Belay escape setup to counterbalance rappel


Original Post
cmqr9001 Black · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 135

Fair warning, this might get long. Alright, so I have a question concerning some steps in setting up a counterbalance rappel to rescue your second in a guide situation with an incapacitated second. I've been playing around with methods from two sources below found on youtube, in addition to the Climbing Self-Rescue book by the Mountaineers Outdoor Expert series. In most situations, I belay up the second with a Reverso in guide mode off of the anchor, so that's how I'm practicing, i.e., with the belay device in the system (I guess in theory it would be the exact same with a grigri off of the anchor). 

In the first video below, it doesn't cover the counterbalance but it does show how to get the belay device out of the system using the steps listed below:

Video 1)

Steps to get belay device out of system:

1) Throw a friction hitch on load strand and attach it to backside of personal clove-hitch tie in with a Munter-Mule Overhand (MMO) 

2) Feed a tiny amount of slack through belay device to transfer weight onto friction hitch

3) With slack from back-end of belay device, Munter onto the anchor, remove belay device from anchor, tighten slack through munter, tie off MMO to the anchor

4) Release the MMO from the friction hitch and transfer weight onto MMO on the anchor. This establishes "Baseline" i.e., the second is tied off with a MMO to the anchor

In this second video, the guide is belaying up the second with a munter, and the first step is simply to tie off the munter with a MMO, essentially beginning at "Baseline."

Video 2)

Steps to setup counterbalance rappel:

1) Tie of belay munter with MMO ("Baseline")

2) Using a long prusik, tie prusik to load strand and the attach that to the anchor with a Prusik Munter-Mule Overhand (PMMO)

3) Backup system by tying clove-hitch to back end up belay MMO

4) Release belay MMO and transfer weight onto PMMO

4) Take off belay munter and take in extra slack through clove hitch

5) Clip side of rope coming from prusik to clove hitch through a locker on the anchor to serve as a rappel point

6) Setup your own rappel with a friction hitch backup on backside of clove hitch, then remove clove hitch and take in slack from belay device so that the load strand is taught between your rap setup and the prusik on the load strand

7) Release PMMO and transfer weight to yourself as the counterbalance

8) Attach prusik on load strand to your belay loop with locker within arms reach

9) Undo personal clove to anchor, rappel down tending your rappel prusik and climber-side prusik at the same time

10) When arriving at climber, let climber-side prusik go taught and rappel like normal, lowering both guide and climber

I understand the processes in both videos well, and my question lies in integrating them and minimizing steps to make it as efficient as possible. Basically, my process would follow the following steps to escape from a reverso-in-guide-mode situation, but it would skip establishing "Baseline."

With the Reverso locked off it autolock mode from second weighting the rope...

1) Attach a long prusik to load strand, attach it to anchor with PMMO

2) Feed a tiny amount of slack through belay device to transfer weight onto friction hitch

3) With slack from brake-end of belay Reverso, attach clove hitch to anchor

4) Remove reverso from the system. Climbers weight is now attached to anchor with PMMO and backed up with clove hitch to anchor

5) Attach locker to anchor and clip rope coming from prusik to the clove hitch into it

6) Setup personal rappel with friction hitch backup on backside of clove hitch that is backing up the climbers weight

7) Undo climber backup clove hitch, take in slack through belay device so that rope is taught from belay device through anchor down to the prusik on the load strand

8) Release PMMO and transfer weight onto yourself as the counterbalance

9) Attach prusik on load strand to your belay loop with locker within arms reach

10) Undo personal clove to anchor, rappel down tending your rappel prusik and climber-side prusik at the same time

11) When arriving at climber, let climber-side prusik go taught and rappel like normal, lowering both guide and climber

Is there anything wrong with the above system listed? It seems to me to safely setup the counterbalance without establishing baseline. Maybe theres something wrong with it I have missed, input is appreciated. 

One more question I have is regarding this situation on bolted multip-pitch climbs with a bolted anchor. Is there a way to setup the whole counterbalance but also clean the anchor such that you don't have to leave any gear behind? I was thinking that between steps 4 and 5 listed above when the climbers weight is on the PMMO and backed up with a clove hitch, the rescuer could attach himself to the anchor with slings, untie, and thread the rope coming from the backside of the backup clove through the anchor. The rest of the steps would be the same. Anyone done this before?

Sorry for the long post. Bored. Interested to hear feedback though!

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 310

How are you going to rap down a tight line? To get to your climber? Assuming you climb like most, with only one rope. 

cmqr9001 Black · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 135
Guy Keesee wrote:

How are you going to rap down a tight line? To get to your climber? Assuming you climb like most, with only one rope. 

I'm not sure I understand your question. The idea is that you rappel down the free end of the line, not the taught end. 

