UKH

Mountaineering as a group of three

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Planning a trip to the Ben soon. There will be three of us, two with some experience and one less so. I've been thinking about different roping systems, and how to be as efficient as possible. We're looking at routes like Tower Ridge, Tower Scoop, 3 Gully Buttress, that sort of level.

Some bits we'll be happy soloing, others we'll want to pitch, with both of us wanting to lead some pitches I think. Options I can think of:

Single rope, tied in in series, with inexperienced guy in the middle. Then we can both lead from the outside, and otherwise move together easily. Cons: one long heavy single rope to carry, may limit pitch length as well. If we both want to lead, I guess we'd need the other tied in exactly the middle, which would certainly give short pitches.

Half ropes, leader on both and one second on each. The problem with this is that it seems to be much more faff to swap leads, and for moving together we'd just be on one rope I guess, which is probably ok?

How would you do it?

 Andy Hardy 25 Dec 2019
In reply to Jezz0r:

Half ropes. More options, longer pitches and abseils.

Or find a fourth and go Noah-stylee (2 X 2)

3
In reply to Jezz0r:

There are lots of ways to skin a cat.

If using a single rope a better approach would be to have the two seconds tied at one end, one tied to the end, the other with an isolation loop near the end. Limits your retreat options due to rope length, pro- lighter than two ropes, easier rope management.

With double ropes as normal with two seconds, faffier over easier terrain but more rope to descend with. Better for technical climbing.

With that said and without knowing your experience I’d say the Ben isn’t a great place to practice these things for the first time, especially with a novice in tow. I’d also say that climbing as a three and swinging leads isn’t ever really efficient, especially if you haven’t had much practice. Either block leading or having a single leader would be safer and more efficient and you’ll probably enjoy the day more.

 LakesWinter 26 Dec 2019
In reply to Jezz0r:

Ive done loads of routes in winter in a 3. It works fine and the banter is loads better but you need to be organised.

I'd use 2 ropes. Long pitches are important to get decent belays. Also block lead if the route is over 120m or 3 pitches or so to minimise changeovers. 

Make sure the 3rd climber is doing useful stuff like restacking ropes the right way round etc.

Have fun!

1
 andyd1970 26 Dec 2019
In reply to Jezz0r:

Best leave out the middle man lol.

 acrkirby 26 Dec 2019
In reply to Jezz0r:

Where necessary to pitch  the climbing half's are definetly the way to go. If swapping leads the best method I find is to swap ropes around, the old leader passes one of his ropes to the person who isn't leading next, and he passes his end to the  new leader.

Now the leaders ropes should be on top of the pile of rope on the ledge, should help with the tangles! 

 Misha 26 Dec 2019
In reply to Jezz0r:

Something to think about if using two ropes is are your seconds going to be happy dangling on a half rope, particularly a thin one? A thin single or triple rated rope would be more appropriate.

The other thing no one has mentioned yet is it will take you longer than in a team of two, regardless of the rope systems used. Something to consider when looking at long routes like Tower a Ridge. 

In reply to Jezz0r:

For popular and short routes like Tower Scoop, Three Gully Buttress etc. numerous options work. It won't really be the limiting factor although using two light single ropes and climbing in parallel is probably the best option. 

As regards Tower Ridge, the honest answer is that if you are asking the question, the best option is don't bother until you have a bit more experience of doing easier scrambling and mountaineering routes as a three. Even really competent mates have had major dramas on the route climbing as a larger team.

If you do want to try it, wait as late in the season as you can for maximum daylight. However, there is only really one efficient way to attempt the route as a three. You approach it the same way Guides and Winter Climbing Instructors do - one climber leads on a single rope with the others a few metres apart on the other end. The leader takes or drops coils as needed to switch between the team moving together on the easy sections and running out full length pitches on the harder sections. The only exception is the Eastern Traverse where you want 10-15 metres between the two seconds. If you are going to swap leaders over, around halfway, it's easy enough although it's worth bearing in mind that the second half is probably trickier than the first.

Most Guides with average or better clients will manage the ridge in 2-3 hours in good conditions, 5 hours in poor. However there are around 9 ropework transitions you need to successfully manage to climb it in that manner with maximum efficiency. If you attempt to pitch the majority of the route as many teams do, 8-10hours is common even climbing as moderately competent pair and getting benighted (or rescued) is a regular occurrence.

HTH and climb safe this winter. 

Thanks everyone for the responses. Half ropes definitely the way to go then.

In reply to Misha:

> Something to think about if using two ropes is are your seconds going to be happy dangling on a half rope, particularly a thin one? A thin single or triple rated rope would be more appropriate.

I don't really see the problem here. One half rope is plenty strong enough to take a big lead fall on overhanging rock, so on top rope on this off vertical terrain it should be fine. As I understand it, the real risk is that the thinner rope gets worn through against sharp rock, but hopefully with awareness of that it can be mitigated. Obviously leader needs to remember to place gear on both ropes for a traverse too.

> The other thing no one has mentioned yet is it will take you longer than in a team of two, regardless of the rope systems used. Something to consider when looking at long routes like Tower a Ridge. 

Good point. I think we're all naturally inclined to speed and efficiency, but we'll see how well it all works in practice on something shorter before jumping on Tower Ridge.

2
In reply to The Ex-Engineer:

Thanks, our mates did Tower Ridge last season the same day we were on Castle and took so long to get back to the hut we were starting to get pretty worried (and they climbed as two pairs). So don't think we're taking it lightly. But it would be very nice to tick it this trip if possible. the specific tips are greatly appreciated.

