Unsticking a stuck rope

Article by Andy Kirkpatrick
Wednesday 1st May 2002

Unsticking a stuck rope

So youíre standing on your stance and the ropes are totally stuck. How do you get them down? Now, there are multiple scenarios and options depending on the steepness of the rock above, the amount of rope you have to hand (how much has pulled through) and whether you still have both ends. I will cover the main ways of sorting out this nightmare problem, but you must judge which is applicable to your own situation.

All the techniques covered are potentially highly dangerous, but if youíre stuck up a mountain you may have no other choice. The main thing to remember is to attempt to maximize you and your partner(s) safety whatever you do. Think through everything you do and be ultra paranoid. ĎHow do I safeguard myself if Iím jugging up the rope and it comes unstuck?í is the type of question you should be thinking rather than ĎI hope this rope doesnít pull while Iím on it.í Before we get into the more desperate techniques letís begin with something not too dodgy.

Jugging up the ropes

You canít get the rope to budge but you still have both ends? Someone will have to return up the ropes to find out what the problem is (probably badly set anchor). Just put a prusik on both ropes, or if you have ascenders (handled or mini) just jumar up the ĎUPí rope (not the ĎPULLí rope), with the pull rope clipped into the anchor (or your partner) just in case the ĎUPí is actually the ĎPULLí.

If youíre daft enough not to have any prusik loops or ascenders then use slings. If you donít have any slings (multi pitch sport route) then youíll have to use your shoe laces or chalk bag belt.

Rope haul

Your rope has pulled but the end has got stuck. Youíve tried to unstick your rope by flicking it and pulling with your hands but it just wonít budge. You donít have the other end any more and it looks like you might have to jumar back up the rope. Before you commit to a scary and exposed jumar on a rope thatís probably only hung up by a few millimetres of melted rope end jammed behind a tiny flake, itís worth trying to apply maximum force. This not only gives you the chance to dislodge the rope without having to expose yourself to a scary jumar, but also makes sure that the rope is well and truly jammed, a nice thing to know when you are jumaring up said rope.

To begin with youíll need a prusik loop, or better still an ascender. Staying clipped into the belay, clip the ascender/prusik into the pull rope and begin taking in until the rope is tight. Keep taking in, bouncing on the rope until you canít take in anymore. If that doesnít budge it have your partner add their weight. Once youíve both jumped up and down you should be quite (but not totally) confident that the rope will hold at least one of you if youíre forced to jug up.

By applying just body weight the rope shouldnít be jammed irremovably in a crack or flake. You must be careful that you donít rip off a block or flake and bring it down on your heads. Good observation of the ground above while descending should give you a clue where the ropes may have hung up.

If the rope still wonít budge but youíre not able or prepared to jug back up then you need to increase the force. This is done by setting up a Z pulley on the belay. You must be aware that you are going to have to start applying high loads to both the rope and your belay and be sure itís safe to do so. In order to do this you need time, prusiks/ascenders and a solid belay able to handle both an upward and downward force.

Once the Z is working you should be able to apply a great deal of force, using one or both climbers as counter weights. One of three things will happen. One, the rope will not move. Two, the sheath rips off the rope. Three, it comes free, perhaps because of factor two.

Rope gets stuck while abseiling

If youíve cast your ropes off and they become hung up but you go down nevertheless, either because youíre lazy and just hope theyíll come down as you weight them or, more likely, you donít realize, you can have a big potential headache. Descending you may find the rope(s) are hung up above you and wonít budge, leaving you hanging in the bottom of a right tangle of ropes.

If both ropes are stuck youíll need to re-ascend the ropes until youíre level with the problem, swing across and clean them off the flakes, chockstone or whatever. If they are way off to one side you may need to ascend higher, swing across, set some gear and use that to get you in the line of the problem.

If only one rope is hung up you can potentially leave it to your partner to sort out. Simply get your partner to secure the ropes at the belay with a prusik loop on both ĎUPí and ĎPULLí strands and transfer over to the unstuck rope and continue down to the stance. Your partner can then sort the problem out on their way down, saving time and hassle.
When transferring over remember to tie into the rope below you as a back up and remember youíll need more friction on your belay device because youíre going from two ropes to one.

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