Rope Walking


New member
Apologies if this has been done to death before, but I didn't have so much joy with the search. Anyway I popped into caving supplies earlier to pick up a pantin earlier and he suggested that this is a far more efficient way to do longer pitches.

It comprised of splitting the rope to my jammer into a separate safety cord and a long loop of rope with two turns on the krab for the footloop. It can be used as a normal setup for short pitches, but if you want to rope walk, you pull out the turns on the krab, so you end up with 3 very short loops. The jammer is then attached via a length of elastic to the back of your harness, allowing you to just walk up the rope. The croll stays as normal.* I'm just wondering if anyone here uses such a setup and any disadvantages over a standard setup?

I've tried having a look on youtube, but most results for rope walking are very different to what's described.

*Any mistakes in this description are mine alone.

Chocolate fireguard

Active member
I think this is the same system described (in Descent?) some time in the late 80s or early 90s. The foot jammer (might have been called a floating jammer) is on the rope below the Croll at about knee height with the Pantin (or spare foot jammer in those days) below that. There might also have been a pulley at shoulder height to help keep you upright and to stop you turning upside down if the Croll failed for any reason. Or perhaps that pulley was in some other system.
I tried it on GG main shaft but switched back to a frog system after a short distance because I had got the length of the bungee cord wrong and it was going to take forever to get up the pitch.
I experimented a bit after that and I do remember that with the cord exactly right it could work quite well, but sometimes the friction of the cord over the shoulder and down the back changed and then it wasn't as good. Also it was always necessary to use arm strength to stay upright so the Croll was easier to slide up the rope when the rope passing through it was under tension.
I abandoned it when a caver I met pointed out that if I used the original foot jammer in the usual way (above the Croll) and retained the one lashed to my welly (a system he had been using for years, thus anticipating the Pantin) it would be easier to keep the correct posture for frogging, failure of the Croll wouldn't be a disaster and I would always have a spare jammer.

Mark Wright

Active member

Get hold of a copy of the NSS 'On Rope' book. It has nearly all the different types of Rope Walking systems described in it.

Most people just stick with the standard 'Frog' system with an additional foot ascender. If you've already bought a Pantin then you are away. Most of the really fast times for climbing a 30m rope at the Hidden Earth conference are done using this type of system.


Mark Wright


New member
That's a dam good point...failure of the croll would result in shock loading the jammer. I should have thought of that.  :-[

Found a cheap second hand copy of "On Rope" on Amazon, so ordered it anyway to have a look through.


New member
There are as many rope walking variations as there are rope walkers. In the US, we call "Euro Rope Walking" where you just use a pantin, no chest roller, and just sheer strength to stay standing next to the rope. It's only efficient for certain body types and abilities (I find it much harder than just frogging but I have some "girls" in the way!)

The "most common" ropewalker is a Double Bungee Ropewalker, which is sort of a misnomer because there is one bungee, it goes from a foot ascender (typically a croll stitched or clipped into a stirrup of sorts) up through a chest roller down to a knee ascender (with a stirrup on a lengthener). The motion to climb is like riding a tiny bicycle. Large steps (like stair stepping) is actually ineffecient. Smoother the better, less wasted energy. An upper ascender (often called a QAS - quick attach safety) which classically was a Gibbs but can be other things, floats above the chest roller as a second safety point. The knee ascender is teathered to the seat harness directly and is the second safety point. The foot ascender is not actually teathered to the body in any way and does NOT count as a safety attachment.

The more classic ropewalker is a Single Bungee Ropewalker, which is the same setup as a double bungee EXCEPT that the foot ascender is a pantin and spearate from the entire system. The knee ascender is on a bungee that goes to either the chest roller or over the shoulder and clips into the back of the seat harness. The knee still has a safety tether.

