two rope system -- rope management at the belay


Original Post
hailman · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 55

Have a specific question that's been on my mind since I've been experimenting with the two rope system on really easy multipitch...basically how do you flake / coil / flip / generally manage the two ropes (when only one climber leads every pitch)?

In swapping leads, the follower would be able to take off easily, since their strands end up on top of the rope pile. However if the leader stays the same, their strands would be at the bottom of the massive heap. This leads to a very tricky pancake flip so to speak. Easy with one rope, but with two things seem to go awry easily.

I also tried tying into the anchor with the rope, and coiling it over the length between me and the anchor, but with followers going at different speeds....let's just say my coils got really badly tangled. LOL

Your guidance is much appreciated !

Ben Stabley · · Portland, OR · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 171

Not claiming that this is the most efficient, but with 2 followers, I 

  1. pull up all the slack as normal, treating both strands as 1 rope and stacking in whatever way is most appropriate for the stance (pile or lap coil); 
  2. put followers on belay; 
  3. belay each stand and stack them independently (2 piles or 2 lap coils on top of original combined pile/coil); 
  4. when followers arrive at belay station, I make them reflake their own ropes into piles or coils (meanwhile I'm collecting gear and preparing for the next pitch); 
  5. climb, repeat.

Be careful of the rope becoming a mess, as normal. Generally this has worked well for me.

With only 1 follower, just treat both strands as 1 rope, with a little extra care to avoid a mess.

Daniel Joder · · Boulder, CO · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

I'm very interested in the answers to follow as I just did my first climb with two ropes last week. Unfortunately, there were three of us on a 5-pitch route with two of us swapping lead duties. We ended up clipping in with a tether on a few occasions and untying from the climbing rope just to sort out the mess at the belays. I'm pretty sure that isn't accepted practice! Now, I'm off to Google "half rope system techniques"...

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585

Guides may refine party of 3 (ie. 2 ropes) management for years to perfect it, so it may take you some time. But as you've described it is basically it--stack each rope either together or individually and execute a pancake flip. If this is particularly challenge,  you may need to work on making a tighter stack. I also think it's a small bit easier to flip two individual stacks of rope than the one large stack. 

If lap coiling over your tie in, there's some shenanigans that can be done to pull it off, but with 2 followers and different climbing speeds, you will typically end up needing to re-stack the ropes anyway.

Alternatives to the lap coil include butterfly stacking the ropes into a sling hanging from the anchor or making fairly large bights and then clipping them to a large biner with bight knots.

When in doubt, just re-flake the rope(s). If you are reasonably competent this is usually faster than dealing with whatever mess got created when your pancake flip failed you.

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585

@Daniel: When swapping leads for 2 leaders in a party of 3, have both leaders tie into either end of the same rope. The third climber gets their own rope (the other end they're not using gets tagged up by the leader).

To make the transition at the anchor, the leader rope can stay as is (it should be ready to swap). The third climber's rope needs to get flipped; the leader needs to make sure they clip it to their harness and tag it with them. 

You can think of it as climbing as a party of 2 with a tag line where the tag line just happens to have a 3rd climber on the end of it.

Daniel Joder · · Boulder, CO · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

Thanks, Derek! And thanks, hailman, for the OP.

hailman · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 55

I am pleased with how quickly this has developed, haha. Thanks all.

I've just realized that my issues were definitely related to having two followers. If I have one follower I usually go with a single rope. 

For some reason I never considered re-flaking the rope at the belay, so that suggestion was particularly helpful. I also like the idea to have the followers do it, as the leader can just grab gear right off the followers as they work on getting the rope ready.

My roommate just put some bolt hangers in our wall so now we have no excuses not to practice this at home ... there goes our security deposit ...

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585
hailman wrote:

I also like the idea to have the followers do it, as the leader can just grab gear right off the followers as they work on getting the rope ready.

Recognizing these efficiencies will a long way to helping you move quickly on big routes. This is exactly what you're looking for.

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585
Daniel Joder wrote:

Thanks, Derek! And thanks, hailman, for the OP.

Cheers.

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

While leader sorts the rack follower/belayer stacks ropes. That's it.

JSH · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 960

I've climbed on doubled since many years. most commonly, we swap ends of the ropes if we're not swinging leads.

Bowens · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 60

Have you tried using a sling to assist you in the coil flip?  Take a 4 foot sling, girth hitch it around the stack of rope, and keep it cinched tight while you flip the stack; should help to keep the coils organized and minimize tangles.

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162

With one follower, I stack/coil the ropes together.  With 2 followers, this is a disaster, and I stack/coil the ropes separately.  If the ledge is big I stack them on the ground in two piles, at a hanging belay I coil them over my tie-in.  The follower(s) will then re-flake from their end when they get to the belay, if we are leading in blocks.  I have tried flipping but it causes a cluster some of the time so I gave up on it, re-stacking a rope should only take a minute, and the followers usually do it while the leader is racking up for the next pitch so there's really no lost time.

