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I am looking for a way into alpinism. The most common route I've found is signing up for a multi-day guided group course in a place like Chamonix, culminating in a small summit like Petite Aiguille Verte etc.

My main concern around such courses is the seemingly ubiquitous us of 'short roping' multiple clients to one guide. Being somewhat of a hyper aware chap, the idea of having my fate dependent on the concentration/shore-footedness of a fellow novice whom I've known for 3 days makes me anxious to say the least.

Whilst I'm aware that mountains entail uncertainty and risk, avoiding short roping seems like an easy win in terms of minimising avoidable risks.

Does anyone have any examples of ways into alpinism without/with minimal short roping? Am I being completely irrational?

  • hire a guide for a one on one outing. – ldgorman Apr 17 at 10:53
  • i have seen guides with 5 people (novices) on a single rope on a thin exposed ridge line and I don't like it. They pose a danger to everyone in their fall line and not just those roped up. – ldgorman Apr 17 at 10:55
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Short roping is a technique that is mainly used by mountain guides to get people up a mountain without the need for a time consuming proper belay. The whole concept of short roping is not to catch a fall but to avoid a stumble escalating into a fall. As such short roping is a dangerous technique because only "under ideal circumstances it is possible to hold a fall on a 30° slope" (Source, unfortunately only in german: http://www.bergundsteigen.at/file.php/archiv/2008/2/print/54-61%20%28verbunden%20bis%20in%20den%20tod%29.pdf )

Therefore the use of short roping is heavily disputed due to high risk. The german alpine club completely discourages it while the swiss alpine club encourages the use mainly for psychological factors and being already tied into the rope when you reach a section that requires a proper belay again (instead of heaving the rope in your backpack and continue ropeless).

Given this background, your fear is completely rational. There is a substatial amount of guided groups with too many (I have seen up to 4) guests at a short rope which also have a bad technique and are therefore very likely to stumble and fall. I would not join such a group.

However, there is a difference between a guided tour (which intends to bring you on the mountain and back down again safely) and a course which is intended to teach you the necessary techniques to go mountaineering yourself. If there is a substantial amount of short roping in a course, it is no longer teaching. Moreover, most of the teaching does not require to go into terrain where short roping makes sense as it would then be too difficult.

So this mainly boils down to find a good course. Before booking you can ask about short roping and also about all the other contents of the course. This will also help to align the course with your background. If you already have experience with alpine rock climbing, you will need a different course than not having any related experience at all.

  • I think this is a fair summary, given you couldn't go into all details, I just have to add that while "encourages the use [of short roping] mainly for psychological factors and being already tied into the rope" isn't wrong, there's a bit more to it. There are very much conditions and scenarios where short roping is very much effective and save, e.g. jagged rocky arrete, where it serves against a full team fall in easy terrain and as a quick belay in harder (micro-)sections. However it's really hard to do efficient and save, that's definitely true. As I said, fair, while short assessment ;) – imsodin Apr 16 at 7:28
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Short roping is dangerous, but a critical part of guiding. See my answer here: Is "Short roping" "Death Roping"? That said, the premise of your question is wrong.

Being somewhat of a hyper aware chap, the idea of having my fate dependent on the concentration/shore-footedness of a fellow novice whom I've known for 3 days makes me anxious to say the least.

Your fate is dependent on your guide. If you do not trust your guide, then get a new guide. If you trust your guide, and in their opinion, short roping is the right technique for the situation (terrain, weather, clients), then you should be fine. The key thing to remember is the guide is in just as much, if not more, risk than you are as a client.

If you are really against short-roping, you could chose a mountain for which it is unlikely that there would be short roping (e.g., https://www.rmiguides.com/)

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