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Fixed lines when mountaineering
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By csproul
From Rancho Cordova, CA
Feb 17, 2013
Summit of Wolf's Head with Pingora in the background

So I have some alpine climbing experience, including a few summits above 6000m. But they have either been somewhat non-technical, or I have climbed them alpine style. I have never climbed anything expedition style and I have never encountered fixed lines while mountaineering. I've used them on and off while rock climbing/aiding, but there seem to be some practical differences in their use while mountaineering. So here are my questions to those of you who have used them:

Ascending-seems pretty straight forward. One ascender on the line while going up, may or may not use an ice axe in the other hand. Probably need some way to clip into the line while passing your ascender across fixed points. Sound about right?

Descending-I'm guessing that an ATC type device is not the best idea while wearing giant gloves. Is this why people use figure 8's? What about descending while not steep enough to rappel, but still steep enough that fixed lines are a good idea? Do people just clip into the line and rely on catching at the next fixed point should they fall or do climbers slide a friction hitch along the rope?


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By Ben Beckerich
From saint helens, oregon
Feb 17, 2013
About half way up the East Arete on Illumination Rock

I've never used fixed ropes either, but I've always figured I'd leave enough slack in a fixed line that I could rappel with it. If terrain isn't steep enough to rappel, why have fixed lines in to begin with? Generally when you're fixing ropes, you're doing so in areas where it's really needed, while bussing shit up and down the mountain. If you're just fixing for sake of bread-crumbs between camps, there are better options- wands, orange fishing line, reflective skinny cord, GPS, etc.


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By csproul
From Rancho Cordova, CA
Feb 17, 2013
Summit of Wolf's Head with Pingora in the background

I was thinking about standard routes like the west butt on Denali, where you might be likely to find fixed lines that I/you did not put in place. I can imagine places where guides have placed fixed lines that are not steep enough to require rappelling? But, like I said, I've never seen one so I don't know. I can also imagine problems with people going up and down on the same line?


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By superkick
From West Hartford, CT
Feb 18, 2013
Free Solo up hitchcock gully WI3

using fixed lines on the west buttress. vomit-inducing.

unless youre fixing lines yourself for safety swhile shuffling through camps.

its just ugh.


also to answer your question, most people will just clip into the line and if you fall hopefully it was fixed well and youll get caught. Yes, that is also why mountaineers use figure 8's at high altitudes. Easier to not mess up, lightweight, easy to use with gloves on.

Some places will have multiple multiple fixed lines. A lot of them are shady. Ama Dablam is a good example of this. The general standard is to clip into as many as you can and hope one of them holds if you fall! (seriously amadablam has jet ski line fixed in some palces...lulz..

When there a signle fixed line yes theres a delay with people going up and down at the same time... If youve every read anything about everest this happens all the time and creates huge jams. People try to descend second step other trying to go up. And just going one way on a fixed line is traffic jam inducing.

fixed lines an oncertain mountaisn could probably be easily attributed to the death rates in some scenarios. Especially on everest.


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By csproul
From Rancho Cordova, CA
Feb 18, 2013
Summit of Wolf's Head with Pingora in the background

superkick wrote:
using fixed lines on the west buttress. vomit-inducing. unless youre fixing lines yourself for safety swhile shuffling through camps. its just ugh.

OK, so maybe not the best example (don't know, never been there), but I can still imagine situations where you'd encounter this scenario. And even if if you set the lines yourself, the question still stands. Have you been on the W Butt? The Rib?

Saw your edit: thanks for the answer.


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By superkick
From West Hartford, CT
Feb 18, 2013
Free Solo up hitchcock gully WI3

Ive not been to Denali yet, 2014s ambition. As much as Id like to avoid the Wbutt like the plague its an easy route to acclimate on.

Either going to do the full rib, or the Cassin. still up in the air. a slog up the west butt sounds miserable imo.


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By csproul
From Rancho Cordova, CA
Feb 18, 2013
Summit of Wolf's Head with Pingora in the background

superkick wrote:
Ive not been to Denali yet, 2014s ambition. As much as Id like to avoid the Wbutt like the plague its an easy route to acclimate on. Either going to do the full rib, or the Cassin. still up in the air. a slog up the west butt sounds miserable imo.

I guess I'd be inclined to agree if the route is as advertized, but having never been to Denali, I'll reserve judgement until I've actually set foot on the mountain. I've been on several S. American 6000m peaks, and I still wouldn't presume that the "easy" W Butt is a cake walk or that I wouldn't use fixed lines if they were in place. IMO, there's a lot to be said for taking the "easy" route to learn a new-to-me place...the geography, weather patterns, cold, the Northern latitudes at altitude, acclimatization etc..those would all be new things for me.


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By George Bell
From Boulder, CO
Feb 18, 2013
Hip trouble ...

I've climbed the E Butt which is probably at least as hard as the W Rib. It was originally climbed with fixed ropes, but we took none. The thing is that fixed ropes are going to be heavy, and think of how long most steep snowfields are. It is unlikely that even 100m is going to be good for much. On some routes there may be short rock steps, in which case a short fixed rope could be useful. But in most cases, they will just slow you down dramatically.

One unheralded skill is that of downclimbing snow safely. This is certainly worth practicing. Then try to do it wearing a heavy pack! You definitely can get better at it, which makes you feel more comfortable on such terrain.


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By superkick
From West Hartford, CT
Feb 18, 2013
Free Solo up hitchcock gully WI3

csproul wrote:
I guess I'd be inclined to agree if the route is as advertized, but having never been to Denali, I'll reserve judgement until I've actually set foot on the mountain. I've been on several S. American 6000m peaks, and I still wouldn't presume that the "easy" W Butt is a cake walk or that I wouldn't use fixed lines if they were in place. IMO, there's a lot to be said for taking the "easy" route to learn a new-to-me place...the geography, weather patterns, cold, the Northern latitudes at altitude, acclimatization etc..those would all be new things for me.


The crux of the west butt is def the crowds, cold, and weather conditions. the climbing itself has no technical difficulties. Not my kinda climb. But climbings all personal so for soemone else it may be perfect. Long as yer having fun!


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By WillP
Feb 18, 2013
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RE - descending when not steep enough to warrant rappel - go the 'arm wrap'. Rope wraps under the elbow and around the forearm, and down you go. You can get a lot of friction if required, but can move fast. It's hell on your jacket sleeve, but better than bare skin (my infected rope burn from doing this just healed - wear sleeves or go very slow!).


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