R.Walters · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 350

A couple thoughts:

Consider doing #3 first, with an adequate amount of slack between the brake side of the Reverso and the clove (or an 8-on-a-bight)

Don't do #9 until you've rappelled all the way to your partner, otherwise you're tending the hitch all the way down unneccessarily.

Otherwise, you seem to have answered your own question.

Nathan Hui · · San Diego, CA · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 0
R.Walters wrote:

A couple thoughts:

Consider doing #3 first, with an adequate amount of slack between the brake side of the Reverso and the clove (or an 8-on-a-bight)

Don't do #9 until you've rappelled all the way to your partner, otherwise you're tending the hitch all the way down unneccessarily.

Otherwise, you seem to have answered your own question.

Agreed with this.  Ideally, you'll want to tie off whatever belay device you're using as soon as you determine that you need to perform a rescue.  Even if you're on an autolocking device, because as soon as the follower unweights the rope, your belay device can unlock, particularly if you're futzing with it.  Also, remember to use two lockers on the anchor masterpoint - no sense in performing a rescue on a single carabiner.

Another trick (if you're on very vertical terrain) is to use a lanyard to attach yourself to the climber instead of futzing around with a prussik.  You should have already had a personal tether of some sort (be it the rope, sling, PAS, etc), so just keep that close.  This will also give you the option of using the weighted follower's line as a tension line if you're on really overhanging terrain - clip into the follower's rope, and rappel, letting your personal tether pull you in towards the wall (and therefore your follower).  In this scenario, you may have some shenanigans to do when passing pro, but it shouldn't be terrible.

For anyone else looking at this, the PMMO can also be replaced with a Purcell Prusik or any sort of load-releasable hitch and a friction knot.  Just depends on what you've got.

Chuck Parks · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Jan 2008 · Points: 2,086

How's this for speed/simplicity? First, do the 3 steps from your first thing to get off belay.

cmqr9001 Black wrote:

1) Throw a friction hitch on load strand and attach it to backside of personal clove-hitch tie in with a Munter-Mule Overhand (MMO) 

2) Feed a tiny amount of slack through belay device to transfer weight onto friction hitch

3) With slack from back-end of belay device, Munter onto the anchor, remove belay device from anchor, tighten slack through munter, tie off MMO to the anchor

Now you're at a pretty standard belay escape that you'd use for most things: load strand on a Prusik/MMO, and that's backed up with an MMO on the rope.

Now take your ATC and set up a rappel on the rope coming out of the MMO, along with your rappel backup of choice. Now you're triple redundant: Prusik, MMO on rope, and rappel. Pull the mule hitch out of the MMO on the rope and snug up all the slack through your rappel setup. Now you've got the load on a Prusik, then the rope goes through a Munter hitch on the anchor, and down from the Munter to your rappel. Now release the MMO on the Prusik and you're good to go. If you don't trust the integrity of the rope on the climber's side then you attach the Prusik to your belay loop and slide it down the climber's side of the rope with you. If you trust the rope, then undo that bad boy and haul ass.

When you get to the climber, all you need to do is connect yourself to them somehow and keep rapping. You'll essentially be "double belaying them", off of both your rappel device and the Munter on the anchor.

coppolillo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 70

Hey man--slightly more streamlined version to follow, excerpted from The Mountain Guide Manual (coming out in a couple weeks by Falcon Guides, $24.95, avail at vettamountainguides.com or chauvinguides.com). Give a look and see what you think...but seems like you're on the right track! If the images come in too small--let me know and I can PM them to you. They're screen grabs from the book. They cover a weighted and unweighted transition from belaying a second to a counterbalance rappel. 


cmqr9001 Black · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 135
Chuck Parks wrote:

Now you've got the load on a Prusik, then the rope goes through a Munter hitch on the anchor, and down from the Munter to your rappel. Now release the MMO on the Prusik and you're good to go. 

It seems like this wouldn't work because both sides of the munter on the anchor are loaded, so the rope can't slide through the masterpoint and it's essentially locked off until unweighted right?

cmqr9001 Black · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 135
coppolillo wrote:

Hey man--slightly more streamlined version to follow, excerpted from The Mountain Guide Manual (coming out in a couple weeks by Falcon Guides, $24.95, avail at vettamountainguides.com or chauvinguides.com). Give a look and see what you think...but seems like you're on the right track! If the images come in too small--let me know and I can PM them to you. They're screen grabs from the book. They cover a weighted and unweighted transition from belaying a second to a counterbalance rappel. 

Hey thanks for the tip! Those are some good techniques in there. There's a few things I feel like could be improved though. 

1) When transferring the plaquette from the anchor to the harness, basket hitch the sling through the blocking carabiner on the plaquette and locker to the belay loop maybe? This way the blocking biner never has to be opened. Any logic against this?

