Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

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Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby Mike Hopley » Feb 22, 2013 11:36 am

This post has a lot of background info; skip to the end for the actual question!

I want to make a ropewalker; but here in Europe, nobody uses them. Therefore I have no experience of "proper" ropewalkers, and my only knowledge is some basic theory from books. This is where you come in!

But it's more complicated than that, because I'm not looking for a standard American-style ropewalker -- such as a double-bungee system. I want to take my Frog setup, and tweak it to allow ropewalking as well. I believe this can be categorised as a single-bungee ropewalker that converts to frog. So far, this is what I have:

  • Standard frog setup, plus Pantin, using an MTDE Garma chest harness
  • A bungee cord attaches to the back of the chest harness. The other end of the bungee has an accessory carabiner
  • A loop knot is tied about half-way along my footloop, allowing me to shorten the footloop

This is essentially the same as the "stair climbing" setup described in Alpine Caving Techniques. Converting from frogging to ropewalking is quick and can be done mid-pitch:

  • Shorten footloop by clipping intermediate loop into the krab on my hand jammer
  • Remove hand jammer from rope, and reattach below Croll
  • Clip bungee cord to hand jammer

The "hand" jammer thus becomes a "knee" jammer, which is pulled upwards by the bungee. You hold the rope with your hands to keep yourself upright and balanced. I have tested this system on expeditions and it can be very fast -- potentially a lot faster than frogging, or even "frog walking".

There is one major downside: because the system lacks a chest roller and relies on the arms for stability, it can get very tiring. There is too much arm work for me to use it extensively in deep caves. Therefore I want to try incorporating a chest roller.

In general, European cavers know bugger all about chest rollers. It is a foreign piece of equipment to us. Here is what I currently think; if I'm getting this stuff wrong, please correct me:

  • Rigid plates are preferred to straps, because a rigid plate does not bend, and therefore holds you closer to the rope.
  • A high attachment point works better, because it keeps you more upright. Typically you want it to sit somewhere between the nipple line and collar bone.
  • Products such as the PMI roller plate are popular. These plates are designed to attach to specific types of chest harness.

The PMI roller plate looks great, but it is not suitable for my application. It is too heavy, too bulky, and will not attach to my chest harness.

I already have a Simmons field roller, which is light and compact. I just need a way to mount it effectively on my chest harness. I don't need anything strong (it's not life-support). I want something light and compact; ideally I would like something that can be folded for storage, and easily removed or added.

The MTDE Garma is a "solid" chest harness. It has two straps that come over the shoulders, with buckles at about the right height for a chest roller (see this picture -- on me, the buckles come down lower). I'm planning to use these, by sliding a compact roller plate between the buckle and the strap (where it doubles back). I then need something to secure the plate at each end -- some kind of spring clip that blocks it from sliding back through, perhaps. If the roller plate was hinged, it could be neatly folded away when not in use.

The trouble is, I have no idea where to look for such a thing, and I don't have machining skills for making one. I feel it must be possible to assemble this from common parts available at hardware / DIY stores -- but I don't know where to start! Where would I find a bracket / plate that could fit a Simmons roller, ideally is hinged for folding, and could be fitted with some kind of expanding spring clips at the ends?

The bracket / plate would not necessarily have to fit through the slit on the Simmons housing. I could always thread the Simmons with webbing, and then screw the webbing to the plate.

Alternatively, what other solutions might work?
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Re: Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby Chads93GT » Feb 22, 2013 2:08 pm

FYi any chest roller you can put on directly over your frogging chest harness. I use a frog/ropewalker double bungee setup. by that i mean its a traditional double bungee ropewalker and it has a chest croll for frogging. I also carry frogging foot loops. The bad thing about ropewalkers is they are not compact unless you get very creative.
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Re: Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby snoboy » Feb 22, 2013 2:37 pm

The standard modified Frog Walker in Western Canada seems to be to attach a Simmons directly to the chest harness, no plate used. For compactness etc, that's probably the way to go. If you mount it really high (like just below your shoulder) it should do a good job of keeping you upright.

