Your eyes are fixed on the top. It’s not too far to go now.
You clip into a quickdraw. “Just a little bit further,” you tell yourself, “I can do this.”
You reach out to make the next move. You can see where you need to go.
You reach again, but all of a sudden, the rope pulls tight. It locks you in place.
“Slack!” you call out. Your friend complies.
You move again – but no – the rope still grips you in place.
“I need more slack!” you call out again.
Your friend is confused. There’s already slack in the rope, but he pays out more anyway.
“Slack!” you call again, barely able to move forward. You look down, and the realization quickly hits you:
Rope Drag is Really Annoying
Yep, there’s no doubt about it.
Even if it’s not so bad that it actually hinders your climbing, it’s still annoying having to go out of your way to pull slack through all the time.
Really, you could say the annoyance in itself is something which hinders your climbing. It’s hard to push your limit on a route when you’re literally being held back by rope drag.
But because it’s annoying, we tend to treat it as an inconvenience, rather than a danger.
And it is a danger. Many climbers don’t know this, and it might not be for the reason that you’d expect…
Why Rope Drag is More Dangerous Than You Think
If you told an inexperienced climber that rope drag is dangerous, they’d probably assume that you meant that a sudden bout of resistance might make you face plant the wall or something.
I guess that is possible, but it’s not the real reason here.
The real reason why rope drag is dangerous, is it shortens the length of rope that’s decelerating you when it breaks your fall.
Rope normally stretches dynamically to soften your fall. It can’t do this if you have severe rope drag.
What this means is that you’ll be putting all that force on a small section of rope, which will cause something nasty called “a whipper.”
When the rope breaks your fall, you’ll decelerate much faster, since only a small segment of rope is absorbing all your impact.
You’ll stop with a sudden jerk… and that’ll probably hurt, even if you don’t get rebounded straight into the wall… which is probably what’ll happen next.
So, there you have it. That’s a whipper.
Try to avoid ever experiencing it if you can.
“How do you avoid a whipper?”
By eliminating rope drag.
Goodbye, Rope Drag
Let’s start with the lazy way to eliminate rope drag:
Getting Longer Quickdraws
Well, I say lazy, but the reality is that you’re going to have to be somewhat mindful when using them.
The reason why climbers don’t just use long quickdraws all the time, is that they increase the length that you fall… by quite a lot.
You see, when you fall, you’re going to fall twice the distance between where you were and where your last piece of protection is. That’s just how it is.
The reason this happens, is because the rope pivots around that piece of protection when you reach it, so you continue to fall the same length downwards after that as you fell to get there.
“So, how do longer quickdraws come into this?”
They increase the fall distance by twice the extra length of the quickdraw.
So, the trick with using quickdraws to reduce rope drag, is to use shorter ones toward the center of the route, and longer ones where the route meanders left or right away from the center.
That way, your rope will be going in more of a straight, vertical line rather than zigzagging all over the place.
If you’re doing a lot of routes that greatly vary in the amount of longer quickdraws you use, then you’re probably wishing that there was some kind of extendible quickdraw that existed.
Well, there is. It’s called an alpine draw.
Instead of the dogbone of webbing in the middle, it has looped over Dyneema sling that you can simply “unloop” if you want a longer quickdraw.
Sure, you could just use longer quickdraws on every bolt to achieve the same zigzag-reducing effect, but then you’d lengthening your fall distance for no reason, like some kind of crazed adrenaline junkie, or a madman with a death wish.
The downside, of course, to using quickdraws to tackle rope drag, is that your fall is going to be lengthened whenever the last piece of protection you clipped into was on a bolt to the side, because you’ll have used a longer quickdraw for it.
Also, since it’s a longer quickdraw clipped into a bolt off to the side, you’re going to swing a little bit to the side when the rope catches your fall, so keep that in mind, and don’t let it catch you off guard.
There is, however, another way of getting rid of rope drag; one which not only has fewer disadvantages, but also has some extra advantages.
…and I bet right now you’re waiting for me to say, “but”…
Well, here it is: But… the downside to this method, is that you’re going to have to do some learning to be able to use it.
Not to worry though, because that’s what I’m here for. Besides, you’re going to be able to learn this in no time. It’s not too tricky at all.
So, what is this mysterious method to eliminating rope drag?
Well, it’s simple. The method is to introduce half ropes into your climbing setup.
Using Half Ropes to Eliminate Rope Drag
The great thing about half ropes is that they eliminate rope drag on even the weirdest and most twisted of routes.
Instead of having one rope zigzagging left and right all over the place, you’ll have one rope clipped into the bolts on the left, and another rope clipped into the bolts on the right.
This way, you’ll have two ropes running up the route in parallel, each one being straight enough to radically reduce rope drag.
To top it off, you can use longer quickdraws in this setup to absolutely eradicate rope drag. That is, if you hate it enough to want to take such extreme measures.
Half ropes also have a whole bunch of other benefits, so they’re worth learning how to use anyway. I go into more detail about what half ropes are and what the other benefits are in this other post here, so take a look at that if you’re interested in learning more about them.