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So this is building up to taking my girls (7 & 9) on to joining a climbing club and to get more in to climbing in general on rock faces/quarries, at the moment we use a 15m tree to practice climbing in our garden, all equipment is permanently placed, so subject to weathering. Set up is as follows -

  1. 2x 120cm, 16mm sling around thick V in trunk approx 10m up, using 2 locking carabiners opposite and opposed.
  2. 1x 10mm thick 30m dynamic rope is fed through these carabiners and at the bottom I use a simple belay device.
  3. There are 2 set ups as above, duplicated so both my daughters can play on the ropes separately. 2 types of climb are currently experienced. The first is - a. Dbl figure-8 daughter tied in to harness, I take up slack from the bottom with rope through a belay device as they climb up using prusik's; 1 prusik is attached to the harness, the second is a foot loop and they climb up as high as they're happy to, they then unclip prusiks and I rappel them down using belay device. (Now I have a double set up I can now allow my daughter to climb up using one rope set up, prusiks wrapped around the 2 strands of rope, and I can figure-8 them in from the other rope as a safety and I take up slack from the bottom) The second type is b. they prusik themselves up using both strands of rope, and I'm just teaching them how to use a belay device and they use the belay to descend themselves down. (After detaching themselves from the prusik)

Questions -

  1. Are the double sling / carabiners strong enough for this type of climbing? (Slings are nylon not Dyneema)
  2. I am also getting them to keep a prusik not above the belay device so as they rappel down there is the secondary safety there in case something happens to their brake hand, if this makes sense.
  3. Am I able to allow both of them to climb simultaneously with a belay device secured to me? Or should you only look after one climber at a time, as I've heard/seen multi-climbers be led by one belayer ?

If there's any other set up that may appear safer please let me know, just not 100% sure this is okay and if the double slings/carabiner is sufficient. Any advice greatly appreciated and if any clarification is required please let me know.

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  • Hi Ben, thanks for this and apologies. Hopefully I've amended so this makes more sense. – Tommo Mar 1 at 16:35
  • Thank you Ben. I guess I've asked a few questions and I may have confused matters. As I have seen the following discussions where all discuss "teaching & playing" with kids under 10yrs old, but I suppose no one on here is expecting their young child to be responsible for the whole belay set up etc.....My main question is will the nylon sling/double carabiners be sufficient to take our weight when doing the climbing. And I think the answer is hopefully yes with some periodic checking/replacing. ukclimbing.com/forums/starting_out/… – Tommo Mar 2 at 9:48
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Ages 7 and 9 are very, very young for this type of activity, and therefore I would think that any climbing club would have extremely limited expectations as to what they can/should do. Personally, for kids this small, I would be happy if they could climb on top-rope, not freak out when they're too high off the ground, and, when it's time for them to be lowered, they should have the psychological willingness to lean back and weight the rope. If a kid age 7 can tie in with her own rewoven figure eight, properly dressed and with an appropriate tail, then that's awesome, but she should be checked every time by someone who is competent. It's fine if a kid that small needs someone else to tie them in.

They should know the standard voice commands used in your country, and they should be used to wearing a helmet, including at times when they're not actually climbing but could be hit by rockfall, a dropping phone, etc. They should understand some basic climbing etiquette, such as not to step on ropes and not to walk under a top-rope setup.

For their own protection, I would teach them that when they're toproping, they should do two things before climbing: (1) check that there is a knot in the other end of the rope (so that they can't get dropped if the rope is too short), and (2) make sure their belayer understands that they expect to be lowered off (that they will not be rapping off). They should also be used to checking your knots and harness buckles, and having you check theirs, before every climb. They should understand how to check whether there is slack in the rope, and what voice command to use to alert the belayer when there is too much slack ("up rope" in the US).