My system, which takes the "best" of the two (in my opinion) and makes the entire thing more flexible I call a Bungee and a Half Ropewalker. The knee is the same as a Single Bungee and clipped over my shoulder in the back of my seat harness, but the foot ascender is a croll like the double bungee, but instead of being "all tied up" it has it's own bungee up to the front of my seat harness. This system allows me to change it quickly to a Texas for doing rebelays and other technical work, and then quickly switch back to a very comfortable and easy and smooth ropewalker. In *my opinion*, a Texas system is the easiest for technical work as both attachment points are above you. If you have a tight rebelay or bottom it's no trouble to get out of since I don't have to get my crotch to the rope to get the croll on =)

Video of my  Bungee and a Half Ropewalker system:

Clinton Elmore, a well-noted exped caver in TN who is super hard-core, did his own variation to make the ropewalking system even more pliable for technical rigging and to be lighter weight so it is easier to drag deeper into caves. The theory of it is extremely similar to mine, and he shows how easy it is to convert from ropewalking to a texas system in a flash. We nicknamed it "Clinton, Texas Walker" haha! Video here:

Hope that helps =)

David Rose

Active member
Some of the OUCC in the late 70s - early 80s used ropewalking systems in both British and deep Picos caves with great success. I believe Martin Laverty and Graham Naylor were among those who did. They would be able to offer advice. Myself, I always thought it seemed fiddly, especially when it came to rebel ays, of which there tend to be more now than there were in those days. But the debate was the caving equivalent of Mac OS v. Windows for a while. Both systems had firm adherents.


New member
^To add some to that, Tony Seddon might be of help as a local guy who knows the ropewalking systems well and used to use one himself. We had wonderful discussions on climbing system variations when I visited that proved most insightful.

Mark Wright

Active member
These elaborate ropewalking systems that Amy describes are perfect for the big pits in the US. When it comes to European caving though, where we have re-belays, then the rope walking systems are not so simple. I remember Steve (Tupper) Thomas back in the 80's demonstrating his US rope walking system down Rat Hole. I wish GoPros were available then as it was very comical as I'm sure Badlad will remember. Steve was a highly skilled SRT practitioner, he reverted to his standard Frog system for his next trips.

The Clinton, Texas Walker is interesting. Even Clinton got the order for installing the upper and middle ascenders in the wrong order at one point. I had to think about what he was doing and I do this sort of thing for a living.

Clinton is obviously very proficient at reverse prussiking, particularly with his upper ascender. Most people however, are not so proficient.

If the upper ascender actually released from the rope with the standard Texas system you would likely fall a fair distance before the middle ascender held the fall, thats if the foot ascender hadn't tipped you upside down first and probably broken your ankle. On thick, heavy duty US rope this sort of dynamic loading would probably be OK for the rope, not so good for you however, but on the types of rope we regularly use in Europe this could easily rip the sheath. US cavers wouldn't dream of using the 9m and 10mm rope diameters that we regularly use, not to mention 8mm accessory cord!!!

When using the more modern lightweight rigging methods developed in Europe, where caves are often rigged with multiple re-belays, elaborate rope walking systems become more of a hindrance than a benefit. I wouldn't be surprised if Clintons personal SRT bag isn't twice as big and 3 times the weight of mine. His rack must be 2' long!!

I wouldn't try using a rope walking system in the new stuff at the end of Rowter Hole. You probably won't fit through the squeeze at the top of the last pitch, not to mention having to negotiate a rope to rope transfer immediately after and lots of deviations.

I've never got on with a Pantin so just use a lightweight Frog system. If I go caving with people with rope walking systems, no matter how proficient they are, we usually always end up back at the entrance at the same time so they're not that much quicker.

If you are into rope racing then any one of the myriad of rope walking systems could make you a world champion. Mind you, Mark Sims won the 30m speed race at the weekend using a Frog & Pantin system in about 45 seconds. Mark would be three pitches ahead before you had strapped yourself into your big pit rig!!!


Mark Wright     



Active member
I have been playing around with ropewalking recently, albeit in a mine rather than a cave environment.  At the most extreme I have been experimenting with a full blown double bungee ropewalker with a (home built) double roller chest roller.  Whilst it is fast on a free hanging rope it grinds to a halt when anything approaching complex rigging is encountered. 

Having given ropewalking a fair crack of the whip I have come to the conclusion that the full blown double bungee with a chest roller is too much of a faff on anything but long, free hanging pitches with incredibly simple rigging.  (I suspect most British cavers discovered this in the late 1970s!).



