A climber happily rope stacking, belaying, and avoiding a possible epic.
Many moons ago my brother and I set out to climbFrog’s Head (5.6) at the Gunks. It was to be our second multi-pitch endeavor, and like all conquistadors of the useless we were sure we had our systems dialed. But like all great bumblers, we were in for a lesson. After leading the first pitch and clipping the anchors, I began pulling up rope as Mike climbed. I made damned sure my right hand never left the brake line, but I paid no attention to the increasingly long loop of slack hanging down from my stance. Mike reached the belay, grabbed the rack, and began leading the second pitch. All went well until the rope refused to feed. I pulled and pulled, but the extra rope was solidly stuck on a flake or in a crack far below. Luckily, another party was already on the first pitch, and their leader came to my rescue. Since that day, I don’t let extra rope hang down where I can’t get to it, since in most situations there isn’t a handy second party climbing up to offer assistance. Now, if I can’t stack spare rope on a ledge, I make a lap coil. The most convenient place to make a lap coil is in your lap — across your tie-in rope, the strand running between your harness and anchor. You also can use a foot, leg, haulbag — any object that will securely hold the rope. Start by making fairly long loops back and forth across your lap. The longer your loops, the fewer you’ll have to make and the less bulky the lap coil, but too-long loops may snag on flakes or tangle in the wind. Ten feet is a good average, with longer loops for smooth rock, shorter for snag-prone stances or windy conditions. Avoid letting loops slink down into cracks (especially finger-sized), where they can wedge. After your initial loops, make each pair successively shorter than the last. This way, as you pull rope off the coil on your next pitch, the loops come freely off the top of the lap coil rather than tangle with an assortment of shorter loop ends. If one loop wraps around another as you pull rope off the coil, you’re on your way to a snarl, so make each successive loop four to six inches shorter than the last. Use lap coils whenever you don’t have a ledge on which to stack extra rope. After you finish a pitch and build an anchor, lap coil the tag line, if you have one. Transfer the coil out of your lap by slipping a sling underneath the middle of these coils. Put a biner through both ends of the sling and clip the coil out of the way. Don’t girth hitch the sling around the coils, as this will make it difficult to feed out rope later. As you transfer from lap to sling, be careful not to twist or invert the coil stack and end up with the large loops on top. Next, lap coil the lead line as you pull up the slack. As you belay, continue to coil back and forth across your lap (remember to make increasingly smaller loops) until your partner arrives at your stance. For the next pitch, you can feed rope directly from your lap, or transfer the coil to a sling. You can keep the belay area cleaner by moving the lead-line coil to a sling before your partner begins climbing, and coiling the lead rope into the sling as he follows. Transfer the lap coil of the extra lead line into a sling as you did with the tail line, clipping it to an anchor point on the same side as your brake hand. Then, take in rope until you’ve accumulated twice the amount of slack needed to make a coil. Feed a small loop through the sling, then pull the slack end of the loop to adjust the coil length. If you’re careful, you can do this one-handed and still belay properly, but belaying with an autoblock or Grigri attached to the anchor’s power point makes coiling much easier. Do not allow rope stacking to interfere with your belaying. Spaghettied ropes are better than spaghettied partners.