Teaching them to rappel is IMO a bad idea at this stage. Rappelling is inherently dangerous. If you read Accidents in North American Climbing, every year a huge percentage of the accidents are rappelling accidents. There is no need for them to know how to rappel when they have such a small amount of experience. Rappelling would be something they would need to do much later, in a situation where they're leading and need to clean. The second-hand backup you're teaching them sounds pretty standard, but I think it's just extremely premature to be teaching it to them.

Habits, once ingrained, become hard to break. Therefore I would not teach them to do something weird and idiosyncratic when they get to the top of a climb. Whatever procedure you're having them follow to set up to rap off, it doesn't sound like any procedure that I would want to have them do in any real climbing situation.

I assume that teaching them to ascend the rope on a Prusik is simply an expedient you're using because there is nothing for them to actually climb. This is actually a good skill to have for the future, but it's very unusual for kids this small to learn it. Consider attaching some kind of holds to the tree so that they can actually climb.

Nothing you say about your anchors immediately raises red flags for me, but it's hard to tell over the internet. You don't say whether the slings are cord or webbing, or what kind of knots you're using. I don't know how many times you're going to climb on this setup, but if the number of climbs gets very large, you want to make sure the permanent carabiners are not wearing out from rope friction. You want to inspect them frequently to make sure the screws are still locked and the biners are not cross-loaded. I would avoid leaving the climbing ropes continuously outside and exposed to ultraviolet. Replace the slings frequently, especially if they start to look stiff or faded.

My personal rule of thumb for using a tree as an anchor is "five and alive," i.e., the trunk (or branch in your case) should be at least 5 inches in diameter, and it should be healthy, with green leaves growing from it. The attachment should be as close to the roots as possible, or in your case as close to the trunk as possible, which does seem to be the case. If it meets these criteria, I'm OK with using it as an anchor without any redundancy. However, if it was a setup like this that I was using with small kids, over and over, I would try to set up some better redundancy, so that even if the branch breaks, there is something else that your anchor is attached to.

In general, it sounds like you've gotten your knowledge from reading rather than from people who actually climb. Lots of people have had to learn to climb this way. However, you would do really well to seek out more experienced people to mentor you and your daughters.

Guides often belay two clients at once, but it's less common to see other people doing this. It's more complicated to keep track of everything properly, and when you're just toproping on single-pitch climbs, there's normally no need to do it, because everybody just takes turns. Since you're not very experienced, I would just avoid doing it. Make sure you have the basics of belaying one person figured out correctly, so that when you do it, what's getting programmed into your muscle memory is correct.

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I'll start off answering your three questions then provide some extra thoughts at the end of my answer. Before that though, be aware that the risks are real: if something goes wrong, perhaps because of a lack of knowledge, the outcome could be life-changing or terminal. Make sure you have the skills and experience you need and not just theoretical knowledge. User error is much more likely to result in an accident than equipment failure.

1. Are the double sling / carabiners strong enough for this type of climbing? (Slings are nylon not Dyneema)

As long as the slings are designed for climbing then they are more than strong enough. Make sure you have a reputable brand and not just a cheap sling off the internet. Be aware that there is an increasing problem with counterfeit climbing gear sold online. The sling will need to meet the UIAA standards for slings. If you are in Europe then the European standard EN 566 aligns with this and should be written on the sling. This states that the sling should be able hold 22kN of force, both nylon and dyneema are up to this. The same sort of considerations apply for any karabiners, harnesses and belay devices you are using.

2. I am also getting them to keep a prusik not above the belay device so as they rappel down there is the secondary safety there in case something happens to their brake hand, if this makes sense.

This probably isn't appropriate given their age and your skill if you are asking these questions (which is a great thing do to!). The first consideration is if the Prusik jams or there is some other problem, such as them panicking or their hair getting stuck in the belay device, then how will you rescue them? If you really want them to learn to abseil/rappel, then having a releasable abseil rope with the abseiler backed up by a separate belay rope would be more appropriate.

