Category Archives: Technique

Quick Link – Cross Loading a Carabiner When Slinging Trees

I am guilty of not paying attention to this detail that can dramatically reduce the force a biner can handle.

From the American Alpine Institute’s blog:

Surprisingly, there is one mistake that both beginners and advanced climbers alike tend to make. Many people will wrap a tree with a sling and then clip the sling. Often the sling is wrapped around the tree in such a way that it is loading the carabiner improperly. A carabiner that is loaded from three directions is often referred to as being triaxally or tri-directionally loaded. This is very very bad… (link to the article with pictures)

American Alpine Institute

Petzl Ice Screw Strength Tests

I’m moving to Seattle in a month and am finally going to be able to ice climb on a semi-regular basis. I’m stoked but also a little anxious because ice climbing is my weakest area as far as experience goes. Perusing the ‘net I found this nifty video of Petzl doing field tests of ice screw strength. My takeaways are that the threads of the ice screw are where the strength is at and ice screws fail not because they slide out but because they get torqued and the ice above them flakes off. Taking the next logical step, for the strongest ice screw placement I would want to minimize torquing by placing them at a slight downward angle (the direction of a fall) which would put as much force as possible on the threads of the ice screw.

Climbing Knots – Bowline on a Bight

I never start the day saying “hey, wouldn’t it be gnarly to run out of slings half way up a climb” but sometimes it happens.  Normally I climb with doubles so setting up a two piece anchor isn’t a problem because I just plug some gear and clove hitch each rope to a piece.  Problem solved.

When I was climbing The Nose over at Looking Glass I didn’t get so lucky.  That day I was climbing on a single and when I ran out of slings on pitch 3 I was kind of at a loss for setting up an anchor.  I managed to rig something that was “safe” but was anything but textbook which kind of bothered me.  After doing a little digging I realize that what I should have used was a bowline on a bight.

I learned this climbing knot from Rick over at Cremnomaniac.  His blog is relatively new but I am really digging the wealth of knowledge he has shared in just a few posts.  If you have some time I would highly advise reading his Trad Climbing Techniques, Tricks & Tips article.  It is a damned good read.

How To Belay – The Soft Skills

There are plenty of resources out there that can teach you the hard skills on how to belay.  There are more forum posts on overhand vs underhand belaying technique than I care to mention and don’t get people started on gri-gri vs ATC style belay devices.  While all those articles are well and good at teaching the hard skills I find that even a belayer with perfect technique can be a poor belayer because of terrible soft skills.

The reason I mention this is because I recently climbed with my buddy Mike who is a novice climber and even though he has good technique and I “knew” he wasn’t going to drop me, he was lacking the soft skills that make a belayer a good belayer.

The first rule of being a good belayer is to inspire confidence in the leader.  This can range from the occasional “you got this” to “moving smooth like butta.”  The key here is to reassure without breaking their concentration.  There is nothing worse than a belayer constantly yapping but the occasional encouraging word lets the leader know you’re paying attention and are ready to catch them should they fall.  Every comment should be inspiring which means that the last thing you want to say are things like “I think you need to put pro in” or “man you’re run out” because I assure you the leader is well aware of the situation.

Don’t short rope the leader and likewise don’t use a top rope to pull the climber up the route.  There is no greater sin than a belayer causing a leader to fall because they short roped him.  While lead climbing leave enough lack in the rope for the leader to make a couple of moves.  On top rope make sure the slack is out of the system but you’re not providing upward tension.

Don’t spew beta just because it looks like the leader is struggling.  If the leader needs some help he will ask!

When a climber is clipping make sure they have enough slack to smoothly grab the rope and clip in.  If you don’t give enough slack you can throw the climber out of balance and cause him to dump at the point that they are furthest away from their last piece of pro.

When climbing on double ropes I find it helpful for the belayer to make sure I am not crossing ropes and mention whether I should clip the red or blue rope.  Ultimately it is my decision which rope to clip but the belayer has the best view of the entire system.  This also allows the belayer to protect themselves from a nasty pendelum fall in case you accidentally forget to pay attention to that.

Sometimes people will put in shoddy pro as mental pieces.  It is not good practice but some people do it.  If one of those pieces pops loose while they are climbing don’t mention it if it isn’t their last piece because it will destroy their confidence in the rest of the pro.  If it is their last piece mention it in a non-panicky way like “that crack you’re at looks like it will eat up a cam.”

On loose routes and when ice climbing make sure you are not directly below the climber.  This should be common sense but unfortunately I’ve seen it a lot.

On multipitch once the leader is off belay make sure you are getting ready to follow.  Tie your shoes, down a power gel, put on your backpack, etc.  This saves a lot of time and frustration for the leader.

These are just a few of the rules I can think of off the top of my head.  Learning how to belay well is an experience thing but hopefully these belaying tips will give you a jump start.  If I forgot any tips on how to belay please leave a comment for the next guy.

Do you free solo? – Why Rappelling Back Up Is Important

Do you free solo?  Most people would say no way, not ever.  But wait a minute, what exactly is free soloing?

Free soloing is climbing with no safety net.  It’s a place where your life literally is in your hands and accidents are verboten.  While free soloing you only have one means of connection to the rock and if that fails you splat, end of story.

Now with that definition of free soloing I’d beg to differ with those people who think they never free solo.  Let’s think about what happens when you rappel.  You run your rope through a hopefully bomber anchor, toss it over the edge, attach your device and then you’re on your way down.  But while you’re rappelling you only have one method of connection to the rock and that is your brake hand on the rope.  In essence you’re free soloing because there is no safety net, there is no back up and the only thing between you and the infinite nap is your brake hand.

Now that may sound like a bit of a stretch but if you have ever read Accidents in North American Mountaineering you know that it seems like there are more rappelling accidents than any other type.  Now that is absurd to me because in a lot of cases those accidents are preventable by simply backing up your rappel.

I propose that next time you rappel you back it up just to see how easy it is.  The key to making it quick and easy is to use a very short cordolette as an autoblock attached to your leg loop with a locker.  You have to keep it short to prevent it from jamming your device should you have a gnarly accident.  This is crucially important so I’ll repeat it, the autoblock will not work if it jams your device so make sure it is short enough when everything is fully weighted and when you lift the leg that your autoblock is attached to.  I have an especially short cordolette that I have marked that I use to back up all of my rappels.

(Update 2012: I have started extending my belay device.  I started doing this because extending the device as shown in the diagram adds redundancy to the system.  This method allows me to remove a single point of failure and doesn’t use any gear that I don’t already have on my harness.  This method also has the benefit of keeping my autoblock even further from my device.  The picture is from “Self-Rescue” the book, which is highly recommended.)

A word on cordolettes.  Not all cordolettes work as friction knots.  Anything that is dyneema or dynex will not only slip but it will also melt and weaken to the point of failure.  This is the job for some good old fashioned 6mm accessory cord with a double fisherman’s knot.

Give this a try next time you’re out.  You’ll find that it takes almost no time and it makes life tremendously easier.  Just the other day I was rappelling down a slightly overhanging face and found the rope was tangled up into a big ball of nastiness.  I guess I could have done the “wrap the rope around your leg three times” trick but instead I engaged the autoblock, worked on the tangle and then finished the rappel. Piece of cake.

So next time you’re out, try backing up your rappel.  It takes 30 seconds and it makes climbing just a bit safer which will make your Mom happy.

If you want more great info on rappelling check out this article by Climbing Life Five Rappelling Techniques You Should Know