Tension traverses and pendulums when lowering

These techniques can prove useful in a variety of scenarios where tension, together with movement, can be used to access something that is lower and to the side of your initial anchor. These techniques are commonly used by big wall rock climbers to move from one crack to another or over a blank section of rock but can also be used for retrieving a line, rigging a banner, or positioning oneself for work – among other things.

To do a tension traverse you must have a surface in front of you to move on; the less vertical the easier.  Lower yourself off your anchor and keep your feet flat against the wall for added friction; now walk yourself across the wall and keep eyes on your target as you make your way towards it.

A climber sets up for a tension traverse on Mount Rushmore in order to retrieve a banner that had shifted due to high winds.  The red arrow marks the direction and distance of the traverse.

The farther you have to move horizontally then the higher you want the anchor you lower from to be from your intended destination.  You want the tension to help you so keep your angle small to avoid fighting additional forces and think about the distance you’re moving – including what you may swing in to if you lose purchase!  It may be easier to have a partner lower you in cases where you need to use your hands and feet to pull yourself along as you go down.

A climber uses a line lowered from above to retrieve the corner of a banner on Mount Rushmore following a tension traverse.

With the tension traverse complete and additional line fixed for retrieval the climber ascends to their initial anchor and uses the retrieval line to haul the banner into position with a partner.

A pendulum is the dynamic version of a tension traverse.  Consider the swing and risks involved.  Do not do this in cases where obstacles and hazards exist.  Lower yourself off your anchor and stop along the same horizontal plane of your intended destination; lower yourself slightly below this point and lock off your descent. The tricky part is judging how far to lower so when in doubt start out high.  Now run back and forth across the wall until you’re able to swing past the blank section to your final destination – don’t risk taking an uncontrolled swing, anchor in and get safe.

Greenpeace Climbers deploy a banner on the face of Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, SD, on July 8, 2009. Photo: Kate Davison/Greenpeace

Warning:  Tension traverses and pendulums when lowering involve movement and this can be damaging to your rope.  Protect any edges, use rope protection, get eyes on your lines, tie stopper knots at the end of your rope(s), and assess all associated risks before proceeding.