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Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain
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jkd159


Jun 5, 2008, 8:20 PM
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Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain
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Can someone who has done it explain to me how short-roping works on 4th class terrain? I've seen it done, almost always by AMGA guides, and this is what I think I've seen: Guide and client connected by about 5m of rope. Guide holds a loop or two of slack in his hand. This is done on 3rd and 4th class terrain, sometimes in places where a fall would have serious consequences.

So is the rope there just to provide tension over tricky moves, or does the guide actually expect to arrest a fall? With no gear between the two, I'd think an unexpected fall by the client could lead to both climbers tumbling down the cliff. For example, the approach to Black Orpheus in Red Rock Canyon is easy scrambling. I saw a guide and his slightly larger client coming up together and thought that if the client slipped they would probably both fall unless the guide had an excellent stance at that moment. The distance the client would fall due to the loop of slack in the guide's hand was enough to make the catch appear quite difficult.

Does short-roping on exposed terrain actually provide a margin of safety, or just psychological reassurance?


vegastradguy


Jun 5, 2008, 9:33 PM
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Re: [jkd159] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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its largely done to stop a slip or a mis-step. you cant actually stop a real fall with the hand belay, but you can stop a slip.

that said, when short-roping, there are a ton of different techniques that range from the hand belay to a anchored belay- it just depends on the terrain and the comfort level of your client.


Partner rgold


Jun 5, 2008, 9:40 PM
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Re: [jkd159] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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I should begin by saying that I don't have any AMGA training, but that I have done some guiding back before there was any such thing.

Short-roping technique provides far more than psychological reassurance. There are several components that I can recall. First is that the terrain isn't vertical and almost all falls would involve at least some sliding before anything more drastic happens. If the guide can react during the initial slide, a good tug on the rope is typically enough to prevent the slip turning into something worse. The second is that the guide knows when something tricky has to be negotiated (because they've just negotiated it themselves) so they can stop and improvise a quick belay. Sometimes a sitting braced postion is available (the art of the braced unanchored body belay used to be practiced and learned by everyone, now probably only guides and alpine climbers master it) and an instant hip belay can be deployed. In other cases, the rope can be draped over a feature and a direct belay (another now almost entirely vanished feature of the distant past for most climbers) can be provided. The point is that these belay variations can be instituted and and discontinued almost instaneously, the progress of the party is hardly slowed.

I think guides will tell you that this type of terrain can be extremely demanding; the guide has to be hyper-aware of the client's moves and comfort level, while still climbing themselves, keeping their eyes peeled for quick belay opportunities, and attempting at all times to be in or close to a stable position.


haireball


Jul 20, 2013, 4:57 PM
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Re: [rgold] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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As a charter member of the AMGA, and one who contributed to their guide certification program, I've spent some time shortroping, have taught the basics, and have seen wide variations in its use. The basic idea is to reduce the length of rope in service (hence the terminology). Guides typically use the "kiwi-coil" for this purpose. In my opinion, the greatest advantage to roping short is the ease of communication between climbers. As a guide, roping short, I was always close to my client, observing how he/she was moving, always prepared to offer tension, or even a formal fixed belay for a move or two. An enormous benefit of the technique is the ease with which a team can alternate between a "running" belay ("simulclimbing") and a fixed, anchored belay.

Over the years, I've introduced numerous recreational climbers to the benefits of shortroping -- it needn't be only a "guides' technique", but re
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presents what I feel to be the safest version of "simulclimbing". With climbers of roughly equal ability, shortroping is really nothing more than simulclimbing close enough together so that you can be continually aware of what/how your partner's doing.


Partner rgold


Jul 20, 2013, 7:27 PM
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Re: [haireball] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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The one thing a climber may not be able to do is to arrest a fall when both the climber and partner are moving together. (This does not include glacier travel where the belayer can self-arrest.) Have a look at some tests at http://www.alpinerecreation.com/pdf/ShortRopeTests.pdf

There are various interesting results; one of them is that you can't expect to hold the unexpected load of an 80kg climber on a frictionless 30 degree slope (i.e. on ice). This is just the climber's weight suddenly applied with no slack in the system. Things get worse rapidly if the falling climber picks up any speed.


chris


Jul 20, 2013, 10:52 PM
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Re: [rgold] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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rgold wrote:
The one thing a climber may not be able to do is to arrest a fall when both the climber and partner are moving together. (This does not include glacier travel where the belayer can self-arrest.) Have a look at some tests at http://www.alpinerecreation.com/pdf/ShortRopeTests.pdf

There are various interesting results; one of them is that you can't expect to hold the unexpected load of an 80kg climber on a frictionless 30 degree slope (i.e. on ice). This is just the climber's weight suddenly applied with no slack in the system. Things get worse rapidly if the falling climber picks up any speed.

