By Patrick Harper
A lot of adventure racers look at the ropes as a time to rest, but teams should never underestimate the ropes, as they can make or break your race. This is especially true if the ropes require more physical work than a simple rappel, where gravity is on your side. Like ascending, Tyrolean traverses require strength, but proper technique can save you time and energy, and maybe the race. While a zip line is a rope that starts high and ends low, therefore allowing you to "zip" along, a Tyrolean traverse's low point is the middle of the rope; you zip for half the ride, but must pull yourself across for the rest.
Here is the proper technique (Yes, there is such a thing!) for getting across a Tyrolean traverse.
1. Proper Gear - Using a pulley is much faster than a carabiner. (Note that one or the other may be required by the race organization.) Make sure that your harness is tight, and your sling the right length - not too long, as you need to be able to reach up and grab the rope without extending too much, but not too short as a short sling can make extending on the pull impossible. Make sure that your pack is tight to the body and the straps are not dangling, so that nothing gets caught up in your gear, and wear gloves (bike gloves or other leather gloves) - your hands will hurt quite a bit without them.
2. Consider hanging your pack - It is sometimes beneficial to hang your pack off the harness, close under your butt. This takes your pack's weight off of you and places it on the rope, making it easier on your core muscles to pull yourself across. To do this, you need an extra carabiner and an extra sling that is long enough to clip your pack to the carabiner that's attached to the rope, rather than to your harness.
3. Proper positioning - Keep your body in as much of a horizontal position as possible: feet out, head up. The back of your head should always be aimed towards the direction of travel. Try to keep your body as still as possible. Watch out where your head and hands are - rope burns and pinched fingers are no fun. The better your body position and gear setup, the farther you will go without having to pull.
4. Pull - Once your momentum stops and you come to a halt somewhere in the middle of the rope, it is time to start pulling. If your gear was set up correctly, you should be nearly kissing the ropes - your mouth should be that close. You want a short sling here so that you can grab the ropes without extending your arms too much.
5. Swing low - Use your weight, not your arms. Keep both legs together and swing them from the hips to create a forward swinging motion, while pulling with the arms.
6. Stay horizontal - Keep your body pointed in the direction of travel and try to stay horizontal. The more weight you put on the harness, the more friction, and the slower and harder it is to move.
7. Hang loose - Hang in the harness after each pull to keep from sliding back and to rest your arms. When you are pulling, lighten up in your harness by raising your hips and pulling with your arms toward the rope to stay horizontal so you move with little resistance.
8. Train - Now for the kicker: Train for it. Tyrolean traverses require a lot of upper body but mostly core strength. Try to find a ropes course in your area and get on it. Practice positioning, gear use, and, most of all, core strength. Do core exercises combined with balance exercises - this can be done using medicine balls (weighted balls) and inflatable balls (Fit Balls). Train all parts of your core, not just the abs. Core strength is the key to reducing injury and doing all sports well.
Veteran adventure racer Patrick Harper has pulled his way across numerous traverses in his years of racing.
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