Q&A – Sheath Damage
I have a question relating to rope damage, if you have any feedback it would be much appreciated.
I have been building my experience and learning the lead rope soloing systems outlined in your book and other online resources.
A few days ago I was lead rope soloing a 3 pitch climb and noticed damage to the outside of the rope (I could see the inside which was undamaged but it was still alarming, especially after a relatively small route - rope has been retired).
I believe this damage occurred when I was jumaring/ climbing back up the final pitch as I always check the rope and found it when packing it away.
I deployed a mixture of jumaring and climbing whilst ascending the rope depending on how difficult the ground was. My guess is that by climbing and jumaring up the rope I would weight it and then unweight it repeatedly which could have resulted in the rope being pressured on a sharp edge multiple times - I failed to spot any obvious sharp edges when abseiling.
Would you recommend either committing to jumaring or re-climbing instead of doing both when ascending the rope to reduce this risk? - the above is just my best guess.
Anonymous (name withheld)
I’ve always found that jumaring (or rope climbing), is a skill that many climbers underestimate, both in terms of the skill involved, as well as how fatiguing and dangerous it can be if you get it wrong, and underestimate what it takes to do it well.
Yes, anyone can make up a set of Prusik loops and buy a couple of handled ascenders, and then flail their way up a free-hanging rope, dangling from a tree or climbing wall. But transplant the little bit of training onto a big wall, or hardcore alpine climb, perhaps adding in a heavy pack, and swapping out an 11mm static for an 8mm half rope, and you’ll soon find yourself in either a world of hurt or an early grave.
Just like any skill in climbing, be that anchor building, mixed climbing, or navigation, rope climbing should not be some afterthought, after all, on most big walls, half the ascent is done on ascenders. Yes, I know loads of climbers (well, most climbers), who have started up a big wall with only the most basic of rope climbings skills, and after 1000 metres of jumaring, have become pros. But I also know climbers who stripped their ropes and almost died, or who just became exhausted due to an inability to correct what they were doing. I also know of several climbers who killed themselves, either due to shredding their rope or failing to carry out back-ups.
And so, if you’re going to jumar ropes, then you really need to get good at it, either by training (going up and down ropes), or being the type of climber who’s able to identify and adapt quickly while jumaring for real.
To go into what’s required would be a book in itself (the brother to my Down book perhaps), but here are a few pointers.
If practicing, do so on both free-hanging, vertical, and slaby surfaces. And a climbing wall is a perfect venue for this.
Repetition is key, so going up and down a rope again and again, and trying out different setups, foot positions, and lanyard lengths is ideal.
When going down you can either practice down jumaring (a vital skill), or transition from ascenders to descenders. If doing the latter, then consider using a back-up system, like a top rope, as I’ve seen climbers transition to nothing!
The key to safe jumaring is the two-point rule (I think in rope access it’s a 2.5 rules), in which you are always connected by two points. This means when you take off one of your ascenders, you are clipped into the rope, or you have a Grigri working as a “running back-up” below your ascenders. Very often, on a real big wall, a climber will have four contact points (being tied into the end of the rope does not count, as a 60 metre fall could well be terminal!).
You must be 100% focused on being smooth and unjerky, so any edges do not saw into your rope, but are rather just held in tension in the same spot. One way reason for jerky jumaring is when climbers have the wrong set up, and the other is when they’re trying to carry a load on their backs. If you jumaring with the mindset your rope is running over a sharp knife then you won’t have any problems. If you think your rope is indestructible, you may well die!
If rope soloing then jumar all your pitches, as it’s faster and safer, and if you don’t think it is, such as when crossing roofs or traverses, then you just don’t know how to jumar yet. Just look at cavers, they do not toss-up between jumaring and self lining up a pitch, they just jumar.
Learn to spot nasty spots when rappeling your haul line, and learn about re-belays (read up on SRT and rope access techniques).
Instead of carrying heavy stuff on your back, either just haul it up afterward, or learn to jumar with a bag clipped to your belay loop, so your legs are just lifting up the weight for brief moments. Russian teams employ this technique to carry some very heavy loads (and so avoid hauling on difficult ground).
Practice with both double hand ascenders, a handle ascender and croll, as well as Grigri and hand ascender. Employ as many setups as you can, and don’t forget to also practice with old-school Prusik loops, as well as micro ascenders.
So there’s a brief outline, and I’ve covered a lot of this in my book Higher Education (the Kindle version is only $9.99), but really it’s just a case of practice, practice, practice!
I think the re-belaying on descent that Andy mentions is the main key to saving your rope.
There used to be an excellent video by Dave MacLeod on the subject ( but recently removed )
I haven’t found an equivalent vid that covers it as well as Daves