Well-known member
Many moons ago I experimented with rope walking in UK caves, and broadly speaking I agree with Mark; I have the memory of abbing into Alum Pot and rope-walking to the rebelay (~180 ft) in ~7.5 minutes, then abbing back down again and 'frogging' it in ~6.5 minutes (notwithstanding that I'd just done the pitch a couple of minutes ago).

Well, no doubt that says more about my experience/competence with frogging than with rope-walking, but can you see that it didn't inspire me to push the latter system too hard?

Mike Hopley

New member
There are many varieties of ropewalking. Some are more efficient than others. And a ropewalking setup needs to be tuned well, or it will be crap.

A simple type of ropewalking can be done with just a frog system with a foot jammer (e.g. Pantin). The French have finessed this nicely. It's not in the same league as the American systems, but you can switch between the ropewalking and frogging styles with zero faff.

A chest roller is what makes a full-on ropewalker rig really efficient. Without a roller, your arms tire after about 40 -- 60 metres (well, mine do). With a roller, you are held upright and can climb without using the hands at all (if you like).

But normal American chest rollers are not very practical for European caves. Clinton Elmore's roller, however, could work very well; it has the huge advantage that it hangs out the way, under your armpit, when not on rope. I've made one for myself and it works pretty well.

A basic frog system can be converted into a "full" ropewalker with a few additions:

  • A bungee cord over the shoulder, which attaches to the "hand" jammer via an accessory krab
  • A way of shortening the footloop easily (I have a loop tied part way down)
  • An unobtrusive chest roller
  • A foot jammer

The "hand" jammer is placed below the Croll, the footloop is shortened, and the bungee is clipped to the jammer. The chest roller is put on the rope. And walk...

You can also use this as a hands-free frog system -- i.e. a "lazy frog". And it converts back to frog at any time -- albeit with a small amount of faff.

Without further tuning, though, this system is annoying. The footloop tends to slip off a lot when ropewalking, so it should be secured to the foot. You then have a new problem to solve: how do you store the footloop between pitches? The French like to run it through the knee pad, but I find that maddening when prusiking. At the moment I'm clipping it through an accessory krab on my knee pad.

Having the footloop permanently on the foot is actually quite handy, but it does require you to reorganise your setup somewhat. This goes well with the French style of separating the hand jammer from the footloop.

I've found that the Pantin doesn't work well with a full-on ropewalker, because the angle of the rope is "sharper" above the foot and the Pantin just won't stay on. This problem can be solved with a foot jammer that "locks" like a Croll does (mine is from Climbing Technology).

There are still more complications. Foot jammers like the Pantin can put a lot of torque on the ankle when your full weight is on them, so you need to get them well adjusted and you need "solid" and snug wellies or boots.

Another consideration: how much weight are you carrying? Climbing rope with two heavy tacklesacks is quite different from no tacklesacks. If you have a lot to carry, or you're just getting knackered, then "slow and steady" two-footed frogging may be easier than ropewalking.


New member
As with anything what you practice will be your most effiecent. I have known many a ropewalker to outdo frogers on technical rigging. If it seems easier practice it and you can be proficient in both systems. I am just as fast at rebelays in frog as my style of ropewalker (which has the texas benifits unlike a classic double bungee) and i practice both equally. I find carrying a tacklebag just as easy in both but i have an untraditional way to carry it that i learned from Lechuguilla explorers.

cap n chris

Well-known member
UK/European SRT has very well established vertical progression techniques which are used because they suit the characteristics of the rigging/routes; trying to apply another very well established vertical progression technique which isn't used because it does not suit the characteristics of the rigging/routes is AOK if you are happy to spend the time, money and effort to become proficient in it but that won't make it any less unsuitable for the characteristics of the rigging/routes. The obvious solution for anyone who is super-keen to learn US methods is either to visit the US or to bolt caves here with a longest possible hangs, with or without rubs points, and to get a large team of burly people to sherpa massive 200m lengths of heavy-duty 13mm cable up to them to rig with.

