So there is a scene in my novel, one of my characters is on a cliff and he is holding a rope, so his friend can climb up. Suddenly the character is attacked by bandits and has to let go of the rope. Would it be realistic if he tied the rope to the sword's handle and stuck the sword into the ground? Could the sword hold his friend? If not maybe there is another way to prevent his friend from falling?

P. S. The story takes place in medieval times

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    $\begingroup$ Is the friend already climbing the rope when the attackers approach (i.e. is the person faced with letting the rope and their friend fall) ? $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ Yes the friend is already climbing (at least it was my initial idea, I could change it if there is no realistic solution to the problem) $\endgroup$
    – Lymaba
    May 24, 2018 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ I think this question is on-topic. The situation requires combined knowledge of rock climbing and psychology in circumstances that don't usually see rock climbing. Knowing how to deal with this kind of situation would be valuable to anyone who comes later. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    May 24, 2018 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Lymaba is the point here to force your hero to defend himself without his sword? I can think of sort-of-plausible ways to use the sword as an anchor before the sidekick starts climbing, but not once he is on the rope. $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    May 25, 2018 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ What kind of sword it is? Take into account that swords tend to be very flexible, driving one into ground may be simply impossible because it will bend too easily. $\endgroup$
    – Frax
    May 25, 2018 at 13:23

16 Answers 16


Not plausible

This cannot be done without Batman physics. Anybody who has ever climbed a rope will find it ridiculous.

one of my characters is on a cliff and he is holding a rope, so his friend can climb up.

Ever tried this? If you want to offer your friend a rope to climb up on, you anchor your end first. You do not simply "hold the rope". The dynamic load on the rope when someone is climbing it will be about twice that persons weight.

It might be possible if your hero finds a well braced position and wraps the rope around his waist, but even then it is a pretty desperate stunt.

Would it be realistic if he tied the rope to swords handle and stuck the sword in to the ground? Could the the sword hold his friend?

The sword might very well hold his friend once in place, given that the ground material is just right so that

  • the sword can be stuck well into it
  • the soil (or whatever) is not too loose to hold the sword

Now, having such ground material there is a stroke of dumb luck, but not impossible. Wedging the sword in a rock crack is way more plausible though.

But here comes the main problem: How to you transfer the weight from yourself onto the sword? I have practiced this in alpine crevasse rescue situations and let me tell you: It is difficult and takes time and preparations. It will be quicker to just wait until your friend climbs up than to attempt this.

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    $\begingroup$ Honest question: why did you bring a sword with you on an alpine crevasse rescue? Is there something up there we should know about :) :) $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenByrne ever watch Princess Bride? $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ Plus one for "Batman physics" :-) $\endgroup$
    – Mawg
    May 24, 2018 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenByrne I think "Suddenly the character is attacked by bandits" explains it pretty well. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ @colmde wrap it three times around a tree and you don’t even need the sword. Question is, if there’s a tree there, why didn’t the hero use it from the start? $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    May 24, 2018 at 14:28

I know this is going to go against most peoples answers here but

Short answer:


Long Answer

Holding a Rope while someone climbs up it

Search Body Belay, i have done this while trad climbing and although this is uncomfortable, it is possible, don't let anyone tell you its not possible. if it were just about holding it with your hands then it becomes a lot harder, but by using a body belay then its definitely possible. it involves wrapping the rope around the body and over an arm. with this method it is possible to hold someone heavier than yourself, and if done right, hold them with one hand, again it is uncomfortable and requires you to be very sure footed but its still ok.

This is ok because it is a static load, while the act of climbing will create a few extra Newtons of force, it is still considered Static, now if that person was to fall on that rope, then not only would that rip the rope from the holders hands but most likely snap the spine of the faller.

Conclusion: Not comfortable, but definitely doable

Ground Anchor (sword)

Alpine Climbers regularly will place an ice-axe into compacted snow, and use that as part of their anchor, it is entirely possible to have this as the only anchor, although this is not advised only because if it was to fail then there is no backup

My Local Cliff Rescue team will regularly hammer stakes in a staggered pattern to use as an anchor if the ground is not solid enough on the cliff edge to set up a regular anchor, again this is done for redundancy, and conventional anchors are built whenever possible, but ground stakes are a suitable backup, and therefore they train on these often.

The only risk is that the sword will bend or snap due to the weight pulling in a way that a sword is not designed to do, the sword would have its blade edge perpendicular to the direction of pull, and angled away from the edge, then the rope tied to the handle. also it would have to be force DEEP into the ground

Conclusion: risky as no backup, but again doable, if there are no other alternatives

I have seen and used both of these methods, a lot of the world only does Sport Climbing so things like this are considered an absolute no, but Trad (traditional) climbers will do things like this.

