You are lowering your leader after their solid send, but you have to pause, effectively dangling them just feet above the gawking boy scout troop. Why? Because you are now engaged in a battle with a coiled python of nylon who refused to go quietly through your belay device. You struggle to untangle the beast, all the while the boy scouts below your climber await like baby birds with mouths agape.
Why do gym ropes get all twisty?
For that matter why do any ropes get all twisty? Imagine a rope in space. If you twist one end, the twist will travel like a wave and the other end 60m yonder will eventually turn as well, effectively expelling the twist. . One twist goes in, one twist comes out the other side. (I haven't tried it but it would be a really cool experiment when we get our passenger space programs running. Also slack-lining might be a lot less dangerous out there). When both ends are free to move twists have a way to escape the rope.
Bring the rope back to the gym. Check it for any damage possibly sustained upon re-entry. Flake it out on the ground. Your climber ties in. When this happens, the ends of the system are now closed. There is no way for twists to escape on that end since it is now locked in place and can't untwist. The other end is on the ground, underneath a pile of itself, rendering it unable to turn as well. The only two ways for twists to escape this rope have now been closed off.
Then the belaying begins and there are more guilty parties involved: belay tools and brake hands. Brake hands without much effort can put small, fractional twists into the rope as they are belaying. Especially if the belayer incorporates a repetitive circular motion into their routine. Belay tools don't like to let twists get through. In fact they end up pushing twists down through the rope, concentrating the twists to one end. If that end is on the ground, the twists are trapped in the rope. Repeat this process a few times and all those small twists start adding up with no end in sight. To make matters worse, when finished leading, often we find both ends and coil from there towards the middle of the rope, pushing the twists to the center so they may strike at their next unassuming victim!
So what can we do avoid and/or pacify the nylon python?
1. Flake Well. Flake Often.
Look for twists and send them to the ends of the rope to release the pressure and let them untwist. Have your climber wait to tie in until the flake is complete or else they will block the escape route. Also, be careful not to get too"circular" with your flaking and your brake hand motion. A random flaking pattern reduces the chance for repetition or a figure-eight style of flaking may help as it puts a half twist in, but takes a half twist out on the next loop.
2. Run it through.
Using the same end of the rope over and over will push the twists to the same spot. Run the rope all the way through if possible to let the twists run out the end and start from the opposite end(for both lead and top rope). Letting the full length of the rope run through the belay tool will force twists down and out of the end of the rope as well.
*Outside, a good rappel all the way to the end of the rope is very effective as it pushes twists from the center to the ends. A simulated rappel will also help. I set up a belay tool on a sling from my pull-up bar and pull the rope all the way through, starting at the center. REPEAT until tamed.
3. Be Kind. Rewind.
Coil from the center. It is much quicker to coil from the ends. But it traps twists and sends them to the center of the rope. Be considerate and take time to find the center and start there. It will reduce the frustration for the next party. It takes more time, but caring for our climbing community is worth it.
Isn't it? Do your part, it helps everyone in the long run.
Climb Smart MN is a grassroots approach to climbing education based on community and charitable giving. For information on donation based climbing lessons visit ClimbSmartMN and follow us on Facebook. With over ten years of climbing instruction, coaching, and guiding experience, Chris Hesselbein strives to better the climbing community through personalized technique and safety education.