A lot of clubs use ladders. They’re versatile pieces of kit; suitable for novice trips, the odd short ‘nuisance’ drop, and in some cases just faster and more convenient (Knackertrapper, a classic case).
But here’s a suggestion that might improve safety, and also save a bit of cash!
Everyone knows that there are three standard weak / fail points on ladders:
i) strain on wires above the top rung, if wires are angled in to a single point (bolt) belay
ii) C links, which traditionally have a breaking load of c. 300kg
iii) the climber / ladder interface (the caver lets go and falls off)
Now, there’s not much to be done about the last, except use a safety line. But the other two, we can fix pretty easily. A common procedure among instructors is to fix a cord of 6 – 8mm at one end of the ladder, to act as a spreader. To do this, take about 2m of cord and tie a **rethreaded bowline-on-the-bight** through the eyelets – not the C Links, or else you’re retaining the physically weakest link in the system. Get the loops long enough to stop a tight angle forming at the wires coming out of the top rung – but don’t make the loops too long either
This should leave you with a good tail of rope, which you can then attach to your chosen belay.
Ideally, the tail is long enough to tie an Italian or slippery hitch around a krab. This just means that the next time a novice puts a leg through the rungs and hasn’t the strength to get themselves out of the pickle, you can release the knot and lower it a few inches – which should be just enough for them to free themselves, while you hold their weight on the lifeline.
If there are no novices to look after, or the ladder belay is a bit low for comfort, then a clove hitch gives the highest possible take off; or even, if you have a P hanger in place, tie in directly to that; and if you have a mishap, then at least the ladder can still be released by cutting the rope. Not such a good option as releasing it; but at least it’s an option…
So – using a rethreaded bowline-on-the-bight (or other compact, easily made two-loop knot) you have:
i) made a releasable belay
ii) made a belay that can be as high as possible to cope with sub-optimal rigging
iii) made the system stronger by avoiding C links
iv) saved a few pennies – because spreaders start at £7.00 and go up to rather more!
v) made it easier to coil the ladder in a ‘rough and ready’ way – coil it in the usual way, with the tail on the outside, and then wrap the rope around the ladder a couple of times and use half-hitches to secure it. Pretty swift and secure.
Worth a try?