Articles - How to retreat from a route
Ryan Simpson - Posted on 30 Aug 2010
Climb enough multi pitch routes, and you are bound to get to a point where you need to retreat off the route. This can be for a number of reasons; weather, time, difficulty etc. It is important, however, not to consider the need to retreat as a failure. The decision to back off is often the safest, most sensible decision.
Double it up! Climbing on double rope enables you to make the longest possible abseils. This means you can be at the bottom of the crag faster, and having left as little kit as possible behind.
Carrying a length of 6mm cord with you can help limit the amount of karabiners and slings that you need to leave behind. This can be carried tied up and clipped to the back of your harness, or you could use it as a chalk bag belt, wrapped around your body 3 or 4 times.
Constructing bombproof anchors
It’s essential that any abseil anchor is completely bombproof. The ideal option is a solid spike, block or tree. Tie your 6mm cord around this anchor using a double fisherman’s knot. If this is not possible, you will have to leave some gear behind.
All too often climbers try to retreat off a route by abseiling off one piece of gear, usually the smallest possible nut they can use. Nobody likes leaving kit behind, as it is expensive to replace, but this prompts the question - what price your life?
Always use at least two 'bomber' pieces of protection to make an anchor. This is where your 6mm cord really proves its worth. Tie the cord directly into each piece of protection with a rethreaded figure of eight, therefore saving at least two karabiners.
Ensure that the cord is equalised in the direction of where you will abseil, and tie a double figure of eight, ensuring you include all of the strands of cord in your knot.
You can then thread your rope through this loop and abseil off both strands, pulling on the appropriate end at the bottom to retrieve your rope. If you’re not sure that your rope reaches the bottom, tie a knot in each end, just in case!
It is important that you recognise that the practice of tying cord directly into pieces of protection, and threading your abseil rope through the cord is only okay as long as there is no movement in this system and it is kept under tension.
RYAN SIMPSON IS AN INSTRUCTOR AT PLAS Y BRENIN OUTDOOR CENTRE, NORTH WALES