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Ropework: Double Rope Top Rope

A 60-meter rope allows setting standard topropes on climbs no longer than 30 meters. Yet many routes can be done in a single pitch between 30 – 60 meters. With some clever ropework, such climbs may not require belaying followers from the anchor and negotiating multiple rappels or dangerous walkoffs.

Jerilyn toproping the 180-foot (55 meter) Land of Ra (5.11a) while Ian belays from the ground.

Here is a safe and simple way to toprope these climbs while belaying from the comfort and community of the ground.

• Lead the climb and trail a rope to set up a double rope rappel. Tie the knot so the trailed rope is pulled. This way, when you rappel, you can unclip to pass a piece, then clip the same line back in for a directional. Make sure to clip only the lead rope through directionals to avoid getting the knot stuck at a piece! Followers can now tie into the original lead rope while the trailed rope is used to belay.

As the knot approaches, Jerilyn, a speck on the horizon, is 150 feet up on Land of Ra.

• The knot must be passed through the belay. Consider a 50-meter pitch. In this case, when the follower ties in at ground level, the knot will be 10 meters below the anchor. As the climber progresses and the belayer pulls in rope, the knot descends. When the climber is 10 meters from the anchor, the knot will be at the belayer.

Oh no! How is Ian going to keep belaying Jerilyn with this huge knot?

Here are three ways to deal with the knot.

1. With a little slack, another person can put the climber on belay over the knot. The first belayer can then take the climber off belay. This is the easiest method.

2. Another locking carabiner and belay device can be readied above the knot for a quick transfer. The rope should be secured (wrap the brake end around your leg several times, or tie it off) before making the switch.

3. After securing the rope, the belayer can put the climber on belay above the knot with a separate locking carabiner and belay device before releasing the original belay.

Method 1 of passing a knot. The red rope can now be safely taken off belay.

It’s nice to let the climber know when you’re passing the knot.

A few more things to consider:

Rope drag can be worse on very long pitches. As with any long climb, take care to extend pieces appropriately.

Be aware of features that may cause the knot to get stuck. Step back from the cliff and angle away from cracks to belay, or to pull the ropes after cleaning a fixed anchor. Also, note that to clean the route, the knot must be pulled back up the rock.

Be respectful of other climbers. Your group may want to have an all day top rope session on linked pitches of a longer climb while another group is looking to complete the entire route. Please yield to smaller parties.

Ready to go! Jerilyn is tied into the yellow rope while Ian belays on the blue rope.

I haven’t detailed how to safely tie two ropes together. I’ve always used a double fisherman’s knot, but the European death knot (one-sided overhand bend) is gaining popularity and many claim it is less prone to getting stuck. Make sure you’re comfortable with these knots and double rope rappels before using this technique.

Jon Cannon - Excellent article, Adam. I wonder if there would be anything to be gained by tying two ropes together to do a two-pitch climb quickly, or if the necessary transfers would mitigate against it.May 11, 2011 – 4:27 pm

Adam - Maybe I’m not understanding exactly…but if you tie two ropes together at the ground to do link a couple pitches (presumably longer than a single rope length), then the knot would get stuck at the first piece of pro.May 11, 2011 – 9:10 pm

Scotty - The other option –to avoid having to pass the knot — is, with the knot at the anchor, have the climber tie in short (hence trailing the rest of the rope). This way you are guaranteed that when the climber reaches the anchor, the knot will have just reached the belayer. The climber can be lowered without having to deal with the knot.

The only drawback is the climber must tie in with a carabiner, and must climb with trailing slack.May 22, 2011 – 9:45 am

Jon - Well, duh. I need to think things through before I type.May 23, 2011 – 11:42 am

Denis - Another variation is to rappel only the trailing line (not both lines) after you tie the ropes together at the top of the pitch. Then you don’t have to unclip and reclip the lead line on the way down. That variation requires having your belayer take on the lead line while you rep the trail line, obviously.


P.S. Say hi to D-Rock, from his friends in the Gunks.August 1, 2011 – 6:31 pm

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