If you're planning to go caving, mountain climbing, or assist in rescue work, there's one vital piece of equipment that you'll need: ascenders. Ascenders are mechanical devices that attach to your rope and allow you to ascend it. They come in different shapes, sizes, and have a variety of different uses. There are certain risks associated with using ascenders, but most of them are avoidable with proper handling and use. These tips on how to properly use climbing ascenders will ensure you're using ascenders in a way that's safe.
How Do Climbing Ascenders Work?
Learning how climbing ascenders work is the first crucial step of using them properly. There are two types of ascenders. A chest ascender is attached directly to the harness. It's fastened just below your chest, and slowly glides up the rope alongside you. A progression ascender extends from your harness with the help of a sling or lanyard. This gives you extra distance to ascend a rope. There's an increased change of this ascender failing, mainly due to the possibility of you getting above the ascender.
What's the Difference Between Ascenders and Descenders?
If you're planning on using an ascender, it's a good idea to have climbing descender devices on hand, too. These climbing devices look alike but perform opposite functions. A few key differences exist between ascenders and descenders, including:
- You can use descenders to navigate down a fixed rope in a way that's similar to abseiling and rappelling.
- Normally, a descender is used for getting down steep rocks.
- You can use descenders to move through complicated areas.
A descender involves a fixed rope that's fed through an anchor, and then attached and secured to a friction device. The setup of a descender is like an ascender device and requires the same precautions. The main difference between the two devices is that ascenders are used to go up a fixed rope, and descenders are used to go down. You can use ascender for solo climbs, but a descender will usually require someone to wait at the bottom of what you're climbing and belay the harness.
General Safety Rules
When you're using ascenders, it's important to follow the recommended safety guidelines. By following these rules, you can keep yourself safe during your next climb:
- Tie into the end of the climbing rope.
- Use daisy chains and locking carabiners to clip both ascenders into your harness.
- As you jug upwards, tie knots into the rope below you and clip them into your harness belay loop.
- Use locking carabiners on ascender attachment points, including daisy chains.
- Make sure your ascenders are properly attached to the fixed rope.
Tips for Properly Using Ascenders
Aside from taking the necessary safety precautions, there are other things you can do to make your next climb go smoothly. These tips on how to properly use climbing ascenders will help you keep your ascenders in good working condition, and make sure you stay safe.
Use a Paired Ascender
Knowing the best way to use your ascenders is fundamental to your safety and the ease of your climb. For most rock-climbing applications, including ascending fixed ropes, climbing big walls, and following aid pitches, you'll need a good pair of handled ascenders. A handled, or paired, ascender has separate handles for the right and left hand. Two advantages of paired ascenders are:
- They're comfortable and easy to use.
- Most will come in different colors for the right and left hand, making it easy to distinguish between the two.
Make sure to purchase paired climbing ascenders that are specifically designed for rock climbing. Most climbing pursuits will require medium-length cam teeth. Unless you're navigating through icy conditions, avoid using cam teeth that are too big. Otherwise, you risk abrading your ropes.
Always Have a Backup
There's always the risk of an ascender popping off a climbing rope. You're more likely to lose an ascender when the rope is strung horizontally, but it can happen regardless of where you're climbing, what the current conditions are, or what your setup is. To keep yourself safe, always use a backup. Make sure you're tied into the end of the rope. If both ascenders come off the rope, you can use it as an emergency chute. As you jug, clip into a series of backup knots. To do this, clip a locking carabiner to your belay or rappel loop, or through your leg-loop strap and waist belt. Tie a figure-eight on a bight in the rope just below your bottom ascender, and clip into it. Every 30 feet jug another knot, and clip it to the locker. This reduces the maximum height you can fall from. Using backup knots is an effective way of keeping yourself safe, as long as the rope isn't anchored on the bottom end.
When your rope is anchored, or when the weight of multiple ropes makes backup knots impractical, place a prusik on your rope just above the bottom ascender and clip it to your bottom jug. This way, if you lose both ascenders, the prusik will engage and stop you from falling. As a final precaution against ascender loss, clip a carabiner to each ascender's frame, then clip the biner around the rope.
Keep Your Equipment in Good Condition
You should always keep your ascenders and related accessories is good working condition. The slings and daisy chains that attach you to the ascenders are just as important as the rope itself. Maintain, upgrade, or replace them as necessary. Don't forget about your ascenders, either. Your safety springs and cams aren't immortal. Eventually, they'll wear out. If you don't replace them, you're increasing your likelihood of getting into an accident. Before you weigh the line, use a locking carabiner for every link in the system, and check to confirm that the locking mechanisms are locked.
Protect Your Rope
As you're climbing, the rope stretches, then rebounds. This back-and-forth motion saws your taut cord across the rock, which, over time, can wear it down. Through a combination of practice and a fine-tuned jugging rig, you can climb a rope with minimal bouncing. You can protect your rope through a variety of other methods, including smoothing over abrasive bulges and edges and finding ways to keep your rope away from edges. For a makeshift rope protector, you can slide packs, gloves, and shirts between the rope and the rock you're climbing. You can use duct tape to cover edges, but make sure to remove it once you're done.
Train Your Senses
Most accidents are caused by pilot error. Learn about your equipment, practice in safe areas with a friend or other experienced climber, and take every precaution you can possibly think of. By staying vigilant, you can significantly decrease your risk of injury.
At Search & Recovery Engineering, we're dedicated to your safety. Whether you're in need of ropes, ascenders, or other essential search and rescue equipment for your next climb, come check out our selection of durable and high-quality safety equipment.