Although i will state that Sport Climbers consider Trad Climbers to be a bit mental


As to how the enough time argument: how did the guy end up at the bottom of the rope, if there was a fight before hand that led to the the fall, then simply invent someway that a decent sword is already in the ground, maybe the wielder missed a strike, ended up stabbing the ground and then an attacker with a war hammer missed the guy and hit the sword on the pommel miraculously stabbing it further into the ground at the right angle, therefore its already there, the wielder might even make a point of trying to grab it but realizes its completely stuck, it seems not important and the reader will think wow now he has to fight with only a dagger, or fists or something, then it becomes an important plot point later; then the belayer would only need to see it, wrap it and then go fight off the bandits,

Then the climber can get to the top pull the sword out and become kind of Camelot!

I may have got my stories mixed up there...

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but who cares what sport climbers think? $\endgroup$
    – Useless
    May 24, 2018 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't agree more, Trad climbing all the way! $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ Holding someone with a body belay, yes certainly if you can find a good braced position. Using a sword as an anchor (snow-stake style), not impossible, but both the sword and the ground must be just right. First planting a sword to the hilt in the ground while maintaining that body belay, then somehow transfer the weight from your body belay onto the sword before the bandits arrive... not buying it. $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    May 25, 2018 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure it depends on how far away he can see the bandits, i appreciate it would be an issue that needs consideration. but if he has enough slack for an effective body belay, then so long as he can drive the sword deep enough into the ground, and that the sword is strong enough, then he could wrap the slack fairly quickly around the sword and then lower the climber to remove the slack, yes the climber would have to climb further, but it could be a lot quicker then people think. Edited my answer for a possible solution to this issue $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Guran But what if the hero shouts down to his fellow comrade to grasp tight to the cliff face, relieving the load for a brief moment, he could prepare the anchor with a strong boot to the hilt or the guard and a knot pulling against the incline of the sword $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 11:06

So a lot of people have already said it isn't going to happen. I'd like to offer some other suggestions which I think are believable enough to happen as long as you don't focus on the execution too much.

Solution 1

He dodges an enemy and wraps the rope around the enemy. The enemy gets dragged off and scrambles to hold on letting your friend climb up.

Solution 2

He stabs a sword/dagger into the ground and ties the rope around the handle. The weapons comes undone, but gets caught in some rocks/roots coming out of the cliff.

Solution 3

Add in a Tree which your hero can then tie the rope around, or tie the rope around a handle and place it so it gets caught in the branches

Solution 4

Your friend is almost up when you let go, and manages to grab onto the edge, but isn't able to pull himself up (up to you if he makes it up)

Solution 5

An enemy misses a hit and the weapons is driven into the ground. You tie the rope around that weapon.

Solution 6

You fight the enemies with the rope still in your hands and use it to beat the enemies (Jackie Chan style)


What everybody, especially Guran, said. But people are focusing on the ground and the rope.

The sword will not hold it either. It is not made for that kind of use. Depending on what kind of sword it is, it may break in two, but most probably it will bend and then the handle will snap out of the sword and fall into the abyss with the fencer's friend.

  • $\begingroup$ Is this regardless of whether the edges are parallel or perpendicular to the stress direction? I assume if it's parallel, it would just cut it's own way out haha $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 3:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Aethenosity 100% parallel is more likely to break, otherwise the closer to fully perpendicular, the more likely to bend. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ How much the sword bends depends on two variables. First the length of the lever: The further you push the sword into the ground, the smaller the lever becomes that the rope uses to bend the sword. Push the sword in up to the hilt, and the bending force should be quite manageable. Whether the sword can manage the remaining force depends on the second variables, the sword itself: The broader / more massive the sword is built, the more bending force it can manage. Of course, no fencing weapon may suffice, but a knightly sword should definitely be up to the task. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 18:23

... holding a rope, so his friend can climb up.

Multiple people have said that's not how you do this, and they're right.

Suddenly the character is at tacked by bandits and has to let go of the rope. Would it be realistic if he tied the rope to swords handle and stuck the sword in to the ground?


However there is one way this can be plausible from a mountaineering mechanics point of view: if the top character is already using the sword as the anchor for a direct belay.

The sword is already firmly dug into the ground (a crack in the rock, or frozen turf if it's winter), and the rope is already passing around the hilt. The top character was taking up the slack, but the sword anchor would bear the climber's weight if they slip - the belayer only has to stop the rope slipping round the anchor. This is even easier with a Munter hitch around the hilt.

