For a climber, learning to do the Tyrolean traverse can be a lot of fun! Packed with the right gear and practice, you too will be able to master this rather challenging technique.
First-time climbers might feel that the Tyrolean traverse isn’t suitable for them, but even kids can do it safely at appropriate heights.
Keep on reading to learn more about the basics of the Tyrolean traverse.
In this guide you will find:
What Is a Tyrolean Traverse?
Simply stated, the Tyrolean traverse is a technique used for crossing between 2 high points on a rope without a cart. This technique is used in rock climbing, caving, river crossing, technical tree climbing, and mountain rescue.
It can be done for recreational or functional purposes and, in some cases, might be the only way to save someone’s life.
Also known as the Tyrol, a fixed line or rope is used to cross from one point to another across an open span. In most cases, the rope is extended above water or relatively low ground.
The person doing the Tyrolean traverse should be wearing a harness to support their body. The harness is then clipped to a rope or cable, and the climber will be able to push themselves forward.
In some cases, pulleys are used to pull the body across the line.
More experienced climbers can use their hands and feet to support their bodies, but, for maximum safety, protective gear should be worn.
The level of difficulty of this technique depends on a few factors.
- The length between the 2 points
- The height from the rope or cable to the ground
- The presence of ground or a water body under the extended rope
- The weather conditions
Typically, when the distance you want to travel between the 2 points is very long, this will put more strain on the climber. Even though a safety harness is usually used to support the body, it’s still challenging to travel between 2 points that are situated far away from each other. The risk of getting tired or having your gear tangled increases the longer the distance.
Things can be more challenging if you need to carry a backpack across. You won’t actually have to put it on, but you need to secure it to the rope and pull it across in the same way.
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The technique is the same regardless of the height of the rope but some climbers feel more confident if the rope isn’t set up too high above the ground or water below. If you were to slip and fall from a rope that is set only 1 foot above the ground, it’s a lot less likely there will be an injury than if the rope was, say, 10 feet off the ground. Falling into a body of water, even from a higher rope, further decreases the risk of severe and fatal injuries.
Windy, cold, and very hot weather can bring additional challenges. If you’re not wearing the right protective gear, the wind and the low temperatures can affect your ability to hold onto the rope, even if you’re using a harness or pulleys. If you’re traveling a long distance in hot weather, you might get too tired or overheated before you reach your destination.
Practicing the Tyrolean traverse in several settings is the best way to overcome these challenges. This technique takes time, patience, and lots of practice.
How to Set Up a Tryolean Traverse
I’ll explain the basic set up for setting up a Tryolean traverse. This is the technique I used when climbing Tasmania’s famous Totem Pole.
Disclaimer, this is used for informational purposes only, you should consult a professional guide prior to attempting.
Step One: You’re going to need two ropes, one rope to climb with, and one rope to rappel with and do the traverse. Set up a secure anchor on the side to which you’ll want to return back to (which we’ll refer to as the ‘east’ side). This anchor should be more or less parallel to the anchor you’ll use on the other (west) side while doing the traverse.
Step Two: Rappel using the first rope. Then attache the end of that rope to your harness a trail. You must keep trailing this rope with you while climbing in order to use it to return.
Step Three: Climb to the top or the route with your partner mulit-pitch style, so that you’re both at the top.
Step Four: Pull the tope as tight as you can by hand, and then tie off the rope you were trailing to the anchor in front of you. This can be done in various ways depending on what type of anchor you have, but if you have two strong bolts, a simple way is make two overhand knots on each side of the the bolts, and then connect them together with a locking carabiner.
Step Five: The first climber will now be able to use this to cross back to the starting point using the single rope traverse you have set up. The first climber will now cross, trailing the other end of the same rope they are using to traverse. This is important, because you need both ends of the rope on the east side.
Step Six: The second climber will now undue the overhand knots at the anchor on the west side while the first climber pulls the end of the rope they where trailing tight, and attaches it to the original anchor on the east side.
Step Seven: The second climber on the west side will now cross using the now double rope traverse set up by climber one.
Step Eight: Undue the knots on the east side, and pull the rope through. You’re done!
How to Do a Tyrolean Traverse
Here is how to do the actually Tyrolean travers, ie the actuation of pulling yourself across the gap once the ropes have already been set up.
