Using Mechanical Advantage to Safely Limb Walk
Looking back at my early days of climbing, I dreaded those bendy, awkward, skinny limb walks that would test your balance. This was partly due to being inexperienced, and having my rope at terrible angles that threatened to snap the limb if I moved wrong way! (Not too proud of that.)
My worst limb walking memory has to be when I swung back uncontrolled because I failed to listen to my trainer’s advice and being thick-headed. I had begun walking a thirty-foot limb walk with awkward bends and twists. I was feeling good that particular day, but I could faintly hear my trainer yelling, “watch your rope deflection, it’s caught on a small waterspout!” So, what did any naive climber might do…shrugged it off and kept going. I know, I too am rolling my eyes at myself as I type this out. Not even ten seconds went by when my rope snapped the waterspout off, threw me off balance and I went for a "fun" swing back to the spar! Luckily, it only cost me a couple of bruises. Could all of that tumbling have been avoided?!!? YES. Moral of the story, LISTEN to those looking out for you.
As I progressed in this glorious industry, so did my limb walking abilities. Limb walking was made easier when I began climbing with an SRS system. Now before you push me away, let me explain as I know not everyone likes climbing SRS. Having begun my career with a traditional closed system, I always aim for a nice high central tie-in point (TIP) that could work the whole tree if possible. This worked; but if I redirected without gear, I really disliked having to fight that extra friction that was caused from the rope rubbing on the limb of the tree. This is where SRS really shines! If only one limb is on the menu, having the ability to choose a TIP within the vicinity of that limb and using ascenders to get up there makes my life WAY easier. (I am terrible with foot locking and did my fair share of hip thrusting to get up there!) That would eliminate the hardest part of the climb. In all reality though, I only do that a few times; as we all know that not every tree has the same layout and there is probably more than just one limb that has to get walked out either to remove deadwood or reduce it back a bit.
Removing that unwanted friction whenever dropping through a redirect is a glorious pro with SRS. In my opinion though, there is a tradeoff, and it comes whenever walking back from those long awkward growing limbs. Remember, an MRS system gives you the advantage of pulling the falling end of your system and tending quickly, instead of pulling all of your weight, holding it for a quick minute and then tending that slack as you would with an SRS system. There are ways to alleviate this and make life better again, but it includes adding some gear. You can’t see it but whenever I get to add toys to my climbing, my heart soars with excitement!
Let’s get to it! There are a few pieces of gear you may already have in your kit to create mechanical advantage that can make the walk back easier. If you own any of the following then you are already there: a classic Figure 8, DMM Ring, hand ascender, extra hitch cord or even just a single carabiner. Having the extra carabiner, Figure 8 or the DMM ring gives you the ability to create a retrievable mechancial advantage system. With the carabiner, attach it mid-line with a Munter Hitch and run the falling end of the SRS system back through the carabiner (you would follow this step for all the MA systems.) The figure 8 would get installed normal as you would but here it does require a carabiner to capture the falling end of the climbing system. To apply the DMM ring requires you to take a bight of rope (above the system,) push it through the ring and capture that with a carabiner and once again the falling end through here as well.
To retrieve the system, pull down on both legs of rope that are ran through the hardware that were attached mid-line.
Your non-retrievable options include using the hand ascender and the hitch cord. Attach these to the rope as you would the retrievable option. You get the same effect but the obvious downside- it’s not retrievable.
One key thing that I learned the hard way, KEEP that tail end of rope coming out of the hardware attached to you prior to walking out! If you do not capture this, you will not get that desired mechanical advantage for the walk back. A perfect example: I was out on an Oak getting ready to walk this massive limb and thought to myself, “this would be a good time to apply some MA!” So, I did just that. Only I had forgotten to keep that falling end of rope with me. This limb I was out on, grew long and downward. When I was ready to walk back, I went to pull myself on the “leg of rope” that would give me MA and I quickly realized what I did wrong. I looked up and seen that specific leg of rope just dangling freely, taunting me as if saying to me “ha you jackass”!! Another lesson was learned that day, take a second look to make sure everything is correct!
Do you get down with using mechanical advantage on limb walks or do you think it’s a waste of time?