Rigging, Jumping and Hauling Rope Swings
This is one of several chapters (blogs) that cover rope swinging and we guide you to the others in the main "ebook" - How NOT 2 Rope Swing.
Before ANYTHING else, I want to note that if you and your friends are going to attempt rope swinging for the first time, at least join the Facebook group and ask for a second set of eyes. If that is too much effort, one: don't be lazy your friends' lives are on the line, but two: personally message me on instagram (@Da_logster) or messenger and I would be more than happy to walk through your setup so you don't die.
My name is Logan and I'm a rope swing rigger and jumper from Colorado. My two buddies, Trout Buesser and Mateo Powell, and I have rigged about a dozen rope swings, half of them for our highline gathering, and have jumped more than a thousand people - nearing two thousand! Our record was 87 jumps in a single day so we know a thing or two about quick jump systems.
A bit about me before we dive into the juicy details of how (Not?) 2 rig a rope swing: Although I rig rope swings a few times per year, I am primarily a highliner! I love alpine highlining, expedition style lines, solo rigging big lines, and most of all teaching people how to get out there safely. If I am not on a line I am generally training for backpacking/mountaineering/climbing, figuring out how to cut a couple more grams off my ultralight alpine kit, or prototyping new gear for these sports. Oh and I design satellites as an aerospace engineer on the side ;).
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
Interview with Logan Henning
Rope swing anchors are the more bomber version of rock climbing and highlining anchors. The forces on the anchor of a swing are much higher than what is generally seen on a highline or rock climbing anchor. Additionally, the rope swing sees cyclic loading of these high forces so we sure want to make the anchor strong.
The same general principles for highline anchors (and climbing anchors kinda?) apply to swing anchors: Make the anchor to be the strongest part of the system, redundant, and prevent abrasion. The nature of a swing means that it will cause lots of movement in the anchor, especially since we jump perpendicular to the line our fulcrum is suspended on. That being said, even for inline jumps, the forces are high so the anchor will stretch, therefore causing lots of movement. Movement is bad for several reasons: uneven loading and abrasion being foremost. If you use an anchor that is not self-equalizing, there will be uneven loading of the different anchor strands which is why it is important to very have strong anchors. Regardless of self-equalizing or (k)not, the movement will make the anchor more prone to abrasion. Several solutions to the abrasion problem: just rig so no part of your anchor is able to rub on other surfaces (not always possible), pad the living daylights out of any part of the anchor that can move (sometimes padding will move), or minimize the range of movement.
My team and I tend to use all three strategies - from a given set of anchor options we use anchors that will allow the least amount of abrasion, we definitely pad like crazy, and then we also minimize the range of movement. I won't dive into how to choose an anchor that will minimize abrasion because that can vary. On the padding side, we like to SECURE a log right next to the edge and wrap it with carpet, soft side on the anchor material. Last, there are two ways to minimize movement: static anchor material, and redirection. Using static material on the anchor minimizes stretch. If your anchor is sitting on a rock, even an inch of stretch every jump can cut the anchor quickly. We use a redirect near the edge of the cliff to minimize the amount of side-to-side movement. We normally use a bolt, but make sure to keep in mind 2 things: the bolt needs to REDIRECT to do its job, and the higher the angle of redirection, the greater the forces (We have pulled the redirect bolt out before!). Another solution to abrasion could be a hang frame, but this is a bit tougher because of how much movement there is so if you attempt that, understand the limitations of a hang frame very well.
Now that we've got the basic principles of rigging an anchor, I'll just share how I do mine:
4 bolt anchor-> Quicklinks -> 10.5 mm static rope -> BFK -> Redirect -> Connectors for the Span
Of course, padding where necessary, and make the anchor easily inspectable because we inspect the entire rig after no more than 10 jumps. That's a lo of inspecting on an 87 jump day!
The Span refers to the gap and material that is between the two anchors. The gap is what you'll be jumping into and we care about the size/shape. The material is what suspends the fulcrum out in the middle of the gap and we care about the stretch, length, strength, and ease to work.
