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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 ten to twelve 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 15 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 5 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 1,5  to 2 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


On high alpine tours, rope is often carried in a coil when climbing. This method of climbing with a shortened rope is called “short pitching”. The advantage of this is that you don’t need to draw in unnecessary rope every time you reach a protection point.

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5
Tying in

First, tie yourself in to the end of the rope using a figure eight loop.


Then start looping the excess rope over your head and under one arm, beginning at the tie-in knot. The loops should be of equal length and reach to near your waist.

Coiling the rope

As soon as you have coiled enough rope to leave just more than the desired distance to the person at the rear, hang the coil diagonally over your upper body.


The next step is to feed the rope loop through the belay loop on your harness, up between the coiled rope and your body and over the coiled rope. Pull the loop until it is approx. 40cm long and tie it off with an over hand knot around the outgoing rope.

Securing the coiled rope

For protection for a tensile load, tie the rope to the belay loop of your harness using a clove hitch on a locked carabiner.