Rigging, Jumping and Hauling Rope Swings
My name is Chris Wallace and I rope swing and this is a little about me. This is the intro and some of the background of why you should listen to what I have to say.
Warning!: Rope Jumping is inherently dangerous and some of the baddest asses have died doing it, like Lucky Chance and Dan Osman for example. It can also result in serious injuries, NOT just death! The information in this guide is to be used at your own risk. You solely are responsible for your actions and decisions. The information in this guide is meant to help take the mystery out of some of the systems but at the same time, overwhelm you with how much complexity goes into a rope swing. Please go with an expert the first time you go rope swinging! Maybe the 2nd time too...
Tables of Contents
How NOT 2 Rig
I just center text
Redundancy is the name of the game in every part of rope swinging. Your anchors will see around 8kN in most jumps, 16kN if you are being naughty. So they also need to be strong. Those are the two really important ones.
If you are using bolts, and especially if you are using trad gear, it needs to be equalized enough. If you can avoid any extension if a single anchor point fails, that's just bonus points.
The short answer to all this is a 3-point BFK, assuming you have 3 anchor points with a minimum of 8mm rope. This photo equalizes enough, is redundant including the loops you attach things too, and is about 40kn strong.
A 2 point bfk needs to have much more than an 8mm rope because your tiny ass knot that makes isn't going to be stronger than your span. You can see in this episode how something that looks similar to a BFK could kill you in a rope swing. If you have two really good bolts, and that's it, consider doing a sliding X with 3x 22kN slings. They are 40kn EACH in that configuration and you get redundancy if you use a wad of them.
Apocalyptic backups are when everything else fails, something else will catch. Rig like you have no backups, but it's not a bad idea to have a ultimate oh shit thing that could catch. This could be a single strand going to a tree 50 feet back or a bolt off to the side. It will likely not be strong enough or get cut in the process and you'll still die, but it's nice to have. Remember, only one anchor needs to break for you to die so do them both like your life depends on it.
Here's a food pyramid but for strength: you want your bolts stronger than your anchor rope which is stronger than your span, which is stronger than your jump ropes which is stronger than your harness which is stronger than your back. You want to be the weakest link in your rig.
Don't let this rub on the edge. Good, I'm glad we got that out of the way. Please don't watch the first video I ever made because it's embarrassing but it's such an important topic that it's the cornerstone of all the rigging videos on the channel.
Webbing: If you use highline webbing, it's often times 30kn strong, it can be gripped with a linegrip and tensioned into a weblock retaining most of its strength. You can travel across it with a lineslide and put sewn loops terminating at the fulcrum. The downside is that if you are trying to stabilize a free-floating fulcrum, prusiks don't do as well on flat webbing that is tight
Too much of a good thing is bad: This episode has 7 lines going across to exaggerate a point but what was learned is the webbings rub on each other in a way that isn't good for them and unless you have a large enough sliding pulley, you can't travel across it... it's too thick! When you have a rope backing up 2 webbings for tri-dundancy and the rope gets wrapped around all the webbing, it actually risks cutting it.
Ropes: A 10.0 semistatic rope is about 18kn in a figure 8. If you tie figure 8s to terminate things, good luck untying them. Traveling across a rope span is less ideal but a Kootenay works. Ropes have sheathes so they do handle wear better than webbing. If you just tension it with a grigri and an ascender, and leave it in the grigri, it's not getting very much strength. They slip around 6kN and if you put a knot behind it, it can twerk it weird and explode the device. Not likely to happen but that is the ultimate failure of that scenario.
VT prusiks are a great way to grab multiple ropes at the same time and tension using a pulley system. You can see how to tie them and how they work in this episode:
A 9.8mm dynamic rope will break at 14kN and the higher forces risks permanent damage to its dynamicness. You're fulcrum will also drop a LOT if you use dynamic ropes so take the distance you have to the ground as a serious consideration before using dynamic ropes. Our recommendation is just to use static ropes if you are convinced ropes are right for your situation.
How do you attach your jump ropes to the span? There are quite a few ways but here are the goals you want to accomplish:
Static: Connection isn't sliding against unpadded span. Sliding back and forth a foot isn't a problem if it's padded but you don't want it free sliding willy nilly.
Redundant: Two of everything is really important when you can't easily inspect a connection that's flopping aggressively in space.
Un-openable: Make sure nothing can open or come undone.
Optional - Spread it out: If you have a haul line redirect and two jump ropes, they don't have to be right next to each other.
Method 1: Dual rigging plates are fairly common. Wrench down some bow shackles from webbing sewn loops directly to the two plates or even soft shackles with electric tape holding the throat tight. The bear claw faces up and the big eye is facing down and that is where you can tie your jump ropes. Your jump ropes would be tied directly to the rigging plate so there is no chance anything comes undone. In the photo on the right, the pulley is the haul line for hauling people straight up, not holding up the haul line ring. That method needs to be off to the side so things don't get wrapped.
