For next few days, REI will DOUBLE your gift to the Access Fund - up to $65,000. Donate Now!
Mountain Project Logo

how to react to severely frozen rope?


Original Post
Sean M · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 25

Went on my second ice climbing outing to do Pinnacle Gully yesterday with a more experienced partner. Was a relatively warm day, maybe 35-40 at parking lot, and high 20-s at the climb. 


The gully was in good condition, really fat ice, but a little wet.


Partner led the first pitch easily and the rope fed smoothly, but when I started following he had severe difficulty taking up slack for me, as so much ice had formed on the rope it was stick as a board, and he was having to manhandle each inch of rope to force it through the ATC. He ended up taking me off the ATC and switching to a body belay because it was so unmanageable. We decided to bail off the climb since dealing with all this had taken time, and we weren't really confident with using body belays for the rest of the route. it took a lot of work to shove the ropes into the ATCs and rap off. 


I did some searching on the topic, but I haven't found a clear consensus on what to do in this situation. I don't know if a dry rope would have helped, since water would have likely just frozen on the outside of the rope even if it wasn't absorbed. Are there special belay devices for ice climbing that I'm unaware of? Partner has significant experience on moderate ice, and said he's never had a rope freeze that badly before, but it can't be that uncommon? i'll post a pic in a minute


Edit for pics: 


Looking up at the first pitch:

Didn't have a great shot of the rope, but this gives an indication of what we were dealing with:


Paul Morrison · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 0

Why were you out climbing ice with an untreated rope in the first place?

One of the reasons I use double ropes for ice is that I don't use them for anything else, so that the dry treatment remains as intact as possible for as long as possible.

Greg Shea · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 10

Dry treatments work to shed ice not just stop absorbtion. Also consider a munter hitch or using a device like a kong gigi

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

I call bs on the previous 2 posts. Dry treatment helps but when you're in the soup, and it's below freezing, nothing helps.

Best advice I can give is have a narrow enough rope that you can still fit it through, even as a popsicle.

Maybe a brand new dry core would help marginally, but none of that hardly matters once it's a few outings old.

Sean M · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 25
Greg Shea wrote:

Dry treatments work to shed ice not just stop absorbtion. Also consider a munter hitch or using a device like a kong gigi

Thanks for the tip on the Gigi, it looks great, I'll check it out! With regards to the idea about dry treatments shedding ice, do you have any articles or references for that? Everything I can find indicates absorbtion is the sole benefit:

https://www.climbing.com/skills/wet-rope-myths-debunked/

https://sterlingrope.com/journal/204-can-icy-ropes-be-dangerous

These seem to indicate the dry treatment will help with the rope becoming less heavy and waterlogged and freezing solid to the core, but won't help layers of ice from forming due to water running over the sheath. 

Greg Shea · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 10

Just first hand experience, also not all dry treatments are created equal it makes a big difference to have a good treatment. It just makes the rope more slick and harder for the ice to bind if that makes sense.

George Bracksieck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2008 · Points: 1,405

This reminds me of the helpless gym climber who drops the atc outdoors. You can use a hip belay and a carabiner-brake rappel. Wearing warm clothes would allow a dulfersitz rappel to be comfortable. 

Edit: I remember whennnnnnn. Or maybe I can't. Oh yeah. Once upon a time, there were no dry-treated ropes. Ice climbing and winter alpine routes made ropes into encrusted cables. 

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,146

Get a better belayer. I have had ropes freeze up many times over the years. Even dry ropes can only take so much moisture and will freeze up. One learns to crack the rope and run it back and forth in belay device. Once flossed the rope will still be stiff but manageable. 

This remedy works when belaying and when one does not have a fat rope in a skinny belay device. The bigger issue comes when rapping on a frozen popsicle.

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 339

Kong gi-gi for belaying the second, other than that get a thinner rope(s) or better dry treatments.

pflynn85 · · New York, New York · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

How thick was your rope? I've had my rope freeze up but have always been able to manhandle it through my Reverso 4.  In my experience, thinner double ropes make that process easier still when frozen.  

Sean M · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 25
pflynn85 wrote:

How thick was your rope? I've had my rope freeze up but have always been able to manhandle it through my Reverso 4.  In my experience, thinner double ropes make that process easier still when frozen.  

Was about a 9.8

Nick B · · Anchorage, Alaska · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 56

You problem is using a non dry treated rope to ice climb, not your belay device. Dry rope resists ice build up 10x better than a non dry rope.   I have been on climbs with friends who brought non dry ropes and they turn useless/dangerous in 1-2 pitches on a wet cold climb (think -10 with running water..).  On the same pitches the dry treated ropes will get a little icy on the outside and slightly more stiff but belay device cleans them easily.   They no longer bring those ropes on ice climbs.  The double dry ropes are not a gimmick when it comes to ice (needs to be sheath and core treated)


In summary: The dry ropes still ice on the outside but clean easier and are much more usable after being cleaned as they are less stiff since they absorbed less inside the rope.


Also as mentioned doubles around 8mm help too.

cragmantoo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 175
Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 622

This is a huge pain in the ass, sorry you had to deal with that! For ice climbing, I exclusively use thin dry treated ropes.  The ropes I use for ice never get used for rock - this keeps the dry treatment going a lot longer. It's worth $200 to get a nice dry rope if you are serious about ice climbing.  

Just Solo · · Colorado Springs · Joined Nov 2003 · Points: 80

As mentioned dry ropes are certainly better for icing, but they can all ice up. If your rope is in flowing water, which it seems might be the case, you are S.O.L. and need to learn how to deal with frozen ropes, there are some great tips written already above. You made a good choice to bail...

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply to "how to react to severely frozen rope?"
in the Ice Climbing

Log In to Reply