Rope: single + tag, half, or twin? | Uphill Athlete

Rope: single + tag, half, or twin?

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  • #34162

    Hey everyone,
    Any suggestions for my first alpine rope setup?
    I’m leaning towards the single rope + tag line or half rope but am torn.
    Thoughts? Merits? Pros & Cons?

    Will be used primarily in the PNW and CDN Rockies (if that’s helpful…)


Posted In: Alpinism

  • Participant
    DominicProvost on #34165

    My personal opinion/method is halves for leading ice, single+tag if you’re going to haul stuff on rock and want longer rappels, single 70 for straightforwards rock climbs, 30-40m half rope for glacier travel and short rappels (you can also pitch out stuff and make decent length rappels if both partners carry that). The range really doesn’t matter as much as the specific climb, and if you do a lot you’ll end up with several ropes.

    Steve House on #34536

    Hey Terry,

    Good question:

    I often use a 50 meter (gasp!) rope for alpine stuff when the approach is long. Vince and I used a 8.5mm half(50m) and a 5mm tag(55m) on the Rupal Face. Sure it was more rappels, but the raps were not the crux, as much as carrying all that shit up there. Marko and I used 50’s on the North Face of North Twin for a similar reason. It is something to consider when the approaches are long. Though anymore I have to get a 60 and chop it to 50, which always feels a bit odd.

    Remember that if you pair a dynamic rope with a non-dynamic (no rope is truly static) tag line your tag should be at least 5 meters (max 7m) longer to account for the stretch under body weight of the dynamic rope during the rappel.

    Also, I’ve found that, especially when you’re climbing older, classic routes, the pitches tended to be shorter then (than now). In the Dolomites for example, 15m and 20m pitches are really common, but a lot of those routes were done pre-world wars or in the 40’s and 50’s. So they had short ropes and small racks (and were damn good climbers!).

    I never use 70 m alpine climbing due to weight but I do use them/like them for straight ice climbing.

    Keep in mind that the 8.5mm Opera is 48g/m and that puts a 60m at about 2.9kg. My 65meter 5mm tag line is about 1.5kg. 4.4kg total for a 60 m set up.

    If you go double ropes and drop to a Beal Gully 7.3mm rope the weight is 36g/m. Which puts each rope at about 2.5kg, so 5kg total for 2 x 70m ropes. 4.3 kg for 2x 60m ropes. Within 100 grams of the single plus a tag set up.

    The real burner for me on single vs double ropes is the rope-work involved while climbing. A single is WAY easier to manage while climbing and leading. And that saves time. And I’m good a placing runners so I don’t get rope drag. And I am good at rapping on the single+tag set up so that doesn’t slow me down.

    Bonus pro-tip: Carry one DMM Revolver (wiregate) biner on your rack for that one sharp turn on the rope’s path, completely eliminates most rope drag.

    So this is a long way of saying that I never use half/double ropes anymore. I use some length; 50, 60, or 70m Beal Opera 8.5mm single rated unicore rope and a 5mm tag line.

    For sport climbing I go up to the 80m (lots of modern sport routes are longer now) Joker 9.1 just so my belayers aren’t freaked out, but if it was only up to me, I’d use the Opera all the time.

    Also worth noting, whenever I climb with 3, I use 2 singles. I didn’t use to do this, I used to do alpine routes in the Rockies on 2 twin ropes with 3 climbers. Makes me shudder now. The chance of a half rope getting cut in a swinging fall while seconding is, to me, much higher than with a single. Again, I just don’t use halfs or twins anymore.

    cheers, Steve

    TerryLui on #35936

    Thanks for all the info and insight everyone!! Lots to go on 😀

    Steve: For the 5mm tagline, what are you using? Accessory cordelette?

    Steve House on #36238

    @terrylui I was involved, as a consultant, in speccing some lightweight rappel lines for the military about 15 years ago. I managed to retain a sample for myself 😉 It’s very good, but very, very expensive.

    TerryLui on #36272

    But thanks Steve!

    Anonymous on #44137

    I have a question regarding single vs half ropes. Steve, you say you only use single ropes with a tag line — but your single rope in this case is 8.5mm — a diameter far more commonly found in half ropes. I’m curious if the fact of having a rope certified as “single” makes it inherently safer than a rope of equal diameter that is certified “half”? You got me wondering after your comment about the greater chance of a half rope getting cut in a swinging fall. So, I’m guessing that two different ropes that are both 8.5mm, but one classified as “single” and the other “half” — the single one will be less likely to get cut? Is the classification due to physical construction of the rope, and not only that one company chose to have their 8.5mm rope tested as a single, and the other did not?

    luv2sharpen on #51997

    I wonder if you can share some tips for being more efficient with the single+tag during rappels.

    In particular: I prefer to thread the rappel so that the single rope is bearing on the rappel ring/V thread and the joining knot acts like a bit of a block. This avoids the problem of the ropes feeding differently and the joining knot creeping away from the rappel ring. When rapping from many Vthreads in a row, this means either untying the joining knot at each anchor, or pulling up the whole rope to feed the end that just flew past from above when you pulled the rappel.

    Do you do one of those things? Or just alternately feed the tag line and single line, and they don’t creep too much because of similar enough diameters or masterful brake strand control?


    psathyrella on #54724

    I also much prefer single + tag to the extra rope management while climbing of half/twin, but yeah the asymmetry makes it hard to do the feed-alternate-ropes-on-alternate-rappels thing, which does save time. To avoid feeding through ATC at different rates, I use some combination of three things: 1) a stiff tag line, like the Esprit APER, feeds *much* more similarly to a lead line than does a more flexible tag line. 2) while rappelling, I add a slight bend around my thigh to the tag line (by pulling up with one brake hand. This only adds a bit of friction, but it’s usually enough to avoid any movement of the knot. 3) Have both people attach ATCs to the ropes before the first person leaves (second probably should rappel on an extension so they’re not jerked around), then first person fixes one line to next anchor so knot can’t move while second rappels.

    I still often pull up the fallen rope and rethread on repeated rappels if there’s any chance of a stuck rope, so i can always pull the lead line, since re-leading to retrieve it on the lead line is safer, and the APER seems less likely to snag to start with than most lead lines (since it’s so stiff). I’d love to hear a way to avoid rethreading like that, though, but haven’t thought of a way.

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