It is downright terrifying how often people die falling in the mountains, unroped. In the Sierra for instance, since 2011 or so, the fatality count for unroped alpine rock climbers and scramblers is approaching 20. That is horrible!
Now, don't get me wrong... There are many circumstances under which climbing unroped is understandable. First, I'll be the first to tell you that soloing can be very enjoyable, for its own sake. Next, sometimes, (though very, very rarely, especially among those well-trained in rope usage), going sans cord is the safest way to go. If time and/or loose rock concerns press in just the right way, skipping the rope can be a defensible safety move.
However, if you are skipping the rope for any of these reasons, you are kind of asking for it:
- "There's no way to protect alpine ridges anyway"
- "I don't know how to make this safer with a rope"
- "It takes too much time to get the rope ready. It's just one little step. I'll be fine"
- "I've never fallen on this before"
- "It's too annoying to get the rope out"
Now, be honest with yourself... Are you soloing Matthes Crest or the Grand Traverse because that is the absolutely most enjoyable tactic for you, or do some of these empty excuses sneak underly your decision-making?
Which brings me to my "Three Things" this week. Three "tricks" to keep the rope handier. If you own a rope, or have a rope along, these should allow you to keep said cord handier.
- First, use a shorter rope. It's extravagant, but I own climbing ropes in 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70m lengths. And I choose the appropriate one for the job. In the Tetons, that is often a 42 meter rope... Weird, I know. I guided the Evolution Traverse on 30m of rope. Less rope takes less time to deploy and stow. Less time is less of a hurdle. Fewer hurdles mean smoother progress.
- Next, learn to "Kiwi Coil". Look it up on line. Hire a certified guide to teach you. Have a friend teach you. I don't care. Learn to do it fast. I can shorten the tied-in distance between myself and another climber from 40m to 5m in about a minute. I can take that entire 40m rope and "wear" it for a walking section in about 2 minutes. I can get 10m of it back out and ready to use in the time it takes my partner to tie his or her figure-eight knot. Learn to do the same.
- Finally, check out the photo above for another way to "wear" a rope. In this case, we topped out an ice climb of Canada's Weeping Wall and were walking over to the rappel tree. Doug coiled back and forth over his shoulders, as if to put the rope away, and then contained the coils with his sternum strap instead of wrapping it up to put on his pack. Super slick. Keeps the rope handy.
If you've gotten this far, shoot me a note if you'd have any interest in an online course in rope management for advanced climbers. The course would be largely video-based, with the goal being to introduce accomplished multi-pitch rock climbers to skills for handling the transitions that come with alpine terrain. What would you pay for this course?