Expedition Alaska Ropes Requirements
Each Expedition Alaska team member is required to have completed a basic rope skills course and it’s important to learn the basics from an experienced climber or qualified instructor. You can also join a local climbing organizations or hire a qualified guide. (The American Mountain Guides Association and the Professional Climbing Guides Institute are two examples of certifying bodies for guides in the United States). We only require the basics, however, the more you know the better it will be in Alaska’s rugged terrain. Each team member will be required to know these basic skills during the “skills testing” at check-in.
Skills You Must Learn
A typical intro to climbing ropes includes an overview of gear, essential knots, belay checks, climbing commands, belaying and basic movement skills. If the course is outside, instructors will also go over ways to minimize risks associated with outdoor climbing like rock fall or exposure.
Knots: Climbers most commonly use a Figure-8 Follow Through knot to tie into the end of the rope while climbing. Instructors will demonstrate how to use this knot to attach the rope to your harness. Watch the video How to Tie a Figure 8 Knot for Climbing.
Belay Checks: Before the climber starts up the wall, it’s essential to check the system to make sure it’s set up properly. You’ll learn to evaluate the tie-in knot, belay device, harnesses and helmets.
Commands: There is a specific set of phrases that climbers and belayers use to communicate in order to increase safety and efficiency on the wall. You’ll practice these commands before jumping on the climb.
Belaying and Ascending: You’ll learn how to set up a belay device and ascenders. Learn more in the article How to Belay. Ascending With Mechanical Ascenders.
The standard means of ascending a rope is to use two mechanical ascenders (sometimes called “Jumars”, which is just a brand name). As an example, the Petzl Ascension is pictured right. A device such as this will be handy on a big wall, or when a lot of planned rope climbing is required.
Basic Movement Skills: While it seems like climbing requires a lot of upper body strength, your instructor will help you find ways to use your legs as much as possible to move up the wall. You’ll learn basic footwork, body positioning and balance to start solving the vertical puzzles.
Crevasse Rescue Skills: Rescue skills are critical in mountaineering. As you’re traveling on glaciated terrain, there’s always a risk that you or your partners could fall into a crevasse. Knowing how to team-arrest and how to haul others out of a crevasse are skills you need to learn and practice before setting foot on a glacier.
Climbing Harness: Your harness allows you to tie into the rope securely. Most harnesses have two front tie-in points designed specifically for threading the rope and tying in, one at the waist and one at the leg loops. Generally, the tie-in points are different from the dedicated belay loop. Buckling your harness correctly is essential. For tips, watch our video on how to put on a climbing harness. Or learn more on how to choose a climbing harness.
Climbing Helmet: Climbing helmets are designed to help protect your head from falling rock and debris, and some (though not all) are designed to provide protection in the case of a fall. They are generally not worn in a climbing gym since it’s a controlled environment. A helmet should feel comfortable, fit snugly but not too tight and sit flat on your head. Learn more in our guide on how to choose a climbing helmet.
Belay Device: A belay device helps the belayer control the rope as the climber moves. The two most common belay-device styles are tube-style and assisted-braking. An assisted braking device provides a back-up in case the belayer loses control of the brake, so these are recommended for extra security. Learn more in our guide on choosing a belay device.
Climbing Rope: No piece of gear is more important to a climber than the rope, though again, when you’re first starting out, the rope will likely be provided for you. As you progress, where and what you are climbing will determine which rope is best for you. When you’re ready to purchase your own rope, check out our guide on how to choose a climbing rope for in-depth details.
Carabiners: These strong, light metal rings with spring-loaded gates have endless applications in climbing systems. For most beginners, the first carabiner you’ll buy is a locking carabiner designed to be used with a belay device. See How to Choose a Carabiner to learn more about the many types of carabiners used in climbing.
Climbing Gloves: Good gloves will be important not just for climbing, but bushwhacking in Alaska too.
Ice Axe: The ice axe, for many, is a mountaineering symbol that evokes images of rugged glaciated peaks and above-the-cloud summits. It’s an essential safety tool for mountaineering adventures whether you use it to maintain balance or to self-arrest and stop yourself from a fall.