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.
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.
• 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.
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.
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.
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.