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Rope signals

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Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

 Interesting observation last week. Ran into a party practiceing rope signals that their swiss guide has taught them.   The method was for the leader to let down 10ft of slack and then pull it back up signaling that he was  off belay.  this seems like a great way to get someone killed.  What happens if then leader gets off route, down climbs 10ft and then starts climbing again?  what happens if the 10ft of rope gets caught on  a shelf and never reaches the belayer? what happens if the  lowered slack get tangled in something and can't be pulled back up?  What happens if the leader is out of rope and does not have 10ft of slack to offer? what happens if there is no anchor and the leader has to keep climbing and needs the belayer to simo for a ways to a better place for an anchor?  This is one of the worst rope signals I have ever heard of.......... and suposedly taught by an international guide? 

In my experience there is pretty much only one rope signal system that is reasonably foolproof.  Leader makes anchor gets everything set BEFORE they pull up the rope. Pull the rope up and imediataly put the folower on belay. Belayer, when all the rope is pulled up and the rope stays tight you are either on belay or simo climbing.  treat it like you are simo climbing untill you know for certain that you are not. KISS.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

If you can't hear your partner, this makes some sense to me.

If the leader has stopped for a while, then pulls ten feet of rope very quickly, that means he wants off belay (and we've discussed it beforehand). If I'm not sure, I'll just keep him on belay and he can pull up all the rope through my device while on belay.

I wouldn't dismiss this idea too quickly.

ViperScale . · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

This seems crazy to me I have climbed with newer people on alot of multi pitch climbs that you can't hear and are out of sight. My advice is alway if you are not 100% sure they are safe you just keep them on belay until you hit the end of the rope.

I would agree always make sure the anchor is set before you pull rope. I don't know about putting them on belay before getting the rope pulled. I guess it depends but I would normally tell the person give me a few mins to put you on belay before you take the anchor down and start climbing. As long as the anchor is setup putting someone on belay really doesn't take that long so even if they start taking the anchor down (unless hanging belay) they will normally be on belay before they finish taking it down.

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Frank, way too many variables to control.  I covered that  in my OP.  KISS all the rope is pulled up and it keeps pulling up means that you are on. no signals required. 

Luc-514 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 9,004

I normaly use the 3 HARD tugs / slack when the leader is off belay, if unsure, keep him on belay, that rapid pulling of rope may just be that he's running up an easy slab near the end.

When it comes for the second to be on belay, I've had one partner put me on belay before even pulling up the rope, like that, there's no questions, another one is staying tied to the anchor until the belayer above seriously pulls you, there's still a doubt but it's a lot smaller.  Keep your eyes open that he is pulling up the rope and belaying you, if you're unsure, just tie in to some pro and try to communicate/clear things up.

Ryan Sheridan · · Yosemite, CA · Joined May 2014 · Points: 20

1) Lower 10 ft of slack
2) Slack hooks on a loose flake
3) Pull rope back up dislodging flake
4) Eiger Sanction your partner with the flake
5) .................

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

There are ways that 3 tugs can get screwed up.   If the leader makes belay, pulls up all the rope, puts the 2nd on belay and pulls like hell there is nothing to screw up.   When following and all the rope has been pulled up and i keeps getting pulled up so hard its giveing me a fcking weggi I know its time to start climbing.  Keep It Simple Stupid. KISS.   The only way this gets screwed up is if the leader pulls up all the rope and then wanks arroud getting their belay jacket on instead of putting the 2nd on belay. If you get the idea stuck in your head that as soon as you pull the rope up you put the 2nd on belay there is nothing to screw up.  

Parker Wrozek · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 83

I use nick's method. If you can't hear leave them on until you run out of rope to feed, then start climbing.

md3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 45

Agree with the last two on the simplest system being the best.  Both partners need to know that when all the rope is out and there is a constant pull from above, it is time to remove the last piece of the anchor and start climbing, with the caveat that this only works if both people know the system and its expectations.  The second should know that if they start moving but the rope doesn't move with them, they should stay solid, put a piece back in if they need it to be solid because the leader may have had to stop and redo somthing with their anchor or belay set up.  

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

the leader better Not have to do something with the anchor. It is the leaders responsibility to do all that  before they pull up the rope.  You are correct though. only move as fast as the rope is moveing. If the rope stops you stop. . reason being is that there may be a possibility that there was no anchor available when the rope ran out and you are simo climbing. 