If you are swapping leads, with a party of two the follower just leads through.  With a party of three, the old leader just unties whichever rope goes to the follower who isn't transitioning to leading, and gives it to the new leader to tie into.  You then need to reflake or flip only one of the two piles, the pile for the rope that got untied and re-tied.  Doing it this way, everybody is always tied into one rope, so there's no tether shenanigans.

Derek DeBruin wrote:

@Daniel: When swapping leads for 2 leaders in a party of 3, have both leaders tie into either end of the same rope. The third climber gets their own rope (the other end they're not using gets tagged up by the leader).

To make the transition at the anchor, the leader rope can stay as is (it should be ready to swap). The third climber's rope needs to get flipped; the leader needs to make sure they clip it to their harness and tag it with them. 

You can think of it as climbing as a party of 2 with a tag line where the tag line just happens to have a 3rd climber on the end of it.

This only works if the main/lead rope is a single.  If you're trying to use half ropes (and associated half-rope techniques, you can't "tag" the second line, you need to lead on it.

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585
Kyle Tarry wrote:

This only works if the main/lead rope is a single.  If you're trying to use half ropes (and associated half-rope techniques, you can't "tag" the second line, you need to lead on it.

True. In which case what I described still works; instead of tagging the rope by clipping, you simply tie into it instead. 

ddriver · · SLC · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 410
hailman wrote:

Have a specific question that's been on my mind since I've been experimenting with the two rope system on really easy multipitch...basically how do you flake / coil / flip / generally manage the two ropes (when only one climber leads every pitch)?

In swapping leads, the follower would be able to take off easily, since their strands end up on top of the rope pile. However if the leader stays the same, their strands would be at the bottom of the massive heap. This leads to a very tricky pancake flip so to speak. Easy with one rope, but with two things seem to go awry easily.

I also tried tying into the anchor with the rope, and coiling it over the length between me and the anchor, but with followers going at different speeds....let's just say my coils got really badly tangled. LOL

Your guidance is much appreciated !

However if the leader stays the same, their strands would be at the bottom of the massive heap.

Say you're talking just 2 climbers here, i.e. "guiding" someone.  If the rope is stacked on a ledge your partner should normally be able to belay you without re-stacking.  They may want to quickly run 20 or 30 feet out before you start just to make sure things are good but re-stacking the whole lot is a waste of time. If you're at a hanging belay and the ropes are looped across your weenie loop you're probably best doing a quick re-stack onto your partner. 

I also tried tying into the anchor with the rope, and coiling it over the length between me and the anchor, but with followers going at different speeds....let's just say my coils got really badly tangled.

First, your rope management: If you have a decent ledge use it rather than stacking loops.  It is much quicker and easier just to stack on the ledge.  If not, you're doing the right thing you just need to practice at it.   I normally make my loops long enough that I only make 5 to 8 for a pitch, longer to start so you minimize catching loops, you just have watch that you don't snag your rope below you. That also speeds the re-stack if you have to.  

You need to train your followers to climb at about the same speed, seriously.  No need to get agro about it, but this is a common issue and it is a courtesy to you to make your belaying and rope management better for the whole team.  Normally 10 or 15 feet of spacing between the followers through the whole pitch will work fine.  

Re tangles when you belay two ropes, do you get twists as you get towards the end?  If so, make sure you're not creating a tortuous path when you feed your belay device.  You want a simple Z shape with no crossing of rope paths.  If you use a redirect (Z), which I recommend, try to make sure it has some rotational freedom or the plane of the biner matches the rope angles and the plane of your belay plate (think in terms of how a well-constructed rap station has rings in the same plane to give minimal friction for rope pull).  You'll also do better if you use an oval or pearabiner shape as your redirect versus a modern D with a sharp angle, especially if your ropes are different diameters. The D tends to introduce twists. 

For you're swinging leads with a team of 3, I would recommend against trying to individually flake rope piles at belays.  That tends to take time due to snagging loops, but if you do it you need to start from the same ends and move at the same pace, just as you would at the top of the climb.  We normally just swap two rope ends as follows: The second who will lead next already has one top end.  He/she needs the end the other second has.  Start it like this: the belayer should have already anticipated this exchange when they built and tied into the current belay using BOTH ropes.  So, the belayer just unties from the one of his/her ends that is most convenient for the other second to use.  Other second ties in to this rope that is already in the belay, unties from the top that goes to the new leader.  This process never has anyone off belay (doesn't cluster by adding a PAS), adds very little time, and allows the belayer and leader to deal with the rack while the third wheel is untying/tying knots.  This has to me been a much surer bet than flaking out ropes, and the process works fine for a hanging belay as well. 

Learn multiple ways to do things and use them when they're appropriate.  You'll be safer and quicker. 

NickO · · Utah · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 35

Not to hijack but seems pretty relevant.  Climbing on 60m doubles with one partner for a few pitches and then it gets easier and we plan to simul a few pitches.  