The whole goal of short roping is to prevent the guest from picking up any speed - to keep slips or stumbles from turning into tumbles and falls. I would argue that while short-roping, the guide should be anticipating a fall - that's why the rope is kept tense between the guide's hand and the guest. If the guide is unable to pay adequate attention to the guest while short roping, another method - like short pitching - should be applied.

Short roping, and the degree of actual attention/protection that is necessary at any moment, obviously depends on the abilities and experience of the guide versus the guest. Time spent climbing together also plays a huge roll - I'm much more conservative with someone I haven't climbed with before.

Finally, sometimes a guide may appear to be short-roping when they've really just prepared to start climbing at a more suitable location, and are now moving over terrain together, using modeling and coaching more than the rope. Perhaps that's the case in the OP's example.


Partner rgold


Jul 21, 2013, 7:31 AM
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Re: [chris] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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chris wrote:
The whole goal of short roping is to prevent the guest from picking up any speed - to keep slips or stumbles from turning into tumbles and falls. I would argue that while short-roping, the guide should be anticipating a fall - that's why the rope is kept tense between the guide's hand and the guest.

The point of the study, carried out by a UIAGM guide with 40+ years of experience, is whether a guide can check a client slip when the guide is doing all the things mentioned above, and the conclusion is not encouraging. To quote from the document,

W hen paired with the expected acting force of a client’s fall the chances of a guide holding a single client are possibly not high enough to rely on short-roping for client safety. (Experiments still need to be conducted to measure the likely forces coming onto a guide by a falling climber, estimated to be > 0.5 of the bodyweight of the falling person on a 30 degree hard icy slope.)

The chances of a guide holding two clients on such a slope appear to be very slim indeed.

Short roping on a hard icy surface of > 25 degrees
needs to be regarded as “confidence-roping” only, regardless of attachment method.

It brings with it the dangerous addition of a multiple fatality
accident in case of a single climber’s fall as simultaneous self-arrest of the entire party is near impossible.

Alternative guiding methods should be considered.


jmeizis


Jul 21, 2013, 8:38 AM
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Re: [jkd159] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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Short-roping and short-pitching are both real protection and sometimes psychological.

I think it is a very difficult technique for most guides to be proficient at because the terrain where it is applicable is where most of us feel comfortable soloing. I never use the techniques when climbing for fun unless I'm practicing. Aside from that there are many factors that affect what techniques you use where. Where on a single pitch of vertical rock you'll probably use similar protection and set up a similar anchor. The technique you use on 3rd and 4th class terrain will change based on the friction of the terrain, consequences of a fall on the terrain, the abilities of the clients, number of clients, size of the clients vs. size of the guide, and lots of subjective factors that I feel are best learned experientially.

Several of the days in my Alpine Guide Course were spent learning what I could hold on rock and snow with a hand belay, hip belay, etc. Imagine a bunch of climbers whipping down a snow slope with crampons and ice tools flying. It's educational but scary at the same time.

It's kind of tough to explain because it is so situational. How likely is a fall, what are the consequences, if there is a fall can I arrest it by hand or do I need to pitch it out?

I would say if you are worried about a fall it's probably better to do a short pitch and kiwi coil some of the rope instead of trying to short rope. You can still move relatively fast because you may have something the brace against or around like a boulder hip belays are pretty fast to get going.

The basic idea is you're holding some of the rope in your hands and if someone slips a little you can arrest it before it becomes a full on fall. Your body weight and friction of your hand and the terrain are the anchor and belay.

In short, it's complicated!


colatownkid


Jul 21, 2013, 1:20 PM
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Re: [rgold] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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rgold wrote:
chris wrote:
The whole goal of short roping is to prevent the guest from picking up any speed - to keep slips or stumbles from turning into tumbles and falls. I would argue that while short-roping, the guide should be anticipating a fall - that's why the rope is kept tense between the guide's hand and the guest.

The point of the study, carried out by a UIAGM guide with 40+ years of experience, is whether a guide can check a client slip when the guide is doing all the things mentioned above, and the conclusion is not encouraging. To quote from the document,

W hen paired with the expected acting force of a client’s fall the chances of a guide holding a single client are possibly not high enough to rely on short-roping for client safety. (Experiments still need to be conducted to measure the likely forces coming onto a guide by a falling climber, estimated to be > 0.5 of the bodyweight of the falling person on a 30 degree hard icy slope.)

The chances of a guide holding two clients on such a slope appear to be very slim indeed.

Short roping on a hard icy surface of > 25 degrees
needs to be regarded as “confidence-roping” only, regardless of attachment method.

It brings with it the dangerous addition of a multiple fatality
accident in case of a single climber’s fall as simultaneous self-arrest of the entire party is near impossible.

Alternative guiding methods should be considered.

