Tech Tip - Trad - A safe retreat


Climb enough trad routes and you’re bound to find yourself high on a wall, forced to bail. Good planning and an efficient process can help you escape quickly and safely. Best yet, you’ll be on another route before you know it!Double it up. On long multi-pitch routes, even ones you plan to descend by walk-off, carrying two ropes greatly aids your ability to safely and quickly bail off if you reach an impasse, the weather goes sour, or someone gets hurt. Having a second rope lets you to make the longest raps possible, allowing you to bypass intermediate wads of nappy slings and make it to the bomber anchor below. You can climb on a double-lead-rope system, but I prefer carrying a thin zip line that’s used only for pulling up a pack and rapping. A 7mm static cord is light enough for the leader to trail or for the second to coil and wear pack-style. Use static cord for your zip, since thin dynamic cord is too stretchy for pulling a long rappel. If you climb on a 60-meter lead line, consider a 65-meter zip line, which allows you to play with the position of your rappel knot relative to a rope-snagging ledge or dangerous edges. This also gives you a bit of extra cord that you can cut off and use for emergency anchor material without losing your ability to make full-length raps. Old ropes with worn-out sheaths are prone to snagging, so climb multi-pitch with the newest cords you own. Exercise caution when rappelling on ropes of different diameters, as the difference in friction through your rap device can cause unequal rope tension and possible slippage at the anchor. In extreme cases the knot can migrate far down from the anchor and you’ll get dangerously unequal rope lengths at the bottom of your rappel. You can solve this problem by always threading the thicker rope though the anchor so that the natural slippage (the knot will migrate in the direction of the thicker cord) will wedge the knot against the rings or biners. The disadvantage to this method is that you then have to pull the skinny rope to retrieve your cords, which can wreak havoc on your already-tired hands.Bailing on belay. Your bailing experience may begin in the middle of a pitch. It’s all too common for climbers in this situation to lower off their top piece, pulling the rest of the gear as they go and risking an increasingly dangerous screamer with each piece they clean. Don’t do it! If you’ve climbed yourself into a dead end and the only way out is to back down, you do not need to trust your life to a single sketchy anchor. Instead, unclip your lead line from your top piece, thread your handy zip line, and rap back down while your partner reels in the slack on the lead cord. Should your rap anchor fail, you’ve only exposed yourself to a normal lead fall (provided you have reasonably spaced gear below you on the pitch). This set up allows you to clean your gear and still be protected if the anchor blows. If you’re more than a half rope length up the pitch, of course, you may need to make two such rappels.Stay busy. After you’ve completed your rappel and are waiting for your partner to reach your belay, you can save some time by starting to feed the end of the rope you’ll pull though the new anchor. (Doing this means you will have to pull alternate ropes, not just your thinner rope, on each successive rappel.) As soon as your partner is down, you can immediately pull your ropes and continue feeding the incoming cord; the ropes will fall in place, ready for the new rappel. Just as the rope starts to fall by itself, give it a good snap outwards (away from the wall); this will help keep it free of obstructions. If you’re first down the rappel, you’ll need to clean up any snags and tangles formed when the ropes dropped. Pay close attention to obstacles and try to avoid chimneys and gullies where your rope could get wedged. Always make sure the tails stay below you; it’s an epic waiting to happen if they get jammed above your position. It’s important to have a system to free both hands mid-rappel should you need them to unsnag ropes or fiddle with knots. The simplest method is wrapping the rope around your leg three times.Luke Laeser is Climbing’s production coordinator/web producer, the author of many first ascents, and a veteran bailer.