loop to abseil


How To Abseil: The Descent

Before you unclip your attachment point from the anchor, check:

How to abseil how to rappel climbing

Step 1
With one hand holding both ropes in the lock-off position, unclip your sling from the anchor and clip it out of the way on the back of your harness.

Using a prusik to abseil
Using a prusik to rappel

Step 2
Put your second hand over the prusik. Your hands should be in the same position as they would to lower a climber while belaying.

Step 3
While keeping a firm grip, lean your weight back and allow some rope to go through your belay device, remembering to slide the prusik down as you go.

Continue feeding rope through as you lower yourself down. You'll soon be able to figure out how fast to feed the rope while staying in control.

Using a prusik to abseil

Step 4
Sit back in your harness and keep your body in an L shape with your feet wide apart. Walk backwards down the rock, making sure to look behind to see where you're going.

Move smoothly down the ropes. Don’t bounce, jump or swing around – this puts much more force on the anchor and is likely to damage your ropes if they pass over rough edges.

To abseil past a roof, plant your feet on the lip and lower your body down. Once your body is below the roof, cut your feet loose to avoid hitting your head.

Abseiling with a prusik cord

Step 5
If you are the first in your group to abseil, you may have to deal with tangles of rope hung up on ledges, flakes or in bushes.

Always deal with tangles when still above them. Lock off the rope with your prusik and pull the rope up to unfasten the tangle or flip the rope free of the snag.

When you're safely attached to the next anchor (remember to inspect it first) or on the ground, remove your belay device and prusik and shout up to your partner that you're 'off rope', so they can begin abseiling.

Abseiling rappel with a prusik cord

Step 6
When everyone is down, you can retrieve the ropes. Unfasten the knots from the ends of the ropes and pull down on the rope that you didn't thread through the anchor.

Keep an eye on the other rope as you do this to make sure it doesn't go up with a mysterious auto-knot fastened in it.

When the ropes are about to fall down, shout ‘rope’ to warn your partner(s). Be aware that the falling rope may bring down loose rock with it.

Climbers pulling ropes after abseiling

The Fireman's Belay

If a less experienced climber is worried they may not be able to control the abseil, they can be given a fireman’s belay.

The more experienced climber descends first, then holds the ropes while the other climber descends. A simple pull on the ropes will lock their device.

This is also useful if one climber has forgotten their prusik – they can abseil last with a fireman’s backup.

firemans belay

Abseiling > How To Abseil with a Damaged Rope

How To Abseil with a Damaged Rope is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

If you climb long enough, you will inevitably end up having to abseil with a damaged rope at some point. Unfortunately, getting a core-shot (when the white core is visible) seems to be more common on long multi-pitch climbs where the terrain is blocky and the abseil descent is complicated.

How you solve this problem depends on the severity of the rope damage and where you are when it happens.

climbing with damaged rope abseil with a damaged rope core shot ropes

Climbing with Damaged Ropes

If it is more practical to continue up than descend (e.g; If you are ten pitches up a steep face, but only one pitch away from an easy walk-off descent), you can continue climbing on the longest section of undamaged rope. You’ll have to do shorter pitches, but this may be the best option.

If using the rope in a situation where it will not pass through any gear (such as hauling on a big wall, or moving together on a glacier), you can tie an alpine butterfly over the damaged section to return the rope to its full strength.

climb with core shot climbing ropes

How to Abseil with a Damaged Rope

If a small amount of core is showing through the sheath, and the core is in perfect condition, you can wrap a piece of finger-tape tightly around this abraded section. This helps to hold the sheath together and prevent the core from being further exposed. Use just a small amount of tape so that your abseil device still feeds through easily.

It is not safe to lead on a damaged rope like this, whether taped or not. This technique is only suitable for abseiling. It enables you to get down safely, but is not a permanent solution. The rope should be retired afterwards.



Abseiling with a Core-Shot Rope

If the core is damaged, you’ll need to abseil on a single ‘good’ strand of rope, and treat the damaged part as the pull-down cord. You don’t need to cut your rope. Here’s how:

Step 1
Attach the rope through the anchor as shown. A figure-8 is shown in our diagram, but you could also use other knots (such as the overhand, figure-9, clovehitch or alpine butterfly). The point is to have a knot which physically cannot pull through or get stuck in the main anchor point.

The important part of this setup is to clip the rope back to itself with a screwgate carabiner to make a ‘closed loop’ around the main anchor point. This way, the system wouldn’t fail completely if the knot slipped through. You would, however, have to prusik back up to solve the problem.

The same setup applies if you are abseiling on two ropes. Tie them together and use the damaged rope as the pull-down cord.

how to abseil with core shot ropes

Step 2
Attach your abseil device to the good strand of rope.

Follow the same safety precautions as you would when abseiling at any other time: tie a knot in the bottom end of the rope, use a prusik and weight the rope to check the system before you commit to it.


Step 3
Abseil down the good strand while keeping hold of the pull-down cord. It’s a good idea to keep the end of the pull-down cord clipped to you.

