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How to Do the Tyrolean Traverse

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The Tyrol, short for Tyrolean traverse, involves using a fixed line to cross from one point to another, often over water. While wearing a harness, you clip onto the rope or cable to pull yourself across. Developed in the Dolomites of the former Tyrol region, this method was used to approach and descend from spires. Nowadays, it’s commonly used to negotiate rivers or reach a detached pillar. If the ropes or cables are already safely set up, these basic guidelines will make traversing a breeze.


Take off your pack

One rookie blunder is wearing your pack while attempting the Tyrol. It’s much more difficult to pull yourself across with heavy baggage weighing your upper body down, particularly on long traverses or ones that hang low near the water. Clip the top handle of the pack to the rope with a quickdraw or carabiner before you get on. Once you are safely clipped and hanging on the rope, use a double-length sling or daisy chain and clip one end to that top handle and the other to your belay loop. As you pull yourself across, you will tow the pack behind you.

Gear up

A quickdraw will hold your weight while a longer sling with a locking biner will be the backup. A common mistake is not clipping your body close enough to the rope; an average quickdraw (12- or 15-centimeter webbing) is the ideal length. If you’re too far away from the rope, your arms will overextend, giving you less power and movement with each pull—it will take an enormous amount of effort to gain every inch.

Clip in

Most Tyrols will be bolted into rock or tied around a tree; either way, the process will be similar. If you can, clip your draw to the line while standing on the ground. If it doesn’t reach, clip your longer backup piece to the rope first. This way if you slip or mess up, you won’t tumble into the water. Put both hands firmly on the rope in the position you’ll be pulling from: stacked like you’re holding a baseball bat or a golf club. (Orient your body on the rope to pull headfirst.) In one motion, pull your upper body off the ground and use momentum to swing one leg up and around the fixed line. Wrap your other leg around the rope; you should now be in a solid position with both legs wrapped around the rope. Release one hand, and quickly clip the quickdraw on your belay loop to the rope—don’t put any twists in the webbing.

Hint: If the Tyrol is particularly high off the ground and hard to reach, girth-hitch a double-length sling directly to the line. Use it to step up so you can reach the rope. Once you’re safely on the line, remove it.

Start moving

Once you are clipped onto the rope, get comfortable in your harness so the top of your head is facing the direction you want to go, and you’re not swinging wildly. Use your feet to push off the anchor tree or rock to get some momentum. Push straight out; don’t push down or up, which can make you bounce around. Use the forward motion and pull on the rope, hand over hand. It helps to use your core with each pull. You can move faster and more efficiently if you allow your legs to hang down off the rope. Some Tyrols are loose and sag, so you have to pull yourself across and up, which can be too difficult to go hand over hand. In this case, pull with both hands as you use your core to pull your lower body up toward the rope like you’re doing a sit-up, and then release your core. This is effective because it involves your whole body instead of just your arms. Repeat this and settle into a rhythm. This method will require a lot of effort for each movement, but when you release your core, you’ll get a small rest.

Get off the fixed line

Make sure you’re above a safe landing zone, unclip the pack from your harness (but leave it clipped to the rope), wrap both legs around the line, and quickly unclip each tether with one hand. In a controlled manner, unwrap your legs from the rope and lower your feet to the ground. If you’re short, have someone else go first so he or she can help you down.