Articles - Alpine Climber: Difficile & Beyond. Chapter 3 - The Technical Zone
by Martin Moran and Bruce Goodlad
The Technical Zone
Moving together – simul-climbing with runners
An effective way of balancing speed and safety is to climb together 10-15m apart on the rope, and place running belays so that there is always at least one good point of attachment on the rope. For confident grade IV climbers this allows fast coverage of the grade II/III ground. Simul-climbing on steep face terrain does have potentially serious consequences in event of a fall, but offers a compromise when speed is important. Many alpinists tend to eschew such techniques and solo the easier sections, but simulclimbing allows a fast-transition to belayed climbing because the rope is already in use, and prevents climbers getting split up or stranded.
Simul-climbing with Ropemen runners
On ice an effective mode of simul-climbing is to attach a Ropeman ascending device to the rope at each ice screw runner. If the second climber slips the Ropeman instantly locks the rope and prevents the load pulling the leader off. On ice the full length of the rope may be used with screws and Ropemen placed every 25-50m. This method could also be applied on rock pitches with fixed piton or bolt runners. The team needs to carry three or more Ropeman to apply this method over long stretches of terrain.
Many minutes can be saved on Alpine routes by using direct belaying to seconds whenever a solid anchor is encountered. Some modern devices such as the Black Diamond ATC Guide and Petzl Reverso allow for hands-free direct belaying, but they are fiddly to set up. Much quicker is the traditional Italian hitch used on an HMS karabiner, which can be up and running inside 5 seconds.
Organising multi-pitch abseils
On mid-grade routes there may be long sections of abseiling or else a prolonged abseil descent. With good organisation multi-pitch abseiling should be quick and stress-free.
Each climber makes a daisy-chain from a long sling and ties this to the harness attachment loop with a lark’s foot. The sling is used to clip all abseil anchor points and the abseil device can be loaded on the first loop of the chain, 10-15cm from the harness. The climbers can be initially stacked on the abseil rope provided there is room on the ledge. This means that once the first climber is down the others follow with no delay. The first climber down should use a prusik for protection on the abseil. This allows stops to sort rope tangles and will lock automatically if the abseiler loses control. The following climbers don’t strictly need to have a prusik (which saves 2-3 minutes on each abseil) because the first abseiler can hold the abseil ropes and pull them tight to lock the rope if they lose control. Unless the abseil points are in situ with two reliable anchors, the party should always place a back-up anchor. This is clipped into the abseil ropes with a few centimetres of slack so that it will catch the ropes if the main anchor fails. The last person down the abseil removes the back-up. In any abseiling team, jobs should be clearly allocated. First down fixes the next anchors, second down sorts out the back-up anchors, third down pulls the ropes.
Don't miss Chapter Four in the supplement, where Martin Moran recalls six close calls and highlights why learning from experience is essential when Alpine climbing.
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