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Leading on 50m half - classic alpine routes

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 nextural 27 Jul 2020

Hi Hivemind,

The general consensus seems to be that one 50m half rope (down to 8mm) is the best option for 'classic' alpine routes, because they're equipped with 25m abseils.

Gotcha. But in every video I've seen, guides are leading on a single strand - not a doubled half. So what's going on here?

Are they using tripled rated singles or are they using the half as a single because the chance of a fall is very low?

And does this mean that to be climbable on a doubled up 50m, there is no pitched section longer than 25m on these routes?

Final note, for clarity, can we define 'classic' ? Routes up to Difficile?


 Mark Haward 27 Jul 2020
In reply to nextural:

It depends...

On many routes F to AD ( and sometimes harder ) one 50m rope is fine or even preferred ( simpler and quicker ). Depending on the nature of the route ( and  the experience / skills level of the party ) a half rope can be ok but some rock in the European Alps can be very rough. So, assuming some direct belays and flicking ropes around spikes whilst moving together a triple rated or even full rated single may be preferred - 'classic' weaving ridge routes and less experienced party members in particular can quickly trash ropes. Thinner ropes can also be harder to handle in gloves / cold and for the less experienced. If you do a lot of climbing on this type of route a single 50 metre workhorse of a rope will last longer.

However, some routes are not equipped with 25m abseils or regular belay points and may wander around more or have longer pitches. For example the Contamine routes on the Tacul ( AD ) can be moving together territory on much of the routes for some parties but many will pitch at least parts of them usually requiring a 60m rope or even two ropes if you think you may need to abseil / retreat.

Good question about what makes a 'classic' alpine route. I guess it is a popular route usually with a glacial approach ( Hornli Ridge is one of the exceptions ) that can also have scrambling, rock climbing, mixed and some pitched climbing that would usually all be done in big boots. 

Finally, it is worth noting that guides will often take clients up routes they have done many times before and may take the minimum rope length required for that route which may be a mere 30 or 40 metres.


In reply to Mark Haward:

A half rope is probably better suited to less steep terrain with rough rock and sharp edges than a triple rated rope. Reason being, skinny single ropes have more core relative to the amount of sheath. They're stronger but at the expense of ruggedness. I've got a Mammut Serenity 8.7mm triple rated single and after several years of heavy use the sheath is substantially more trashed than my 8.3mm meteor half ropes which have also had lots of abuse.

 Rob Parsons 27 Jul 2020
In reply to nextural:

> ... because they're equipped with 25m abseils.

That's not my own experience at all.

What are some of the routes you have in mind?

Post edited at 19:33
 Will_he_fall 28 Jul 2020
In reply to nextural:

You've hit the nail on the head- using a skinny triple rated single is standard practice for guides. A double rope isn't designed to be used on its own, and I can think of at least 1 fatal accident that was attributed to a half rope breaking in a fall on classic alpine terrain when incorrectly used in that way.

Most classic alpine routes are equipped to be descended with a single 50, if by classic you mean ridges and not multi-pitch rock climbs. As always a google in the usual places will confirm this for specific routes.

Using a single rather than a doubled up half is much easier for shortened and lengthening the distance out when on moving together terrain, and means you can run out longer pitches where needed. Handling a single rope is also easier on pitched terrain- on classic alpine routes you dont generally need  to split ropes uk style to reduce drag.

Ropes like the Beal Joker and mammut serenity are light and pretty hard wearing.

 Al Randall 28 Jul 2020
In reply to nextural:

You have to also think about the descent. I climbed the vast majority of my alpine routes up to ED2 on 50 metre half ropes but there have been times when I would have found 60 metres for the abseil very useful. Latterly I was using 60 metre twins.


In reply to nextural:

I'm with Al Randall. If this is early days, long ropes, allow for missing belays when you're tired and/or they're not available. I've done a number of routes when without 60s you could bring on unneeded stress. 

Don't compare yourself with guides, (I don't, they're in a totally different class from me), these people are highly trained very strong and have done many routes dozens of times. They only need one rope to make sure the client doesn't fall off. 


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