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Rope Tug Communication - what do you think of this protocol?
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By Cruxic
From Corvallis, OR
May 28, 2011
Monkey Face - Smith Rock OR
Hello all,

I frequently find myself out of voice communication with my climbing partner. I've used some adhoc schemes for communicating via rope tugs but I'd like to formalize how I do it. Do you see any flaws with this protocol:

Instructions


  • One sharp tug on the rope per syllable
  • Pause 3 seconds before responding to a tug.
  • If you don't get the final confirmation tug, abort and restart at the beginning (after a good long pause).

Leader Goes Off Belay


Follower: (notices extra long pause)
Leader: take - me - off - be - lay
Follower: off?
Leader: yes

Follower Goes On Belay


Leader: (pulls slack from the line)
Follower: me!
Leader: on - be - lay
Follower: on?
Leader: yes

Notes:
  • The 5 monotonous tugs ensure that we don't mistake a request for slack or normal movements in the rope as a request to go off belay.
  • A 3 second pause before responding increases clarity of communication.
  • This scheme minimizes belayer tugging on the leader (lest the belayer pull the leader off the wall due to miscommunication).

I haven't had a chance to try it out yet but what do you think? I came up with it after reading the thread: Multi-Pitch Communication - When you can't quite hear, or see!. I would have posted there but didn't want to wake such an old thread.

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By Dave Swink
From Boulder, Co
May 28, 2011
The belayer should never yank on the rope.......

Try working an air horn into the protocol?

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By Grover
May 28, 2011
The air horn is where its at.

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By John Wilder
From Las Vegas, NV
May 28, 2011
as long of you both know what 'no' translates to.

i've never been a fan of rope tugs- my thought behind it is that if i cannot hear my partner, the rope may also be impeded (i am rarely out of earshot from my partners)

my system is i just dont pull up the rope until i'm ready to put someone on belay. my partner counts to 10 when the rope goes tight on the anchor, and they're on belay. at worst, they keep me on belay until the rope goes tight. no biggie.

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By Cruxic
From Corvallis, OR
May 28, 2011
Monkey Face - Smith Rock OR
My use of an air horn ended abruptly when my second partner in a row had a heart attack.

Dave, what method do you use? If the belayer cannot tug the line there can be no confirmation (aka redundancy), right?

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By Cruxic
From Corvallis, OR
May 28, 2011
Monkey Face - Smith Rock OR
Most of my climbing is at Smith Rock. Trad routes there tend to wander and have large ledges. Combine this with the sound of the river and afternoon wind and you'll often be out of communication.

John, I'm intrigued by your tug-less method. I've heard of others doing the same. So the belayer never takes you off belay? Does that mean they have to belay out 30m of rope when you start pulling up the slack? Seems tedious but I guess its only necessary when out of communication. Am I understanding you right?

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By Larry
From SoAZ
May 28, 2011
Never been a fan of tugs. Usually you're at the end of a long and/or devious pitch, and a tug is completely damped out by the time it reaches the other end.

Usually, the agreement is that, if rope goes out the stated distance in the topo (when that info is available) and after a long pause, the second just starts up. This works especially well if it's not cruxy right off the belay. If the rope goes up, you're either on belay or simo'ing. If not, wait a bit.

My latest strategy is a whistle.

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By Dave Swink
From Boulder, Co
May 28, 2011
I have had good luck with 3 leader tugs for "off belay" and "on belay".

When the leader is ready to go off belay, he pulls up any slack very quickly and gives three hard tugs before the belayer can throw more slack. If the belayer is not sure, he will know when the leader starts pulling the rope up much faster than he could possibly be climbing.

When the leader is ready to signal "on belay", he pulls out any slack and gives three hard tugs. If the belayer is unsure, he can move up two feet and watch if the rope moves up immediately. If he is still unsure, he can wait and after three minutes the leader gives another three hard tugs.

This system is dependent upon the premise that when the leader goes beyond the belayer's hearing there is only one possible message: "off belay". After that message is clearly understood (by the rope tugs or by the subsequent rapid pulling of the rope), then the only possible message will be "on belay". Again, that message can be tested by moving up a couple of feet.

Sorry about the airhorn crack. :-)

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By smassey
From CO
May 28, 2011
John and I use the same system. It works well in Red Rock or in the alpine, since there is a lot of friction on the rope (tugs don't really seem to work as well). Here the problem for communication is the wind. I can't really think of any 30m pitches on which you can't communicate, but I'm sure there are some. It can be a pain to feed out that much rope through the device, but it's simple (no wondering which tugs mean which). I can explain it to someone new in 30 seconds. When the rope comes tight, and I'll be able to tell if they're feeding it through the device, I'll drop a few feet for them to take off the device, put them on belay and wait 20 seconds or so. Then I'll pull it in tight, and will have told them that they're on belay when this happens. Proceed as normal.

