Rapelling Rescue - How to save my partner?


Original Post
Robert Hildebrand · · Crompond, NY · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 90

Okay, I'm here to ask how I could have fixed a tricky situation without outside help. Please let me know if you have any ideas.

My partner and I just finished a multi-pitch climb and started the first rappel of two. My partner went down over the edge such that I could no longer see her. Then she called up to me and was in trouble.
She was hanging in free space and could not each the next set of anchors. [Note, this was a bad rappel route, but these things happen.]

She did not have a prusik backup or the know-how to rescue her self, for instance, by ascending the rope with prusiks (that she didn't even have).

What should I do to save her?

I'm at the top of the rappel, and I can't even see her.

Ideas [probably bad ideas]:
1. Try to descend the rope on prusiks to get her a prusik to then try to both ascend the rope on. [Is this even possible while the rope is taught? This also sounds very dangerous.]

2. Crete a pulley system at the the top using prusiks and some biners and try to pull her up. [I'm not sure the prusiks would catch properly and this would be very hard since the rope was running over an edge.]

3. ???

Thank you in advance for your responses.

Rappelling into space

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 15
Robert Hildebrand wrote:Okay, I'm here to ask how I could have fixed a tricky situation without outside help. Please let me know if you have any ideas. My partner and I just finished a multi-pitch climb and started the first rappel of two. My partner went down over the edge such that I could no longer see her. Then she called up to me and was in trouble. She was hanging in free space and could not each the next set of anchors. [Note, this was a bad rappel route, but these things happen.] She did not have a prusik backup or the know-how to rescue her self, for instance, by ascending the rope with prusiks (that she didn't even have). What should I do to save her? I'm at the top of the rappel, and I can't even see her. Ideas [probably bad ideas]: 1. Try to descend the rope on prusiks to get her a prusik to then try to both ascend the rope on. [Is this even possible while the rope is taught? This also sounds very dangerous.] 2. Crete a pulley system at the the top using prusiks and some biners and try to pull her up. [I'm not sure the prusiks would catch properly and this would be very hard since the rope was running over an edge.] 3. ??? Thank you in advance for your responses.
Did this actually happen? If so, how did you remedy it?

First, do your research. I would say this should have never happened in the first place. Why do you say this was a "bad rappel route"? Maybe you were just unprepared.

Second, make sure you have knots in the end of your rope if you are doing a rappel you've never done before.

Last, have prusiks or some sort of ascending device on your harness and know how to use them.

Also, carry a cell phone in areas where you can get a signal. There's nothing wrong with calling for outside help to save your lives.

Those are my initial thoughts.

Edit: If you're lucky, other climbers in the area can drop a rope to her, she can tie in to it, then be lowered to the ground.
will ar · · San Antonio, TX · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 215

I'm a little skeptical this actually happened. If it did are you sure you were rappelling down the right route?
-If you're partner is inexperienced set them up for rappel with an extension at the anchor and you should go first.
-If there are other climbers around use their rope to get down to her and figure out the problem
-You can try prussiking down, it is possible while the rope is taught, but it will take a lot of strength to pull the rope up and move the prussiks over the edge while she is weighting it (possible to rig them below the edge while still at the anchor?)
-Hauling another climber up a whole pitch isn't really practical, might work for a move or two if they are following and get stuck.

Good preparation and avoidance are key.

johnnyrig · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 65

Given a few feet of rope below the "stuck" rappeller, I would think that person could tie off, pull a few feet of rope up, use bights of both strands to create prusiks, or some other friction hitch wrapped around the double rappel strand, and head back on up. Since I haven't tried it myself, I suppose that's all theoretical and such until I duplicate it and experiment in the back yard on the cottonwood.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120

First mess-up is not knowing what you are rappelling into.

Second mess-up is not taking care of an inexperienced climber.

Third mess-up is going out with someone who will get you in this mess. Actually, maybe that's her number one.

So, assuming she's sharp, careful, but you've set her up for an oops, I still think she might be able to take care of herself.

If she's just hanging in space from a bulge or something and still has plenty of rope, she should be able to secure her rope/rappel and just start swinging til she can grab something. Now, how she is supposed to secure herself to the anchor, without anything on her harness, and no knowledge, and you rap down after her, makes this seem like a made up scenario.

If she's at/near the end of the rope, out in space with no hope of reaching anything, IMO, with you having set her up for this, she should secure herself and insist you call in help.