Watch the setup as the first climber descends. If the knot gets jammed or slips through, you’ll need to tie a bigger knot or change the main anchor point to something smaller (small maillions/ quick-links are good for this).


Step 4
Pull your ropes down.

It’s possible that the knot and carabiner could get stuck. As when abseiling in a normal situation, keep an eye out for cracks and features where this could happen before you pull your ropes.

On a multi-pitch descent, remember that you will have to thread the same rope through each anchor.

Top Tip – Abseil Extra Distance

Add slings and cordelettes to the end of the pull-down cord if you need a little extra distance on your abseils.

Top Tip – Add Extra Friction

There will be less friction when abseiling on a single strand of rope, which can be harder to control. To make a smoother descent, see our article on increasing abseil friction.

how to rappel with core shot ropes

Top Tip – Two Damaged Ropes

If both of your ropes are damaged, the best option is to salvage the longest section of undamaged rope as the ‘good’ rope and join the rest together as the pull-down cord. You won’t be able to abseil as far, but it is better than not being able to abseil at all.

Another option is to fix one end of the rope to the anchor and abseil on a single strand, passing knots on the way. You will not be able to retrieve your ropes, so this only works if your ropes reach to the ground.

Abseiling > The Carabiner Brake – How To Abseil Without a Device

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

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Dropping your belay device at the top of a ten-pitch abseil descent isn't recommended. But if you do, knowing how to use the carabiner brake will change your descent from epic to easy (You can use a munter hitch to abseil, but it tends to kink the rope and causes abrasion to the sheath).

You Will Need:
- 1 screwgate
- 4 snapgate carabiners.

Full size oval or D-shaped carabiners provide the smoothest descent, but almost any carabiner can be used. Really small or sharp-spined carabiners should only be used as a last resort.

drop belay device climbing

How To Set Up The Carabiner Brake

Step 1
Clip a screwgate to your belay loop and fasten it. Then clip two snapgates to the screwgate, making sure the gates are facing opposite directions and they are opposed.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 2
Push a bight of both ropes through the snapgate carabiners.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 3
Clip another snapgate around the ropes and also through the loop as shown.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 4
Clip a second snapgate next to this, with the gates on the same side, but facing opposite ways.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 5
Pull down on the rope until the carabiners align over each other.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 6
Make sure the rope runs over the spines (not the gates) of the outer carabiners.

You can now add a prusik and abseil as you would with an ATC.

As always, remember to check the system before you detach from the anchor.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Abseiling > How To Increase Friction

This article, How To Increase Friction when Abseiling, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Whether you're abseiling down a skinny rope at the sport crag, or retreating down a multipitch with rain-slicked ropes and a heavy pack, the following techniques will help you increase friction when abseiling, and get down safely without rope-burnt palms.

How To Increase Friction when Abseiling

Method 1 - Reverse
Many belay devices are asymmetrical, offering more friction if reversed. Try it out both ways around to see which way provides the most friction for your device.

Which way to use belay device. Belay device direction orientation

Method 2 - Double Up
Try attaching your belay device to your belay loop with two screwgate carabiners, instead of just one. Large carabiners work best for this.

Using two carabiners on belay device

Method 3 - Extend
Extend your belay device with a sling. This puts your belay device further away from your body, making it a little easier to control.

How to extend belay device

Method 4 - Prusik
We recommend always using a prusik knot for abseiling. A prusik won't provide ‘consistent’ extra friction during the abseil, but it will autolock if set up correctly. This means you can 'rest' mid-abseil and provides added security for tricky descents. You can use a prusik in conjunction with any of the other described methods to further increase friction when abseiling.

Using prusik cord on belay device


Maximum Friction: The Z-Abseil

The Z-abseil is quick to set up and provides excellent friction, meaning that you can abseil rain-soaked skinny ropes confidently.

Step 1
Set up your belay device for abseiling as normal, staying attached to the anchor with a sling.

Rock climbing abseiling

Step 2
Clip a screwgate to one of your leg loops and clip another screwgate around the ropes above your belay device.

Increase friction abseiling

Step 3
Run the ropes down from your belay device through the leg-loop screwgate, up through the upper screwgate and back down to your brake hand. Make sure the ropes are running neatly next to each other.

Increase friction rappeling abseil

Step 4
Fasten up the screwgates and make a final check of the system. Then detach yourself from the anchor to enjoy a maximum friction descent.

Increase friction rappeling increase friction when abseiling


The Z-Abseil: Top Tips

* Make sure your screwgates are fastened tight. Vibrations in the rope can cause some types of screwgate to unfasten. Check them during your descent.

* If you don't have enough screwgates, you can use two opposite and opposed snapgates instead.

* You can use the same method for single rope abseils. Simply set up the system in the same way.

* Don’t use this method when abseiling with a GriGri. The top carabiner will hold the handle down and prevent it from locking.

* It's possible to set this system up mid-abseil – useful on the last half of a long abseil when the weight of the rope below you has decreased. This will be easier if you pre-attach the two screwgates before you leave the anchor; one on your leg loop and one sliding down the ropes above you.

* As always, make sure to practise this in a safe environment before abseiling down those icy 7.8mm ropes.