2) The part where they talk about potential failure and dropping the second if the second hand fails can be solved by keeping the prusik on the load strand and clipping it to your belay loop with a locker and tending it along the way down. This way if the second suddenly unweights the rope you're still safe and it safeguards against a damaged rope. 

Thoughts?

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456
Nathan Hui wrote:

For anyone else looking at this, the PMMO can also be replaced with a Purcell Prusik or any sort of load-releasable hitch and a friction knot.  Just depends on what you've got.

I've found that some friction hitches can be releasable. The autoblock hitch has consistently done well as a releasable hitch. Just compress it and you can slide it. It's not super easy to slide it so you don't want to slide it more than just releasing the load onto something else after a foot or 2 of slack. I've also had varied results with the prusik hitch depending on the material used (cord vs webbing vs dyneema slings), rope diameter, cord/webbing thickness, and weight. Generally I've found the prusik releases more consistently with a smaller load and tied with accessory cord. I would imagine the bachmann hitch would also work well as an alternative to the autoblock hitch, perhaps easier to release using the carabiner as handle, but I've never tried it before so I'm not sure.  

I would use an autoblock when doing the belay escape and then a prusik or klemheist for the friction hitch while you counter-balance rap. And make sure you practice all of this on the ground to work out any kinks you may find in your system. Then, once you feel comfortable, practice again but off the deck. It's good to practice self rescue at least once a month. It makes for a good activity for rainy days when you can't climb or rest days.

Chuck Parks · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Jan 2008 · Points: 2,086
cmqr9001 Black wrote:

It seems like this wouldn't work because both sides of the munter on the anchor are loaded, so the rope can't slide through the masterpoint and it's essentially locked off until unweighted right?

Once you connect yourself to the injured climber, you're essentially rappelling down so your weight transfers off of your side of the rope and onto the injured climber. You now have two people's weight on that side of the rope, and only the weight of the rope remaining on your side. That should be enough of a difference to get that Munter moving! The Munter will introduce more friction into the system, which could be a factor if you'll need to pull the rope and set up another rappel later.

If you head out somewhere to practice your self-rescue skills, it might be worth a try.

Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 290

I feel I must be missing something because that seems like a lot of steps to get the device from the anchor to your harness, with the load strand through the master point.

#1 creates a technical shelf with a load releasable hitch.

After that, my line of thinking is to add one (or two) lockers to the master point, and clip some slack you made between the reverso and the PMMO. Which creates your lowering master point.

Now all you have to do is get the belay device off of the anchor, and onto your harness. So how much do you trust that technical shelf? If you trust it, just take the device off the anchor and out of guide mode, and clip it straight to your harness. If you don't trust it that much, you have a number of options depending on how much you do or don't trust the PMMO. A simple one would be to bring slack down between the reverso and locker(s) you just installed, and clove into your harness until you've moved the device to your belay loop.

But possibly the simplest thing to do is to move the device straight to your belay loop. Thread a sling through the (still locked) belay biner and then clip it to your belay loop. The device is then on you, with an extension, and all you need to do now is remove the guide locker from the anchor. (Optional overhand knot in the sling once it is doubled back through the belay biner, gives redundancy.) And I see you mentioned this down thread.

I'd trust the technical shelf long enough to move the device, but having a backup clove hitch in there somewhere, seems like a reasonable compromise between safety and efficiency if the device is not going to be on the anchor or myself at all times.

coppolillo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 70

Hey Mathias---If you check the photos/step-by-step list above, the first thing the belayer does is tie an overhand-on-a-bight and clip it to his harness---so this backs up the entire system during the transition. As you rightly identify, you've got to trust the "temporary ledge" or whatever friction hitch you're using to hold the rope in the even of a weighted transition. The overhand clipped to the belayer backs up this step. A sketchy stance or icy ropes or something could certainly necessitate more attention during the transition from belaying to rappelling!

Putting a Munter on the anchor (or going "baseline" with a MMO as it's historically been called) doesn't make sense to me---if you're rappelling to your follower, there's a good chance you're going to keep going---so trying to pull the rope through the master point/anchor to retrieve seems like asking for trouble (a stuck rope). 

Another solution if somebody doesn't want to open the blocking 'biner when sliding the belay/rappel device down to their belay loop is simply adding another locker to the existing blocking 'biner, or improvising a sling as cmqr suggests. 

If there's a compelling reason to add security to the system (rappelling with a friction hitch controlling the follower's strand, clipped to the rescuer, for example, due to skinny ropes, wet ropes, a weight discrepancy between climbers), then add it--yes! 

Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 290
coppolillo wrote:

Hey Mathias---If you check the photos/step-by-step list above, the first thing the belayer does is tie an overhand-on-a-bight and clip it to his harness---so this backs up the entire system during the transition. As you rightly identify, you've got to trust the "temporary ledge" or whatever friction hitch you're using to hold the rope in the even of a weighted transition. The overhand clipped to the belayer backs up this step. A sketchy stance or icy ropes or something could certainly necessitate more attention during the transition from belaying to rappelling!