Method 2: BFB - Big Fat Butterfly. You could take two ropes and make 1 giant double looped butterfly and use wrenched down quicklinks to attach the climbing ropes.
Method 3: Spit highline technology. This is an advanced technique but allows for a highline to be walked before being converted into a rope swing span. Highlines come in segments these days.
Method 3A: Use an extra, pre-installed soft shackle on the sewn loops to hold 2 rings in place which will make it sit on top of the tensioned soft shackle holding the two segments together. Use a short piece of velcro to pad where the rings will be resting on the soft shackle.
Method 3B: Soft shackles can be tri-loaded. You can quicklink a climbing rope to a segment connection directly. This rotates your highline to be sideways when loaded but that doesn't matter. This was used on the Leaning Tower Swing
Pro Tip: if you plan in advance well, you can place a short segment that is only 2 or 3 meters long where the fulcrum will be and now you have more segment connection points and you can spread out the jump ropes or your haul redirect off to the side
Swivels: This adds a point of failure but if you don't like to spin you can do this redundantish. If you tie each climbing rope to it's own swivel, they both have to break for you to die. This isn't required but it's a luxury. This can affect what fulcrum you use. If you have it all smashed in the big eye of 1 set of rigging plates, then you can't use swivels. This requires you to spread out the connections.
A new idea has popped up to back up swivels, as you can't tie a back up knot above it or you negate its value. Place a thimble around the rope right below it and have a sling clipped above the swivel. The rope freely spins but if any part of the swivel breaks, it gets jammed against the thimble. There are a lot of caveats to this back up method in this image but it's a great concept to explore. The back up leash should be off to the side to prevent it from twisting around anything. The knot could be have a yosemite finish so the tail is out of the way and the thimble could be smaller. Keep in mind this hasn't been tested!
Knots: Unless you are already a fancy freak, just tie your jump ropes with the time tested figure 8s. It's not so much force that you can't untie them afterwards. If they are sharing one set of rings or rigging plate eyes then you can offset the knots so they don't compete for space and rub against each other.
Staggered: You know how one hangs lower than the other, this works well for the jump ropes too. If you are jumping a 70m then your backup could be an 80m so one rope is doing all the absorbing and the backup rope is just that... a backup. If two ropes catch you at the same time then it will be less dynamic and more shockload on your body.
Rope Types: Unless you have a really good reason, jump on dynamic climbing ropes. They are intended to catch a fall and that is what you are doing. If you use semi-static ropes, then you have to have a lot of swing to prevent shockloading or A LOT of rope. I only used static ropes once and that is on leaning tower because we did a 170m jump. 100m static and 70m dynamic tied to each other. The backup was 100m static and 80m dynamic. I could have definitely staggered them more
A normal climbing harness is acceptable if you are hanging onto the ropes (off to your side) and healthy and fit and cognitive of the risk of scorpioning your back. The more kosher way of doing it is to have a full body harness so you can't scorpion. Some commercial set ups attach people to a dorsal point (behind the person between the shoulder blades) but most recreational jumps are right off the belay loop.
There is something magical about tying in to the two hard points of a harness but it is way more efficient to clip two opposing locking carabiners to the belay loop and just huck it. People get scared and all of a sudden don't trust belay loops, but were more than happy to use it while belaying their friend who was taking big whippers on the last climb. Belay loops are strong and it doesn't triload your carabiners. Carabiners do not sit well in 2 different parts of a harness, that is why you tie into those points and clip carabiners to the belay loop. If you want to back up your belay loop, use a soft shackle to make a 2nd temporary loop.
If you use the LineScale3, attach it to the two hard points of your harness with a soft shackle taped close and tie your rope directly to it. Use the tail of your knot to tie directly into the rope. The reason for all this is so the LS3 sits as low as possible and doesn't risk hitting you in the mouth.
Extra rope? Let's say you don't want to jump the full length. You can coil up the rope you are not using and attach it to your harness but keep it tidy so it's not a jumping hazard
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Always go 2nd
Let us make a deal, if we share with you how to do dangerous things, promise us that you'll throw a bag of rocks before the first person jumps. I'm not asking for a donation for this course, I'm asking that you throw a bag if this helped you in any significant way.
We tested haul bags. They are unlikely to blow out the bottom which will happen before the straps break. Don't drop test anything with people below your system. What's great about a bag of rocks is that you are unlikely to be able to throw it. When you push it over the edge, you'll see what happens if you get 0 clearance from the wall
Episode: Break testing haul bags
Now you get to practice rescues! You have to rescue the bag. You'll likely have to have the haul line pre-attached to the bag when you send it over but be careful not to get stuck in it while it whips over the edge. If you can let it free-hang, that's probably a bit safer.
Did the bag have over 100lbs in it and did it get close to the ground? Was anyone able to get an accurate assessment of the gap between the bag and the ground?
Was the trajectory super safe enough or did it get close to a cliff wall on the back swing? Did it start to 8 shape swing at the bottom and was there enough room from the side walls for that?
All good? Now you can start jumping.
-------- Did You Read This Last Section? ------
Step 1: Don't chicken out and just pick up your legs.
Step 2: Don't flip into your ropes
Hucking Meat: It's embarrassing to get hurt if nothing fails. That means it's a YOU problem. You're not immune to the risks just because you are a redundant bomber system. You must LEAVE the cliff when you jump and not hit things on the way down and you must not fall in your ropes or have them wrap around you in anyways. Hold both of them off to the side and you won't get wrapped in them or scorpion. And please don't hit the back of your head on the cliff because you are bad at gainers.
IF YOU ARE TIED IN THE ROPE SWING, DO NOT TOUCH ANYONE. YOUR LIZARD BRAIN COULD INSTINCTIVELY GRAB THEM IF THE WEIGHT OF THE ROPES PULLS YOU OFF. DON'T HUG ANYONE. JUST STAY AWAY FROM EVERYONE ONCE YOU ARE GREEN LIGHT TO GO
Be A Swinger: Remember this is rope swinging so have some swing in the system. If you jump towards your span, you will have less span. If you have a location where you can jump parallel to your span then you maintain that distance and you pendulum way smoother.
In Line: If you are swinging in the same direction as your span, it still works but it makes you do these weird 8s at the bottom so make sure you have enough room to swing around.
You really have to make sure you don't cross ropes on ropes before swinging! If you slide out on a highline and let go, your jump ropes have to be straight to the fulcrum, they cannot be flipped over your highline! This almost happened to me in this video above.
SIDE NOTE: Make sure your personal anchor you used to be safe while tying in is no longer attached to the cliff when you exit. Think about it.
The highest risk of rope swinging is working all day near a cliff edge helping people jump off, and not being tied in!!! Take any edge work very seriously.
One of my very few original ideas was this video above, hauling people back to the jump site, rather than to one side of the span. The reason this is safer is because you don't have to carry the rope jumps from the span back to the exit spot which can abraid the rope or risk pulling the person off the cliff because the rope tension gets heavy. However, you can't jump with the haul line attached to you because if it gets stuck in any way, then you abruptly stop!
In order to haul someone up to a specific point you have to haul directly to it. Some methods in the past have a pulley at the fulcrum and the jumper gets hauled straight up, leaving them with the task of sliding over the span with all that rope weight hanging off of them.
Attach the haul line to a fat ring that can slide up and down your two jump ropes, even if they are barber poled. You have to hold it up out of the way so you take a 4mm or 5mm cord that is in a pulley at the fulcrum and pulls the ring up. After they jump, you lower the cord and the ring slides down to the jumper.
The haul line can have a super 8 tied to it so one of the bunny ears is attached to the ring and the other is loose and ready for the jumper to clip. Some like to keep this super clean and have nothing on the ring but the haul line with a simple knot and the jumper uses a tether to clip the ring once it is within reach.
You don't want that ring to get sucked up to the fulcrum and get stuck at the top! You prevent this by spreading out your jump lines even just a little bit. Or you make your knots to fat to have the ring get stuck or so clean the ring goes over them easily. You don't hold the ring right the base of the fulcrum btw. Have it hang 10m down. As long as it is out of the way for the jumper.
A risk of having the pulley that redirects your cord too close to the jump ropes is the cord getting wrapped around the jump ropes and nylon sawing them or getting your ring stuck. Put the redirect pulley off to the side and you can just use a simple prusik taped in place since it sees almost no force.
Have a gazillion back up plans if your winch dies on you and it's just 3 of you and 1 just jumped. 2 people are not hauling 1 person up without a LOT of work. Have a plan if your ring gets stuck or cord gets wrapped around things. Unless you run a smooooooooth commercial rig or have 30 people to help, the jumper should have an ascending kit AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
RANT: "Have you jugged before?" "No, but I'm a fast learner". Nope nope nope nope. Free hanging ascending is not something you "figure out" 60 meters below the rim. I've never seen anyone represent "fast learners" in a respectable way. It's not rocket science but that is not a back up plan if you haven't done it before. If you are so confident, toss a rope 30 feet over a cliff edge tied to the anchor and rappel to the knot you tied at the end and come back up. If you do that well, maybe we will talk.
Tripods: You need some version of a rescue tripod at the edge in order to have the jumper get pulled up high enough to get back on the cliff. Don't cut grooves in rocks or rub your ropes against hard rocks! If you don't have a tripod, use edge protection. You need a progress capture like a ProTraxion device so they don't go for another swing in case the rope comes off the capstan or everyone lets go who is hauling. You need a spotter so you can tell the people lifting when to stop pulling since they can't see the jumper.