It's a free country*, so "knock yourself out", as the saying has it, but remember that you shouldn't be placing your own bolts - that's the preserve of your regional caving council to decide, IIRC.

* Allegedly.

Mike Hopley

New member
People say that the weakness of American ropewalkers is crossing rebelays. But as Amy said, I think you can get pretty quick with rebelays in any of these systems if you practice.

I think the real weakness of American ropewalkers is what you do in between pitches. You couldn't really wear a full double-bungee rig all the way through an awkward cave. Everything would be flapping around and tangling, and then you also have a metal plate across your chest.

So I suspect that double-bungee ropewalkers -- or even "bungee and half" ones -- don't wear their ascending rig all the way up the cave. I think they must take most of it off between pitches. Is that true, Amy?

Amy said:
I find carrying a tacklebag just as easy in both but i have an untraditional way to carry it that i learned from Lechuguilla explorers.

Don't just tease us, tell. :)


Mark Wright said:
If you are into rope racing then any one of the myriad of rope walking systems could make you a world champion. Mind you, Mark Sims won the 30m speed race at the weekend using a Frog & Pantin system in about 45 seconds. Mark would be three pitches ahead before you had strapped yourself into your big pit rig!!!

Just for clarification:
- I believe it was 41 seconds ;)
- Mark does use what I would call a ropewalking technique rather than frogging (though you're right that the equipment is the same as the standard set-up + pantin). It's equivalent to the "floating cam system" described in the cavediggers document further up the page, which quite a few people have adopted, using a croll and a pantin which negates the need for extra footloop/shock cord.

I've tried this ropewalking technique in the past and found it quicker but also more tiring than standard frogging (it's a lot harder on the arms to keep yourself upright). Frogging with a pantin is my preferred method for long pitches as it helps keep the rope running through the croll better (compared to no pantin), but most of the time I find the pantin just gets in the way so it's often left at home - or stashed in my SRT bag and then I forget to put it on again. As with most things though, practice makes perfect... I should probably practice using it more!


I think ropewalking/SRT advantages depend on how you define efficient in terms of effort and time:
- For minimum energy use on UK-style rigging whilst not taking ages on rebelays/deviations, I think it's hard to beat a normal frogging with a pantin: you can go and go and go without getting too tired.
- For minimum energy use on long unbroken pitches, I suspect some sort of 'proper' ropewalking system may be less tiring.
- For maximum speed on UK-style rigging I think it would be hard to beat just rope walking with the standard croll, hand jammer and pantin.

The effectiveness of these is purely down to practice in my opinion. I suspect a significant reason that rope walking with the last set-up above does not seem especially commonplace in the UK, despite many people owning all the kit required, is simply because almost everyone learns normal frogging to begin with. When it comes to trying something different, it's inevitably harder work because technique is poorer at first, so it's all too tempting to revert to the more practised (and therefore inevitably more efficient) frogging method.

It's worth pointing out that the hand-jammer, croll, pantin rope walking method isn't only sensible for small (<30 m) pitches. By using the same method but not going flat out, it's OK to keep going for ~100 m in a single stretch, and I've used it almost exclusively on long SRT trips (e.g. the Berger).

I did have a mess around with floating-jammer, chest-roller ropewalking methods and they're clearly suitable for huge unbroken lengths of rope, but any technical manoeuvre was a total nightmare (for me), and I couldn't envisage any sort of situation I was likely to be in where the positives would outweigh the negatives! I imagine passing a deviation using any of the set-ups I tried would be a total nightmare.

Mike Hopley

New member
MarkS said:
When it comes to trying something different, it's inevitably harder work because technique is poorer at first, so it's all too tempting to revert to the more practised (and therefore inevitably more efficient) frogging method.

Absolutely right.

I'm a badminton coach. One challenge of coaching a skill-based sport is that players almost always get worse before they get better, and this creates a disincentive to try anything new. Change is harder than using an existing skill.

SRT isn't competitive like badminton, and it's nowhere near as technical.

With no competitive pressure, cavers will mostly stick with whatever SRT they first learned. It also means that technique developments in the community happen slowly. There's nothing like the Chinese kicking your collective arses to make you adapt. ;)