Climbing As a Three (Part One)
Climbing as three can be fantastically sociable. There is some one there to share conversation with whilst on a stance and having another opinion when decisions need to be made can also prove advantageous. Above all it can also mean someone is free to take photos. Having said all this it can make arranging your ropes and organising your gear much more complicated. Here are a few basic tips that could be applied to a variety of situations when climbing as a trio.
Consider the Options
There are various options for climbing in a three:
Series: one person leads on a single rope; they are then followed by the second who has a second rope attached to the third person. Once the second is safely on the stance the third can climb. This means only one person is climbing at any one time and will require the use of two ropes.
Parallel method: one person leads with two ropes and the second and third will follow climbing simultaneously. Once again this will require two ropes, and some skill with a belay plate so as to keep the rope tight on the second and third person as they climb, particularly if they move at different speeds.
One rope method: the leader will lead on the majority of the rope with the second and third tied towards the end allowing a short distance between for freedom of movement.
Chopping and changing between methods requires very careful rope management so it is best to choose one method and try to stick to it so as to save time and prevent any tangles that may occur.
Consider the Route/Terrain
Before choosing one of the above methods it is best to consider the terrain as this may help in deciding how you are going to operate. Think carefully about how easy it may be to climb pitches at the same time (parallel) and how easy it will be to manage the rope particularly if considering climbing in parallel. Do you need to move quickly or can you afford to take your time? Needless to say if you're considering a long route where time is a factor, practice in these techniques will help save hours!
Don't rush out and buy loads of new kit. However there are one or two additions that you can add to your normal rack that may make life easier when operating as a three. Belay plates that can be used as auto blocking devices such as the Petzl Reverso allow two ropes to be managed at the same time, good for keeping the rope tight on each climber if they are climbing in parallel. Carrying a few extra slings and karabiners possibly even a long 16ft sling will also help. These can be used to equalise belays and bring them to a central point, this often makes attachment and organising of the rope much easier when on route.
You may also want to consider the type of ropes you use. This opens a gigantic can of worms and I am sure will fuel much debate. From a professional point of view when working I will always use a full weight rope for each climber. However there are choices. Modern technology has now allowed manufacturers to produce some very thin full weight ropes which would be ideal for climbing in series or parallel, offering the lightness of a 9mm rope with no compromise in strength. If you're considering the single rope method a 10.5 / 11mm would be more appropriate, given the increased potential load, and although strength is not necessarily the issue it makes handling and managing easier with a thicker rope.
Changing the System
Chopping and changing between methods requires very careful rope management so it is best to choose one method and try to stick to it so as to save time and prevent any tangles that may occur. Having said this there may be occasions for example when the terrain becomes trickier and it is not possible to climb in parallel any longer. You mayl then have to switch to series. Any switch from parallel to series or vice versa will involve untying of at least one end of rope. It is therefore paramount that you ensure people are clipped to the belay via a sling or cows-tail before any ropes are untied.
Management of Stances
If you're going to get a tangle its most likely to happen on a stance. No matter what system you are using there are a few principles that can be applied to ensure smooth tangle free changeovers.
I'll take a look at those principles in detail in Part Two.