Winter Climbing tips
10 February 2011
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
If there’s one piece of gear that can cause you serious hassles, cluster fucks, faff and near terminal snags, it slings. The modern super skinny slings just seem to make this even more likely, tangling up, getting knotted together, or clipping into what they shouldn’t far more than those old school Troll super tube tapes the width of a mars bar. When you climb with novice climbers it’s a thing you notice often, both when leading and when seconding, but with a bit of forethought, it shouldn’t be the case. And so here are a few ideas on how to tame those unruly slings.
Organization is key when it comes to slings, and if possible try and have a set colour for each size, say grey for 240cm, red for 120cm and purple for 60cm. If I had my way I’d make it an EU directive - like cam colours, as there’s nothing worse than using someone else’s rack and finding at the belay that rats nest of sling you thought to be a 240cm is in fact several 60cm slings. By having set colours you should avoid getting the right sling first go, and is vital when it comes to racking slings on your harness instead of over the shoulder.
Having your 60cm slings over your shoulder is the norm, meaning you just yank it off, stick it on a spike or a runner and away you go. Unfortunately in winter, this is often not the case, the sling being stuck under a rucksack, trapped by a hand a leashed axe, or generally tangled up in a right fucking mess. Also having a sling wrapped over the head can be dangerous in a fall, as I once found to my cost, a sling clipping into a piece of pro, instantly stopping me and nearly ripping my head and shoulder off!
Another problem with shoulder carried slings is that on easy ground they dangle down and hide your feet from view and generally get in the way
A better way is to form them up into extenders and just clip them to your harness gear loops, or to your chest gear loop (better for winter), allowing them to be easily excessed. This way also gives you more extenders or 60’s with two krabs ready to be used. These slings are great for clipping cams, as the cam’s krab can be clipped into the sling and then the sling extended and clipped to the rope, the free krab (one krab is redundant as the cam krab was used) either left on the sling so it can be re slung as an extender, or snaffled for other uses (generally better to do the former).
If you need to make an extender out of a 60cm sling just use the technique below.
The same rule applies to 120cm and 240cm slings in that it’s better to have these on your harness than around your neck. To shorten 120cm slings simply re-clip until you have a length of looped tape around 60cm long, place your finger in the loops at the end, holding karabiner at the other, then twist around and reclip the top loops into the karabiner, or use a second karabiner. 240cm slings can be racked the same way.
One of the biggest sins a second can commit is to not rack the leader’s slings as they come up, either just gathering them up with all the gear still attached and clipping it to their harness; leaving loops to tangle, or worse still just letting them hang from the rope still attached, generally a disaster waiting to happen. To make matters worse, if they make it to the belay without tripping up and breaking their neck, they generally hand over a clusterfuck of slings and krabs and nuts and cams and let the leader sort out the mess.
A good second should be fast, but also be thinking about the next pitch, making sure that the gear they take out is racked and ordered ready for the leader. Slings should be re-slung into extenders and the gear taken out or at least sorted. By cutting corners you just slow everything down and make a mess.