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Alpine rock climbing- Party of 3 Swapping leads on Double/Twin rope

Original Post
Channing Lai · · Hong Kong · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 45

I will be climbing as a party of 3 with 2 8mm mammut phonenix ropes. Having read the online posts; can someone tell me if this is an efficient way to climb? our party of 3 has never climbed on doubles/half before but we will practice before the trip.

Gear: 1 red and 1 blue mammut 8mm rope.
Climbers: Joe, Brad & Zack

Pitch 1. (Joe is tied to Blue and Red, Brad is tied to Red, Zack is tied to Blue ropes)
1. Joe leads with both red and blue ropes. If the route is straight & bolted, he places both ropes into quickdraw. If it is a traverse and wandering, he alternates ropes.
2. Joe finishes to bolted anchor, sets up a sling anchor with a masterpoint. Joe does not clove hitch to masterpoint, but instead uses his PAS to go in direct to masterpoint.
3. Joe sets up top belay and belays Brad and Zack together. Brad starts seconding first , being tied to the red rope. Brad unclips the red rope from quickdraw , but does not clean gear.
4. Zack is tied to blue rope. Zack starts climbing after Brad is 10m above him. Zack cleans the quickdraws and gear.

Pitch 2
5. Now all 3 are at the top of pitch 1. All of them are connected to the masterpoint with their PAS (not cloved hitch using rope). Now it is Brad turn to lead.
6. Joe unties his blue rope end and gives it to Brad to tie in to his harness.
7. Brad starts leading with both ropes. Gets to anchor, sets up TR belay. Zack seconds with blue rope and Joe follows 10m behind on red rope.

Repeat as necessary.

Rappel: tie overhand knot and rope ends to rappel. 

Pete Vastyan · · Lafayette, CO · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

Thats pretty similar to how I've done it with a party of 3. I think the most exciting part of it was when the leader was at the anchor, and my climbing partner says "Climb fast and take chances" then proceeds to haul ass up the wall in front of me!

It is a bit cumbersome to belay two individuals at different speeds so my biggest advice is to have the second and third climb at similar paces once they are spread out.

Chase Giltner · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 30

Don't alternate ropes like you would leading with half ropes if it traverses. That would mean a bigger swing for each follower if they were to take a fall after each piece of gear.

Brent D · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 167

Chauvin’s mountain guide manual goes over swapping leads with three people and never using a PAS pretty extensively. It’s worth taking a look.  The system is a bit tricky at first but if you practice it it’ll become second nature. 

JonW · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 0

I think one issue in your scenario is that on the second lead the red rope is on the top of the stack and blue rope is on the bottom. That could be a major pain in the ass if both ropes are in the same stack. With doubles, I only separate them when starting pitch one and then they're treated like a single. Depending on the belay ledges, you might want to have two stacks for this. 

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,615

I also sometimes belay into separate rope stacks when ledge can accommodate.

I’ll first pull up the extra in both ropes directing those into one pile.  And then start belaying while throwing one of the ropes onto a new pile.

Often, though, the ledge does not accommodate. 

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 5

Climbing with a party of three can be efficient if all 3 are experienced and keep things moving.

You need to think about protecting your followers. If the route is fairly straight, there may not be a reason to clip the second rope into any pro at all. Whereas if it is traversing and wandering, you will need to think carefully about both your followers when clipping. Typically I lead on one rope as a single, and haul the other (make sure you don't confuse which is which when clipping!) and only clip the second rope where it needs to protect the followers on a traverse. This might mean using two draws on a piece so both ropes can be clipped to it without running together, or even placing a separate piece entirely. You also don't want both ropes in the same draw when they're going to be climbed on by two separate followers - if one falls, one rope will run across the other rope which isn't great. A benefit of this is that your followers have a bit more freedom of exactly where to climb, if the terrain allows, and can give each other more space while climbing. Also one of your followers will have little to no gear to clean, and can climb a bit faster. Once they reach the anchor they can begin restacking rope, or anything else to prepare for the next pitch.

If you're leading in blocks, the ropes will need to be restacked at every pitch. If swinging leads, one person will have to swap the end they are tied into. There are ways to do this safely without a PAS, but a separate tether to the anchor makes it simpler. Never untie or unclip someone else without confirming with that person they're secure in another way.