Would you try to simul with the full 60 out?  communication issues?  snags on low angle/ easy terrain?

coil half and simul?  the typical option i think but with doubles it feels like a ton of rope around the neck and can make climbing a tad awkward.

switch to a single rope, backpack one and coil half of the other to simul on just 30m of one of the twin/doubles.  seems like a lot of rope management, especially if you plan to pitch some things out above you and just simuling a middle section

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162

How much rope to have out while simuling depends on a ton of factors, and will become more obvious as you get more familiar with the technique.  I would probably not start out simuling with 60m out, that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Depending on the ropes, I'd probably just simul on one of them.  Simuling isn't that far removed from free soloing, you really really don't want to fall.

hailman · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 55

Just wanted to say thanks again for all the sweet advice here. I led a block of pitches on an easy multipitch the other day, with two followers, and thought we climbed the route in pretty fine style!

We had a lot of ledge belays which does make things much easier. As ddriver has suggested different techniques will be appropriate in different positions, and I feel if there is a nice ledge the rope piles are the way to go (rather than loops over your tie in / anchor connection). Typically I had my followers re-flake each of their ropes (which I arranged in separate piles) while I grabbed gear. 

However we had a huge ledge below the top, and I just piled each of the ropes together in one big heap, and had one of the followers feed rope from the bottom of the pile straight to my belayer. (No reflaking or pancake flipping.) They reported this worked well...and I didn't notice any tugs while leading!

Regarding another suggestion from ddriver...I did notice twists in the rope at one of my follower's tie in! I must have introduced the twists when loading the belay device! Great tip to mind this. 

At home I've been practicing making loops over my tie in / anchor connection. Again the suggestion to have the followers to climb at the same rate should be very helpful. Did not think of that but I believe that was the source of my earlier troubles. Difficult to make even loops when all of a sudden you have to pull in a ton of slack in only one strand.

thanks again all

hailman · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 55
ddriver wrote:

Re tangles when you belay two ropes, do you get twists as you get towards the end?  If so, make sure you're not creating a tortuous path when you feed your belay device.  You want a simple Z shape with no crossing of rope paths.  If you use a redirect (Z), which I recommend, try to make sure it has some rotational freedom or the plane of the biner matches the rope angles and the plane of your belay plate (think in terms of how a well-constructed rap station has rings in the same plane to give minimal friction for rope pull).  You'll also do better if you use an oval or pearabiner shape as your redirect versus a modern D with a sharp angle, especially if your ropes are different diameters. The D tends to introduce twists.

Actually I do have a question about this...what exactly does the redirect (Z) belay look like? (if it's not too much trouble to explain)

I almost always go with a direct belay off my ATC Guide after leading. I find it extra reassuring with two followers as I usually pull up one strand at a time (pulling in slack on both is such a strain!). One other thing I thought about...I've been making an extra effort to really get in a comfy belay position with two followers...it's a lot of work hauling in all that slack and helps to be comfy!

David · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 25

So for climbing in a group of 3, I would recommend you check out the book "Mountain Guide Manual" by Chauvin and Coppolillo - it talks extensively about rope management in a party of three, more so than what is covered (or I can explain clearly) here.

In general though - I've found it most useful to treat the two ropes as one, and to re-flake the rope from the followers ends at each stance. Yes, if you are good you can flip the ropes, but in practice that doesn't always work perfectly and I've just found it faster to re flake.

I wouldn't recommend the redirected belay with two followers. As a matter of principle I think any belay of two followers climbing simultaneously should be auto-blocking, so I've always just used the atc (or camp ovo/kong gigi) in guide mode for belays.

Also - clove hitch in on only one rope. It keeps things cleaner than if you try to tie both ropes into a single clove hitch. 

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

I second the message that you need different approaches for different situations.  

When a single person is doing all the leading, it is more efficient to have each follower belay with their rope, rather than have one follower trying to belay with two ropes and the other follower doing nothing.  This is also safer if neither of the followers is an experienced half-rope belayer.

I never try to create two piles while belaying two followers up.  It might be possible some of the time, but mostly it just doesn't seem practical.  Take in both ropes together, and then have each follower re-stack the strand they'll be belaying with while the leader is re-racking.  The ropes won't tangle if the two followers re-stack simultaneously.  If one follower is pulling slack out of the pile and the other follower isn't, tangles are much more likely.  

To insure changeover efficiency, the followers should be racking all the gear they remove onto shoulder slings that they hand over to the leader as soon as they arrive at the belay, immediately freeing them to restack their ropes.  Having followers handing over gear piece by piece from their harness gear loops wastes time, makes it more likely that some gear isn't handed over, and keeps the followers from restacking the ropes at the same time as the leader is racking the gear.

With a party of three in which all three are sharing the leads, we use the same retying system mentioned by ddriver.  If the route is long and efficiency is important, we'll each tie in with two opposed autolocking carabiners so that rope ends are easily swapped and knots are not tied, untied, and retied.  Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, I put the opposed autolockers through my harness tie-in points, not through the belay loop, because I don't like the way the knots hang low from carabiners clipped to the belay loop.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply