What's the Right Length for a Cordelette?

Mikepowers Small

by Michael Powers, IFMGA
AAI Senior Guide & Director for Staff Development


From the September 2006 edition of AAI's E-newsletter

What is a good length for a cordelette in an alpine rack?

Also, is there a good place to have trip plans validated or an online place or guidebook series that includes them? Being a new climber, I would like to be double checked for the first few plans I make. Thanks!

- Jeff Langton (Woodinville, WA)


Dear Jeff,

I personally like cordelettes for alpine racks to be 12-15 feet long, which is about 3-5 feet shorter than the typical cordelette found on most rock racks. One way to determine a good length is to coil the loop in half - and then half again - so that the four individual loops are all the same length. The coiled loops together should be the same length as a single shoulder-length sling and should fit over one should in the same manner. This also makes for a quick and easy way to carry the cordelette. Another great way is to take those four strands and tie them into an overhand knot, then clip the tidy bundle onto your harness.

As with anything, there are both advantages and disadvantages to shorter and longer cordelettes. A longer cordelette will give you more range for tying together anchor points that are far apart and will also offer more opportunities to sling larger objects. Disadvantages to carrying a longer cordelette mostly have to do with ease of use and, of course, weight. A long cordelette will be cumbersome for building anchors in close quarters, and it will also get in the way more when stored on your harness.

Your question about trip planning brings up a very interesting point and touches on subject matter in which there is a lot of gray area. There are no resources or on-line services available for verifying the accuracy or validity of a trip plan or climbing strategy. I would also add that if you happen across such a thing, be wary of the advice that you receive there and always consider feedback on such to be just that, advice from an uncheckable source. Never trust anyone or any source of information blindly. Even after years of experience and countless days in the mountains, experienced climbers can still make incorrect assumptions, judgment errors, and miscalculations on things like distance, the amount of food and water needed, what length of rope to carry, and many other such decisions.

Getting better at trip planning and strategy can only happen by accumulating personal experience. Your strategy most likely will vary from that of others because it will be based on your personal fitness, skill, and comfort level, and also on your past experiences on similar objectives.

There are certainly ways to jumpstart or rapidly accelerate this learning curve and process. Participating in our Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership program is one such way.

The best way to validate and evaluate your trip plans is to review them after your climb and to see how well your planning compares with your actual times, distances, rations, landmarks, and so on. Over time you will get a better sense of how accurate your ability to estimate these things is, and you will also get a feel for your preferred strategy for undertaking your chosen objectives.

Any verbal or published (guidebook) information that you get - including number of days, camping locations, and the like - should always be taken with a grain of salt. Very little is objective in the art of describing difficulty and estimating time in the mountains. There are so many variables that even the very best authors seldom get every detail right, and most have at least a few serious errors somewhere in their text. My personal rule is to never trust one source of information for trip planning. For most mountain ranges there are a number of resources available to aid in the trip planning process. I compare numerous guidebook descriptions with what is available on the internet and then use what I know and have heard over the years to formulate a personal strategy for my chosen objective. Again, the key to improving your skills in this area is to do two things after each trip: 1) compare what you actually encountered to what you had planned for, and 2) evaluate your planning methodology.

We are always available at AAI to give advice and feedback on such things and would be happy to talk with you about any plans that might fall within our area of expertise. Take our feedback on the same basis that we advise you take it from others. We wish you good luck with your adventures to come!

- Mike Powers

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