Cleaning a new single pitch climb on a small crag may only require basic clifftop rigging from a couple of trees with a rope protector placed on the cliff top edge.
Large cliffs requiring ground up approaches can involve a mixture of free climbing and/or full aid to reach an intended point from where static rope can be rigged to hang down the new line and fixed rope techniques employed thereafter. Typically a temporary re-belay will be placed where the lower off or bolt belay will be installed later and the rope pinned down the line to the ground. Fixing the rope can use any natural protection, small expansion bolts that will either be removed or tapped in and covered later or removable bolts.
Rigging styles broadly follow those adopted by vertical caving: American style or European Single Rope Technique (SRT) however both rigging styles require a competent knowledge in the use of mechanical ascenders and change-overs from ascent to descent. With SRT however the ability to rig re-belays and pass knots are additional skills.
Complex rigging will influence what hardware the developer requires to work comfortably and effectively at height. For example single pitch ‘throw a rope over the edge new routing’ is achievable in a standard climbing harness, perhaps with a few breaks throughout the day but aiding your way across roofs, steep terrain or spending a full day on a big wall only becomes safe, efficient and comfortable with a full body harness, seat and cows-tails, basically an industrial rope access configuration.
The former relies heavily on thicker, abrasion resistant rope, minimal anchors and rope protectors where necessary. American rigging is therefore simple and fast and best suited to cliffs where little is required beyond padding an edge and perhaps a few tie points to retain rock contact down the route.
Key point: this style is best applied to where rope to rock contact is minimal and the use of padding can be implemented therefore it is NOT recommended to use dynamic rope that will stretch and potentially compromise edge protection by dragging rope protectors.
Single Rope Technique (SRT)
French cavers developed SRT during the 1930s with the first cave use of prusik and mechanical rope ascenders used by Chevalier and Brenot in 1934. Two Swiss alpinists, Juesi and Marti teamed together, creating the first commercially available rope ascender In 1958 known as the Jumar and by 1968 Bruno Dressler asked Petzl, who worked as a metals machinist, to build a rope-ascending tool, today known as the Petzl Croll, that he had developed by adapting the Jumar for pit caving.
When new routes follow traverses, involve sharp rock, are severely overhung or substantial in length then SRT has many advantages as it becomes possible to access any point on a cliff using these techniques whilst acting independently without the need for a belay.
Key point: The fundamental principle is to keep the rope free of the rock at all times. Allowing a thin rope to rub on sharp rock is suicidal!
Static line rigged with re-belays to avoid rope-to-rock contact on a new 110m multi pitch line located in North Vietnam. Using SRT techniques this 5 pitch route was entirely drilled and equipped with 77 glue-in anchors and belays on the same day.
Applying this rigging style to big walls also enables several climbers to work either side of re-belays reducing the timeframe for teams to establish new big wall sport routes. This strategy was successfully adopted during the equipping of Eterna in Kalymnos: a 275m high route that was cleaned, drilled and fixed with 127 glue-in bolts in only 5 days and is currently the longest route in the world equipped with titanium glue-in bolts. This also included time to rig the line with 300m of fixed static rope and de-rig it progressively over a number of days. With loose rock removed when installing the fixed rope, and using a haul bag in which to temporarily store smaller loose fragments, both people were able to work effectively on separate pitches.
The key points of SRT rigging are to:
- Identify – hazards down the intended line.
- Remove – sharp edges or loose rock.
- Avoid – rig to protect against abrasion: rebelay / deviate.
- Protect – use rope protectors.
- Verify – is the protection adequate? What happens if something fails?