Using slings and runners

Slings and runners are pieces of rope, cord, or webbing usually half a metre to two metres in length, joined in a loop by a knot or a sewn seam, which are used to create points of protection in terrain. It is a very simple, yet effective method of anchoring, and also historically one of the oldest. This is the way the alpinists of the pioneering days of climbing placed their protection. The particular development of skill in placing runners and slings came about only in the regions of the Saxon and Czech sandstone cliffs. The local minerals are too soft, and as a result it was not possible to place classic rock pitons, and therefore climbers had no other option if they wished to quickly build intermediate protection than to make full use of the possibilities of slings and runners, and from this they cultivated a true art. Nevertheless, the use of these skills need not be limited solely to sandstone cliffs, but can be applied at any time on other minerals as well, particularly in situations when you run out of other protection devices. Nor is it pointless to occasionally consider whether it is always necessary on cliffs composed of hard minerals to use various chocks and Friends which act with relative strong force on the rock, or whether a sling would not sometimes be better here as well.

Slings and runners as intermediate protection

Using slings and runners you can build intermediate protection on:

  • rock horns (a so-called girth hitch)
  • inserting knots on the sling into rock cracks (a so-called gap sling)
  • threading through rock tunnels

Girth hitches on rock horns

Webbing runners with sewn seams are the best to use for looping around rock horns. If a sling is tied with a bend knot, it should be placed on the horn in such a way that the knot either does not come into contact or comes in as little contact as possible with the surface of the rock. Otherwise there is a risk that the knot will come undone due to friction against the rock when alternating loading and releasing.

Webbing runner on a rock horn.

Webbing runner on a rock horn.

Slings with round cross-sections are not as useful, as they have a tendency for rolling motion due to their shape, and with it the danger that they can easily slide off the horn due to rope movements (movements of the rope caused by the climber by his/her climbing); the stability of the sling on the horn can be improved with loading or a rubber band, a tensile runner, e.g. with a chock or runner placed on an oppositely oriented bottom horn.

Increased stability under loading.

Increased stability under loading.

Other placement options include pulling the runner down around the horn. Often for this purpose a prusik hitch is used, but rather due to the ease of tying in with it. However, prusik hitches are more difficult to cinch; they often remain loose and can pose a risk of sliding off the horn. It is far more optimal to use figure eight bends.

Webbing runner pulled down around a less prominent horn using a figure eight bend.

Webbing runner pulled down around a less prominent horn using a figure eight bend.

Video: Placement on a rock horn is easy and fast. The more prominent the horn, the better the sling holds to it. Pay close attention to whether the horn is firmly joined to the mass of the cliff.

Video: The placement of a webbing runner on a typical rock horn, locally called a “plate” due to its characteristic shape. Such an ideal point of intermediate protection is a pleasure for any mountaineer.

Rock tunnels

Rock tunnels are best threaded with webbing, but it is not always possible. If the cavity around the column of the rock tunnel is too small, the sling must be rather arduously “prodded through”, and with flexible webbing this doesn’t work too well. In such cases a sling with a round cross-section must be used, which is less flexible.

Video: Here rock tunnels must be threaded with a heavy sling with a round cross-section. The opening behind the mass column of the rock tunnel is too narrow.

There’s no point in deceiving oneself about rock tunnels, their strength corresponds to their size and the type of mineral they are made of. In granite the rarely occurring rock tunnels are firm, even when they are smaller. Rock tunnels in limestone are relatively strong. Of course in sandstone, where rock tunnels occur most frequently and are frequent intermediate protection points, they can be considered suitably strong only when the column of the tunnel is thicker than 5 cm. Thinner rock tunnels are often untrustworthy, and their potential destruction represents rather a “natural buffer” of falling forces.

Video: Simultaneous threading of several rock tunnels in a row next to each other with just one sling. This provides insurance: if one doesn’t hold, there are the others.

Rock tunnels are threaded either in a “single-strand” fashion (possible only with knotted slings; the sling is untied to create a single strand, it is threaded through the tunnel and then once again tied with a knot), or “double” (a runner already joined in a loop is threaded through the rock tunnel and a carabiner is clipped into both ends of the runner.

Correct threading of a rock tunnel.

Correct threading of a rock tunnel.

Correct tying of a rock tunnel.

Correct tying of a rock tunnel.

Caution: The column of a rock tunnel can never be tied off with a prusik (cow) hitch. This knot has a tendency to slide into the narrowest spot, that is, the spot where the rock tunnel is weakest.

Incorrect tying of a tunnel with a prusik.

Incorrect tying of a tunnel with a prusik.

More in e-book.

Title Part 3Mountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-09-3

MMPublishing, 2013

Available for download from Apple iTunes (in the Books section).

For example U.S. store – link

Another countries – look on the page Download

See layout.

Another possibility is Google Play. This version is a simplified (as PDF).

Title Part 3 GPMountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-14-7

MMPublishing, 2014

Available for download from Google Play.