If all three work efficiently at each belay to keep things moving, and take advantage of their turn not lead belaying to hydrate and snack, there's no reason it has to be any slower than a party of 2.

stolo · · Shelby, NC · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 191

It requires a little planning, but if you have the leader only clove into anchor with one of his lead ropes (attach using the rope with the next leader on the other end), then when the second and third get to anchor he can untie the other and give to other leader, new leader ties into second rope and then heads off. Just keep your ropes in separate piles to stay organized at the belay. No need to carry a PAS!

Whether to use double or twin technique will depend on the pitch, just make sure leader and followers understand how to use directionals for protecting followers.

Belaying two at different speeds is not a big deal if using a plate in guide mode. I typically have the stronger follower go last and let them clean gear so the two followers go at roughly the same pace and no excess waiting. Climbing in a group of 3 is great...more people to carry almost the same amount of gear, another friend on the mountain, another competent climber to help w/ belay and rescue if needed.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,365

Use a pas for everyone while using the 3ppl 2rope technique. Much easier to mangae the rope that way.

Eric Stern · · Boulder, CO/ Tacoma Washington · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 40

As others have said, leading in blocks is really helpful. it allows for you to teather with a clove and you can stack both ropes into one pile. As for the followers, one belays while the other makes sure the ropes aren't getting tangles and feeds rope to the belayer. Once you are dialed, you will be only slightly slower than a team of 2.

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,610

I would guess that ya'll want to swap leads? You have half ropes you wanna use?
My fave way to climb w/3 (also the least clusterfk and fastest) is:
Leaders leads to anchor
Brings up 2nd, who is trailing 2nd rope
2nd ties into anchor, ties 2nd rope into anchor (butterfly works great, esp. w/bolted anchors)
While 3rd self belays up 1st pitch (capture device[s, mini-trax etc) leader takes off from anchor, belayed by 2nd.
Never more than 2 at a station, 2 people climbing, no confusion trying to belay 2 peeps. The second has brought all the gear to leader.
Just saying. 

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

I'm going to try to summarize.

1. The OP's original plan will create a tangled nightmare in very short order.  You can't have one of the leader's ropes feeding off the top of the stack and the other rope feeding off the bottom.

2. Anyone who has read my posts over time knows I'm a believer in PAS's.  But not as the sole connection to a belay anchor---that's a job for the rope.  The whole unroping/reroping process can be handled with just the ropes without anyone being untied.  The PAS's can back that up (and have a multitude of other applications) but shouldn't be the only connection to the anchor.

3. The OP has the the leading order wrong.  The trailing follower should be the next leader, because they've cleaned the gear and can at least partially rack it on the way up.

Here's how to handle the rope-switching order. The verbal description is longer than the actual process!  In a nutshell, the second who isn't leading the next pitch will have to switch the ends of the rope they are climbing on---this is necessary so that both ropes to the next leader run off the top of the pile---and pass the discarded end to the new leader.  In more detail, when the leader reaches the stance, they clove  in with both ropes and untie from the rope running to the second who won't be leading.  When the second who won't be leading arrives at the stance, they clove the rope they were belayed on to the anchor and go off belay.  Then they tie in to the end the leader has left hanging from the anchor, (which is the other end of that second's rope.)  The non-leading second then unties from the end of their rope they just cloved in with, leaving it hanging for the eventual new leader.  When the new leader arrives, they tie in to the end left hanging by the non-leading second and are attached to the anchor but set up to lead the next pitch with both ropes running off the top of the pile.

In spite of the complexity of the description, this really isn't complicated.  The non-leading second ties into a rope left hanging for them and hangs the other end for the new leader, who ties into that hanging end when they arrive at the stance.  Human nature being what it is, having everyone backed up with a PAS makes a whole lot of sense, but as with any PAS application, it isn't essential.

I suppose it is obvious that with all the untying and retying, knots have to be carefully checked.  Equally obvious is that the new leader has to be clear on which rope they are going to untie from when they reach the next belay. Also, in order to facilitate retying, anchor lengths for the ropes that will be untied and left hanging should be a bit longer than usual.

4. Rope clipping.  Rather than make rules, the best approach is for the leader to make sure both seconds are always properly protected from pendulum falls. If the leader wants to take advantage of half rope technique, they can  often do so by having the leading second clip the trailing second's rope into any gear used exclusively for the leading second (this to insure that the trailing second doesn't miss cleaning pieces).  This works as long as the two strands are not so far apart that the leading second can't reach the trailing second's strand.  Nonetheless, the need to protect both seconds from pendulum falls means that classic half-rope technique will often have to be abandoned and both ropes clipped to the same pro.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,615

I am very curious to try Richard's threesome rope-switching technique.  

