Climbing on both ends of your rope - don't run out!

Frylands – Knife – Assessment

Trainees are often keen to talk about as well as trying out new equipment and techniques. With tree climbing techniques and equipment continually evolving, it’s good to understand and appreciate early basic techniques before going with some of the more recent mechanical innovations, such as zigzag or ART Spiderjack.

On our 5-day basic tree climbing course, we start by showing a 3-knot system, split tail and then prussic loop which is often set out by the main evolutions in the climbing systems. Initially, our students advance up through the tree structure via changeovers using both ends of the same climbing line.

There are many benefits to using this approach:

  • Minimal equipment
  • Sets end in ‘stopper’ formation – can’t drop off the end
  • Requires an organised approach at change over
  • Enforces pre-planned approach to branch walking
  • Enhances appreciation of system evolution through direct experience
  • It’s a City & Guilds Assessment requirement to tie it (So best to use it…)


There are problems with this method, and this is why it’s discussed as a method to ‘move through’ rather than stick with.


  • Potentially confusing (colours/ karabiner shapes)
  • Less flexibility on supplementary anchor placement
  • Can snag and loop to trap climber
  • At extreme of rope capacity, creates a tightly twisted bunch
  • Confusion on bridge
  • Limited distance when on both ends

The prussic action on one end of the rope turns and twists, which can typically work itself out. However, if the other end is similarly configured, the twisting is concentrated and can result in tight loops between the two systems, or even a ‘locked’ scenario as the prussic gets stuck on the twisted host rope.

This scenario is shown in the title picture, taken on a recent course. This reminded me of a more dramatic incident, where a candidate undertaking an aerial rescue descended on both ends with his casualty and got stuck. He could not exit either end of his primary or secondary system.  This incident escalated into the most unfortunate situation where he had to be rescued by his casualty.


How to avoid this and the other pitfalls of using both ends of your rope:

  • Maintain awareness of the remaining rope in your system
  • Remember, with two high anchor points, your maximum distance will be ¼ of your rope
  • Manage your systems before any rescue simulation. (Generally, release the supplementary end and maintain the primary tie in).
  • Check you can descend by looking for a ‘u’ shaped loop on each side to reach the ground
  • Consider karabiner colour and prussic colour changes to maintain very distinct systems  


P.S. A good system to develop following this is one main line (longer), plus a shorter separate line for additional anchor points as necessary.