I would try that first, and go for a plate later if needed.

The other component that I didn't see mentioned in your post is a chicken loop. Put that on your ankle and thread the shortened footloop through it. This helps to keep your foot from falling out and adds to the efficiency.
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Re: Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby MUD » Feb 22, 2013 4:41 pm

This could be of some help brother, check it out!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8MqJnmU8H8
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Re: Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby Mike Hopley » Feb 23, 2013 9:17 am

Excellent suggestions everyone, thanks very much! :kewl:

Chads93GT wrote:FYi any chest roller you can put on directly over your frogging chest harness. I use a frog/ropewalker double bungee setup. by that i mean its a traditional double bungee ropewalker and it has a chest croll for frogging. I also carry frogging foot loops. The bad thing about ropewalkers is they are not compact unless you get very creative.


Nice system!

As you say, ropewalkers are not compact. The other issue is that they take much longer to "sort out" in between pitches; I think this would be the deal-breaker for me.


The standard modified Frog Walker in Western Canada seems to be to attach a Simmons directly to the chest harness, no plate used. For compactness etc, that's probably the way to go. If you mount it really high (like just below your shoulder) it should do a good job of keeping you upright.

I would try that first, and go for a plate later if needed.


Thanks, that's a good suggestion. I shall try making a test setup, with some webbing strapped tight. If I can get upright enough using webbing, that would be ideal.


The other component that I didn't see mentioned in your post is a chicken loop. Put that on your ankle and thread the shortened footloop through it. This helps to keep your foot from falling out and adds to the efficiency.


Another good suggestion! I do find that my foot slips out the footloop quite often, which is (just) big enough for two feet. Not all the time, but often enough to upset the climbing rhythm.

I don't think I want a "traditional" chicken loop, as these make it too slow to get my foot in/out of the footloop. But something that lets me tighten down the footloop a bit would be good -- I have my eye on Petzl's new footloop, or maybe the Alp Design footloop.


This could be of some help brother, check it out!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8MqJnmU8H8


That's a good system, and very compact. I saw it before and was considering it, but in the end I figured the roller is a little slow to engage/disengage compared to a Simmons. Still, maybe I should try it anyway -- I'll keep it in mind as a second option.
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Re: Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby Mike Hopley » Feb 23, 2013 9:58 am

Oh, one thing I'd forgotten about using tape:

When I tried this before, it distorted the harness shape -- because there are no circumferential straps at this height to provide stability. This wasn't comfortable at all.

Attaching it lower, where the circumferential strap is, does not cause this problem; but then the roller isn't really high enough to be useful.
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Re: Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby Foxy.Ferguson » Aug 4, 2013 9:06 am

Well, I learn something new every day!

Myself, I would not call that a ropewalker system. The one I used in my TAG caving days had a foot cam for my right foot (exactly at ankle level), the left foot's cam was automatically pulled up via an elastic cord while stepping up the rope with the right foot, and the attached chest cam was secured to a wide strap that went from locking biner on seat sling over the shoulder and back around to same locking biner. No hands needed at all, just step up, right, left, repeat. Even getting the length of the left foot sling wasn't all that critical.
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Re: Calling all ropewalker experts...and DIY types!

Postby Foxy.Ferguson » Aug 7, 2013 8:11 am

Experiment, son. My first climbing system used a horse girth for a chest sling and three prusik knots. One trip to Moses Tomb convinced me that it was no good a-tall! So I evolved it into my final Ropewalker system as fast as I could. Mainly because I found that I didn't like hanging horizontally no matter how briefly. Another TAG gal was pure poetry in motion climbing out of deep free-fall pits using the same three knot system, but not me. My handicap was that I could never get more than a 10-12" bite no matter how hard I tried. And yes, I tried out a frog type system and hated it.
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