Tying in to a rope is the connection of mountaineering rope with a mountaineering harness or, if applicable, the body of the climber. Knowing how to tie in properly ranks among the most fundamental skills in which every mountaineer must be unconditionally proficient. And not only in the usual effort under normal conditions, but she must manage it absolutely flawlessly under stressful conditions, in winter with numb fingers – or in gloves – in the dark of night or even by touch without any visual verification. Tying in to rope is an absolutely key safety element in the chain of protection. It is also essential to check the status of the connection constantly throughout the climb, and as with all checks it is best when members of the rope team check each other in order to eliminate the overlooking of errors under the numbing effect of routine. As a rule, a person cannot get by with only one method of tying in; if she is involved in more complex mountaineering and therefore in association with situations and events she must be proficient with several different methods of tying in.
On the other hand it’s not a good idea to get bogged down with the number of skills of various forms of tying in. You should find roughly your three favourite methods, each a little different for different situations, but learn these few to absolute perfection so you can manage them any time.
Basic categories of methods of tying in
Tying in can be accomplished using three basic methods:
- direct connection between rope and harness
- indirect connection of rope and harness with a link between
- direct connection of the rope to the body of the climber (emergencies only)
During indirect connection the link used is either a carabiner or a runner made from a piece of rope or webbing. Links introduce another element to tying in, and logically can in the event of poor quality weaken the entire chain. For this reason is it necessary to pay close attention to the inserted link and its quality when tying in.
The absolute best situation is any time when it is possible to tie in directly. Tying in directly should take priority.
Tying in – For use with a seat harness by itself
Right off the bat, one word of caution: when use a seat harness by itself, the point of connection is under the centre of balance of the human body, and in the event of an uncontrolled fall the body is at risk of tumbling headfirst. Another important note: the rope without must exception be inserted to the seat harness in such a manner as recommended by the manufacturer of the seat harness, if you are familiar with these details. For the more common construction of seat harness the correct method is the threading of the rope indicated in the pictures in the gallery above. For this type of harness it would definitely be a mistake to tie in only to the belay loop of the harness (that is, the loop on the front side of the harness which connects the waistbelt and leg loops). In the event of damage to the seams of the belay loop, the rope upon snapping could be immediately and irreversibly separated from the seat harness. However, if the rope is properly threaded across the waistbelt and the leg loops, then these will back each other up, and if a leg loop snaps, for example, a person will remain hanging – albeit painfully – at least from the waistbelt. This may seem like an unlikely accident, but while it does not occur very often, several such accidents have already occurred. The majority have occurred in association with old seat harnesses whose belay loops were already significantly worn.
Note: failure of a harness is unlikely, at most a few seams can unravel; greater failure would therefore be a sign poor quality manufacturing of the seat harness, or significant old age and wear.
Climbing in only one harness is perhaps the most frequent method of tying in, chosen by sport climbers on rocks and artificial climbing walls. Use of a seat harness by itself is for some people almost a fashion statement. It is necessary to caution once again – when using only a seat harness there is risk of the head of the climber tumbling downward when catching a fall; the centre of balance of the body is above the point of tying in!
Climbers using only a seat harness must be experienced, must be proficient at pushing off from the rock, and must keep their falls under control. Falls must be short, or intermediate protection must be close together. Intermediate protection must also be of high quality.
Figure eight follow through
A safe way to tie in is using the figure eight follow through, tied using the figure-eight knot formation. This knot is not inclined to untie itself; and yet after heavy pulling it can still be untied easily (it is necessary to take this information with a grain of salt, if the knot is jammed, for example, after a hard fall, then untying it will be understandably more difficult). The tail end should be left approx. 15 cm long. If you suspect that knots are difficult to cinch on your rope, tie a backup knot into the loose end, which will grip the working end of the rope. The figure eight follow through is currently considered the standard for tying in and its problem-free management is a necessity for a mountaineer. In the event that during mountaineering you find yourself in the position of being a responsible party (e.g. a camp counsellor, guide, etc.), tie in the people you are responsible for to their harnesses using only this knot.
Another method is to use the overhand loop. It also does not display a tendency to untie itself, but after jamming it can be very labour-intensive to untie the knot. The tail end should be approx 15 cm long. If you suspect that knots are difficult to cinch on your rope (poor knottability of the rope), tie a backup knot in the tail end which wraps the working part of the rope.
The single bowline can be easily untied even after heavy jamming, but has several other serious drawbacks. Under peripheral loading it slips, and also has a tendency to untie itself in an unloaded state. It is necessary to enhance it with a backup knot preventing untying.
This security can be tied either as: 1) outer (separate from the bowline knot), or as: 2) inner (the tail end is threaded through the bowline itself). Anyone wanting better quality for any type of single bowline can tie an outer backup knot using a double fisherman’s bend, which holds significantly better.
One often encounters the name “double bowline”. This is not exactly accurate. The double bowline is one which has two loops. And with this knot that is not the case. Here there is simply a double application of a turn, that is, a double-knotted bowline.
It is necessary to differentiate between the concepts of a “loop” and a “knot”. As was mentioned in the previous section, a simple bowline comes undone under peripheral loading. And for this reason the double-knotted variant was invented to prevent this peripheral untying. What’s more, the double-knotted form of the knot has higher breaking strength than the single version. It is tied in the usual manner, except with the difference that at the beginning two turns are completed.
Unfortunately, even if this double-knotted variant is resistant to slipping under peripheral loading, it still has the negative characteristic typical of a bowline, which is the tendency to come untied. For this reason it is still recommended that you make a backup knot. Here again it is possible either to make an inner or an outer backup knot. Tying the outer backup knot is entirely the same as shown in the text above concerning the single bowline.
At the same time it is possible to tie an inner backup knot as well. Of course, it should be mentioned that the resulting knot is significantly unclear (poor visual check), and it is unpleasantly “spherically” shaped, and therefore can get in the way when climbing, particularly when pressing your body against the rock. What’s more, when using this double-knotted form of the knot the inner backup knot does not cinch as well, and therefore remains at risk of coming untied.
Figure nine loop
There are still other types of knots that are not often used in practice. For example, the figure nine loop. It has amazing parameters as far as load-bearing is concerned, but it is rather unclear and therefore there is a greater probability that a person will tie it incorrectly and not notice that he has done so. For this reason the figure nine loop is not too popular among mountaineers. And in spite of this it is good to take it on – if we have a weakened rope for whatever reason (thin rope, wet rope, worn rope) the use of the figure nine knot is at least worthy of recommendation! If you suspect that your rope doesn’t hold knots well, tie a backup knot in the tail which will wrap around the fixed part of the rope.
More in e-book.
Mountaineering Methodology – Part 1 – Basics
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Mountaineering Methodology – Part 1 – Basics
Available for download from Google Play.