First off, like a highline anchor, make sure the material used to span the gap starts beyond the cliff edge. I like to use highline webbing because I know Highline systems and gear very well, I find this allows for easily maintaining high strengths in the system, and it is easy to roll out on the line for inspections/rescues. Additionally, I can choose a highline webbing that suits the gap. i.e. if I am going to rig a gap that is 180m (Green webbing from Balance Community), I will use a strong mid-stretch material, or for a 50m gap I will use a strong high stretch material (Heavy Webbing from Balance Community). The idea is to minimize movement while having the necessary dampening of forces.
The connection to the anchor BFK on either side is a hard shackle to a weblock. I'd say it is best to avoid soft shackles there because of the amount of movement. The weblock on each side allows for easy adjustment of the fulcrum and maintains a high percentage of the webbing strength. The backup should also be webbing to minimize abrasion that can come from rope backups wrapping around he mainline. The backup webbing is terminated at the anchor with a mighty lock and a hard shackle. Same benefits as the mainline - strong and easy to adjust. We tension the mainline to 2-3 kn. This is a good compromise between getting a lot of swing in the fulcrum (less tension, more fulcrum displacement every jump) and minimizing the overall forces generated (spoiler alert: they are HIGH).
We rig the line with a highline split at the fulcrum. This makes it easy to attach all of our fulcrum hardware. Highliners are becoming interested in naked highline splits, but for this application, I'd still suggest sleeves on sewn loops at this connection.
Now to talk about the gap itself - Use common sense when selecting the gap. Make sure the span is long enough that your material spanning the gap (webbing) can stretch and reduce the forces on the anchor. Make sure it is deep enough that you will not deck. MAKE SURE there is not a ledge below that you can land on, and if there is a ledge that you *probably* won't hit either don't rig there or make sure everyone on your team is aware and knows and FOLLOWS the jump direction. Not fun stoking a friend up to jump just to see them break their back on a ledge 20ft below because they jumped a little bit in the wrong direction.
I am going to refer to Ryan's section on how to rig a fulcrum. We use the same 4 considerations as he does, and have a nearly identical setup to his Method 3A. Instead of the 2 aluminum leash rings that he uses, we use 4. The sleeve over the soft shackles in the highline connection is very important because it prevents abrasion - this is a recurring theme. We exercise extreme caution for abrasion on soft goods that are under tension since they are much more vulnerable than way. This is a point we inspect every 10 jumps. We have never had issues with abrasion, but it is a high stress point since the load from the jumper is transferred to the highline in nearly the exact same spot every jump. Additionally, we tape the nooses on the soft shackles after we make the fulcrum since non-loaded soft shackles can loosen and (maybe?) open.
There are quite a few ways to make the fulcrum 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 EVEN WHEN you can easily inspect a connection.
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 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. Test ahead of time to make sure the soft shackles are the correct length to use while the system is under tension - not too tight that you can't open and close the soft shackles, but not so loose that they allow the rings to move all over the place. Use a short piece of velcro to pad or 2 inch tubular webbing pre installed where the rings will be resting on the soft shackle. Velcro is better for inspectability.
Note: I bet you could do 2 of these connections a meter or two away from each other, one for each jump rope and it would decrease interactions between the two jump ropes
Similar to Ryan, we stagger our ropes. To expand upon what he said, there are two main reasons for this.
If the ropes are the same length and connected the same way, this means the knots that tie the jump ropes to the fulcrum (if you only use one fulcrum) will be touching each other, causing a high abrasion point.
If the ropes are the same length, there will be higher forces on the jumper since both ropes will be absorbing impact. Simply put 1 rope = x stretchy, so 2 ropes = .5 x stretchy.
It changes for every gap of course, but we tend to jump gaps that allow us to use our 60m ropes. After tying the connectors and offsetting one rope from the other, one rope is ~55m and the other is ~57m. The main jump rope, aka the one that takes the majority of the load every jump, is the one that is shorter. The way that we are able to make one rope shorter than the other is by shifting where the knot is tied and the extra material used in one knot makes that rope length shorter. We tie a double retraced figure 8 - the same as a retraced figure 8 but we start tying it with a huge bight. There are several reasons for this: makes each of the 8s redundant, maybe makes them stronger with a bigger bend radius but definitely easier to untie, and uses a lot of rope so this is an easy rope shortening method between the main and backup.
I have seen plenty of circumstances where people are using backups that are significantly longer than their main jump rope, which is only ok so long as your backup also passes a pack test AND bungee test. when I say bungee test, I really mean if you have a 50m main rope and 70m backup, would your system allow you to safely take a 20m bungee jump (fall) if your main rope fails? This is especially important if you're just using whatever gear you already have and use static rope as a backup. Backups aren't very useful if you're going to deck, cliff strike, or break your back from a whip anyway.
We use 9.8mm dynamic Black Diamond ropes. if you're going to be jumping a lot you want them thicker so you don't have to buy new ropes as often. That being said, we have jumped about 800 people on our current ropes and we plan to continue using them for a bit longer.
Note: Some people have expressed concern for abrasion between the two ropes if they are being loaded differently and interacting because the stretch in the main rope may cause it to rub against the backup. I definitely agree with this logic, but after 1500 jumps have not experienced this! Additionally, make them different colors:)
Let's get this out of the way first: we connect to the jump ropes in a way that may flag some concern, but hear me out. We clip 2 big steel carabiners to the jumper's 2 hard points. We have assessed the risk of triloading two opposite and opposed steel carabiners that break at 50kn (when loaded on the major axis) and find this to be much less risky than just clipping the belay loop. Our jumpers only see 3kn peak force when they jump. We have considered using one steel on the belay loop and one soft shackle through the 2 hard points.
On the rope side, the steel carabiners are clipped to a figure 8 on a bight tied with both ropes together. One knot 2 ropes. The excess rope is tied in a bundle and clipped to the side of the jumper on a gear loop.
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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.
Here is a checklist of things to make sure your pack test is useful:
Make sure no one is below.
Make the pack heavy enough. If it isn't a similar weight to your jumpers (150lbs), the trajectory will be different.
Set the pack up to be hauled before you toss it off the cliff.
Test both the main and backup rope if there is a significant difference in length between the two.
Have 1 or more spotters in positions where it is easiest to see the clearance between the pack and the walls, and the cliff below the exit.
Make sure to let the pack swings back and forth several times so that you can see if it starts to swing side to side and might collide with something on this new trajectory.
Tip: if you are somewhere near lots of water (like a waterfall swing) you could fill the pack with water instead of rocks, you can wait ~15 minutes and haul an empty pack up since there is the small hole in the bottom of haul bags. Whatever the size haul bag, estimate filling ~70 liters (70kg).
-------- Did You Read This Last Section? ------
Exits are usually the most intense part for people so the prefrontal cortex forgets to do its job from time to time - that's why we have a process we stick to for every jump! We always have the next two people in line hanging out harnessed up ready to go. This is more of an efficiency thing. Then every time a person jumps, we explain to the next 2 people exactly what is going to happen. That way they hear it 2 times in the 5 minutes before it happens, and then once more as we are clipping them in. It goes like this for any given person we jump:
Haul a bunch of people (we have a homie powered haul system)
Get into the second spot in queue.
Get harness on, get buddy check: Legs loops, hard points, abrasion, waist strap tightness, pockets, hat leash, stoke
Explain how we clip in, what direction to exit, options for looking cool on the exit, where we will be (not within arm's reach)
Bring them over to the edge and immediately PAS both of you in.
Clip them into the jump ropes, opposite and opposed steel carabiners through both hard points, and explain again where and which direction they can jump. Clip excess rope to a gear loop.
Unclip their PAS and slowly let them take the weight of the jump ropes.
Talk through their exit - if they are going to flip make sure they hold the jump rope to the side so they don't get tangled.
ONCE MORE tell them where and which direction to jump.
Give them a countdown if they want it and stay back!
We give all of our jumpers a radio so even though we explain to them how we are going to lower the haul rope to them, we can still talk them through it when they forget:)
Do not let anyone near the jumper other than the clipper. People get really scared as they are about to jump and don't think so clearly so sometimes they reach for a friend. It is the responsibility of everyone to make sure no one is near the jumper when they go to exit.
One More: do not death grip the jump rope more than an arms length from your hard points. if you do, the rope will rip itself out of your hands and you'll end up with a nasty burn.
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.
This is where it gets interesting... and complicated so stick with me and refer to the diagram!
There are 3 key locations for our rope swing: The haul point, the exit point, and the tag point (with an honorable mention for the tag extender). First, I will give an overview how it works together overall, then I will dive deep into each, and then summarize everything.
A person gets clipped in and jumps off the cliff. There's some screaming (Joy? Fear?). They swing back and forth a few times. The haul rope is dropped to them. They clip in to the haul rope and a team hauls them back up in about 30s. They get up to the edge, PAS in, unclip from the jump ropes, step away from the edge and unPAS. There may be some crying here (Joy? Fear?) The haul rope is reset and the jump ropes are moved back to the exit.
Now first we will talk about hauling.
I will break this section up further so it is easier to digest: The haul rope, connection to jump ropes and tag, connection to jumper, hang frame, and haulers.
The haul rope is 600 ft of 10.5 mm static rope. Much more than you would ever need. I'd say the bare minimum you'd want is 90m on a 60m swing, but I think 100m is much a much safer. When lowered down to the jumper, the haul rope needs to sag a whole lot to pull 8 plate (the connection to jump ropes and tag) down to the jumper. Then you want excess so you have something to hold onto when you start pulling. The thicker the rope the easier it is to grab when pulling. This can get heavy though if the swing is remote.
The connection to the jump ropes and the tag is an 8 plate from Black
Diamond like I mentioned above. The big hole goes around the two jump ropes and the small whole is what the haul rope and tag line are tied to. We use the big hole for the jump ropes so there is less friction and it is easier to lower the 8 plate. We found this works for our setup, but regardless of yor setup make sure the part of your connector that goes around the ropes is either way bigger or way smaller than your knots you tie at the top of the jump ropes. We have had previous connector devices slip over the top knot and then not go back below the knot without being manually moved. A careful tagger can prevent this, but with 150 jumps over the course of a couple days it is easy to reset just a couple feet too much once or twice. Last thing here - tie the paracord on one side of the small hole and the rope on the other side so when the plate is out on the jump ropes the rope and paracord don't want to tangle/twist the plate.
The connection to the jumper is a double quickdraw: Take two quickdraws, take a carabiner off quickdraw 1, clip quickdraw 2 to the empty side of the dogbone on quickdraw 1. Badaboom double quickdraw. We double up becuase it makes reaching from the 8 plate over the tie-in knot and steel carabiners to the belay loop easier. This is clipped to the small loop on the 8 plate as well. You could use lockers here, but we haven't ever had an issue and on the swings we have rigged it wouldn't be an issue if the jumper was dropped during a haul (consider your new trajectory if the haul direction is different from the exit). People always forget this step, so that's why we give them a radio.
The hangframe seems a bit complicated, but one of the key parts of our efficiency. It has three legs so it is really a tripod. A good friend of ours welded and custom fabricated it for us so there isn't a commercial version exactly like this. The three points are secured down to bolts and then the legs are roped together, preventing the legs from collapsing outward. Reference the photo for our bolt pattern. We tension the front two legs down to a central bolt, down and back to two bolts to either side, and the back leg down and centered. This is more complicated than necessary, but make sure your tripod is setup so the legs won't collapse in or out, and the hang frame won't tip over. On the end of the middle beam there is a protraction which is our progress capture for hauling jumpers - don't pull the jumper's knot into this! We put a swivel on the canyon side of the trax to make sure this doesn't happen. The rope then runs through the tripod and away from the cliff to the haulers. Important things to keep in mind - the middle beam of the tripod extends the protraxtion right to the edge of the cliff so there is not much rope drag (which you should pad for anyway) and the jumer doesn't get thrashed coming up over the edge.
Now that you understand the setup, here is how the jumper is actually hauled. First, make sure they are clipped after the haul rope is clipped to them. That process is explained in the tag point section (next). When they have confirmed they are ready, get the haul system going. We use the caterpillar system which is 8+ people running in a circle pulling the rope. This is sketchy when you're right by a cliff, but very fast when the front of the line is 15+ feet away from a cliff. Make sure the protraxion/progress capture teeth are engaged so if for some reason the haulers drop the rope, the person doesn't go for another swing. Have a spotter through the entire process (might be good to be the radio person too). When they start to get to the cliff edge, go slow. Depending where you are the jumper may have to walk up the wall as they are being hauled and if you are going fast and they trip, that will be one nasty case of road rash. Last, make sure the spotter counts down as the jumper comes up over the edge so the haulers slow down. Coming over the edge is awkward so be especially careful to help the jumper here and don't let their knot get pulled into the microtrax. The person tending the tripod puts a PAS on the jumper and unclips them from the jump ropes. Tell the jumper which way to go. We send them under the tripod anchor rope so when they unclip from the PAS they have a tensioned rope between them and the cliff edge. The jump ropes are then passed off to the clipping person at the exit.
