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Andy Kirkpatrick


11 June 2011

Exped rope question


Hey Andy

Rope question for you. I have a friend going to Baffin soon with relatively low ambitions in terms of rock climbing. He hopes to do some easy free routes - something on the back of Thor maybe. He’s a competent climber (30 odd years rock and alpine) up to E3 - E4. Climbing is somewhat of an accessory part of the trip.

Weight is obviously an issue so he’s wondering what would be a better rope combination - 9.1 Beal Joker and a 6 - 7mm retrieval line for abseils or two half-ropes?

Cheers - David

Like all such questions there’s a number of answers, depending on a number of factors (ie there is no answer!).  What ropes to take on an expeditions where you have to pack them in and out, and also have a limited baggage allowance is a tough call.  The default as a British climber is always two sixty metre half ropes, as this is the adventure standard, allowing you to climb safely (you have redundancy from cuts or damage from rock fall) and allows full length abseils (getting down is often the hardest part).  But what if you want to cut the weight to the absolute minimum, or your route involves some aid pitches, or your partner will need to jug some pitches, or pitches may need fixing (say if you want to climb the route in a day and want a head start).  Then things get a bit more complicated. 

I thought that maybe the best place to start is to list the main options open to you, and weigh up the pros and cons.  If you’re a real nerd then making an spreadsheet is a good way of playing around with total weights for expeds - especially if you’ve got to carry it on your back.

Here’s a list of pros and cons for rope systems starting with the thinnest:

Two twin ropes

example 2 x 7.7mm Beal Ice Twin (2.2kg) = total weight 4.4kg

Pros

Very light system
Both ropes are dynamic
Could be used singularly in an emergency
Very compact for shipping and transport
Allows full length abseils

Cons

Not really suitable to jumaring
More prone to wear and damage
Both strands must be clipped into all gear, meaning a direct hit on ropes by rocks will probably cut both strands
Can’t be used safely for auto belays
Can’t be used safely for short fixing

Two half ropes


example 2 x Beal Iceline 8.1 mm (2.5kg each) = total weight: 5kg

Pros

Very light system, and offers more robustness than a twin rope, especially with an 8.5mm rope.
Both ropes are dynamic
Could be used singularly in an emergency.
Compact for shipping and transport
Rope strands can be clipped independently, meaning less drag on complex terrain, and greater safety on loose ground.
Allows full length abseils

Cons

Not really suitable to jumaring, but better than a twin (go for thicker half ropes if you suspect you will be jugging)
Can’t be used safely for auto belays as easily as a single
More complex and less safe than a single for short fixing
Heavier than a twin system

One single lead rope and one trail/rap line


example Beal Joker (3.18kg) X 1 Beal 7.3mm trailline (1.8kg) Total Weight = 4.9kg

Pros

Lighter than a standard double rope system
Allows all speed tactics to be employed (short fixing and auto belaying when moving together)
Can be jumared
Single rope can be fixed
Easier to manage if trail line is carried instead of trailed.
Light hauling is possible

Cons

Main lead rope is heavier to carry.
Not great on complex pitches and works best on straight line climbs
No redundancy if the lead rope is damaged
Using a skinny trail line can be difficult in high winds, and need careful care.
Very skinny lead ropes can feel a bit thin when climbing on sharp ground!

One skinny single lead rope and one half rope


example 9.1mm Beal Joker (3.18kg) X 1   8.1 mm Beal Iceline (2.5kg each) = total: 5.6kg

Pros

Lighter than a standard double rope system
Allows all speed tactics to be employed (short fixing and auto belaying when moving together)
Can be jumared.
Easy to use
Can be used as a double rope system on complex ground.
Half rope can be used as an emergency lead line.
Light hauling is possible
Single rope can be fixed

Cons

Heaviest of the lightweight systems

And the winner is?

The one that works best for you, but personally for 1kg more I’d go for the last option, and perhaps even go for a 10mm if I had the choice, as being up high on a big wall a long way from help it might take a load of your mind.

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