I think it is important to note here that this study specifically examined short roping on ice. From studies I've seen recently, there is significant cause for conservative risk management when short roping on ice as it seems anything more than a 25 degree slope makes holding the fall exceptionally unrealistic.

As far as moving on snow is concerned, real-world practice I have done on slopes with safe run-outs (as well as many others have done in AMGA programs) offers potentially better success at arresting a fall. That being said, this study has been informal and is designed to give aspirant guides a working knowledge of the system and their own capabilities rather than provide definitive data. Short roping on snow also offers the possibility of the "flying guide" technique wherein the guide can potentially stop the fall through a rather violent self- (and subsequent team-) arrest.

On rock terrain, I would agree that the methods you initially describe upthread (regarding body and terrain belays, etc.) can be quite effective and efficient. For the sake of clarification in the conversation, this bevy of techniques is now typically referred to as "short pitching" in US guiding circles. "Short roping" generally includes the spectrum of protection techniques involving a shortened rope and may include short pitching, simul-climbing, glacier travel, etc. "Short roping" specifically, as a subset of the more general short roping techniques, refers to guide and client moving together on a shortened rope simultaneously, typically guarded by a hand-belay and coaching, without intermediate protection.

It is my opinion that short pitching can be effective and efficient, while the applications for short-roping on rock are more limited. However, with a 1:1 ratio, I feel that short roping on 3rd and 4th class terrain (that is, moving simultaneously while roped together) such as that described by the OP above (eg. on the approach/descent to Black Orpheus at Red Rock) can be effective and useful, provided that the client falls forward.

In other words, if one actually falls on a low angle slab, it is quite possible depending on slab angle that they would slip and slide down the slab some distance until friction alone stopped them. (In fact, I can think of one anecdote in which a rather run-out leader on a granite slab came to rest after a slide before the belay rope ever came tight.) In this case, I think short roping is a reasonable form of protection as the guide does not need to exert a terribly significant additional force to turn the slide into a stop. However, should the client fall over backwards (head over heels, nose-dive style), I imagine the entire party would be going for a long ride.


haireball


Jul 22, 2013, 11:48 AM
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Re: [jmeizis] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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Good stuff in this thread. Jmeizis' point about guides practicing and learning what they can hold with various techniques is critical. Unless things have changed, these guys "test to failure" with a safe runout -- repeatedly. Anyone considering adding short-roping to their tool chest should do the same. By 1978, the year I caught that group of seven on Oregon's North Sister, I'd had seven years training & practice holding that kind of fall, albeit holding no more than four climbers...

I'm glad to see the concept introduced that "short-roping" is far more than just a strong leader with a hand-belay. In the tests referred to in this thread, I see not a condemnation of short-roping per se, but a valid criticism that many guides may be inadvertently overextending themselves. Keep a screw or picket between the climbers on that thirty-degree slope, and the situation changes dramatically. If the surface is soft enough to plunge an ice axe, an on-the-fly ice-axe belay, or simply self-anchoring in "piolet manche" have both worked for me to catch "real-life" falls on slopes up to forty-five degrees. I've never seriously considered trying to catch a fall on a "hand-belay" - there are too many better, stronger options available.

Although I have not witnessed a great deal of short-roping in "real life" (except for my own climbs, most of my observations are from classes and workshops before I retired from guiding) I get the sense, from this discussion, that the short-roped running belay is under-utilized. For those of you who are already into simul-climbing, I would encourage you to try it with the working length of your rope shortened to about ten meters. It has been my experience that the ability to easily and effectively communicate with my partner, and to seamlessly alternate between a running belay and a fixed belay, opens up a whole universe of speed and safety on long moderate routes. The speed is a function of eliminating about 99% of time spent rope-handling, and the safety is a function of remaining protected on exposed easy ground you might otherwise climb unroped.

One last thought: there has been some mention along the thread here of short-roping and glacier travel. I don't consider short-roping appropriate for traveling a crevassed glacier. On crevassed glaciers, I want my rope team spread as far apart as possible. The exception, which is confusing, is when the rope team is only two climbers. With three or more, if one falls in a slot, the rope connecting the remaining climbers on the surface is available for constructing a raising system. With only two climbers, when one falls through, the other has no raising capability if the two are tied in to the rope ends. So, with only two partners, each kiwi-coils a third or less of the rope, leaving a third or more in service between them. While this looks like a short-roping set up, it's really not - it's just keeping enough rope with each partner to build a raising system if the other falls in a slot. The two climbers still want to stay as far apart as possible


jmeizis


Jul 22, 2013, 1:23 PM
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Re: [haireball] Short-Roping on 4th Class Terrain [In reply to]
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haireball wrote:
By 1978, the year I caught that group of seven on Oregon's North Sister, I'd had seven years training & practice holding that kind of fall, albeit holding no more than four climbers...

Are you serious Shocked! Insurance has sure changed since then!


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