Ropework in traditional climbing - the rope

Ropework in traditional climbing - the rope

A look at the various rope techniques for different climbing situations with a résumé of the main types of rope available and information on rope care.

There are different ropes designed for every occasion these days, so choosing the right rope is a daunting task. An inspection of rope techniques to best suit each climbing situation, alongside a résumé of the main types of rope available will help you.

Top-roping on a single rope
Top-ropingSingle Rope 

Rope specification:
  • UIAA Rating: 1
  • Diameter: 8.9mm - 11mm
  • Designed to be used singly in a wide variety of situations, hence the big range in diameters. Consider the weight, handling properties, tightness of sheath and finish when choosing a single rope.
Good for:
  • Sport routes - Quick clips and belaying easier with only one rope to fumble with. Good handling important and lightweight desirable for harder routes.
  • Indoor walls - Durability and simplicity important. There are ropes designed specifically for wall use, these have a higher proportion of sheath to core and therefore greater durability, this means a stiffer rope that is harder to handle but wears well.
  • Top roping - Abrasion resistance important so you want to choose a rope with a big diameter and tightly woven sheath. This adds weight and decreases rope handling but this is fine for the situation.
  • Traditional routes - Unless the route is in a straight line the rope drag can be unbearable. So short, hard lines or most routes up to VS in grade work well with a single rope.
  • Abseiling - Abrasion resistance and non-kinking are most important. Low stretch ropes are often used as dedicated abseil ropes.
Advantages:
  • Simple to operate for climber and belayer. Less opportunity to create rope tangles.
  • A good choice if you climb mainly indoors, on sport routes, or if you've recently started climbing.
Disadvantages:
  • Rope drag on complex routes.
  • Abseils limited to stages of half the rope length (i.e. retreating from a long multi pitch route would be difficult).
Double Ropes 

Rope Specifications:
  • UIAA Rating: 1/2
  • Diameter: 8.1mm - 9mm
  • Confusingly also called 'half ropes'. Intended to be used as a pair but many climbers clip the ropes singly into runners, often alternately.
Good for:
  • Traditional routes - long multi pitch routes on complex terrain with traverses.
  • Mountain or sea cliff routes - as above with the comfort that if you need to retreat you can abseil the full length of the rope by tying them together.
  • Winter climbing - unless you're in a snow gully you'll want the advantages of double ropes on complex winter terrain. Waterproof finish important.
Advantages:
  • Minimum rope drag and more likely to reach sideways for that extra-but-slightly-out-of-line runner.
  • Better protection when reaching to clip the next runner.
  • Better options for protecting the second especially on traverses.
  • Less likely to damage both ropes in a fall or if hit by rock.
  • Longer abseils.
Disadvantages:
  • Belay technique requires more practise.
  • Greater rope tangle possibilities, rope management problems on small or hanging stances.
Fall Factor:

This helps determine the impact of a given fall. Divide the total length of the fall by the length of rope paid out.

Example 1: A fall from 10m above the belay with no runners results in a 20m fall.
20m divided by 10m = fall factor 2.
A fall factor 2 is the highest you can generate in a normal climbing situation. To reduce the fall factor simply place runners.

Example 2: A fall from 10m above the belay with a runner at 5m results in a 10m fall.
10m divided by 10m = fall factor 1.

A fall factor 2 puts high stress on all aspects of the system and can result in gear failure. Always place a runner as soon as you can when leaving the stance, even on easy ground and even if it's the only one you get on the pitch, it could still make a difference.
It's not just protecting you, it's protecting the belay too (and even your rope!)

Rope care and maintenance

Manufacturers must give ropes a 'shelf life'. Use this information but also assess the rope for signs of damage. Flat sections and discolouration are bad news. Furry bits are quite common but not necessarily a serious problem, whereas any nick that exposes the white core is serious damage.

Ropes are only designed to take so many big falls, keep a note of such events and check for damage afterwards. After top roping check for abrasion damage at the rubbing points.
  • Run the rope through your hands as you uncoil it, feeling for damage.
  • Use a rope bag to minimise trampling and transit damage.
  • Wash the rope warm water after muddy or sea cliff excursions
  • Keep the rope away from nasty chemicals and sharp objects.
  • If in doubt get a second opinion.
Conclusion
  • Choose your rope according to its intended primary use.
  • Single ropes work best indoors, for top roping and sport routes.
  • Double ropes are best for long traditional routes and in the winter.
  • Place a runner as you leave the stance on multi pitch routes to reduce the fall factor.
  • Always check your rope for damage
  • Wash the rope in clean water if it becomes muddy or sea drenched.
  • If your rope is over five years old, has flat sections, nasty nicks that expose the core or discoloured sections, it's probably time to retire it and buy yourself a new one.

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