Ladder and Lifeline Techniques.

Any member browsing through the news sheet recently, may have noticed that the club has bought a reel of Super Braid life lining rope. This has now been cut into various lengths and put into the rope store on general release. Any member wishing to use the new rope must remember that Super Braid line does not possess the same qualities as modern SRT rope. It is a strong rope; but must only be used for life lining, not for abseiling or prussicking.

The new rope was needed to replace the outdated, hawser laid ‘hairy” rope which has been used for years, and is unsuitable for modern belaying techniques. Traditional methods of body belaying would be disastrously unsafe when using the new rope. It is far too thin to gain adequate friction whilst simply wrapped around a persons back. Arresting a fall of any consequence would damage the life liners back, hands etc.

The security of a body belay even with the stoutest of cavers, is largely a fallacy. The climbers safety depends on the belayers rope management. Fatigue, distraction, or just plain incompetence can effect even the most experienced life liner. Many modern devices or techniques can be used to substitute the caver providing the friction between the belay and the lifeline. If a fall occurs and the body belaying caver manages to hold it, he or she is then trapped in the lifeline system, with little alternative other than to lower the fallen climber down the pitch. One last disadvantage of placing a caver in the middle of the system is that if the main belay fails, he or she will undoubtedly end up at the bottom of the pitch. When using the new rope it is safest to attach it directly to the belay by some mechanical device. Doing this makes the lifeline system much stronger and safer, avoiding the short falls mentioned in the previous paragraph.

A descender can be used to good effect and it is easy to set up. It is simply anchored to the belay, upside down, then if the climber falls, they can be easily held by the friction of the rope on the descender. Lowering is easy, and if necessary it can be ‘locked off’ leaving the life liner free to organize rescue, hauling etc.

Fig. 1                                       Belaying with a descender

                                           ClimberLife liner

The disadvantage of descenders is that they create friction in the path of the rope. This creates a certain amount of drag which can make the taking up of slack, and hauling tired cavers hard work.

Another method is to use an inverted Jammer or a Pulley/Jammer arrangement.

Fig. 2.       Belaying with an inverted Jammer                   and a Pully / Jammer

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Although Jammers provide efficient means of life lining or hauling, they have inherent faults and are nor really recommended. They are comparativelf weak, (breaking point approx 400KG) and a Fall resulting in a shock load on the Jammer can badly damage the rope. Also once it is loaded, a Jammer operates in only one direction, which prevents it being used -for lowering. There are ways of up weighting the Jammer, then lowering, but for say, a lone caver, or at an exposed pitch head, it would prove very problematical. If a ladder fails the climber could become stuck in the unenviable position of not being able to go up or down.


The use of a small self locking device called a Stitch Plate is a very useful and compact way of belaying. It has been used by climbers and mountaineers far many years, but has not been adopted by cavers. There is no reason why it should not be used more, it is light, compact, and easy to use. Unfortunately larger diameter ropes cannot fit through the central hole and the fiddly setting up process makes it easy to drop down pitches.

Probably the best kind of technique to use with the new rope is the extremely safe and efficient Italian Hitch Knot. It requires no special equipment, and consists of just a simple knot tied around an offset karabiner.


Fig. 3.         Belaying with an “Italian Hitch”

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The rope is controlled by its distinctive rope – across - roe friction contact. Tension in the non loaded mode enables descent c ascent to be easily controlled by the life liner, The friction an the ‘tightening’ effect enable even a severe fall to be held without too much effort. Another advantage is that, whilst it is unloaded the hitch is reversible. This is accomplished by simply pulling on the non-loaded side, it will slip 180 around the karabiner and the rope will slide through in the other direction. Should the climber fall the knot will automatically reverse itself, and little problem is experienced arresting the fall. It can also be easily locked off thus leaving the life liner free to sort things out.

Fig. 4.             Locking off an Italian Hitch.

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In this article I have not tried to dictate how to belay and lifeline. Everyone has his or her own preferred methods. I have just illustrated several safe and efficient techniques which are suitable for using with the new life lining rope. Each method that I have mentioned is easy to use and relatively simple to assemble. Anyone who is unsure would be wise to practice them on the surface for a hour or two to familiarise themselves.

The new ropes are light and easy to carry in a tackle bag without doubt they are significantly lighter than the load carried on a long ladder trips. Used with the correct belaying technique they are easily manageable and help improve overall safety down potholes.

Chaz Frankland.

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