Walking the Rope

Get back on an overhanging sport route after falling

When working his route Le Rêve (5.14d/5.15a) in Arrow Canyon, Nevada, Jonathan Siegrist was forced to skip a clip in the middle of the extremely overhanging crux section, where he fell dozens of times before sending. That meant he was left hanging in space well below the point where he could grab the cliff-side rope or draws and simply pull himself up. To get back on the rock and try again, he adopted a trick known as “walking the rope.”

This technique lets you pull back onto an overhanging climb without boinking or lowering off completely. “Boinking,” or pulling up on the rope and then letting go while your belayer quickly takes up slack, only gains a few inches at a time and wastes valuable energy. Lowering off wastes time. By “walking,” you use your legs and core to climb back up the rope quickly. It takes some practice to master, and it requires hip flexibility and core strength to do it efficiently. (See video below.)

Step 1: When you’ve fallen and you’re hanging in space, out of reach of anything but the rope that is tied to your harness, make sure your belayer is alert and knows what you plan to do. Now lean back in your harness so your back is parallel with the ground (A) and perpendicular with the rope running up to your highest clip.

Step 2: Lift one foot (either is fine, but it will be easier with your dominant foot) and place it against the rope, just above your knot, so that the outside edge of your foot is on the rope (B). (This is where flexibility helps.) The inside arch of this foot should be facing you. Keeping your foot on the rope, sit up and grab the rope with both hands—one hand below your foot (C) and the other just above (D).

Step 3: Keeping your core tight, move the hand that was below the foot above the upper hand. Now pull up with your arms and push down strongly with your foot (E). Keep pushing down with your foot, and go hand-overhand up the rope (F) until you’re in a standing position.

Step 4: From this standing position, you may be able to reach the cliff. Let go of the rope and grab a quickdraw on the route, or grab the cliff-side rope if you can’t reach a draw. Now, alert your belayer and release your foot from the rope. Important: Once your weight is off the rope, it will pull quickly through the gear, especially if your belayer has been pulled off the ground by your fall, so keep your limbs out of the way to prevent burns or bruises. Hold onto the draw while your belayer pulls in all the slack. If you grabbed the cliff-side rope, you’ll lose some ground while the slack pulls through, but you should end up a few feet higher than you started.

*If, after walking the rope, you still can’t grab a quickdraw or the cliff-side rope, tightly hold your side of the rope at about head height, alert your belayer, release your foot, and let go. There will be several feet of free slack in the system, so your belayer should be prepared to drop or take up a lot of slack. You should stay about where you are—considerably higher than a normal boink would take you. Either walk the rope again or commence boinking if you have only a bit of ground left to gain.


Previous Comments

Robert, that is the greatest forum comment post I've ever read! Well done, Sir.

Adam - 06/01/2013 4:14:32

I was sport climbing the other day and realized I was climbing sans-prusik. I was 5 bolts up when my belayer notified me of my deadly mistake. I immediately went in direct to the bolt and told my belayer to throw me a prusik with haste. After a few futile attempts at a toss and catch I grew frustrated. "Fuck it!" I shouted. "I'm free-prusiking this route!" After gathering my composure and mentally preparing my mind and body for the daunting task ahead of me, I went back on rope. "Climbing!" I shouted. Left hand crimp. High right heel. Jug. Chalk. Shake. Keep climbing. "I've got this", I unassuredly assured myself. Only three more moves to the summit. Then I felt his presence. We all know what I'm taking about. The almighty. The King. The King of Doubt, that is. I had somehow managed to block out the thought that I was free-prusiking for the three previous moves. "It's only a prusik", I said, trying to gather what confidence remained. But who was I kidding? Free-prusiking? This can't be done! I felt as though I was about to become the pioneer to a new area of climbing! My mind was racing as I remembered the great Sir Edmund Hillary. We all know him. Ecstatic Edmund. Hey there's Hillary. Everest Ed. The same mad who once said, "Free-prusiking is impossible." So here I am. Back in reality. No, not reality. A dream placed in reality. Without thinking I chalked up again and finished the remaining two feet of climbing. I breathed a sigh of relief as I clipped the anchors and lowered down. Back on solid ground I said to my belayer, "I didn't even need a prusik." "Maybe not this time", he hesitantly agreed. "But you can't keep this up. You HAVE make sure you have a prusik next time." But to be honest, I don't even want to use one again. Maybe it's fools game. Maybe it can't be done. I know what the critics will say. "Use a prusik you damn fool!" But I've got a disease. And the only cure is free-prusik climbing.

Robert - 04/15/2013 9:32:10

how about carrying a couple prussiks and working smart, not hard?

Adam - 04/13/2013 1:59:39

I... like boinking...

Chris - 12/21/2012 12:38:17

I am not quit sure how to "walk" the second or third time. Is there a video?

Bryan - 12/20/2012 6:11:13