In reply to Jezz0r:

Hey Jezzor, all sounds good approach wise but Misha is right about the half rope ratings, it’s worth at least considering, especially if you are ever considering lowering people.

1
 morpcat 29 Dec 2019
In reply to Jezz0r:

I've done Tower Ridge and Tower Scoop (and many other things both rock and ice) as a 3, and we used different tactics on each.

For Tower Ridge you want to move together as much as possible. As you suggest, have your most competent people tie in to either end of the rope, and put your less experienced team member in the middle. The climbers at the ends can take in coils to shorten the rope, you want to find the right balance between having enough rope between you to move easily and have protection in between, without being so long that the rope gets snagged on everything and becomes unmanageable. In theory you should use a single rope for this but I'd be lying if I said that nobody saves weight by using a half rope. The steep sections on the ridge are short and can be pitched without changing the system, but you may need to lengthen the rope by releasing some coils. 

For Tower Scoop we pitched as it is shorter and steeper. Leader ties in to both half ropes and the second and third each get a rope end. Both the second and third can climb simultaneously if the leader uses a guide mode belay (make sure you understand the limitations with regards to lowering). It's better to keep the same leader if you can, so either "block lead" on longer routes or for a 2-pitcher like Tower Scoop we just kept the same leader the whole way (someone else can take the lead the following day). If you do want to change leads, we've done this by clipping directly to anchors, untying from the ropes and swapping the ends. This saves a bit of time because you don't have to restack the rope, but you should only do it on trustworthy anchors (which are not always available in winter!). For Tower Scoop in particular we changed back to using one rope and moving together for the snowfield at the top.

Post edited at 22:17
1
In reply to Jezz0r:

> I don't really see the problem here.

If you've ever been the 3rd, and been hanging from a skinny half with the rope over an edge, you quickly see the problem (especially if you're struggling, weighting/unweighting/weighting/unweighting). Mitigating rope/rock contact is easier said than done, unless you're climbing vertical stuff how often does the rope run directly to your second without touching rock? 

1
 Misha 30 Dec 2019
In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

Exactly. And dangling on a thin half like an Iceline is going to be quite worrying. Also there’s a lot more stretch with a half, again especially so with a skinny one. Something to consider if you’ve got two seconds and they can’t climb side by side(leave lots of space between them) or you’ve got ledges on the route. 

In reply to Misha:

> And dangling on a thin half like an Iceline is going to be quite worrying.

Triple rated ropes are great to get past this, and associated worries around having your seconds climbing on half ropes. It's probably only, or mainly, psychological but still nice to know the "half rope" you are tied to is actually tested and rated as a single also.

In reply to Misha:

I m not sure about your timing comment. I have climbed extensively as a group of three in winter. 

Considering the whole day, the group travels quicker in and out because each carries less weight. The rack can be more extensive, the food of better quality and there is always a fresh pair of arms for the next pitch. Pitches can be matched to each climbers strengths, the thug gets the steep mixed bit, the iceman the steep ice fall and Billy big balls the exposed unprotected escape slope. 

All in all with climbers of reasonable competence 3 is just as quick as 2. The guides will tell you it's quicker as they try to push past you with their clients. 

2
In reply to TobyA:

Ok thanks for the thoughts on half ropes. If it is just a psychological issue you've all just made it worse! I reckon we'll take the risk with 8.6mm halves, I'll consider triple rated ropes when it's time to replace them.

 Misha 30 Dec 2019
In reply to Presley Whippet:


That’s because guides are generally quicker even with two clients

For teams of equal ability, agree it could take about the same amount of time overall if the team is practised at climbing in a three, ie the two seconds climbing together (with an appropriate guide mode belay) and efficient changeovers. However if the team includes relative beginners and/or hasn’t practised climbing in a three, a long route such as Tower Ridge is not the place to learn. Shorter routes would be more appropriate. The OP has listed a variety of routes so this is just a general comment. 

In reply to Jezz0r:

Single ropes are tested to a harsh drop test with 80kg, half ropes 50kg.

Some notes from the rope matters talk and other bits and bobs.

https://snowdoniamountainguides.com/rope-matters/

https://gripped.com/news/will-gadds-advice-on-rope-choice-for-ice-climbing/

In reply to Jezz0r:

Single ropes are tested to a harsh drop test with 80kg, half ropes 50kg.

Some notes from the rope matters talk and other bits and bobs.

https://snowdoniamountainguides.com/rope-matters/

https://gripped.com/news/will-gadds-advice-on-rope-choice-for-ice-climbing/

 Misha 30 Dec 2019
In reply to TobyA:

It’s not just psychological. A single or triple rated rope is thicker, stronger and harder wearing. But you’re right that it’s psychological as well. 

In reply to Misha:

We used my mate's new pair of half ropes last weekend when he looked at the packet (!) and noticed they were actually triple rated as well! I think they were 8.5s - impressively light. So I'm not sure triples are necessarily thicker there days than ropes that are only rated as halves.

 Misha 30 Dec 2019
In reply to TobyA:

I’d go for 9.1mm triples, they feel a bit more solid and probably are rated a bit stronger and less stretchy. 

 EuanM 30 Dec 2019
In reply to Misha:

I’ve always been worried about my ability to catch a fall on skinny half ropes in winter. 

Big gloves and potentially less grip strength in cold condition. 
 

Not sure if there’s anything in it but have also taken two singles for that reason. 

In reply to EuanM:

I have a reversino, a small version of the original folded plate reverso designed for use with skinny ropes. I bought it a long time ago, when icelines came out. Something similar might settle your worries but I am not sure what is currently available. 


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