Rope management

Keep the rope extended, without slack. This is the most important rule of rope management on a glacier. A rope that is fully extended between climbers is your insurance against taking a long plunge into a crevasse. A slack rope means you drop farther, increasing chances of hitting the sides or bottom or becoming wedged where the crevasse narrows. For the climbers on top, it can mean a much greater hit on the rope from the fallen climber and the danger of being pulled into the hole.

To help keep slack out of the rope, a rope leader needs to set a pace the others can follow for a long time. For their part, the second and third climbers must try to closely match the pace of the leader so the rope stays extended—but not taut. A taut rope is annoying because it pulls back on the climber ahead. You'll need to pay extra attention at turns, where the rope will start to go slack as the climber in front of you heads in a new direction, then tightens as you near the turn yourself. Throughout the turn, adjust speed as necessary, and avoid following the leader's footsteps; select an independent route that will keep the rope taut.

Don't forget safety when you reach a rest stop or campsite. The rope must stay extended and slack-free until the area has been thoroughly probed for crevasses. At a campsite, mark boundaries of the safe area with wands. Always belay climbers into and out of all rest and camp areas.

Another rope-management technique is to keep the rope running at right angles to crevasses. This makes it less likely that two climbers on the same rope will be walking dangerously near the edge of a particular crevasse at the same time. A rope team traveling in single file parallel to a crevasse runs the risk of one climber taking a long fall or of more than one climber tumbling in. Therefore, the second and third climbers on a rope should again avoid the footsteps of a leader who is walking parallel to a crevasse (perhaps looking for a snow bridge or for the end of the cavity). Instead, the followers should stay downhill of the leader and walk on their own separate courses, trying to keep the rope at a right angle to the crevasse.

The same technique is a good safety idea for traveling sideways across a glacier even if no crevasse is in sight. A sideways (traversing) route puts climbers parallel with the most likely direction of any hidden crevasse. Once again, the second and third climbers can blaze their own trail, staying downhill of the leader so the rope is at right angles to the most likely danger.

Continue reading here: Detecting Crevasses

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  • sharon
    Why is rope management critical in climbing?
    6 years ago
  • thomas
    Why is rope management important?
    10 years ago