Loads on a 5:1 Tensioning System

Tyroleans have been a bit of hot topic with me recently. I’ve developed some sites to use in my woodland near Whaley Bridge and been involved in some testing with BCA Trainer Assessors for the LCMLA scheme. We’ve measured the actual forces held by the anchors in a number of tyroleans but a really interesting questions was yet to be answered definitively:

In using a high mechanical advantage tensioning system, how much force is being applied to the rope via the teeth of the jammer and could we be at risk of damaging the rope?

To explain, when using a 3:1 or 5:1 system as is common with tyrolean set-ups, a toothed jammer is most commonly used to create the attachment point on the rope to build the mechanical advantage system. The force applied by whomever is hauling in is multiplied in a mechanical advantage system, which is kind of the point, and all this force is transmitted to the rope via the toothed jammer. The picture below shows a 5:1 set up with a Rock Exotica Enforcer load cell.

5to1 load test (1)

If you omit the load cell from this set up you have a standard 5:1. As you can see it is the toothed cam on the Petzl Ascension device that is the contact point with the rope. This device, like many of the Petzl rope clamps, is approved for use with 8 to 13mm ropes but comes with the warning that the toothed cam can damage or cut the rope at forces around 4kN for smaller diameters and 6.5kN for the largest. As it is hard to compare one rope to another, even of the same diameter, most rope professionals simply take the 4kN figure as that which must never be achieved in use.

5to1 load test (3)

Using 2 people to tension the 5:1 system, the Enforcer gave a max force of 2.88kN through the jammer. Had we been on more solid ground (and my partner not been a positively tiny 5’2″ & 50kg) I think we could have gone higher.

Inspecting the rope (Gleistein 9mm Type A) after moving the jammer showed a flat spot and gaps in the sheath where the teeth had opened up the weave. There was some furring but it was impossible to say if this is new or was already present on this rope.

5to1 load test (5) 5to1 load test (6) 5to1 load test (7)

A repeat test on a different section of rope produced a force of 2.66kN and a similar flat spot and sheath opening.

We then set up a standard 3:1 ‘z-rig’ and repeated the test.

3to1 load test (1)3to1 load test (3)3to1 load test (2)

This test gave us a force of only 1.84kN using the same 2 person team with a less pronounced, but still visible, opening of the rope sheath bundles and overall flattening.

I think these observations uphold the understanding that the tensioning in tyrolean systems must be done with great care and by using the least amount of tensioning required for the crossing. I will conduct a further observational test at a real underground site with 10mm or above diametre rope for a comparison but the force figures will not be too dissimilar. It would be interesting to find the 2 heaviest/strongest volunteers I can and use them on a 5:1 system to see if it is possible to creep further toward the 4kN limit.

In conclusion, you can get close to, or potentially exceed, the 4kN safe load on a toothed-cam jammer when using tensioning systems in tyroleans. Tyroleans really are an element of verticality that you need to understand well and get training for to know how to be safe. Go and do a CIC/MIA/UKMR or other course or get in touch with me for a chat.

I’ll be investigating this further at some point but it might be worth looking at employing the use of a non-toothed rope grab like the Petzl Shunt or even an appropriate prussic knot as a way of limiting damage to ropes in high mechanical advantage systems.

NB – The current Petzl literature for the current Croll and Basic do not show a load at which the ascenders may damage the rope. These devices are sold as personal ascenders and are only labelled to take up to 140kg of user weight.