Short roping is only designed to prevent a slip from turning into a fall.
The following notes are a guideline to ‘fixed length short roping’ – a technique used to short rope a client(s) efficiently and safely over moderate unbroken ground in summer or winter conditions.
With a clear initial briefing and good communication the guide is able to manage the rope, keeping the client ‘lightly felt’ on the end of the rope at all times and so in a position to arrest a slip if necessary.
The beauty of guiding is that there is never ‘one way’ of doing something and guides accept many different ways to come around to the same point as long as it’s safe, efficient and works for the guide, clients, terrain and ‘moment in time’.
Having spent a great deal of time last summer working on ‘Dynamic’ short roping you will now have the skills to move over moderate broken ground by moving up and down the rope keeping it lightly felt on the client(s) at all times while moving efficiently and safely over the terrain.
‘Fixed length’ short roping is far more straight forward in the concept, but still requires good judgement as to where and when to use the technique – give thought to the steepness of slope, conditions under foot and the security those conditions are giving you and your clients, clients ability, experience and the number of clients you have.
Short roping is one of the most difficult skills to learn, it’s also when the guide is at most risk and exposed from a client slipping or even worse falling.
Decisions on where and when to move together depend upon the client(s) ability, the weather and the terrain/conditions you find yourself on.
The client must also have confidence in the guide, if the guide feels anxious then that will transmit through to the client(s)
In judging the terrain ahead against the abilities of the client, you can make the decision of whether to move together on not.
Give thought to –
How many clients you have on a rope and the size of the client(s) compared to the guide.
How good are the clients on their feet and their ability and overall experience.
Your route choice, the weather, conditions under foot, time of day.
The bottom line is - can you hold that person if they slip? If there is any doubt then run it!
Drop your hand coils and move up to a spike or some other feature. If the terrain continues to be steep then drop the body coils and run the rope out even further, belay the client.
Fixed Length short roping in winter -
Technique 1 moving up an unbroken slope of snow –
Take in all the rope as coils in your downhill hand and lock those coils off in a way that you could comfortably hold a slip without letting out any more rope and so that the pull from a slips comes from the downhill part of the hand and without any pull twisting the wrist making it uncomfortable and difficult to hold a slip.
Now take up you ice axe with your uphill hand and plunge the shaft of the ice axe in the snow to give you extra security.
Now bend the downhill arm holding the coils so that you are ready to hold a slip. This bent downhill arm acts as a shock absorber taking the initial force of a slip. This coupled with bent legs (dynamic stance) and an ice axe plunged in the snow with hold a slip on moderate terrain.
Technique 2 moving up an unbroken slope of snow –
One arm span from the closest client tie an overhand knot in the rope making a loop easily big enough to hold comfortably with a gloved hand.
Now with your downhill hand, take in all the rope as coils and instead of locking off the coils grab hold of the loop of the overhand knot that you’ve tied.
Now move away from the client, feeling them through the rope with a bent arm. This bent downhill arm acts as a shock absorber taking the initial force of a slip. This coupled with a firm grip of your overhand knot loop, bent legs (dynamic stance) and an ice axe plunged in the snow with hold a slip on moderate terrain.
The shorter the distance to the closest client will allow you to more easily hold a slip.
Too close then you don’t have enough space to comfortably move and effect a dynamic stance in-case of a slip.
As the ground steepens then you need to use good judgement on when to stop, make the clients safe, drop all your hand coils and run it out to a safe anchor or drop all your body coils to move further up to a safe anchor.
Try and keep you head up, move at a steady pace and read the ground ahead.
Remember you have all the coils around you chest to use if you need them.
Other factors that a guide needs to give thought to –
Is there 2 clients on the rope and if so I may need to run it out on ground that I could move together on if I only had one client.
Even if I just have the 1 client – how heavy are they or how competent are they on their feet, the weather or conditions of the terrain I’m moving over?
All factors that a guide needs to take into consideration
On descent –
Fix the length and be dynamic in your body positioning and have a bent arm which you again use as a shock absorber in the event of a slip.
Remember more so on the way down that you may be walking more quickly than on ascent. In this case allow for more room between you and the first client just to give you that little extra space to arrest a slip if necessary.
Ice axe plunging into the snow with the uphill hand.
Remember crampons give you extra security in many different snow types and it’s not just you they may need to help arrest, so make sure you use them.
Also give though to the ice axe you use short roping in winter, modern day technical ice axes often have heal spurs at the very bottom of the shaft which don’t allow you to plunge the shaft of the axe into the snow so easily, especially if the snow is windblown or firm.
Without the axe plunged firmly into the snow then a slip is much harder to arrest.