Moving Up And Down Fixed Ropes

December 9, 2008

Quite obvious really, just clip in your descender and off you go. It’s advisable to use a back-up prusik and this is usually best placed above your device if you are to pass knots on the way down.



When carrying out any form of rope jiggery-pokery remember one thing:


The only time this can be ignored is when you are tied directly to the rope – meaning when you’re leading. Prusik loops slip, ascenders pop, karabiners magically unattached themselves, and so having two contact points at all time means you’re always backed up.

Re-belays will usually be placed where it’s possible to stand, so passing these will usually go like this.

  1. On reaching the anchor point, either tie a figure of eight knot below the anchor and clip this to your belay loop or alternatively clip directly into the anchor with a sling attached to your harness. Either of these act as your back up.
  2. Taking the weight on your prusik loop above your device, remove your descender and clip it below the belay point.
  3. Weight the descender and remove the prusik and retie it below the belay point.
  4. Remove your back up and carry on down.


You will find on some fixed ropes that you must pass the knot joining two ropes while hanging in space. To do this you will need two prusiks (or better still ascenders) if you are to do it safely. This is the best way to pass the knot.

  1. On reaching the knot lock off your prusik (placed above your belay device), and clip into the back-up figure of eight coming from the knot joining the ropes (see figure-eight with a backup).
  2. Place your other prusik below the joining knot and use this as a foot loop.
  3. Remove the descender and then move your prusiks down the rope one at a time until you are able to reattach the belay device below the knot.
  4. Standing in the bottom prusik remove the top prusik and reattach it below the knot.
  5. Weight the descender and remove the bottom prusik and unclip yourself from the back-up knot and off you go.


Ideally, if you’re planning on climbing a fixed rope you should have the mechanical tools to do so, as using prusiks is always slow and hard work, and in this situation, a set of mini ascenders are worth their weight in gold.



Going back up a rope is far easier than going down, but you should still keep to the two-point rule. Before you remove your top ascender in order to pass the obstruction, always clip into a back-up knot tied into the rope, or clip into the anchor point so that you’re not just hanging from one ascender.


One big problem climbers have when ascending a rope that is clipped through gear, is that if the gear is under tension then they are unable to unclip the rope in order to remove it or pass it. This problem makes seconding a pitch take ten times longer than leading it. One method is to get into a free climbing position so that your ascenders un-weight the rope slightly so that you can unclip the rope or just remove the gear. Another option is to clip a sling into the gear, weigh it and unclip the rope so that it can then be removed. This will work fine most of the time, but what if the next piece is twenty feet off to the side? By far the best method is to unclip the top ascender and pass the piece of gear, then once weighted unclip the gear. If the next piece of gear is off to the side, or the route is overhanging, you may find when you weigh the top piece your bottom ascender is pulled up into the piece of gear before you can clip it. If this is the case, then as you begin to weigh the top ascender, pull on the rope below the bottom ascender until you can unlock its cam (without removing it from the rope), and then let the rope slide through it until you’re left with enough slack between both ascenders to allow you to unclip. Of course, when you’re removing any ascender from the rope you should be tied into your rope via a backup knot clipped to your harness.


Climbing a rope with a rucksack can be one of the most painful things you’ll ever do, with even the lightest sack turning into a pig on your back after just a few feet. If the rope is free-hanging, and the sacks not too heavy then it’s often worth letting it hang from your belay loop via a long sling, or better still leave it clipped to the end of the rope so you can just pull it up after you. If forced to climb with the sack on your back it’s important that you are both kept upright and if possible have some way of taking some of the weight of the sack of you. One way is to use a chest ascender with a chest harness, which does both jobs pretty well, but unfortunately, most climbers probably won’t have this option. The best method I’ve found is to attach the rucksack straps to the sling that goes to the top ascender via another sling, fine-tuning it so that when you rest on the top ascender the sack hangs from it, not you.


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