One related note, if you are using a backup Prusik then it normally goes below the abseil device not above it as it is much less likely to jam/cause problems. There are some exceptions to this but they don't seem likely in your situation. It's much better to provide a backup in other ways such as using the belay rope you already have set up.

3. Am I able to allow both of them to climb simultaneously with a belay device secured to me? Or should you only look after one climber at a time, as I've heard/seen multi-climbers be led by one belayer?

There is no need to have them climb at the same time. One at a time is standard practice for top roping. Being on the ground also provides time for for rest and recovery. You could also use this as an opportunity to teach them to belay, if you are happy that you know what you are doing well enough that you won't be introducing bad habits. If you do this, make sure you know how to tail the rope to back them up.

As your children get older, it could also be used to let them think about what they might do differently on their next go.

Some extra thoughts

It sounds like your set up is to get them Prusiking up ropes more than climbing. This is quite an advanced skill and one they are not likely to come across in their climbing club for quite some time. That doesn't mean you can't do it but just be aware it's not a perfect fit.

Things that would be more useful to them are:

  1. Associating climbing with fun. Prusiking up a rope may or may not achieve this.
  2. Learning to move and working on the FUNdamentals of climbing
  3. Learning to look after and trust each other (safety checks etc.)

If you are in the UK I would highly recommend doing a BMC/Mountaineering Scotland FUNdamentals of Climbing course, once they are running again. The FUNdamentals of climbing focus on Agility, Balance and Coordination (the ABCs). Working on this will benefit your children more than anything else in their sporting lives, whether this is in climbing or not. There is evidence to suggest the people who master these skills before the age of 12 ingrain the skills better than those who learn it at a later date.

When I worked in a climbing wall I often ran introductory courses for adults. You could always tell those who had gymnastics or dance in their backgrounds as their movement on the wall was above what would normally be expected of a beginner. This is was due to their mastery of the ABCs of movement through other sports.

Ways to work on the ABCs could include obstacle courses, unstable surfaces, climbing, slack lining etc. Basically anything that requires balance in a dynamic environment would be good. If you can find a tree with plenty of low branches, then climbing up this will be excellent too, but you may not have a suitable tree in your garden. You can do plenty of fun activities that will prepare them for climbing which don't go high off the ground.

Climbing is about partnerships and the team working together to stay safe in a dangerous environment. It's never to early too start teaching children to check each other's knots and to check the belay device. Other activities that build trust in each other would also help achieve your aims.

Meeting up with a climbing coach or a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor might be the best way to go over suitable systems and to perhaps discover local venues that are more suited for the type of activity you are looking for. Remember that this is risky business and if something goes wrong, perhaps because of a lack of knowledge, the outcome could be life-changing or terminal. If you are in the UK I would recommend finding a member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors, who are all highly qualified, and would be able to offer you bespoke training suitable for your needs.

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  • If my two recommendations for the BMC FUNdamentals course and the Association of Mountaineering Instructors are not appropriate then please edit them out or let me know and I will edit them out. The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) is the National Governing Body of climbing and mountaineering in England and Wales. The Association of Mountaineering Instructors represents instructors with the Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor qualification and does not sell services itself. – Mehmet Mar 5 at 11:24
  • > One related note, if you are using a backup Prusik then it normally goes below the abseil device not above it as it is much less likely to jam/cause problems. Doesn't having the prusik below the abseil/belay device mean that if the device fails, it will end up pushing the prusik down (unless the abseil device isn't directly on the harness, but extended with eg a short sling)? – Jory Geerts Mar 10 at 17:45
  • @Jory Greets, You are right, which is why it's always a good idea to extend your belay device when abseiling. Some people don't extend the belay but put the Prusik on their leg loop which adds distance; this works until it doesn't. As long as you don't invert you're fine but if you do the two can meet. With the Prusik above the belay device, in addition to jamming, its easy to make the Prusik your primary descender by mistake in which case the friction will melt through it. Extending the abseil/belay device is the best solution. – Mehmet Mar 12 at 7:13

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