Knot again!

A few years were not enough for becoming an expert in using knots as climbing protection. Yet I learned a lot by placing my fair share of sandstone-friendly Saxonian protection and watching other much more experienced climbers. This post is NOT a recommendation or an exhaustive guide to climbing with knots, but simply a summary of what I did. If you really want to learn how to use knots as pro the best way is to take a specialized course. That being said, I found the following tips extremely helpful when climbing with knots.

  1. Sort them out. Since you’ll be going up with plenty of rope segments of different lengths and diameters, it’s crucial that you have a good system for organizing your slings without ending up with a messy tangle of knots. The simplest way to do this is to girth-hitch them through the gear loops of your harness. There are two ways to do this:
    1. Knot up. The knot is closest to the harness.
      1. Pro: Easier to retrieve slings.
      2. Con: Bulky gear loops. Limits the number of knots you can comfortably carry.

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    2. Knot down. The knot hangs freely away from the harness.
      1. Pro: Many more slings per gear loop without added bulk near the harness. The reduced bulk will also make climbing narrow chimneys or off-widths more “comfortable” (as if that were possible…).
      2. Con: You have to pull first the free strand of the knot AND later pass the knot through this loop to remove the sling. Obviously, this costs valuable strength when trying to protect a move in an uncomfortable position and can create tangles when carrying many slings of different lengths.

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  2. Organize the long slings. Nothing beats carrying sewn or knotted loops of various lengths for tying horns, blocks and trees or for threading sanduhrs. If you, like me, don’t plan on going spartan on the pro, you’ll probably be carrying several 60, 120 and 180 loops. How do you organize them?
    1. The easiest way is to holster all loops above head and shoulder, folding two or three times the sling depending on the size. However, when carrying around multiple knots and slings of different lengths and sizes, trying to pull one of your long slings will inevitably result in a tangled mess (obviously during the overhanging crux of your endurance on-sight attempt…).

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    2. The “twisted method”. Take a long loop, double it and twist it on itself with your fingers. Bring the ends together and clip into a carabiner. This way you can pack a considerable amount of slings without tangling and occupying relatively a small space in just one carabiner hanging from your harness. Of course, the downside is that you’ll have to unclip the carabiner and remove the sling you need withouth dropping all the others.

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      Without the long slings, you can comfortably keep several short 60 cm loops over the shoulder for fast use.

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  3. Keep them loose! Before starting the climb, loosen up your knots. A loose figure-eight knot has a narrower profile compared to a tightened one and is much easier to place in thin (relative to the sling diameter) cracks.

    Keeping your knots loose is also very important for Kevlar slings, as tight knots reduce the fibers’ life-time.

  4. Keep long ends. Of course, long ends on your knots are essential to prevent he knot from slipping and untying at high loads. Additionally, the long ends will make retrieving knots an easier task for your second, as almost all jammed knots will be easily retrieved by a small tug at the ends. Your followers will be grateful.
  5. Keep the carabiners out of the way. I am betting you also love narrow chimneys and off-widths (really, who doesn’t?). Then, you’ll find that keeping the biners out of the way by clipping them to a loop over your shoulder instead than at the gear-loops will give you more freedom when changing sides or entering chimneys (unless of course you have a thing for parallel cracks, in which case you probably don’t need the biners..).

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  6. Shorten the loop on flaring cracks. Sometimes your only choice will be an asymmetric crack that widens on the outside. In this cases a pulling force directly towards the ground will likely remove the knot. A good preventive measure is to shorten the sling loop closest to the rock. This will result in an asymmetric pull that rotate theknot towards the inside of the crack, probably jamming more tightly.

All of these points are very basic and most likely you have experimented with some or all of them. In fact, you might even have more efficient and comfortable methods. Nevertheless, I hope this post gave you ideas to develop a system that works for you. Once again, the best source of information in this style of climbing is always a specialized course with professionals If you want to learn from and climb with one of the legends of Elbsandstein, check out the courses by Bernd Arnold.

Saxonian difficulties

Now that looks like a *VIIIb RP VIIIc! … or is it a **VIIb(VIIc)??

So you’ve found a place to stay, tied all the knots, readied your mind-set, and even managed to borrow a couple of guidebooks from some local friends. You’ve heard so much about all the classics! But you’ve also heard that for breaking into Saxonian climbing it’s best to start with several grades below your usual climbing level. So you eagerly dive into the guidebook and find:

*! Überclassic-route, 2 / VIIa (VIIc) RP VIIIa      

What do you make out of it? Is this the right route for you?

The Saxonian grading scale is longer than other common systems for sport and traditional climbing. However, it is easily understood when broken down to its different components:

* : The star (*) symbol is used for recommendable climbs.  The double star (**) means this is an especially beautiful route. You SHOULD do at least one of these during your visit.

! : The exclamation mark before a name is used for routes which are, by Saxonian standards, not adequately protected.  Meaning, there won’t be anything to hold you if you fall.

2 : You’ll only find this in Sächsische Schweiz! Arabic numerals are used in routes that need jumps (for example, from one tower to another).  Nowadays, the jumping grades go from 1 to 6, and take into account the take-off site, the landing, the overall trajectory, and the length of the jump. The easiest jumps are rated with a 1, the hardest with a 6.

VIIa : The roman numerals indicate the technical difficulty of the route given by the first ascender and grade the hardest single move and/or frequent difficult sequences . Note that the grading is in the Saxonian scale, which now goes from I to XIIb.  For comparisons with other grading systems the tables on Wikipedia or Snowdonia are quite accurate.  Otherwise, use the simple rule-of-thumb:

VIIc = 6+ (UIAA) = 6a (French) = 5.10a (YDS).

(VIIc) : Another peculiarity of Saxonian climbing.  According to the local climbing rules, it is perfectly acceptable to use the body(ies) of your  partner(s) to overcome difficult passages of a route. This can go from simply standing on your partner’s leg to building a human pyramid! When such strategy is required, the guide books mark it with a U (for Unterstützung, meaning aid, or assistance). However, once a route has been “freed”, or climbed o.U. (ohne Unterstützung or without aid), then the guidebook will put the new “free” difficulty on parenthesis.

RP VIIIa : Still another unique aspect of Saxonian climbing is the af (from alles frei or all free) style. Here it is valid and considered good climbing style to rest at each ring. Normally all grades are given for the af-ascent. However, climbing certain routes without any stops increases their difficulty. In this cases the RP (from rotpunkt or redpoint) grade is added to the af grade.

Of course, none of this information reflects the character or safety of a route. A poorly protected VI can be as challenging as a VIIIa full of solid pro. Also, keep in mind the techniques that your route of choice requires. There is a huge difference between a VIIc face climb on good holds and a technical VIIc off-width.  The main point is not being fooled by the grade alone. Find as much information as possible about the route you want to do.  Above all, always be honest about your climbing ability.

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