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By Evan1984
May 28, 2011
In my experience, rope tugs are highly unreliable and leave each partner at their bitter end going, "was that three tugs?"

Personally, I very rarely find myself out of voice contact. I often find it difficult to distinguish between "off belay" "belay if off" and "on belay" So, I've switched to "secure" "you are off" and "climb on".

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By John Wilder
From Las Vegas, NV
May 28, 2011
smassey's said it well- most of the time, you can easily tell when the leader is pulling up the slack rather than any other reason- big long pause (anchor build). little slack (secure to master point). then a bunch of rope starts going through the device (but its not a fall)- paying close attention to this cycle and its easy to tell when the leader is off.

but, if there's any doubt, you just keep 'em on and you both deal with the slowness of it- its no biggie if this happens. id rather stay on belay if the follower isnt sure what the hell is going on, even if i am secured to the anchor.

i actually had this happen last year on Lone Star- the crux pitch was a full 70m rope length (or close to it). I was totally out of communication with my partner (he was leading)- near the top, there was a long pause, i thought he was building an anchor, but i just wasnt sure, so when the rope started moving again, i just kept him on. good thing, to, as he had built an intermediate anchor of bad gear to protect the final crux moves of the pitch. about 20' later the proper sequence of rope pulling occurred and i took him off and climbed.

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By John Husky
May 28, 2011
The system I use is 3 pulls= off belay then yard up some slack and pause, then pull up all slack and put second on belay then 3 more pulls= on belay. The pause allows the second to take the leader off. If you are unsure you keep the belay on and the leader will pull in slack until the knot is at the belay device.

Though I will admit that John's no pull system is more foolproof.

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By Ryan Williams
Administrator
From London (sort of)
May 28, 2011
El Chorro
What I do is this:

If the leader gets to the belay and can't be heard he gets safe, then pulls like 5 meters of rope up as fast as he can and then drops it all back down. This is obviously not just the case of the leader blowing a clip, but a sign that he is safe. Then he pulls up all slack in the rope, quickly, until it is tight on the follower. Then when Leader is ready to belay, he pulls sharply three times, meaning on belay. The follower pulls back three times to signal he's climbing. Leader can give a foot or two of slack when appropriate to allow follower to break down anchor. This should all be discussed prior to the climb.

I've never had a problem with tugs being felt, even after long and wandering pitches. Just do big obvious tugs. But it's nicer if you don't have to do it at all.

If you have doubles you can avoid the tugging by using the 5m up and down method, and have it mean different things depending on what color rope you pull. IE, if I pull red 5m up then dump it back down on you, then I'm off belay. Then I pull both ropes tight. Then I dump 5m of blue rope back down on you again and pull it up. That means you are on belay.

Super windy days are a bitch no matter what, but it's not always a good idea to let a lot of rope drop when the wind is howling. That's the only drawback I can think of in this system.

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By Cruxic
From Corvallis, OR
May 29, 2011
Monkey Face - Smith Rock OR
I really appreciate all the responses, folks. There's certainly no shortage of methods to choose from! I'm going to try out John's tug-less method as it seems very intuitive which means less risk of forgetting the number and sequence of tugs etc, when dehydrated or otherwise impaired.

Assuming I have understood correctly, the protocol looks like this:

  • I take my leader off belay only when I have clear, unmistakable, voice or visual communication. If there's any doubt I keep the leader on belay until all the rope has been fed out.
  • Leader never pulls up rope until he/she is completely ready to put the follower on belay. (Even when voice communication is working.)
  • Leader always puts follower on belay immediately after pulling up all rope. (Even when voice communication is working.)
  • Follower knows he/she is on belay N seconds after the rope comes tight (where N is a number you are comfortable with).


The only thing I'm not comfortable with is the last step. What if the leader cannot get the belay on in N seconds? (Due to cold, hands, dropped belay device, or some other unforeseen interference.)

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By Buff Johnson
May 29, 2011
smiley face
If it's just rope tugs, 4 pops, I'm off; pull rope & rig up, 4 pops, Second is on.

Belayer should never tug when lead belaying; and utmost, if in any doubt, belay it out.

If you're the Second, stay in the anchor until you have no doubt that you're on. Usually if you make a move and the rope moves with you, you're on.