In the past, we have rather tended towards a rope-switching technique I'll call the umbrella policy:  each tying in separately to the anchor (e.g., PAS) and then simultaneously rotate all the rope ends.  But I often find that onerous for the following reasons:

During rope-end rotation using the "umbrella policy", we are all independently and simultaneously making the effort to ensure everyone's knots get retied correctly while also having just tracked all three ends so that the right end gets to the right person without introducing tangles or knots.  In short, everyone is multi-tasking in the moment.  On top of this, there can be a tendency to automagically declare rotation completion by consensus,  especially if there is a large imbalance in experience.  Generally, the inexperienced do tend to defer to the other(s) if something is confusing  - granted, taken to an extreme, this is an example of a incompetence.

Contrast that with how we tie in at the base of a climb - where we often try not to distract our partners as they are tying in.  And for that, afterwards we usually do the double check by a naturally designated second partner (belayer) while no one is doing anything else.

In short, I suspect for me the greatest advantage to Richard's threesome rope-switching technique is that it reduces whole-party multi-tasking.  Again, I plan to further check it out, perhaps at ground level just before my next threesome climb.

phylp · · Upland · Joined May 2015 · Points: 617

What Muscrat said. 

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,615
phylp wrote: What Muscrat said. 
That does intrigue me.

However, often, my partners want to lead so we rotate leads; and typically none are interested in jugging, and I'm the only one who might consider rope-solo'ing as fun.  :)  
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

Additional remarks.

1. Stance organization is very important! Three people moving about and interchanging positions can create rope macrame that will cost the party a lot of time untangling the mess.  The leader should think about the order in which people will be leaving the stance and position everything (including the rope pile/stack) accordingly, the goal being that no one should have to step across either someone else's position or the rope pile.

2. With bolted anchors and a party of three, the commodious power point of a quad is nice when you have three people and possibly a guide plate.

3. If only two people of the three are going to be leading, then traditional rope anchor rigging works fine, as the last person to leave the stance is destined to be the leader on the next pitch.

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,610
Bill Lawry wrote: That does intrigue me.

However, often, my partners want to lead so we rotate leads; and typically none are interested in jugging, and I'm the only one who might consider rope-solo'ing as fun.  :)  

It's not jugging, it's climbing on a capture device. Totally chill, you can make it as spicey as you want by keeping a 'loose belay' on your device, or for that matter, as tight as you wish. It really is like climbing with 2 peeps, timewise. Ya, if ya'll want to swapped leads....

How long is the climb? If it is 4 pitches, do it 2ice!
If it's 18, swap every 6....all fun.
Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,615
Muscrat wrote:

It's not jugging, it's climbing on a capture device. Totally chill, you can make it as spicey as you want by keeping a 'loose belay' on your device, or for that matter, as tight as you wish. It really is like climbing with 2 peeps, timewise. Ya, if ya'll want to swapped leads....

How long is the climb? If it is 4 pitches, do it 2ice!
If it's 18, swap every 6....all fun.

Yes, I can see it is like two time-wise.  In that, whether third jugs or top-rope solos (capture device) does not matter.  The third can do whatever they like with the 2nd line that is fixed. Hey, some like to jug like some like to rap for rap sake, etc..

And for me, it's not so much about what I think is fun but what each individual thinks is fun. :)

Sure, sometimes repeating a route is fun.
Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,610

Well, i have met some who like to rap for rap sake, can you say canyoneering?, BUT! Jugging for fun? Have you ever met someone who admits to liking to jug? Ouch!

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,615
Muscrat wrote: BUT! Jugging for fun? Have you ever met someone who admits to liking to jug? Ouch!

Heh - I don't know anyone.  But I have heard they exist.  ;-)

PatMas · · Tulsa, OK · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 0

We’ve done 3 person party with the exact ropes you are using. Have your leader bring two longish slings, and clip each bolt separately (or the outside two pieces of gear) and stack the ropes separately and very cleanly. The leader of the next pitch takes the top end of both ropes (they should already be tied into one, but may be easier to untie and retie to get rid of tangles and twists every few pitches). Of the two people left at the belay, ones job it to belay, ones job is to make sure the next 20ft of each rope is free and clear. These thin ropes tangle easily so this is a harder task than you might think.

You can, instead of bringing extra slings, clove hitch into the bolts seperately, but this makes things more difficult for the other follower who will be staying at the belay with the first leader. If you want to use less slings, you can clove hitch one rope, and use a sling to the other bolt, that way follower two can get tied in more easily.

TLDR: bring extra slings for rope management and be anal about the ropes being stacked clean and neat.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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