 In the case of the drop 10 ft of slack system I get to the end of my rope and there is no anchor but i don't have 10ft of slack to drop. i am in the middle of a greasy slab move that I can not reverse and the gear is still 10ft above me. my belayer is afraid to tear down the anchor to give me the 10ft that I desperatly need because he has not seen the rope signal, my calfs are frying, my nerves are fraying and I am completly fcked..... 

Rob D. · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined May 2011 · Points: 30

When I lose communication it's normally because the route is wandering and long, or there's an obstruction.  In both cases I'm not sure I would want to lower 10 feet of rope because a) I might not have it if the route is long enough for me to lose communication, and b) on routes like that, the odds of getting a rope stuck and being unable to fix the problem seem much higher than a straight line.  Do whatever works for you and you and your partner can agree on, but I don't think that this seems like a very straight forward or necessarily safe option. 

Why not just keep them on belay until all of the rope is up? I don't really see a reason to take someone off belay when I lose communication. 

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

that is certainly what i feel is the safest option. 

Christian George · · Ridgway CO · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 0

I check Facebook to see my partners status.

It says he's still on belay.

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585
Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Thats pretty cool. No one taught me this system it just something I started doing at some point perhaps a 1/4 of the way through my 36 years of climbing. Now I see that it seems to be endorsed by the AAC

Scenario 3: Communicating without Commands

It is possible for a climbing party to communicate unambiguously without the use of verbal commands, thereby eliminating the potential for poor verbal communication or miscommunication. Provided the party can agree up on a system in advance, this is readily achieved. Let’s revisit the example in scenario 2 to see this in action.

Maria reaches the top of the pitch and secures herself to the anchor. Because they suspected the possibility of poor communication, Jorge and Maria agreed in advance to use only the necessary formal verbal commands. As Maria is secured to the anchor, she shouts, “Off belay!”

Unfortunately, Jorge is unable to hear this command. However, he knows that there are only two reasons that he might need to feed rope to the leader. Either Maria is still leading, or she has arrived at the belay stance and is pulling up excess rope. Since Jorge is unsure which is the case, he simply continues belaying until he reaches his end of the rope. As he did not hear Maria issue the “off belay” command, he has no reason to affirm this command. Instead, he skips this and simply proceeds to the next command, “Maria, that’s me!” He then removes his belay device from the rope.

Maria has pulled the rope until it is tensioned and thinks she hears Jorge shout a command to her, but she’s not positive. Regardless, her next step is clear: put Jorge on belay. She does so promptly and shouts, “On Belay!”

Meanwhile, down below, Jorge is diligently waiting to climb. Prior to starting the climb, Maria and Jorge agreed to a 30- second waiting period. After shouting, “Maria, that’s me!” Jorge waits 30 seconds and then removes himself from the anchor to begin climbing. He does this knowing that Maria will promptly put him on belay after the rope is tensioned, a task that should take no more than 30 seconds. Jorge and Maria could have agreed to any amount of time they felt appropriate; again the prior agreement is the important thing.

After the agreed upon amount of time, Jorge bellows, “Climbing!” and makes a couple moves. He has one last chance to make sure that he is on some form of belay. He’s making sure the rope is travelling up, in the characteristic progression of a belay cycle. In this sequence, Jorge and Maria have accepted that it might also be possible that Maria is not actually belaying. It is possible that she is still leading, and the team is now accidentally simul-climbing. Even though it’s scary and hopefully avoidable, Jorge and Maria appreciate that Jorge will have to climb in that scenario, even if he’s not on belay. What choice does he have?

Meanwhile, back at the top of the pitch, Maria cannot hear Jorge, but she can feel the slack in the rope he generates by climbing. She pulls the rope through the belay system and after a few feet of movement is sure Jorge must be climbing. As a confirmation, she yells, “Climb on!”


Rob D. · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined May 2011 · Points: 30

that's honestly how I've always done it.  The reality for me has been that if rope tugs/alternate commands are necessary, the distance between belayer and climber is likely increased, and the likelihood of a clean pull line are decreased.  My partner and I have agreed that if we really can't hear anything, we do the rope tugs, but in lieu of actually feeling them, we always play it cautiously and pay out slack as if the leader is still leading.  If the climber at the top knows that communication is inhibited, they get the belay rigged, finish pulling up slack, and immediately put the climber on belay regardless of whether they know they are climbing.  I feel like lower rope/pulling it back up just increases the likelihood of rope getting caught/cut/damaged/rock dislodge/missed command/etc.  Instead, just play it safe and move fast. 

Patrik · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 30
Nick Goldsmith wrote:

Scenario 3: Communicating without Commands

It is possible for a climbing party to communicate unambiguously without the use of verbal commands, ...