Next time, she will judge the situation for herself, have at least a bit of something on her harness to bail out of trouble, know better than to just take someone's word for taking care of her, and learn to ascend a rope with prussiks and a few other simple basic things. You don't need a comprehensive tool box or knowledge to think your way through some things, but you do need the climbing equivalent of some baling wire and duct tape.

Even a really new climber can, and should, be able to do the above. Yes, you have to get out there to learn this stuff, which means you also have to be picky about who your first outings are with.

Best, Helen

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 40

I don't believe for even a second that this is a real scenario. But speaking hypothetically, with a leader incompetent enough to make the mistakes described, the only even remotely safe option is a rescue by another party that knows what they are doing.

That said, I have rescued a stuck rappeller by prussiking down the rappel rope. (The difference in that situation is that once I got the device unjammed, we could both continue rappelling.)

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120

Discussed at length in some other thread, it is very difficult to impossible to get friction hitches past rope pulled taut against the rock.

The rope itself can be used to ascend, I don't remember how, but hanging in space, holding the rappel braked and also trying to tie knots or rig something is not sounding much fun.

Alex Rogers · · Sydney, Australia · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 15

This actually happened to me & my partner when we were young climbers:



Natal Table Mountain - South Africa 1987 or so.

It was a pretty remote spot, and we were intending to clean the awesome crack running up that face (full of birdshit) - but it was steeper than we thought and he ended up hanging in space 3 or 4m from the cliff - maybe 75m above the forest. It was 2 hours or so from the nearest person, and well before cellphones were invented.

Lady H have you ever been in this situation? It is not possible to generate enough swing to get in to the rock - he tried hard!

Luckily I had read in a book how to prussik.... :-) So I lowered another rope to him to tie onto (he was feeling very insecure) along with a couple of slings, and "instructed" him on how to use them to make a couple of prussiks. It worked! Although it took him an hour or more, and he got very sunburned. We decided we were a bit out of our depth attempting new routes in remote locations with our level of experience, and called it quits after he got up.

Andy P. · · Wisconsin · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 50

If you had enough gear you could set up a haul, which seems like the extremely laborious, time-consuming option.* The benefit of hauling is that eventually you will have enough spare rope hauled up that you can rappel down to your partner and fix her up with ascension gear. If she's at the end of the rope you should only have to haul a bit over halfway before you have the other half of the rope to rappel down, apologize profusely, and see your chance getting laid at the end of the day fade away in real time, bummer!

  • Depends on how heavy your partner is. This process could literally take hours if even possible!
Joe Platko · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 0

OK, I am just going to assume you are in this situation and not concern myself with how you got there, although if this account is remotely true, bouldering may be better suited for you. Further I will assume the situation is as in your picture: hanging well away from the wall and not at the end of the rope and no chance of outside help.

This is nothing more than me thinking out loud because, well it's late and the question amuses me...

1) Take a breath or two or ten. Any calmness you can find will help you. Assuming that she is looking down at the dangling rope in free space, she can't go down so you want to keep her where she is. Ask her to wrap the rope around her leg a few times to relieve her from having to death grip the brake hand. If she has a carabiner she could take a bight, tie an overhand or figure 8 and clip that to her harness. She won't be going anywhere now.

2) You are not going to be able to pull her up so you have to go down to her (I don't think this is the place or time to try to instruct someone through some complex steps that don't provide do-overs.) You will have to prussic down to her. If the rope passes a sharp edge, you will have to transfer your prussics one at a time over the edge. If the rope is flat against a sloping surface, you may be able to clip you fattest carabiners around the rope ahead of each prussic to pull the rope slightly away from the rock. This is not going to be fun.

3) When you get down to her, each of you take an end of the rope and tie a figure 8 into your harnesses and she begins lowering herself to the end of the rope while you continue to prussic down. You still believe this is a two-rap descent right? Because she is going down while you go back up (it doesn't really seem like the place to learn how to ascend a rope...) To do this, once she is near the end of the rope, you tie a prussic above the belay device so she can transfer enough weight to remove the belay device. You can then assist her in removing her pussic and you take it and fix it to her side of the rope and take your other prussic off both ropes and fix that also to her side of the rope. Now you should each be hanging at the ends of the rope. You start ascending her rope with your prussics (one would do) and as you go up she goes down.