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By Dave Swink
From Boulder, Co
May 29, 2011
+1 for Mark's approach. A lot of folks expressed that they cannot feel leader rope tugs for various reasons (friction?). Be sure to quickly pull out the slack to the belayer and immediately follow up with long, hard pulls, it will be understood

Cruxic wrote:
The only thing I'm not comfortable with is the last step. What if the leader cannot get the belay on in N seconds? (Due to cold, hands, dropped belay device, or some other unforeseen interference.)


I would suggest another set of leader pulls for "on belay" but in either case an unsure belayer should move up a couple of feet while still on at least minimal protection and watch for the rope to move up almost immediately.

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By mongoose
May 29, 2011
There have been many times when i cannot hear or see my partner due to wanding routes, wind, or a nearby waterfall/river. I always go over the protocol with my partner before we start climbing.
as the leader I do 3 long hard tugs for off belay
then for on belay i will do a short tug every 2 or so seconds until the follower starts climbing.

feeding the rope till the end takes a while but it sounds slightly more foolproof

oh and, also make sure your belayer is competent enough to know NOT to take you off belay unless they are 100% sure you are, in fact, off belay.

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By Rich Farnham
May 29, 2011
Cruxic wrote:
I'm going to try out John's tug-less method as it seems very intuitive which means less risk of forgetting the number and sequence of tugs etc, when dehydrated or otherwise impaired.

This is pretty much the system that I've been using for a few years, so I'll add a few thoughts. I quit using the rope tug method because I have had wind mimic all sorts of rope tugs, and I didn't like the ambiguity. As you describe in your steps below, I follow the same steps regardless of whether my partner can hear me or not. That way we are used to the same sequence. If they hear me, great; confirmation is always nice. If not, no big deal. We both know what to expect.


Cruxic wrote:
Assuming I have understood correctly, the protocol looks like this: * I take my leader off belay only when I have clear, unmistakable, voice or visual communication. If there's any doubt I keep the leader on belay until all the rope has been fed out.

As others have described, when I get to the top of a pitch there is a long pause while I build an anchor. Only when I'm ready to put my partner on belay do I pull the rope up. I pull the rope up as fast as I can so there is no question that I'm not climbing at this speed, and must be at an anchor (i.e. off belay). If there will be a lot of rope to pull up, I might stop briefly after 30+ feet to let my partner take the device off, then I pull the rest up. A very few times, I have had partners be unsure that they should take me off, and it was no big deal to go to the end of the rope.

This system has worked really well for me. My partners that haven't used it before have all said that they understood it easily the first time and that it worked well. In order to keep things safe, consider how your belayer is perceiving your movement. As someone described above, you might have to stop to build a nest of gear midpitch. Your partner might be thinking you are building the anchor. But then you start moving again slowly, so that isn't the case and they haven't taken you off belay. If this was a nest of gear before some crux move which is then followed by a long easy ramp for 30', just remember not to take off running up the slab. Your partner could mistake your speed for you hauling rope up (i.e. you are off belay). I think this is highly unlikely, as it is pretty easy to distinguish between the movements of someone climbing and someone hauling up rope, but it is worth keeping in mind.

Cruxic wrote:
* Leader never pulls up rope until he/she is completely ready to put the follower on belay. (Even when voice communication is working.) * Leader always puts follower on belay immediately after pulling up all rope. (Even when voice communication is working.) * Follower knows he/she is on belay N seconds after the rope comes tight (where N is a number you are comfortable with). The only thing I'm not comfortable with is the last step. What if the leader cannot get the belay on in N seconds? (Due to cold, hands, dropped belay device, or some other unforeseen interference.)

I don't tell people to assume they are on belay after x number of seconds. I tell them that pulling up the rope is the last thing I will do before I will put them on belay, so it shouldn't take long. As soon as they feel me pulling rope up again, they will know they are on belay. I will pull fairly frequently until I feel them moving.

These pulls can be a little annoying if you are cleaning the anchor, but that is far outwieghed by the value of the confirmation that you are on belay.

If for some reason you couldn't get them on belay immediately, then they wouldn't start feeling you pulling the rope every 15-20 sec. to see if they've moved. I'd hope you could rig a munter pretty quickly, such that your partner would never actually know that you'd been delayed by dropping your device until they arrived at the anchor with you. If you couldn't do a munter quickly for some reason, I suppose you could tie off the rope to the anchor quickly while you work out another means to belay. If your partner started climbing, they would notice that the rope wasn't moving and would not keep going up. If they fell right then, your tie off would hold them nearly as well as a belay.

