The Kiwi coil – shorten the rope on varied terrain


Taking in coils of rope to shorten the distance between you and others on your rope team, (aka the Kiwi Coil, apparently named after the New Zealand guides who invented it) is a very useful but often misunderstood and underutilized technique.  Often, quickly shortening your rope, tying it off, and then walking just a few feet away from others on your rope team is faster, safer, and a more efficient way to move in alpine terrain than keeping your rope team stretched out.

Consider this scenario:  You and your two pals are on the Disappointment Cleaver route on Mt. Rainier.  From your high camp at camp Muir, you first cross a glacier for about 15 minutes, then go up a rock/scree spur for about 20 minutes, then another 30 minute glacier crossing, then get on the rock/scree of the Cleaver for an hour or so, then back again on to glacial ice, . . . you get the picture.  Of course, you need to be roped up with proper distance between partners on the glacier. But when you get to the rock section and don’t need a rope for safety, what you do? You have three choices: 1) completely untie and store the rope, 2) continue walking with 40 or so feet of rope between you, and 3) shorten the rope and tie it off.

Plans one and two both have drawbacks. Completely untying, coiling and storing the rope can take a lot of time, if you need to do it repeatedly on a longer route. Continuing to walk on easy terrain with 40 feet of rope stretched between you is a Big Hassle, as the rope will constantly get caught on small outcrops of rock or snow, and possibly cause rockfall on you or others.

A better technique is to take in coils of rope until you are just a few meters away from your partner, then securely tying the rope off. After a bit of practice, you’ll be able to do it in about one minute without even stopping. When you again find yourself on terrain where you need a full rope length between you, dropping the coils and stretching out the rope takes just a few seconds.

(A clarification: Tying off coils of rope like this is NOT a preferred technique for traveling on glaciers, because you may need that extra rope available for a crevasse rescue. For glacier travel, the end climbers typically will take in about 25 feet of rope, clip into a fig 8 or butterfly loop, and then simply stash the extra rope in or on their packs.)

While the technique is simple, it is rather hard to describe in words.  (But we’ll try:)

1) take in coils around your neck, 2) take a bight of rope about 3 feet long, 3) pass the bight through your tie in loop and the coiled rope loops, 4) tie off the bight with an overhand knot on the load strand of the rope, and 5) cinch the knot tight against the coils.

Clear as mud, right?  Fortunately, there’s a great instructional video on Youtube from a guide that’s worth several pages of explanation.