Belaying Two Followers: Split Rope Technique

Belaying Two Followers: Split Rope Technique

April 13, 2023 fmg-adminAlpine & Ice Climbing Guides' Tech Tips Rock Climbing

As an ice climbing guide, I often use a split rope technique for belaying two followers (primarily to keep two climbers climbing simultaneously far enough away from each other to avoid being hit by ice). Recently, I’ve been using it while guiding rock as well, as I’ve found it to be a useful technique to streamline my systems.

For context, let’s first discuss belaying two followers at a time, in a parallel fashion, on rock. Typically, we as guides (and competent climbers) have used a plaquette style device (Reverso, ATC Guide, GiGi, etc) with both strands through one device. Simple, right?  It’s straightforward, until you need to manipulate the system in any way. That’s why I consider it a contingent system. Both ropes rely upon a single blocking carabiner that holds both of them in place within the device. In order to remove one rope, we need some sort of terminal closure to keep the other climber safe while removing a strand of rope.  The system gets complex quickly, and there is space for error in the potential mess. On top of this, the two-ropes/one-device system has a significant failure mode if used on a traversing pitch. The self-braking advantage of these devices are defeated if the ropes are spread too far apart. 

This is where I find the split-rope technique useful. To rig it, I typically use one rope in a plaquette device, and one rope in a Grigri style device.  I already have both of them on my harness, and it keeps those ropes separate (and organized.) In addition, it saves my elbows. Pulling rope through a single plaquette over a dozen pitches destroys my joints. It’s a lot of friction, and my body knows it. 

climbing anchor showing the split rope technique for belaying two followers.

This system also frees me up to have my followers climb on two separate routes. This is invaluable in places like Looking Glass Rock, where the wall is a sea of climbable eyebrows, and multiple contiguous routes are plentiful.

Two climbers being belayed using the split rope technique.

Each device (and rope) gets its own route, and I don’t need to worry about a falling climber compromising the other person’s security, which could happen if I was using a plaquette device.  On top of those solutions, escaping the belay is straightforward. I can release or haul or whatever on each device, and the other system is untouched.

To recap:

  • Two ropes in one device: more friction on elbows; complex belay escape; necessitates detailed rope organization,
  • Two ropes in their own device: Less elbow friction; each device can be escaped independently; and stance organization can start when you put folks on belay, rather than when they get to the anchor. 

Sure, it requires another device to use on the wall, and you need to manage both brake strands (but you were already doing that with a reverso, right?) This isn’t alpine climbing; we can afford to bring along an extra device, especially if that means simplifying a rescue or assist. Let’s face it, most people don’t practice rescue skills like they should, and I want to make those situations a little bit less stressful should you find yourself in one.

Is split rope technique a tool for every route all the time? Maybe, maybe not. It IS, another tool to have in the toolbox if you find yourself dreading belaying that long, wandery pitch you just led.

If you want to learn more, hire a competent instructor who can show you the ins & outs of this technique.

Dan Riethmuller, Certified Ice Instructor, Apprentice Alpine and Rock Guide

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  • Craig Britton

    Agreed. I have been doing this for years. It really is beneficial when the two climbers are climbing at different speeds.

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