Royal Robbins and the use of ropes in the sixties : LUSENET : Mountaineering : One Thread

I'm reading ROYAL ROBBINS, SPIRIT OF THE AGE by Pat Ament. I read about some occassions where the climbers of those days in the sixties fall (of course), but when I look at the pictures in the book, I wonder how they use the rope. Did they have a harnas or did they just bind the rope around there body and if so, how did they survive the falls?

-- Jaap Lampe (, October 15, 1998


They tied in with the bowline knot, but also they didn't fall too often. "Working" a route (hanging on each move) was too painful, and also frowned upon ethically.

Short falls on a bowline are not too bad, but you can't hang with all your weight on it very long, after a minute it really hurts and starts squeezing your chest. But you have to remember most of the routes they were doing were not overhanging so you could get your feet back on the rock after a fall.

I once held a bouncing fall of over 75' on a climber tied in with a bowline (this was in the 80's, but we were trying to save weight on an easy route by not taking harnesses). He went unconscious, but I was able to lower him to a ledge and he soon recovered. Amazingly he received only minor/moderate bumps and abrasions.


-- George Bell (, October 15, 1998.

Don't forget George, that Robbins and others of his era, tied Swami belts (one-inch webbing that went around their waist several times, using a water knot (ring bend)). Then they tied the climbing rope around the Swami belt, using a bowline, or a double looped bowline, and sometimes backed it up with an overhand knot. Thus, there was more surface area, thanks to the Swami belt, and a bit more dynamic response, again due to the Swami belt, that absorbed some of the force of a fall, although probably not a whole lot more than just tying the climbing rope around their waist, one or more times.

-- David L. Cole (, January 12, 1999.

As one of the old guys who climbed in that era (and am still climbing), I can tell you that the two posted answers are close, but not quite. Yes, some people just tied into the rope, but usually with a bowline on a coil, not just a bowline. We also had learned by the 60s to back up any knots on synthetic rope - important on laid nylon and goldline, and even more important on kern-mantle ropes. I once had a nylon rope come undone just as I was about to move off the belay stance - always backed up my knots after that (about 1959).

Swami belts and swiss seats were tied out of 1 inch nylon tubular sling by virtually all rock climbers by 1960. In each case, the waist part was 3 or more (often 5 or 6) wraps, finished with a water knot (also called overhand followthrough), which in turn was backed. The two major reasons for the harness were spreading the load and (since "the leader never falls") getting a few extra feet of rope (50 meter ropes had become standard by then, replacing the 120 foot lengths that were common in the 50s and earlier). Never did figure out why most climbs I did before getting my first 50 meter rope had belay stances about 100 feet apart and the ones I did after getting that rope were never closer than 130 feet apart.

Sewn harnesses were in use in Europe in the 60s, and lots of California, Colorado, and New England climbers were using them by the mid-60s, especially those of us who had spent some time in Europe (we also were using chocks by 64 or 65, contrary to some books that state that chocks didn't appear in the US until the mid to late 70s - in fact most Tuolumne climbs were pin-less before 1970).

Aside from the greater give of a multi-wrap swami belt, we also heard a lot about dynamic belays. When you are doing a body belay, you naturally let the rope slide a bit, unlike belay devices, where people tend to lock up on then.

-- Bill Straka (, September 14, 1999.

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