Happy Traversing for Leader and Second

Get Out on Rock DVD  © UKC Articles
This brand new UKC mini-series combines words, photos and diagrams to make it easy to grasp some of the trickier aspects of climbing. With the most up to date info possible it uses the stunning images of Mike Robertson and diagrams from Rock Climbing – Essential Skills and Techniques.

The Get Out On Rock DVD (pictured right) is a collaboration between Neil Gresham (top-level climber and Britain foremost coach) and Libby Peter (experienced Mountain Guide and climbing Instructor). It brings you the very latest in rock climbing skills and techniques and provides instruction and inspiration whether you're venturing onto rock for the first time or getting more adventurous with your climbing.

The DVD is available from: Libby Peter's Website


Lou Neill working hard to protect herself and her second on The Moon, E3 5c. Gogarth  © Mike Robertson
Lou Neill working hard to protect herself and her second on The Moon, E3 5c. Gogarth
© Mike Robertson
They are the trickiest pitches to get right when it comes to runners and belays, but traverses often provide our most memorable climbing journeys, taking compelling lines amidst dramatic scenery.

They are difficult to protect because you either put so many runners in you can't move for the rope-drag or leave them out and terrify yourself and your second. But before you go crossing all traverses off your tick-list, take a look at these tips and tricks for making life happier for you and your second.

Straight traverses

By this I mean the pitches where you have to belay directly at the end of the traverse so there's no scope to move above the traverse line. In this case the only way to protect the pitch adequately is by lacing it with runners.

With a single rope you'll have to use longer extenders or slings to minimise the rope drag and to stop the runners lifting out, as shown in the diagram below.

Protecting a Traverse Diagram 1  © MLTUK
Protecting a Traverse Diagram 1
© MLTUK

If you're using double ropes you can clip each rope alternately or attempt to separate them by having a higher and lower rope as shown below.

Protecting a Traverse Diagram 2  © MLTUK
Protecting a Traverse Diagram 2
© MLTUK

A Dream Of White Horses on Gogarth is not only a classic route but also a classic example of a straight traverse. The only way to adequately protect it for leader and second is to place as many runners as you can find, with the preference being cams wherever possible coupled with long extenders.

George and Paul on the classic A Dream of White Horses (HVS 4c), Gogarth, N Wales  © Jamie Moss
George and Paul on the classic A Dream of White Horses (HVS 4c), Gogarth, N Wales
© Jamie Moss

Belaying above

If you've got the option of moving back above the traverse line to belay you have a further option of intentionally leaving the runners out towards the end of the traverse so the second has a rope above them rather than puling from the side as they climb across. Obviously this only works if the leader is happy to climb the section without runners or in a situation where is no gear anyway.

Protecting a Traverse Diagram 3  © MLTUK
Protecting a Traverse Diagram 3
© MLTUK

With double ropes you have more scope and can achieve both a rope from the side and one from above by leaving one rope out of the runners like this:

Protecting a Traverse Diagram 4  © MLTUK
Protecting a Traverse Diagram 4
© MLTUK

On single pitch climbs where you are traversing close to the ground there is a real potential for hitting the deck if you've got the spacing of the runners wrong. So in many ways these routes require the most thought. See how to cope with a gritstone traverse in this clip:

VIDEO: Moving on with Leading; Traverses


Turning corners

Making changes in direction always creates problems for your runners. Moving into a traverse from a vertical section creates a stress point at the corner that will give you drag and possibly result in the runner lifting out as shown in the three diagrams below.

The solution is to put a long extender or even a sling on the runner in the corner to smooth out the angle.

Even better use multi-directional runners like cams or threads as shown in the far right image.

Runner on a traverse Diagram 1  © MLTUK
Runner on a traverse Diagram 1
© MLTUK
Runner on a traverse Diagram 2  © MLTUK
Runner on a traverse Diagram 2
© MLTUK
Runner on a traverse Diagram 3  © MLTUK
Runner on a traverse Diagram 3
© MLTUK


The lift on the runners at the change of direction is clearly visible as Chris gets higher on Aries, VS 4c, North Pembroke  © Mike Robertson
The lift on the runners at the change of direction is clearly visible as Chris gets higher on Aries, VS 4c, North Pembroke
© Mike Robertson
Likewise, when you change direction from a traverse to a vertical section you'll have the same 'corner' problem. Smooth out the sharp angles as far as possible whilst striking that balance between minimising the length of a fall with creating drag. Take a look at this sea-cliff pitch, which is problematic to protect for the leader because the traverse is close to the sea. The extenders need to be reasonably short to prevent a dunking yet the change of direction is sudden creating a sharp angle.

And Finally

But every cloud has a silver lining; falls from a traverse are generally quite 'soft'. In other words the impact force on the climber, runners and belayer are low. Happy traversing!





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25 May, 2010
Nice! very informative, more like this please...
25 May, 2010
Hi Minimike, Libby has just done a series for us: UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Libby Peter: * VIDEO: Double ropes – what, when, why, where and how! May/2010 * Surviving Sea-cliff Adventures Apr/2010 * VIDEO: How to rig an abseil Apr/2010 * VIDEO: How to equalise anchors at a belay Mar/2010 * VIDEO: How To Rig a Top Rope Mar/2010 They are all here:http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/older.html?category=3 Which is the 'Start Here' section of the site and has lots of 'how to' articles. Cheers and glad you found the article useful. Jack
25 May, 2010
And Finally But every cloud has a silver lining; falls from a traverse are generally quite 'soft'. In other words the impact force on the climber, runners and belayer are low. Happy traversing! The climber can face a rather nasty pendulum though ! So put enough gear in. Cheers, Michael
26 May, 2010
Looks like a useful series, The most terrified I've ever made my second was on a traverse....I didn't understand how to protect her as well and ran out of extenders, leaving her looking at a rather large pendulum if she came off mid crux.
26 May, 2010
Look at traverses this way, you protect the route for the weakest person, the strongest should not then fall off unless a hold breaks. Not read the article yet so it may already have been said.
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