The Masters

Jeff Ward - IFMGA/AMGA Guide

Jeff Ward is an IFMGA-licensed and AMGA-certified Alpine, Ski and Rock Guide. He grew up in the Northwest and is co-owner of North Cascades Mountain Guides ( based in Mazama. Ward is a lead instructor for the American Mountain Guides Association and serves on their technical committee.

Martin Volken - IFMGA Guide

Martin Volken is the founder and owner of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA. He is a certified IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide and guides over 120 days per year in North America and Europe as a ski, rock and alpine guide. Volken has pioneered several steep ski descents, ski traverses, alpine and rock routes in the Washington Cascades. He has been a member of the AMGA examiner team since 2000 and has authored and co-authored three books on ski touring and ski mountaineering.

Got a question about climbing? Submit your question in the Ask the Master forum and either Jeff Ward or Martin Volken will supply the answer.

Anchors: Three Piece
Anchors: Three Piece

Ask the Master: Double Ropes vs. Single Rope with a Tagline

By Jeff Ward (AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide)

What are some pros and cons of climbing with double ropes versus a single rope and a tagline on a long alpine rock route?

—anonymous, via Ask the Master forum

Jeff Ward.There are trade offs with each system. The nice thing is that the weight is about the same for each, depending on what you use for your tagline and how skinny you go on your main line.

For me, the main upside of going with a tagline is that there is less rope to deal with at each belay. I can put the tagline in my pack and not pull it out until the descent. Many of the routes in the U.S. are set up for single 60-meter ropes (30-meter rappels) so most of the time I can leave the tagline at home. Long rappels are sweet when the pulls are super clean but oftentimes in the alpine there are more things that the rope can snag on, and shorter rappels (less than 30 meters) might be a good idea.

The other benefit of using a tagline is that you can use it like a tagline. Instead of putting it in your pack you can trail it behind you and tag up any additional gear that you need or haul a pack. Since it's not running through any of the gear it makes this process much easier than trying to pull that off with a double rope system.

The upsides of using a twin or half rope system is that you don't have that extra weight of a rope in your pack while climbing. You also have a "real" rope that you can lead on if the ropes get stuck when pulling them on rappel. To safely use a tagline it's recommended that you thread the fat rope through the anchor. That means you are pulling the skinny rope. If for some reason the ropes get stuck you might be hanging there with just a skinny accessory cord in your hand.

There are a few manufactures out there selling skinny taglines that can hold one or two leader falls (using it as a twin). If you are going to be using your tagline a lot it is probably worth looking into one of those ropes.

—Jeff Ward


Got a question about climbing? Submit your question in the Ask the Master forum and either Jeff Ward (AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide) or Martin Volken (IFMGA Mountain Guide) will supply the answer.

Reader's Commentary:

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Brett commented on 19-May-2017 06:16 AM5 out of 5 stars
Any thoughts on belief that half ropes put less stress on ice anchors (screws) when the leader takes a fall?
KRIS WILLIAMS commented on 29-May-2017 07:06 AM3 out of 5 stars
Is this just half an article? Rope drag, marginal protection benefits, 2 good skinny 1/2 ropes vs 1 single + tag real world weight differences, abbing over edges, managing to core 1 rope etc etc etc. Generally these articles are good this one seems poor to say the least.