In this situation, tying off the rope is easy - the Munter mule overhand is standard. Note that the knot is tied with the slack part of the rope (not the loaded strand from the hilt to the climber) so there's no problem doing this even if the climber is currently weighting the rope.

NB. the knots are all illustrated tied around karabiners as is normal practice. For your case, just assume the sword hilt takes the place of that part of the karabiner - it'll work just the same.

  • $\begingroup$ This should be the answer. As I understood the question, and given the era, it seems like a hemp-rope would probably be in use. This means no dynamic loads - keep it static. If there's a boulder with a fissure, you could lodge the sword in and lock it a-la nut in an hourglass and munter off the grip. If it's thicker steel, it should have no issue sustaining a static load of a person. $\endgroup$
    – user48457
    May 25, 2018 at 16:47

Your scene works fine if the climber is using the cliff to climb, not the rope. The rope is just a belay in case the climber slips. (The top guy has the rope wrapped around a handy rock or tree, and only has to apply belaying force. Top guy is NOT pulling up the climber; he is pulling in the slack on the rope so that the climber will not fall far if climber slips.) So, your scene could be: 1) climber slips, top guy holds belay while climber is trying to recover a hold on the cliff. 2) uh oh! bad guys coming! "Hurry up and get a hold!" 3) climber gets unsteady hold, which takes tension off rope and gives top guy time to rig the sword to hold the belay force (which is way less than the full weight of the climber) 4) top guy jumps up to defend himself (and the sword anchor for the belay) just as the climber loses grip again 5) fight rages up top while dangling climber has get hold on cliff and finish climb with no belay (so if he falls, either the rope or his spine will snap because he'll fall a good distance instead of a few feet).

  • $\begingroup$ ^^^ This, very much. It's short but absolutely a solution. If it's not taking all the weight all the time, yes... $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 10:29
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    $\begingroup$ +1 because all the other answers assume that the climbing dude's entire weight is on the rope and he can't cling to the cliff, even temporarily to allow the bloke at the top to sort out a belay. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 10:40

Probably not. There are a number of factors in play. Firstly, how far you are able to shove the sword into the ground. How deep it goes is going to depend on the type of ground. Even if the ground is loose dirt, shoving a sword into the ground is not easy. Even a strong person is not going to get a sword very deep into the dirt. The thicker the blade, the harder its going to be. Since the rope is tied to the handle, the force pulling on it from the weight of the character is going to pull the blade down. At a certain angle, the buried blade will pop from the ground, or just slide out of the ground. Worse yet, if the blade bends enough, it will break in two.

You would be better off wedging the sword into the branches of a tree, or in some buried rocks.

If the top of the cliff was covered in snow and he had a shield, then the shield could conceivably be used as a snow anchor. Also, with snow, the rope itself could be used as a snow bollard, but that takes preparation.

  • $\begingroup$ How about my specialty wide-tip swords that I sell at the other edge of this town? They are meant to do extra damage after stabbing, but they serve equally well as an emergency anchor. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak Why not just use Stonecutter from Fred Saberhagen's book of swords? $\endgroup$
    – Keltari
    May 24, 2018 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak sounds like a spade $\endgroup$
    – JAD
    May 24, 2018 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Keltari oh, that's a sweet weapon. But it must be rare at least, more likely an artifact. My sword would classify as common, although I do only have few swords left in the stock and demand seems to be on the upswing. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JAD Shovel knight to the rescue! $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    May 24, 2018 at 13:08

Garden soil might be deep and soft enough to drive a gladius-style sword deep enough (to the hilt) with one stroke. Depending on the characters rope craft (and whether the char is only holding a safety line or actually hoisting the friend) it might be possible to tie the rope one- handed to the hilt. The sword would need to go in at an angle.

Garden soil is usually absent at the edge of cliffs, so maybe the char has a dirk (sturdy short dagger) to wedge into a crack, or maybe tie the rope to the char's belt for added comedy/drama while fighting?


Maybe, but it's One in a Billion kind of Lucky

The situation described is almost exactly like trad rock climbing. Trad rock climbing involves putting pieces of metal into the rock then running a rope through the device to hold a climber when they fall. Laying trad takes lots and lots of practice and is easily the second most dangerous style of climbing (free solo being the most dangerous). An untrained person who doesn't know how to manage the forces involved in an hurried, high stress situation with divided attention will require the hand of the Luck God to not die themselves and not kill the climber on the cliff below.

