How do rock climbers retrieve their ropes?

Or do they? Just a few minutes ago, I’m watching Bear Grylls and another repelling down a huge rock mountain. After a long descent, they run out of rope, so find another ledge to send yet another rope to repel another 80’ down to get to the bottom. I didn’t see what rigging was used. Why didn’t he just retrieve his own rope that he already had? It might be that due to editing, they just cut that part out. I know absolutely nothing about this, but I imagine this is one of the first things taught in rock climbing 101.

In the simplest setup the rope is passed through the anchor at the top with both ends hanging (or two ropes are tied together, again both hanging), you rappell down the doubled rope(s), and at the bottom you pull one end to retrieve the rope(s).

Does that mean that the mountains are full of those metal thingys (yes, a technical term) that they hammer in?

I was looking for that, and there were some parts where I seen what looked like a single rope used. Other parts I did see a double rope. Just was puzzled why he had to get a second rope to repel down the last 80’ instead of retrieving the first one that they just came down with.


If you’re talking about pitons, I don’t think they’re generally used much anymore - some climbing routes will have fixed bolts, while on others rappelling anchors will be set up using trees, large boulders, etc.

Not as many as you would think. Back at the dawn of time, pitons were hammered into cracks, often causing damage to the rock, and sometimes left there. These days, pitons are not used as often because there are other types protection that cause less damage and are easier to remove and re-use. chocks and cams are positioned in cracks such that they can be removed after they have been used, and then used again further up the climb. That being said, even these devices can harm soft rock, so for some popular routes,boltsare drilled into the rock to make permanent anchors to which passing climbers attach hangers (there being an ethical decision to be made in deciding whether or not to rock bolt).

Be the protection a piton, chock, cam or bolt and hanger, the climber will clip into the protection with a carabiner, and then clip the rope through the carabiner so the rope will not be abraded.

As far as climbing ethics goes, it’s generally bad form to damage rock or to leave equipment behind on the rock.

To a certain extent they are. But people also use things like climbing nuts inserted into cracks that they take out.

Lead climbing generally involves 2 climbers with one climber climbing ahead putting in protection like the nuts linked above so that if the one in the lead falls he will not fall very far until the rope catches on a previously place nut. As they climb down the process is reversed and they are bringing the rope down with them.

Thanks for the education. I’m glad to hear pitons are on the way out. It always seemed to me to be disrespectful to nature to leave hardware behind,

Was one of the pitches longer than half the length of the rope but not longer than the full length of the rope? For example, if a pitch is 40 m, and the rope is 60 m, then it would not be possible to make the descent and recover the rope, for the rope doubled over for retrieval would only reach 30 m down the pitch. It would, however, be possible to make the 40 m descent with the 60 m rope if one were willing to sacrifice the rope by tying it off at the top rather than doubling it over for recovery.

On popular climbs there is all kinds of rubbish left over the site – ropes, slings, pitons, removable climbing equipment and in some cases, (eg, many Himalayan climbs) tents, oxygen bottles, sleeping bags and dead bodies. Even the cleanest of rock-climbing sites will usually have a select number of bolts drilled in.
The alternative is a style of climbing without ropes or protection and it is not safe.
Climbers often get pretty feisty about such things – keen to keep their favourite haunt free of junk and a fun place to challenge themselves. there are variations in techniques and local conventions on what is acceptable and what is not. It is not unheard of for climbers to scale a rock face removing all of the bolts that someone has previously placed there.

Often climbers will climb in pairs – lead climbing. One climber leads placing removable protection on the way. The second climbs up being belayed and removing the protection as s/he goes. Once past the top climber s/he continues climbing putting the protection in where needed. Thus the two climbers alternate lead re-using all equipment and leaving the site clean.

Going down is another matter. Down-climbing is difficult, time consuming and often there are time constraints for safety reasons – get off the mountain before dark/storm/other hazard. Rappelling (abseiling) is quick, easy and safe and is the obvious first choice. However, it often involves leaving some equipment behind – whether a fixed bolt, piton, sling or rope. Even the removal of a rope can cause environmental damage – consider a rope doubled around a tree. Do that a few times and the tree has no bark and can’t be used later. Snow bollards would be the obvious exception to this.
Often climbers will go down via a different route (the footpath perhaps) to avoid leaving stuff behind. It depends on what kind of route it is.

Note to self, rappelling, not repelling. :smack:

I dunno. Most climbers I have encountered do both.

They climb back up to retrieve them, and then . . . :smack:

There are tricks which can be used sometimes to retrieve the rope even in such cases. For instance, tie a weight (less than your weight) to one end of the rope, then tie an eye in the rope near the weight, loop the rope around something, and pass the long end through the eye. While you’re climbing down, the loop will be tight around whatever it’s wrapped around, but when you get to the bottom and let go, the weight will pull it down.

And of course, if you’re watching Bear Grillis on TV, there’s a whole production team running around setting up for the camera crews to go down, removing those ropes, etc, etc. Most likely one of them would be removing Bear’s ropes when he’s done.

The pros use Elven rope.

Most climbers would agree with:

  • quick
  • easy
  • obvious first choice

but NOT “safe”. And most climbers I have encountered would prefer long walk/hike downs at times instead of rappelling (myself included).

I haven’t seen the numbers lately, but historically most climbing accidents occur from rappelling. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • when rappelling your full body weight is on the rope. So with any lateral movement you make, you are swinging this rope (above you) with your full weight on it - all the better to jar overhead rocks lose that will come…right down on you.

  • climbers get sloppy when rappelling. The “climb” is the considered the “hard part”, so climbers have a tendency to pay less attention, and just want to “move on” to whatever is next. This is most often seen with forgetting to put in the knot at the end before throwing the rope (the two ends). If you are rappelling and you come to the end of the rope before reaching a ledge to stop on and there is no knot, chances are you will continue to slide right off the rope. There is a famous story of a guy who decided to rappel down the face of Half Dome in Yosemite. I think he made 2 or 3 rappels before he forgot to put the knot in. You can guess his fate.

  • down to a single point of “protection”. When you rappel you are relying on whatever was used as your “anchor”. This can be anything from a set of bolts (bomber) to a faded, well worn sling around a rock (more sketchy). As mentioned above, it is desirable not to leave gear behind, and climbers are notorious for “taking advantage” of what others have left behind. So unlike when you are climbing and actually using the rock and you’re either placing protection as you lead or relying on a (well anchored) belayer above you, your full weight is “riding” on this single anchor.

I hear Everest is part morgue, part scrap metal depository.

Well, if you are going to include carelessness in the equation (which is a real issue) then I would agree with you. Similarly if you are going to re-use suspect gear that has been left behind or rely on dodgy anchors.
Abseiling, properly done, does not need to be unsafe though.
In any case, my immediate comparison was with downclimbing where you are usually relying on tired limbs, you are attempting to work with gravity in a controlled fashion which is quite a different activity from a muscular point of view, your vision is more obscured and it is more difficult to assess the viability of foot placements. These are risks that are not so easily mitigated against. Abseiling avoids these problems.
Of course if you can walk down (or drive or take a chair-lift) then that would be a lot safer. However, this thread is about not leaving your rope behind and I would have assumed that these modes would have been excluded by definition.

Don’t forget the shit…