4) Once she is safely on the ground, you continue to the anchors where you set up for a single rope rap back down. Of course by now it's night and where is your headlamp?

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 0

Just as you shouldn't start a climb without knowing how you'll get back down, you shouldn't start a rappel, particularly an unfamiliar one, without the ability to reascend should you need to. The person on rappel is far better situated to get themselves out of the situation than the person above - which is one of the reasons that the party's experienced leader should lead the raps. If neither partner has the experience necessary to ascend rope (or build intermediate anchors, or other basic skills), then they probably shouldn't be on that climb quite yet.

That said, this situation is extremely simple (though tedious) to solve. Secure brake strand (leg wraps, third hand, tie off). Attach two prussiks to the rope, one for your waist and one for your foot. Ascend rope, tying catastrophe knots periodically. Arrive at top anchor. Reassess descent strategy.

Alex Rogers · · Sydney, Australia · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 15

All that descending shenanigans - pfft. drop them a couple of slings and teach them to prussik.

climbing coastie · · Wasilla, AK · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 10

^^ this is what I was thinking, but Alex beat me to it.

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 25

3. Do nothing. Your partner is to:

A. Tie clove hitch below her ATC and stand in it. Now she has both hands free.

B. Pull the rest of the rope and attach herself to the rope leaving about 7 feet tail.

C. Tie Blake's hitch and butterfly in beetwen harness and Blake's hitch.

D. Ascend the rope.

The most important. Learn basics before.

Medic741 · · Red Hook, New York · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 85

I'm imagining watching this on a weekend, 2 gumbies trying to ascend the rope together. One telling the other how to do it and 3 dozen people giving unsolicited advice to anyone within ear shot

don'tchuffonme · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 0
Robert Hildebrand wrote:Okay, I'm here to ask how I could have fixed a tricky situation without outside help.
Well, you could have been knowledgeable and prepared for the environment in which you chose to climb. That's the best way. Clearly that was not the case as evidenced here:

She did not have a prusik backup or the know-how to rescue her self, for instance, by ascending the rope with prusiks (that she didn't even have).

Robert Hildebrand wrote: Please let me know if you have any ideas.


Uuhhh, you mean other than being knowledgeable enough to assess the risk and potential things that can go wrong in a multi pitch environment and equip yourself with the tools and techniques to solve such problems?

No. None.
Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 0

So you say this actually happened, and it seems you've lived to tell the tale, yet you have no idea how to solve it. So how did you solve it?

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 511

Hey Robert. Since this event was in the past, how did you get out of the situation? What route was it?

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 40

A method for ascending a rope with no equipment other than the rope itself was posted by bearbreeder at mountainproject.com/v/pruss... .

Of course, anyone who knew this would certainly have been knowledgeable and properly equipped to reascend the rope in the first place.

Ed Schaefer · · Centennial, CO · Joined May 2014 · Points: 0

Agree with pretty much every other comment on here, but one idea that wasn't mentioned:

Assuming she has a belay device with a plaquette (guide mode) you could have her tie a loop below her so she can stand in it to unweight the device, add another 'biner to go into plaquette mode attached to the belay loop, and then she could ascend using her belay device.

You should really take a self rescue class if you are taking other less experienced people out on multi-pitch climbs. A pulley system with prusiks will work (personally I would use a klemheist), but only if you know how to do this. Keep in mind that this is really slow, requires a lot of energy, and is very time consuming - a 3:1 means for every 3 feet you pull in your partner would only move up 1 foot, and depending on your partners weight you might not be able to haul without a 5:1 or 6:1 (or more) which is even slower.

I would also never have the less experienced person rappel first, especially on multiple rappels. You should have extended her rappel and placed her on the line first, then you should have gone in on rappel below her, rapped down, then had her follow.

What were you expecting her to do, exactly, if nothing had gone wrong? Did she know how to anchor in and make sure she was safe?

I always carry 2 prusik cords, a couple spare lockers, a double length sling, and a knife on my harness for every multi-pitch climb, even if I am just following. I think anyone climbing multipitch who does not carry this at a minimum is putting themselves in undue danger that could otherwise easily be mitigated.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,500
Alex Rogers wrote:All that descending shenanigans - pfft. drop them a couple of slings and teach them to prussik.
+1 (get her to do a quick leg wrap, tie backup knots, and then talk her through the basics of rope ascending)
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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