The climber on the cliff has three things working against them.

  1. Holding a human on a rope with just human hands for any length of time is next to impossible. Gloves actually make this harder.
  2. Transitioning from a human holding the rope to a device holding the rope is dicey at best.
  3. The sword may not hold. Unless the person at the top of the cliff has laid climbing anchors like this before, they stand an excellent chance of getting it wrong.

Human hands make horrible belay devices

You will never stop a climber from falling with your hands. Try it. Go to a gym with big 45lb plates. Tie just one plate to a rope then try to hold the plate off the ground for 2 minutes, standing in whatever posture you like but all the weight must be held by your hands. If you're superman and can do this, add another plate and another plate till you get approximately human weight. See how long you can hold it. For added challenge, have someone else jerk the weights occasionally.

Rock climbers use belay devices and rope to arrest the fall of climbers. Human skin, tendon, bone and muscle isn't nearly resilient enough to withstand the ridiculous friction and heat of a fast moving rope.

Warning: Graphic Content Results of trying to hold a rope with someone on it.

Transition to a Sword Anchor

Given the great difficulty with just holding the climber, setting up a sword in the ground to hold the rope is going to be exceptionally difficult. Most likely the turf will be fairly shallow so the sword doesn't go in too deeply. Poking around for another spot to put the sword will be further complicated by having to hold a heavy wriggling human on the other end of the rope. Compound this with the threat of the attackers, the anchor placement will be "sketchy as hell".

Laying the Anchor

Let's assume the sword gets stuck in deep but not all the way to the hilt. Wrapping the sword around the blade as close to the dirt as possible minimizes the lever action that the rope will place on the sword. However, wrapping the rope around the blade at all will cut the rope. Objects under tension are always always always easier to cut.

Even then, the sword may not have the shear strength required to hold up against the forces from the rope. And, there's no way to know beforehand that it will hold.

What would it take to work?

The person at the top would have to have gone rock climbing before, specifically the kind of climbing that requires laying improvised anchors. They would have to have superhuman strength and skin to be able to hold the rope one handed while they probe around in the dirt for a good place to plunge the sword. The sword itself would need to have sufficiently blunt edges so that the rope isn't instantly cut when placed under tension. And the guy needs to do all this while fending off attacking bandits. Unless there's plot armor or an act of the Author to make this work, the climber is dead.


Here is a better way to use the sword as an ad hoc piton:


bad piton positions good piton position

red emphasis mine

1: Top man has feet braced, one on each rock. I envision low rocks. He is stretched out on his back, pulling up the rope across his body. The rope extends thru the space between the rocks and down the cliff. Climber is smaller than he is and so he can pull her up as she also climbs.

2: When pressed he thrusts his sword through a knot in the rope and leaves the sword crosswise spanning the rocks. The leverage on the sword is less than in the "stuck in the ground" scenario because the piece of sword on either side is short. Stress is taken by 2 places on the sword (left and right) rather than one (sword / ground interface).

For Bruckheimer version:

1: Climber will drop until slack paid out and sword pulled up against rocks

2: Sword will cut into the rope as she climbs / robe wiggles.

3: Sword will bend and shift position alarmingly as she climbs.

4: Top man will need to defend himself with a scabbard / whatever else he has.

Fight scene at top can end when big enemy dude looks down and sees a rope around his ankle. He looks over and there is climber. Rope is rapidly vanishing over the edge of the cliff. She steps aside as rope goes tight and big dude vanishes over the edge.


Why not tie the rope to the tip of the sword and instead of the handle and then stuck the sword into the ground at an angle facing towards the clip.

As it's easy to break a long stick than a shorter one the lesser the gap between the rope and ground the more stress it can withstand. So the rope tied to the tip will definitely withstand more force than the handle.

If the sword is stuck at an angle facing the cliff then the force created by his friend pulling the rope act on soil instead of the sword making harder to come off the ground.

Depending on which side you pull sword stuck like this can handle more weight or less weight than a sword stuck exactly at 90º to ground. An ideal angle would be 45º

Depending on which side you pull sword stuck like this can handle more weight or less weight than a sword stuck exactly at 90º to ground. An ideal angle would be 45º

And the million dollar question won't the sword cut the rope? It would but not the whole rope. You could cut a rope with a sword in two ways one by placing it on a hard surface and striking it with speed other is to cut it with to and frow motion. In this case, 1st option is ruled out and for the second option as the rope on the ground, it will dampen the movements created by the person while climbing which increases the time required for the rope to snap apart. And if the sword is stuck by facing the flat side towards the cliff the most of the force will be acting on the flat edge of the sword instead of the sharp one.

