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Rope Talk: Why use double ropes?

Rope Talk: Why use double ropes?

Today CEO and Womenclimb Founder, Emily Pitts, talks double ropes, and specifically why she uses them:

“What’s the point of half ropes, I don’t understand!” This is something I hear regularly, so for anyone not sure or wanting to check some of the reasons for using half ropes rather than a single rope, then hopefully this will shed some light on some on the pros, cons and considerations:

Pros

Reduce rope drag

Most climbing routes aren’t straight. Because of this, it’s easier and safer to protect the route using two half ropes. With two ropes, you can clip protection on one side with one rope and on the other side, the other rope. This means that the ropes can run nice and straight. This reduces the chances of your rope dragging your gear out due to tension as you move up your route. As you can see in the photo below, the gear placements sit to either side of the climber and the route winds across the crag. With just a single rope in this scenario, the rope would zig zag dragging on the gear and possibly pulling out the protection. The drag can also hinder the climber from moving up.

Protecting the second 

Depending on the route, sometimes the second will need to be protected from swinging around. Having two ropes can help make this easier to organise. A good example of this is the route Valkyrie at The Roaches, where the second pitch of the route traverses and then heads up a slab. One rope is clipped on the traverse and the other rope is not clipped. When the second starts climbing, they are protected directly by the rope that was left unclipped. 

Climb as a three

If you’re climbing in a three, then having two ropes can be a definite advantage with both seconds having a rope of their own. There is the inevitable discussion about whether seconds can climb on just one half rope. This is your choice. Personally, I am happy to be on the end of a half rope as a second, due to the reduced fall factors involved when seconding. However, one way around this conundrum is to choose triple rated ropes – they are as skinny as half ropes, but are single rope rated. 

Speed of escape

On routes where an abseil is or might be required, using double ropes will give you more options. It is likely to be much quicker, as you can abseil the full length of the rope rather than a single rope halved. 

Weight

Half ropes are usually skinnier than single ropes, which means they weigh less and put pressure on your back and legs on the walk in. Not so important if you’re off to a single pitch crag with an easy walk in, but if you’re heading off for a big mountain day, an extra half kilo of weight can make a big difference. 

Splitting the load 

If you have two ropes the load is easily split between you and your climbing partner.  This isn’t possible with a single rope. 

Redundancy

There may be instances where you encounter sharp edges and loose rock on a route, particularly routes that are more remote or not well travelled. There is an argument that having two ropes gives you an extra level of security if one rope gets damaged – redundancy in your system. 

Trad climbing standard

The majority of people who progress in trad climbing, do so using double ropes. It’s the standard, which means that if you turn up to the crag with a half rope, you’re more than likely to find a partner who has their half rope and you can buddy up. Personally, I almost always use a double rope setup, and I expect my climbing partners to be able to belay competently with two ropes. 

Belay organisation & escaping the system

Having two ropes at a belay allows you to have flexibility and versatility in how you set up. Depending on the situation, it may give you more options in terms of escaping the system in an emergency – two ropes are better than one. 

Cost

Buying one half rope is cheaper than buying a single rope, if you’re climbing in a pair and each bringing a rope along. 


Cons

Lifespan

Half ropes usually don’t have the same lifespan as a single rope, fall for fall. 

Belaying

Belaying with two ropes is a skill that requires practice in a friendly, patient and safe environment. The reason that it’s different for double ropes compared to single ropes is that the climber will often want slack on one rope and while needing you to take-in on the other. Keeping your hands on both ends of the dead rope is crucial, so time spent learning this is time very well spent. (We do a LOT of this practice on our meetups).

Photo: Natasha Hirst Photography

Abseil

Abseiling on skinny half ropes can feel precarious, as it can become difficult to control the speed of descent. Of course a prussic is an absolute must for abseiling as a backup and can help you maintain control, but nevertheless, this is a consideration. 

Stretch

The stretch in a skinny half rope can leave you bouncing, both as a second and even more when abseiling. 


Considerations

You must always, always consider the belay device you are using and whether it is suitable for the rope you intend to use. In particular, if you are using an assisted braking device, you must check it fits the diameter of your rope. Too thick a rope and it won’t pull through the device, which will stop your leader climbing. Too thin a rope and the rope won’t be caught by the device, which could cause death in a leader fall. It is crucial that you check this when you are climbing with a new device, new partner or different gear and equipment. 


Through all of your decision-making, remember the BMC Participation Statement:

Climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.

The British Mountaineering Council Participation Statement
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