I've been reading this book about mountain scrambling in Washington State, U.S., and at some points it mentions the idea of using a hand line on some more exposed routes to give something to hold on to, as well as mental reassurance to less experienced climbers. This whole book is supposed to be about "non-technical climbs" so I was wondering how one would go about setting up a hand line like this.

Presumably, the most able climber in the group would go forward and anchor a rope along the route for other climbers in the party to use? How would you do this safely (is this even possible to do safely)?

My personal (relatively inexperienced) opinion is that if you're at the point where you're considering using a rope for safety, the route is either beyond your skill level, or you should be doing proper technical climbing.


2 Answers 2


How would you do this safely (is this even possible to do safely)?

This technique is based on one member of the party being more competent than the others and the grades being very low (probably nothing more than a Grade III scramble)

For example I lead a group of friends up Tryfan. This is a grade I scramble. I took a rope. I was confident soloing any climbing sections (this is well below my climbing grade) and I used the rope to help the less experienced members.

I didn't use a "handline" (something for people to hold onto is of limited use as if someone falls it's not really going to help)

If there isn't a member of the party who is competent enough to solo the climb then your right, your into the realm of "technical" climbing.

Grade I or below

Most Grade I scrambles are within the range of anyone who is competent in the mountains. Above this you need more skills. If your not confident to lead a Grade I then your not confident to be doing this at all. Get some more experience then come back.

Grade II/III and climbing

This isn't totally inaccessible you just need take a bit of time to learn scrambling rope techniques, how to belay, etc. you can still do this. You will likely need some more kit and you will need to learn how to use it (i.e. harnesses and belay plates and some kind of protection such as nuts). Your local climbing wall is probably where you start with this, most have beginner courses that will teach your how to belay, etc. You then need to learn to place the gear and protect the climb. But scrambling is a really good place to learn to climb and improve your confidence. But learn the basics somewhere safe (indoors) first!

There are a series of British Mountaineering Council videos covering the subject in detail

at some points it mentions the idea of using a hand line on some more exposed routes to give something to hold on to....Presumably, the most able climber in the group would go forward and anchor a rope along the route for other climbers in the party to use?

This isn't a technique I'm familiar with, plus I don't really see the benefit. If someone isn't confident they either shouldn't be there at all or should be properly secured for their safety. Couple of issues here:

  • A rope is really unpleasant to hold.
  • If you fall and hold the rope, expect serious burns.
  • If you fall what are the chances of you catching the rope?

for that reason I'd prefer to use a different technique:

I used a figure of eight lasso(passed under the armpits of the person) to secure the people and I either belayed off spikes or hip belayed. The rope's main job was to give the person confidence, but in the unlikely event that they do fall, I could catch them without relaying on them holding onto something. If the pitches are quite long, then you probably want harnesses.

I'm wondering if you mean like on a via ferrata?

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In this instance the line is secured to pitons hammered into the rock and is permanently fixed. Someone will of done this for you. You typically secure yourself using a cows tail or via ferrata kit.

  • Great answer, thanks! I actually have a fair amount of experience with climbing indoors, so I have some of the necessary gear and skills; harness, knots, carabiner, etc. Looks like I'll have to do some learning about outdoor protection though!
    – Blackbear
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 17:31

Yes, that book is quite odd being aimed to beginners, so it should at least explicitly give some more information about that.

That being said. If you want to do that, here's one way to (there are several). I did this in the past to help a party of less experienced people cross a slope full of unstable snow.

  • First, get a lightweight rope. It does not have to be a rock climbing rope - and it should better not be. Rock climbing ropes are dynamic, that is, elastic, and you don't want to get something elastic here, but something that holds tight. Moreover, rock climbing ropes would be too weighty and in most cases too long: that means, overkill. This one could be fine (it is explicitly meant to be used as an "handrail") but in my opinion something thinner may work as well, like a 5.5mm cordelette. The length is up to you and the trail you want to do. Realistically, if you need anything longer than 20m, probably yes, you'd better be somewhere else.
  • Also get a sewn sling like this and a pear-shaped rock climbing carabiner.

Now for the tying itself. I will keep things simple and assume that you will have something sturdy to attach your rope to - that means, trees. It would be of course pointless to assume that you need to also carry cams, nuts, piton, and other rock climbing gear. So, you have trees. If there aren't trees in the hike you're planning, don't even bother carrying that rope.

  • Tie one rope end to a tree before the tricky part. There are several ways to do that. The bowline is one option, it is described here.
  • Move up - or across - the tricky section while trailing the rope. Reach for the safer place and find another three up there.
  • Wrap your sling around the tree and clip the carabiner into it.
  • Tie the rope into the carabiner by using a clove hitch and tension the rope as much as you can before tightening it.

You're done. If you're going back by the same route, leave it there. When you will get back last, you will dismantle the top anchor and then the bottom one. If not, the last member of the party will need to untie the bowline and get up with the rope not tight.

Practice it in a safe place several times. Go to any park and do that with threes, fences, or whatever you may be able to find.

Remember that any person would be way safer if scrambling with her foot and hands than by leaning onto a rope that is not tied properly and that would slip off. Just think of it. If you don't use any rope while moving, your weight is on your feet. If you hang on the rope, you partially unload your feet to weight the rope. If the rope fails now, you're out of balance and very likely, fall.

  • If your not familiar with knots a figure of eight is much easier to learn (and more importantly easier to ensure it's tied properly) than a bowline.
    – user2766
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 14:06
  • Thanks for the advice on buying a rope. I'll check those links out.
    – Blackbear
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 17:53

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