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    $\begingroup$ the idea of the angle is spot on, however a rope under tension, is actually very easy to cut, so with it pressing against the sharp edge of the sword it will likely cut and the climber will fall. either a smaller sword/dagger buried deep, with the rope around the handle is the safest way to go $\endgroup$ May 24, 2018 at 14:24

1) Can you hold a rope so that someone can climb up it? Contrary to many other answers, yes you can, although it's still not the best way to do it. As this story is medieval, the rope would be a thick item made of hemp or similar, which is far easier to hold than a modern, thin climbing rope. It also depends on what you mean by 'hold' - sitting down in a braced position with the rope partially wrapped around yourself or something else is much easier than just holding it with your hands (indeed, this will work with modern rope - so would be fine with thick hemp). But if your friend is actually climbing the rope (as opposed to just using it as a safety line whilst he climbs the cliff) then it doesn't need to move - far simpler just to tie it to something.

2) Assuming of course that there is no handy rock around which to tie the rope, then the sword idea could work. You'd want something heavy with a nice flat edge such as a broadsword. Your sidekick - who is hopefully big and strong - can plunge the sword into the soft(ish) ground and create an anchor; a similar technique using two ice axes is used in winter mountaineering. If the edge of the blade is perpendicular to the direction of the force, and the sword is pushed right in to the hilt then it'd probably hold - I wouldn't want to try it, but as an emergency solution it might work.

There are still issues to get around though, mainly how long it would take - a few seconds at least, during which time your sidekick has to support the hero's weight and plunge the sword in at the same time, which I'm struggling to get my head around. If you have a few seconds' warning, then can't the hero find a ledge on which to wait?


If the sword was wedged into the rock then maybe I'd buy it. But driving it into a solid rock face like a piton? No. No sword I've ever handled would do that effectively. Swords are mostly made for swinging along the blade and for stabbing into soft, fleshy surfaces. And even if it was sharp enough and dense enough, the blade is longer than a piton, so your hand would be way back on the grip away from the rock face, making it hard to get your arm into an angle where you could drive it into the face.

I'm going to go with "No, and if you told me a character did this, it would break suspension of disbelief."

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    $\begingroup$ you misunderstand the question. He is talking about the person on top of the cliff, not dangling off of it. $\endgroup$
    – Keltari
    May 24, 2018 at 5:05

Finding an anchor point could work, as long as the climber has something else to grab onto - a hand/foot hold, small ledge etc would be enough, as long as he can transfer his weight off the rope. As long as there is something suitable nearby to act as an anchor.

As for being tied to the sword? The only way I see this working is to brace the sword against two trees/large branches/rocks with the rope pulling it tight against them.

With that said, tying the rope to the tree so the sword is available to defend with may be more appropriate - you may be able to do the same with a rock outcrop.


It won't work, and definitely not in a pinch:

The properties of sword mean that this probably wont work reliably ever. Most swords of that era are bendy (flexible) and very thin and sharp with a total mass of around 2-3kg (compared to a human 50-100kg). The hilt and blade were generally composed of different pieces and not designed for extreme stress. I don't think tying a rope to a sword (and to what part, the flimsy hilt? or the blade part that might cut through it?) is plausible in any scenario.

Here is what to expect:

Your odds of death are the same as flipping a coin. Even if the sword was completely plunged into ground, or even wedged between two trees (the best case scenario), the sword just wont function the way you want it to. The sword is too liable to slip through, or out of whatever it is in (remember it can bend). It has a smooth surface so there will be minimal friction between it and whatever it is against, so for example in the ground it will just slip out. All of these are probabilities if the even likelier scenario doesn't happen, which is that the sword just breaks or snaps.

You are better off having the character on the rope just grab onto the rocks while the fight plays out, then resume climbing the rope after the friend up top can help again. Think Princess Bride.


Would it be realistic if he tied the rope to the sword's handle and stuck the sword into the ground?

While the difficult part will be transferring the weight to the sword once it's anchored, the initial problem will be driving the sword into ground that is firm enough to hold the sword. However, as is often the case in medieval battles, the ground is too muddy/soft. So instead of into the ground directly, take the sword and plunge it deep into that big rock nearby, exclaiming as you do: "No one shall wield Excalibur, but me!"*

*PS (unfortunately, this option does not end well for you...)

  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan - Thanks for the edits. I hate making minor typos like that, and normally spend hours making sure I don't. But today, evidently, I only spend one... :) $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 23:49

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