As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report

Fixed Rope

A fixed rope is a rope anchored in place to assist soldiers in movement over difficult terrain. Its simplest form is a rope tied off on the top of steep terrain. As terrain becomes steeper or more difficult, fixed rope systems may require intermediate anchors along the route. Moving on a fixed rope requires minimal equipment. The use of harnesses, ascenders, and other technical gear makes fixed rope movement easier, faster, and safer, but adds to total mission weight.


To install a fixed rope, two experienced climbers rope up for a roped climb. The leader must have the necessary equipment to rig the anchor at the top of the pitch. Although leader protection is usually not needed on a typical slope, additional hardware can be brought along and placed at the leader's discretion. The second will establish a belay if protection is being placed. Otherwise, he will stack and manage the rope. He ensures the rope runs smoothly up the slope and does not get tangled as the climber ascends. Upon reaching the end of the pitch, the leader will establish the top anchor. Once the anchor is rigged, the leader will take up any remaining slack between himself and the second. He will anchor the installation rope and remain tied into the rope. The second unties from his end of the rope and begins to climb. If the leader placed protection, the second will clean the pitch on his way up.


All personnel using the fixed rope grasp the rope with the palm downward and use it for assistance as they ascend the slope (Figure 7-1). An individual can easily prevent a long fall by attaching himself to the rope with a sling using a friction knot (for example, Prusik, autoblock). The knot is slid along the rope as the individual ascends. If the climber slips and loses control of the rope, the friction knot will grab the rope and arrest the fall. The friction knot used in this manner is referred to as a self-belay (Figure 7-2).

Figure 7-1. Using a fixed rope.

Figure 7-1. Using a fixed rope.

Figure 7-2. Using a self-belay.

Figure 7-2. Using a self-belay.


If the fixed rope is to be used on the descent, it can be left in place and recovered after the last rappel. If not, the last climber will tie into the rope and be belayed from above. The climber now can easily free the rope if it gets caught on anything as it is taken up from the belayer.

Fixed Rope With Intermediate Anchors

Whenever the route varies from the fall line of the slope, the fixed rope must be anchored at intermediate anchor points (Figure 7-3). Intermediate anchor points should also be used on any long routes that exceed the length of a single rope. The use of intermediate anchor points creates independent sections and allows for changes in direction from one section to the next. The independent sections allow for more personnel to move on the fixed rope. This type of fixed rope is commonly used along exposed ridges and narrow mountain passes.

Figure 7-3. Fixed rope with intermediate anchors.

Figure 7-3. Fixed rope with intermediate anchors.

a. Installation. Two experienced climbers prepare for a roped climb. The leader will carry a typical rack with enough hardware to place an adequate number of intermediate anchor points. The second sets up a standard belay. The route they select must have the following characteristics:

  • Most suitable location, ease of negotiation, avoids obstacles.

  • Availability of anchors (natural and artificial).

  • Area is safe from falling rock or ice.

  • Tactical considerations are met.

  • A rope routed between knee and chest height (waist high preferred).

  • Rope crossovers should be avoided.

As the leader climbs the route, he will place the anchors and route the climbing rope as in a typical roped climb. The leader makes use of any available natural anchors.

Note: Sling attachments should be kept as short and snug as possible to ensure that a load on the fixed rope below the anchor is placed only on that anchor. This will prevent one section from affecting another section.

(1) The leader places an anchor at all points where a change of direction occurs. He also makes every attempt to route the rope so personnel will not have to cross back and forth over the rope between sections.

(2) When the leader reaches the end of the pitch, he temporarily anchors the rope. He should use a sling to anchor himself if there is any chance of slipping and falling. He then takes up any excess slack, and attaches the rope to the anchor.


Enough slack must be left in the rope so the second can tie the knots necessary to fix the rope.

(3) The second unties from the rope and anchors it at the bottom. He attaches himself to the rope with a sling using a friction knot to create a self-belay. The self-belay will protect the second as he climbs and fixes the rope to the intermediate anchor points. When he reaches an anchor point, he unclips the climbing rope so he can advance the self-belay beyond the anchor point. He then takes the slack out of the section below the anchor point. He ensures that the fixed rope will be approximately knee to chest level as climbers negotiate the installation. He then attaches the rope using an anchor knot (for example, middle-of-the-rope clove hitch, double figure-eight). The second then moves to next anchor point and repeats the process.

(4) If a long runner is to be used at any anchor point, the second should adjust the section below it so the runner is oriented in the direction where the load or pull on the anchor will come from. This will help isolate the section.

(5) The sections are normally adjusted fairly snug between anchor points. A slack section may be necessary to move around obstacles in the route or large bulges in the terrain. If clove hitches are used, adjusting the clove hitches at each end of the section can leave any amount of slack.

(6) A middle-of-the-rope Prusik safetied with a figure eight may be used when utility ropes are available. These are used to adjust the rope height (either higher or lower).

(7) In addition to the fixed rope, the second could anchor etriers to be used as footholds.

(8) When the second reaches the end of the pitch, the rope is removed from the top anchor and the remaining slack is removed from the last section. The rope is reattached to the anchor. If additional fixed rope is required the procedure is repeated using another rope. The second will tie the ropes together before anchoring the next section, creating one continuous fixed rope.

b. Utilization. Personnel should be attached to the fixed rope during movement for safety reasons.

(1) If a self-belay is desired, a harness should be worn. A friction knot will be tied to the installation rope using a short sling. The sling will then be attached to the harness. Another short sling will be used as a safety line. One end of the sling will be attached to the harness and the other will have a carabiner inserted. This safety line is also attached to the fixed rope during movement. Once the climber reaches an anchor point, he removes his safety line and attaches it to the anchor or attaches it to the next section of rope. He will then untie the friction knot and tie another friction knot beyond the anchor point. The use of a mechanical ascender in the place of the friction knot could greatly speed up movement.

(2) There will be many situations where a self-belay may not be required. In these situations an individual may attach himself to the fixed rope using only a safety line. The individual will tie into the middle of a sling rope approximately 12 feet long. Fixed loops are tied into the running ends and a carabiner is attached into each of the fixed loops. The individual now has two points of attachments to the fixed rope. Upon reaching an anchor point, one safety line is removed and advanced beyond the anchor point onto the next section. Then the next safety is removed and placed on the next section. This way the individual is always secured to the fixed rope at all times.

(3) Personnel will move one at a time per section during the entire movement. Once an individual changes over to the next section he signals the next man to climb. When descending on the fixed rope, personnel can down climb using the installation for assistance. Another option would be to descend using a hasty rappel.

c. Retrieval. When the installation is retrieved, the next to last man on the system will untie the knots at the intermediate anchor points and reclips the rope as he ascends. He will be attached to rope using a self-belay. Once he reaches the top of the pitch, the rope should be running the same as when the leader initially placed it. The last man will untie the rope from the bottom anchor and tie into the rope. He will the clean the pitch as he climbs while being belayed from above.

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