Good luck with the system. I think you'll find it results in less confusion than the rope tug method.

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By John Wilder
From Las Vegas, NV
May 29, 2011
Cruxic wrote:
The only thing I'm not comfortable with is the last step. What if the leader cannot get the belay on in N seconds? (Due to cold, hands, dropped belay device, or some other unforeseen interference.)


as a second- you know when you're on belay by the feel of the rope pulling against you, its very distinct.

like i said before, i usually carefully leave the belay to ensure the proper feel of the rope (even though i'm 99% sure before the anchor is taken down)- if there's any doubt, i plug a piece, clip in and sit tight till i'm very sure.

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By Pete Spri
May 29, 2011
Probably better to use a whistle than rope pulls.

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By Cruxic
From Corvallis, OR
May 29, 2011
Monkey Face - Smith Rock OR
You guys rock! Rich, your method of pulling tight every 15-20 seconds solves my concern and is very intuitive. And John, point taken that a constant upward tension on the rope is indeed quite distinctive.

For the benefit of myself and others, here's the modified protocol which I intend to try out:

  • I take my leader off belay only when I have clear, unmistakable, voice or visual communication. If there's any doubt I keep the leader on belay until all the rope has been fed out.
  • Leader never pulls up rope until he/she is completely ready to put the follower on belay. (Even when voice communication is working.)
  • Leader always puts follower on belay immediately after pulling up all rope. (Even when voice communication is working.)
  • Follower has confirmation that he/she is on belay because the rope momentarily pulls tighter every 15-20 seconds.


Thanks again, everybody :)

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By Derek Anderson
From Tucson,AZ
May 30, 2011
me outside my friends, nothin special :P
+1 for rope tugs, just from having personal experience with someone who is deaf in a climbing world. We have only done single pitch climbs, and developed rope tugs for our communication. If there is a better way I would be interested in knowing....

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By Greg D
From Here
May 30, 2011
Out of the blue.  Photo by Mike W.
Well executed rope tugs beat all the rest of the ways to communicate hands down. But, they must be well executed. In high winds, near a ragging river or where there are lots of other climbings yelling, rope tugs rule. In eldo, there are all kinds of people yelling all kinds of things. Who knows who's who. Unfortunately, I got to participate in a rescue two years ago. There was a miscommunication that led the leader to fall more than 100 feet.

It is quite fun to move through a crowded area super quiet and stealth like talking to your partner and knowing exactly what is going on but through the rope only.

Execution is critical. The longer and more drag on a given pitch the more the leader must think about what it takes to get a signal to the belayer. "Off belay": I quietly pull up loose slack, then yank like I'm starting a 30 year old rusty lawn mower. The longer the pitch the harder I tug. I always give the signal (three sharp tugs) pause, pause, give signal again (three sharp tugs). The first time just alerts the belayer that I'm signaling. The second time they are sure.

Then, pull up all the slack. Put follower on belay. Three sharp tugs, pause, pause, three sharp tugs. Follower is on. Most followers like to say "Climbing". So they give two sharp tugs, pause, pause, two sharp tugs. This is the only time I feel it is ok for the follower to pull on the rope.

Keep it super simple. Make sure you both get it.

Climb on!

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By Greg D
From Here
May 30, 2011
Out of the blue.  Photo by Mike W.
Oh, and signals that wait 15 or 20 seconds or 3 minutes. No way. Terrible waste of time.

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By sam.f
From Santa Cruz, CA
May 30, 2011
Aiguille de Joshua Tree.
The rope tug method, while good in theory, often fails in practice. The best method is to have a partner that can intuitively know what you are doing. This might sound crazy, but it works...you just have to have a solid partner and log a good bit of mileage with that person. Basically, you guys just get accustomed to what the other is doing, or likely to be doing. That means no flailing around at the anchor, or while building one...you both have to be solid. If you don't get it, then you probably don't "got it." Does that make sense?

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By Tim McCabe
May 30, 2011
Never thought much of the rope tug method, while it might work on straight forward routes, these are not the routes where you can't communicate.

When my wife and I first started doing multi pitch stuff we worked out a system using the second tag line. Leader drags the second rope, once the leader get the anchor set and starts to pull the rope they are clearly off belay. Once the leader pulls up the slack it shouldn't take more then 30 seconds to get the follower on. It's pretty easy from below to realize what's up when the tag line takes off and the lead line sits still. Once the climbing rope comes tight it goes slack for a short time (while the leader gets on belay) when the rope comes tight the second time your on.

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