Whether you’re a mountaineer or a canyoneer, chances are you live and die by your rope and your ability to use it. Possessing a handful of basic climbing rope skills can you get out of serious jams, and it might even save your life.
Here are five climbing rope skills for the mountains, canyons and hills that can allow you to rescue yourself or others and turn a nightmare into an adventure.
Rappel on a Munter Hitch
It happens to the best of us: You go on a climbing or spelunking adventure and remember to bring all of your numerous pieces of gear, except perhaps the most essential: a rappel device. This can be a total nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be cause for panic. This super easy hitch acts just like a rappel device, so if you learn how to tie it, you will never be without the proper tool. For the purposes of learning knots, seeing is better than reading, so watch the video closely to learn this simple hitch. Know this: many a bad day has been avoided by taking a few minutes to learn the munter. If you do, your partner will thank you, you will thank yourself, and when you make it back home from the mountains or canyons, your loved ones will thank you, too.
Knot Your Rope Ends During Rappels
This is one of the most obvious climbing rope skills. But this oft-forgotten, and incredibly simple act has saved many climbers from falling to their deaths while rappelling, and ensured they were never stuck on a ledge for long. A frighteningly large portion of climbing accidents happens while rappelling, and it’s easy to see why: Climbers rappel after they have already done the hard business of climbing, so they are often tired, possibly hungry and dehydrated, and it is frequently dark out. For these reasons, even super-experienced climbers have met with an untimely demise by rappelling off the ends of their rope.
Luckily, remembering—or rather, drilling into your skull—the need to tie simple overhand knots in the ends of the rope, is well worth the effort. After you have threaded your rope through an anchor, and before you toss it down the cliff and rappel, tie overhand knots, or their close-cousin, barrel knots, into the ends, and then let the cord fly. If you do this, you’ll never free fall from the end of the rope, even if you lose consciousness, are hit by falling rocks or fall asleep while descending. Of course, it will be necessary to untie those same knots when you are at the next anchor, before you pull the rope from above, lest it get stuck. But this small extra task is a wise the insurance policy to take out every time you climb.
This super simple knot is a staple of the mountaineers skill set. It allows climbers to ascend a rope, and also to escape the belay. There are a few varieties of prusik (or prussic) knots, but in essence they are all the same: they are formed by wrapping an accessory cord around your climbing rope in a way that it tightens when it’s weighted, but can slide freely when it’s not. A carabiner is clipped into the prusik, and then anchored to either a harness or other anchor, depending on what is desired. The prusik allows a climber to slide the knot up a rope with one hand, and then weight then rope whenever they want. This comes in handy when you want to ascend a rope. This is done by tying two prusik knots onto the rope and anchoring one to the climber’s harness, and the other to a loop into which the climber steps, like a movable foothold.
The accessory cord should be around .25 inches in diameter, though its size depends on the size of the rope onto which it locks; smaller diameter alpine climbing ropes need skinnier accessory cord.
Escape the Belay
Say you are on a high ledge belaying your friend. Despite his estimable skills, your friend falls, perhaps because he was struck by falling rock, and is unable to continue climbing. If he is unconscious, he may be unable to continue moving at all. This is a scary situation, but there is a remedy: Your only choice is to escape the belay. An integral part of this climbing rope skill is tying a prusik knot (see above). Escaping the belay is essentially the act of securing the rope, but freeing yourself from the duty of belaying, allowing you to climb and help your friend or rappel to the ground and seek rescue from others.
Photo credit: Flickr.com/certifiable.nl
Wrap Yourself in Your Rope for Warmth
Your rope is not just a lifeline, it’s a jacket, a sleeping bag or a bivy sack if you use it right. Even if you’re climbing or caving in the blistering desert, it can get cold, even well below freezing, at night. If you don’t expect to get benighted in the open, but find yourself in this position nonetheless, you may need to use every trick in the book to stay warm. A rope is not the most comfortable blanket, but it can be a warm one.
When the temperatures drop, or even before, use your climbing rope skills to wrap the blanket around each of your limbs and torso like a mummy. For obvious reasons, don’t make it too tight, but wrap it snugly enough so that it traps heat. Luckily for your partners, ropes are pretty long, 197 feet is standard, so at least a couple of people can comfortably wrap themselves to weather a cold night. Knowing this rope trick will get you out of a bind, but clearly it’s better to avoid the situation in the first place: Bring warm clothes, prepare for the unexpected and try not to get stranded in the first place.
Know any other essential climbing rope skills? Let us known in the comments below or @DegreeMen.