Now we will talk about the tag point.
This is the perfect spot for the homie who wants to be involved but being right in the action is too much, but I kid you not, very important. This spot really affects the flow of the jump so when we are going for speed and want to jump as many people as possible, it is important the person there does this job really well. It is simple, but if messed up, the jump ropes can tangle and take up lots of time. This station needs ~80m of paracord, rappel gloves, a clip point, and 2 carabiners.
When someone is not being hauled, the haul rope is always in the rest position with the bomber ring about 5m below the fulcrum. The paracord is taught since it is supporting the haul rope, and the paracord is tied off. The haul rope is low tension - enough to keep it out of the way of jumps and enough slack that when the jumper is on the upswing, it doesn't pull on the haul rope.
Once the jumper radios that they are ready to be hauled, the haul rope is lowered to them (this is coordinated with the person tending the haul rope as they might have to release some rope too). Go slowly - a bomber ring dropping on the jumper's head is a quick way to take away some of the fun. We put a munter on the paracord so there is less force on the hands when lowering, but that isn't always necessary. Have a spotter tell you when the haul rope is getting close to the jumper, and slowly lower until it is in their reach. Wait for the jumper to radio up that they are clipped to their belay loop before starting to haul.
Haul the individual back to to the cliff (explained in previous section)
To reset the jump rope, theperson at the paracord station pulls the paracord back in. This pulls the ring back toward the fulcrom, so the person tending the haul rope needs to lower the rope. Do not start pulling the tag until confirmation has been received that the jumper is unclipped and the haul rope person is ready for the reset. Stop the bomber ring about 5m from the fulcrum to ensure the rig does not interact with the knots.
Last: the exit point
The exit is where the jumper hops off the cliff. In ideal scenarios, the exit ias right next to the haul point so you don't have to transfer the ropes. That is pretty dangerous holding tensioned ropes as you walk along a cliff. Nobody is by the exit except for the clipper who is PASed in and the jumper who is PASed in until they are clipped into the jump ropes. Nobody else.
To prep someone to jump, have them ready with their harness on before the previous person jumped so each jumper can pay attention to the previous jumper getting the exit explained to them. Check the harness for correct fit on waist and leg loops, double backed, and no abrasion/the harness is in a condition to support someone's life. Now explain to the jumper before you get to the edge what you are going to do - walk to the edge, PAS in, talk through the exit, clip them in to the jump ropes, unclip PAS, and let them jump once you are out of reach.
I'll break down each of those steps a little bit more. Walking to the edge only happens once the harness is on and the jumper has heard the explanation of the jump and seen someone jump. Then once you have walked the jumper to the edge, PAS both of you in. Explain the exit - what direction, how far to jump, what "trick' they can do/how to not get tangled, and if they want a countdown. Now have the ropes transferred from the haul station and clip the jumper in. Make sure the ropes are not twisted. The steel carabiners should be auto locking and opposite and opposed. We clip them to the 2 hard points so they are redundant as a friend of mine has partially broken 2 belay loops while highlining. Clip excess rope to a gear loop. Now you can unclip them from the PAS and make sure it is out of their exit path. Let them know they are now safe to jump in the correct direction and the clipper steps back from the jumper. Countdown if they want it!
Risks - You Don't Just Die
Refer to Ryan's Risk section. I was going to rewrite half of what he said here, but figured you should just see the whole list.
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!
By following what I have outlined above, we have been able to jump ~1500 people without a single injury. Honestly, I was the closest to an injury we've ever had... I did a bat hang from a space net and then dove into the canyon. Several issues with this - I decreased my distance to the fulcrum by 10m and didn't shorten my ropes. I started oriented upside down without any spin so I ended upside down. I was carrying a 360 camera, which meant I didn't have a hand to hold the rope and support my back. Don't make your own version of these photos:)
Chapter 3: How NOT 2 Rig with Andy Lewis
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