After making hauling the biggest section on here, I'd like to say... I don't haul anymore. I can come up a rope in 10 minutes and be done for the day. If we haul, then I'll get back up in 5 minutes with everyone's help and be stuck working all day so everyone can get a jump in. Keep in mind I don't run a commercial rig, I just do it for fun. Enjoy your jump, I'm going to go highline.
Risks - You Don't Just Die
The ways to get hurt are endless! Here are just a few
If there is slack between where you are holding your jump ropes and your harness, your lizard brain wants to hang on for dear life but that rope will tighten and burn your hands. Holding the rope off to the side of you is recommended, just don't have slack between your harness and hand!
Don't grab the ropes during the fall after you jump if they are not already in your hands. If you don't grab it right, you could get your finger stuck in the rope and when it tightens, then you can deglove your finger or lose it entirely.
Not hanging onto the ropes at all while wearing a normal climbing harness can hurt your back if you scorpion.
Picking your legs up and not pushing away from the cliff can break your tailbone right before falling off a cliff and waiting 10 minutes before you can get out of that harness.
Jumping off with a tether still attached to the cliff can shock load your body badly or swing you back into the cliff.
If you don't exit in the designated area and run to the side before jumping. Someone hit a ledge on the way down doing this and broke a bunch of stuff.
If you sit in a harness too long it can trap too much blood in your legs and keep it from getting to your brain. You pass out and then die. It's called suspension trama. Don't hang out too long at the bottom!
Ways people have died rope jumping
Corona Arch accident: To get the rope from under one side to the other is about 76 feet and the distance to the ground is 105 feet. They "threw a test bag" that was only a camelbak which wasn't heavy enough so when the first person jumped, the rope stretched just enough to have them deck while still being attached to the rope and they died.... in front of a HUGE audience.
Dan Osman: He used a single line while jumping off the leaning tower in Yosemite. It broke due to 10 different theories, but nonetheless, gear failure was the cause of his death.
Andy Lewis and Sylvan Christensen
Much of this conversation is in the context of rope swings in Moab, where there are sandstone cliffs that are sometimes only as long as a single rope. They are not fixed on doing it exactly any one way. They are flexible with what they have and where they are jumping. They also will rig significantly safer if 100 people plan on jumping it vs just themselves.
ANCHORS: They will use a BFK off 4 bolts like you would see in a highline anchor.
SPAN: They will use webbing like a traditional highline with a loose backup but they also use semi-static rope. When they do use ropes, they will twin tension 2 ropes with a Petzl I.D. on each line with a knot behind them in case they slip.
FULCRUM: If they are hauling back to the exit, They will terminate the webbing sewn eyes or rope knots to two rigging plates or two bomber steel rings with hard shackles or soft shackles.
JUMP ROPES: They mostly jump on dynamic ropes but if they have enough play in the span and swing in the line they would jump on semi-static ropes though it isn't as soft. NEVER JUMP STRAIGHT DOWN ON SEMI-STATIC ROPES! They offset their jump ropes so you get the full stretch of one rope before the other starts to catch. They don't replace their ropes after a certain number of jumps.
TEST BAG: They will throw bags with 100-200lbs of rocks in it so it's testing the height properly, not just the trajectory.
ATTACHING THE JUMPER: Rocks wear out faster than ropes in Moab so abrasion 1 meter away from the jumper as it rubs the edge before they jump is less of a concern. One benefit to adding a sleeve to the 2 jump ropes for the first few meters is that clients would be less likely to jump in between the ropes. They will attach the jumper with two opposing steel carabiners.
HARNESSES: Jumping for just themselves they will use climbing harnesses but a new person will be in a full body harness so they can't scorpion and damage their back.
HAULING: Gas-powered capstan or 30 people pulling is how they will pull people up. They use a tripod, progress capture (protraction), and a spotter to warn the hauler(s) when to stop. They lower a ring down the jump ropes and have a personal anchor already attached to the jumper that they clip to the ring when it gets to them. The haul line pulls the ring directly back up to the exit. During the jump itself, they try to give as much slack in the haul line as possible without being in the way of the jumper so it doesn't get sucked up into the fulcrum and get stuck.
ACCIDENT REPORT: [NOT ON THEIR ROPE SWING BUT WITNESSED IT] A jumper picked up his legs and hit his butt on the cliff edge forcing him to fall in a way that his toes, pointing straight to the ground, hit a tiny ledge that is very hard to hit if you just stepped off the cliff. His big toes broke and he had a double tib fib to boot... get it? He hung at the bottom until he came out of shock and could clip himself in so they could haul him up.
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