  I've used this for a bunch of years (skipping the verbal shouting that can't be heard anyway and unreliable rope tugging that "disappears" on ledges/roofs/slabs/traverses). A much more peaceful crag without the annoying noise of yelling climbers. 

  Two modification to the "AAC suggestions": 

Once the leader has built the anchor, try hard to haul up the rope significantly faster than when the leader is climbing (as FrankPS mentioned in the second post). The belayer recognizes this (with 120% certainty and from lots of prior experience as a climbing team), dismounts the belay device after 10ft has run up, and don't need to feed the rest of the rope through. "Belaying" to the end of the rope as many (and AAC) have suggested works fine if you do this once or twice a week or so as an exception to your normal shouting. But if you want to go non-verbal on every pitch, it quickly gets really annoying for the belayer to feed the rope through. 

When the belayer recognizes that the leader is hauling up the rope and is not climbing, the belayer stops the rope short 2-3ft from the end and holds it for 10 seconds or so. The leader at this point sets up the belay and starts the "belay sequence". Once the remaining 2-3ft goes up and the rope gets tight onto the follower's harness, the follower knows he is on belay. In this way, the follower doesn't need to leave the safety of the anchor to "make a couple of moves" (according to the AAC description) before he can "verify" he is on belay. 

   Yes, some climbers get really freaked out without the "safety" of the verbal shouting, and I won't "push" this method onto such partners. But for those experienced enough to understand the normal climbing sequence (and also the non-normal exceptions!), it gives quite a more enjoyable day of climbing without the noise.

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Patric, that is what isa and I do. we have been a team for almost 19 years now.  

Something I noticed on my last several roped outings. I was guideing on a moderate ice climb. i had never pitched out the  upper  pitches of the route. I had soloed them but never climbed them roped. Twice I randomly stopped and made anchor with about 2 meters of rope left. the last pitch I tried to go for the top but ran out of rope exactly where I thought I would and had to down climb 10ft to a tree.  I just subconciously knew all day exactly how much rope was out.   Soloed the same climb last week. the old rope that I brought for the rapells has no middle mark. I made 3 rapells.  All three times  I randomly stacked one end of the rope stopping where I thought  the middle was. Then I fished an end through the anchor  and pulled both ends untill I hit the middle. All three times my inital stack was within a meter or 2 of center of rope.. 

 Almost got killed that way a few years ago by climbing on a single 70m for a few weeks and then going out on a 60m. I was rapelling and caught myself in time but my inital thought was I had 15 more ft of rope before I had to pay real attention...   looked down saw the ropes getting short and went Oh shit. shorter ropes today....

ShaneM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 5

I agree with the method provided by Nick. One thing that hasn't been mentioned, though, is when I finish leading and build an anchor, if I'm out of verbal communication range with my follower, I will always put them on belay before pulling the rope up, and belay the rope up. If I'm out of verbal range, it means the pitch was probably long, therefore it's possible that I could have been simul-climbing accidentally and not know it. Sometimes, on these long pitches, you'll have significant rope drag, too, and it could be hard to tell if you're pulling up the slack between the climbers or if you're pulling up the rope as the follower is climbing. 

I've adopted this practice after once watching a group pull the rope most of the way up thinking they were still pulling the slack up and the follower yelled "UPROPE" from very nearby, and they didn't even have the follower on belay. It'd be a hard mistake to make, but my method I believe makes these steps mentioned above a little more foolproof.

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

if you knpw its a long pitch thats a good idea as you will only have to pull up a meter or two before you hit the climber. If you have rope/terrain awareness and know you are only 40m out obviously you don't need to pull 30m of rope through your device.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483
ShaneM wrote:


I've adopted this practice after once watching a group pull the rope most of the way up thinking they were still pulling the slack up and the follower yelled "UPROPE" from very nearby, and they didn't even have the follower on belay. It'd be a hard mistake to make, but my method I believe makes these steps mentioned above a little more foolproof.

If there is a ton of rope drag on a real long pitch and hauling in slack is a royal PITA I can see your method, but don't loose your own efficiency the rest of the time just because you witnessed another party being completely incompetent. You know when you lead a rope stretcher of a pitch or when you lead a short one, you have a decent idea as the leader of how much rope should come in before you've got your partner.  

One thing I was taught when I first started climbing that I still follow is to hold a bit of slack on the leaders side of my clove. You can easily feel when it goes taught, then slack, after a pause you get the arm length bits of slack being taken in. You know you're on belay, now haul ass with confidence.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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