Before you start, take off your backpack. The backpack should be attached to the line using a carabiner behind your body, so you can pull it forward. You can use a daisy chain or a double-length sling and attach one end to the belay loop while securing the other one to the top handle.
Use the Right Gear
A longer sling should be your backup, while a quick draw should hold your body close to the line. A maximum length of about 6 inches between your body and the line is adequate; otherwise, you will have to put your body closer to the line. This is extremely crucial, especially if you’re traversing over a body of water.
When your body is too far away from the line, you’ll be overextending your arms, putting too much pressure on them. As a result, you’ll struggle to push your body forward.
Get Clipped In
Sometimes, the line will be already bolted into a rock or tied around a tree. Try to clip your draw to the line or use the backup to secure yourself. This way, you will stay safe even if you slip.
Wrap your legs around the line and use your hands to push your body forward as that will help you to maintain more stability.
Stabilize yourself and make sure that you’re not swinging. Start by pushing off the tree or rock to gain some momentum before you start moving. Use your core muscles to pull your body forward and move your hands to the front.
If you want to move faster, you can keep your legs hanging free. This works best when the line is taut because it will put a lot of pressure on your body if the line is sagging.
Make sure that you’re safe to land before getting off the Tyrol line. Unwrap your legs from the line and unclip your backpack and other pieces of gear.
When to Do a Tyrolean Traverse
In most cases, the Tyrol is done when a climber wants to return to the main wall after ascending a detached pillar. After extending a rope or cable from the top of the pillar to the main wall, you can traverse through the air after supporting your body in a safety harness.
Apart from being done for fun, as mentioned before, the Tyrolean traverse sometimes is the only way to save someone’s life or reach a specific point.
When someone is stranded or is unable to go on with their survival expedition, doing the Tyrol might be the only option to reach the mainland or the base camp. This technique is also used in evacuation when the main roads and other methods aren’t safe enough or won’t let the rescue team reach those who need help on time.
If someone is injured, a stretcher can be attached to the rope. Pulleys can be used in this case to make the evacuation easier and faster. In rescue operations, two people might be needed to finish the job successfully.
If you want to climb a pillar that you don’t want to abseil, you can use the Tyrolean traverse technique. Attaching the knot to a giant tree on the starting point is one of the best ways to secure the rope because it won’t affect the tension.
A climber will climb up the slope leading to the destination point and secure one end of the rope. You can then use an anchor to secure the other end of the rope to the destination point. The rope shouldn’t be too tight, so it doesn’t put too much pressure on the anchor.
When a climber crosses from the starting point to the destination point, they carry another rope so that there are two ropes with a void between them. The two ropes should be joined with a knot and a pair of pulleys or double inline pulley can be used for maximum security.
The Tyrolean traverse technique is quite common in river crossing and other situations where the area to cross is quite challenging or impassable. On some popular trails, you will find lines that have already been set up for climbers to use. In many cases, the climbers will have to set up their own lines using the right gear.
Something to consider is the fact that holding onto a metal rope using your bare hands is extremely uncomfortable and may lead to hand injuries, and therefore not recommended. If you don’t have a harness to attach to the line, it’s a good idea to make one of webbing and slings.
Famous Tyrolean Traverses
The following famous traverses are well-recognized by climbers all over the world and are usually referred to for inspiration.
Lost Arrow Spire Yosemite
This is a detached pillar in the Yosemite Valley in California. This route is one of the most famous technical climbing routes and is recognized in climbing guides. It’s an attraction to all climbers who want to experiment with the Tyrol.
The Totem Pole Tasmania
This is a famous sea stack that attracts climbers from all over the world. It’s home to multiple climbing and Tyrolean traverse routes and was also the site where the famous climber Paul Pritchard suffered his serious injury.
Cliffhanger Sylvester Stallone Opening Scene
The Cliffhanger movie’s opening scene is one of the most famous movie scenes showing the Tyrolean traverse technique.
Tyrolean Traverse:Wrap Up
There you have it, all the basics you need to know before you get out there and try this adventurous technique.
As always, make sure you get proper training before you try this on the rock. Having an experienced guide or climbing buddy can help to ensure your safety as you gain experience.
There are several situations where the Tyrolean traverse is the only technique that allows you to move from one point to another. With the right gear and enough practice, you’ll be able to pull it off.