Note: While you’re routesetting during the coronavirus crisis, you’re likely to have more personal protective equipment, more tasks and more on your mind than usual. When things get more complicated, staying safe means refocusing on the basics. This week, Petzl Technical Institute Manager Keith Luscinski shares his beta for two-rope systems, to help you recalibrate and make sure you have everything dialed before you start up the wall.
Have you ever built a hanging belay with just a single cam?
Probably not, because it’s terrifying to dangle at a height where one mistake, oversight or failure means certain death. I have the same visceral fear response to the idea of working at height, suspended only by a single rope.
As the Petzl Technical Institute Manager, I train people to use Petzl equipment in a wide array of applications: from light-and-fast glacier travel using the 6mm RAD LINE to fire department rescue operations using two ½-inch diameter static ropes. Being in the same training facility, but switching between various safety protocols and rigging techniques from one day to the next is one of the most challenging aspects of the job.
Routesetters may understand this constant change of safety systems better than other professionals who work at height. They work in a facility surrounded by climbers voluntarily taking 20-foot whippers and falling from the tops of 15-foot boulders. The routesetter shows up to work in the morning, dons a sport climbing harness and skinny dynamic rope, then chalks up her hands before lead climbing to the top of the wall to install a low-stretch fixed line for routesetting. She returns to the ground, changing over her sport harness for industrial personal protective equipment (PPE): a harness designed for work at height, a helmet, hearing protection and safety glasses. She goes to work on the route, hauling along 100 pounds of holds, bolts, wrenches and drills. After the finishing jug is installed, she removes the industrial PPE and foreruns the route on lead to ensure the route’s moves and clipping positions are suitable for the grade.
Despite routesetters having more work-at-height experience and rigging expertise than most other professions, there is often a reluctance to adopt modern day best practices and Petzl’s recommended techniques for working at height. Because routesetters’ professional careers are so deeply rooted in their recreational climbing history, there is a natural and understandable comfort with being suspended on a single rope. However, Petzl recommends that any worker suspended on a rope also be protected by a separate, independent personal fall arrest system. What this looks like in practice is the worker suspended by a RIG industrial descender on one rope, with an ASAP and energy absorbing lanyard connected to a second rope.
Petzl believes that working at height with a redundant protection system is a smarter and safer approach because the time exposure for a routesetter is far higher than for a recreational climber. Routesetters go to work at height all day, every day, actively hanging on their equipment. The typical weekend warrior actively hangs on their equipment for only a few minutes a week: during hangdog sessions, top rope lowers and rappels. This cumulative height exposure for routesetters means it’s a matter of when, not if, there will be a near miss. I heard someone say recently that biting your cheek while eating is a good reminder that you can make a mistake even doing tasks you’ve perfected over thousands of hours of practice.
Walk on to any high-rise construction site these days, and you’re bound to find bulky and antiquated fall protection equipment: spools of 5/8-inch laid polypropylene rope and fall arresters connected to 6-foot shock absorbing lanyards. Looking at this equipment, there’s no wonder why workers dislike using fall protection equipment. However, newer fall protection products like the ASAP are lightweight, ergonomic and compatible with ropes that are much more pleasant to handle. Even better, the ASAP is self-trailing, both up and down, for a totally hands-free experience.
A redundant safety system is a little bit like a seatbelt or a helmet. When we’re young and naive, it’s easy to feel overly burdened by prescriptive recommendations to use these tools. But as we develop a richer understanding of risk mitigation, using tools like seatbelts and helmets (and second ropes) turns into a comfortable habit; eventually, we can’t imagine working without them! I hope you go your whole routesetting career without ever falling on your redundant safety system --- but I’ll end with this review of the Petzl ASAP we recently received:
I am writing this review whilst hanging 300 feet in the air over shark infested waters 200 miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea from a 500 foot oil rig drilling platform tower. My main line just snapped (it was old and worn) and I am now suspended by my safety line and this Petzl ASAP. I will await rescue as I finish this review. It is very hot out here, and this product works great.
-Review from August, 2018