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Rope teams: Roping up and rope spacing on a glacier

Subchapter: Rope team

Your insurance: The rope team

The rope is your insurance on a high alpine tour. It facilitates a rescue in the event of a crevasse fall, and on steep slopes or ridge traverses it is used to protect both the lead climber and followers through belays and other protection points. The rope is a vital link between partners in a rope team – nevertheless, you should decide on a case-by-case basis whether a situation calls for a rope team or whether it is safer to travel without roping up.


The optimum size for a rope team is three to five people. The bigger the rope team, the less the risk of being dragged into a crevasse in the event of a fall. With a two-man rope team the risk is considerably higher – which is why this format should be left to experienced mountaineers. With larger groups (more than five people), it’s best to split up into smaller teams because otherwise the cadence can become irregular and the ascent may get sluggish and tiring, particularly for those at the rear. In general, the following rule applies: The bigger the rope team, the shorter the spacing – more about this in the following slides.

Four and five-man rope teams Three-man rope team Two-man rope team

The tying-in distance for a four-man rope team is eight to ten meters. Brake knots are not required as there are enough members to arrest a fall into a crevasse. In a rope team of five, the distance between each member should be eight meters. A rope team should not be larger than this as it will have a negative impact upon cadence.

In a rope team of three, you should keep a distance of 10 to 12 meters. On steeper terrain, you should tie brake knots to help arrest a fall. Tie the brake knots in the middle third of the rope. Tie the first knot 3 to 4 meters from the last climber, because the rope must be able to cut into the lip of the crevasse before the knot can act as a brake. The other brake knots are then tied at a distance of 1 to 1.5 meters.

The smaller the rope team, the longer the distance between team members. In a two-man rope team, you should keep a distance of 18 meters apart and always tie three or four brake knots into the middle third of the rope. This format should only be used by experienced mountaineers.

Accordion method glacier Ziehharmonikamethode Gletscher Ziehharmonikamethode Gletscher


In a three-man rope team, the distance between partners should be around ten meters. Starting from the middle of the rope, each member ties in at this distance; excess rope is coiled around the body or stowed under the lid pocket of a backpack. This excess rope may be required for a crevasse rescue with a pulley system. A simple way to determine the appropriate spacing and excess rope length is to rope up using the “accordion” method.

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5
Roping up

The “accordion” method is a quick and simple way to ensure a three-man rope team ties in with the right spacing. First, the middle person in the rope team clips the center of the rope to the belay loop of their harness using a locksafe carabiner.

Walk backwards

The two other rope partners each clip one of the strands of rope into their harness using a carabiner and together walk backwards away from the person in the middle. The latter keeps hold of the two ends of the rope.

Correct spacing

In this way, the two strands of rope are halved to give the correct spacing. All three members can now tie into the rope using a figure eight loop and locksafe carabiner.

Stowing the excess rope

The excess rope is then made into butterfly coils by the front and rear members of the three-man rope team, then tied and stowed under the backpack lid pocket ready for use in case of a crevasse rescue. This ensures there is enough spare rope for a pulley rescue.


Rope discipline

Once the partner check is complete, you’re good to go. The rope should always be kept taut on a glacier to arrest a fall directly.


Coiling excess rope around your body


Excess rope can also be stowed in coiled loops around the body instead of as a butterfly coil in a backpack.


Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4
Tying in

First, tie in at the required distance using a figure eight loop and locksafe carabiner.

Coiling the rope

Next, start looping the excess rope around your head and under one arm, beginning at the roping up knot. The loops should be of equal length and reach to near your waist. Once the rope has been looped until just short of the end, the loops are slung diagonally across the upper body.

Securing the coiled rope

The next step is to create a loop in the end of the rope. Feed this through the roping up loop, then from back to front through the rope coils around the body. Then wrap the loop around the coils until the end of the excess rope measures 30 to 40cm.

Tying off

An over hand knot is used to tie off the excess rope around the three strands running from the roping up knot. In the event of a crevasse fall, the load will only be on the harness, thus avoiding the risk of strangulation.