Putting a Munter on the anchor (or going "baseline" with a MMO as it's historically been called) doesn't make sense to me---if you're rappelling to your follower, there's a good chance you're going to keep going---so trying to pull the rope through the master point/anchor to retrieve seems like asking for trouble (a stuck rope). 

Another solution if somebody doesn't want to open the blocking 'biner when sliding the belay/rappel device down to their belay loop is simply adding another locker to the existing blocking 'biner, or improvising a sling as cmqr suggests. 

If there's a compelling reason to add security to the system (rappelling with a friction hitch controlling the follower's strand, clipped to the rescuer, for example, due to skinny ropes, wet ropes, a weight discrepancy between climbers), then add it--yes! 

I see what you're pointing to regarding clipping a bight on the brake strand to the harness. Simple and efficient.

It's been a while since I read whichever self-rescue book I have, but it had an emphasis on using natural and technical shelves, and avoiding transitioning to and from "baseline". And I agree that going to baseline doesn't make much sense when you know your course of action.

jktinst · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 55

(Edit: the Mathias discussion got posted while I was composing this, hence the duplication on the no-clove shortcut)

That second video is less-than-ideal as a teaching tool. In the section filmed on the rock, when explaining why you might want to use a CB rappel, they don't mention that, if the second is incapacitated somewhere below and unable to set up an anchor for himself, the CB rappel is essentially the only system that will let you rappel to him while keeping him safely anchored. I skipped through the indoor shpeel at the beginning so I suppose that it may have been mentioned there but still...

Also, CB rappelling with the rope going over a rock edge as shown in the video is somewhat scary. It's OK for the part where the rescuer CB rappels to reach the incapacitated second since the rope isn't moving through the anchor during this part. However, for the next part (further CB rappelling with the second), the rope will be grinding on the rock edge both on the way up to and back down from the anchor, with the weight of two climbers on it. In a real situation, I would either switch to a longer anchor reaching over the edge as part of the belay escape and rappel set-up procedure or I would not do that next part of the CB rappel (ie, I would set up a new anchor after reaching the victim, recover the rope and tandem rappel from there).

Regarding the system you suggest, I would go faster by not doing the back-up clove in step 3. If you're used to rappelling using an extension (PAS or similar) between the rappel ATC and your harness (with third-hand hitch clipped to the harness loop, as opposed to using the no-extension + leg-loop hitch shown in the video), you can:

- Clip your harness extension to the rope-brake biner of the ATC in guide mode and install the third-hand hitch on the brake strand coming out of the ATC.

- Clip the slacked rope between the PMMO and the ATC into a locker (or a spare quicklink) and clip that to the anchor.

- Unclip the ATC from the anchor, put your weight on the ATC/extension and adjust the third-hand hitch.

- Undo the MMO part of the PMMO and transfer the tail end to your harness as shown in the video, etc.

With this procedure, you always have the ATC clipped either to the anchor or to your own counterweight as a back-up to the PMMO holding the victim so you don't really need the extra clove back-up.

Regarding this:

R.Walters wrote:

...Don't do #9 until you've rappelled all the way to your partner, otherwise you're tending the hitch all the way down unneccessarily..

You can loosen the prusik a lot, making tending it on the way down more straightforward but I prefer to keep this prusik on the victim's strand because that's where it will need to be for the later part of the CB rappel, attached to the rescuer's harness so you might as well do this attachment right away to ensure that you won't leave the prusik behind by mistake.

Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 290
jktinst wrote:

(Edit: the Mathias discussion got posted while I was composing this, hence the duplication on the no-clove shortcut)

 I did actually reference step #3 about the clove hitch, mistaking it for the original step #2 of creating slack to load the PMMO. Then I went and re-read the OP, realized my mistake and edited it out of my post. I also felt it was an unnecessary step, though securing the brake strand makes perfect sense as a first step, which I failed to consider with the device set in guide mode.

R.Walters · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 350
jktinst wrote:

Regarding this:

You can loosen the prusik a lot, making tending it on the way down more straightforward but I prefer to keep this prusik on the victim's strand because that's where it will need to be for the later part of the CB rappel, attached to the rescuer's harness so you might as well do this attachment right away to ensure that you won't leave the prusik behind by mistake.

Someone up-thread also makes a good point about whether or not you can trust the integrity of the rope on the load strand. In the scenario where rockfall injures the follower, the rope is potentially compromised too. In that case, I can see attaching a friction hitch (from belay loop to load strand) from the get-go. 

But if you can see your partner and confirm that the rope is intact, I'd argue that it's favorable to wait until you've descended before attaching something to them or their strand, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a prusik.

jktinst · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 55

Well in this scenario, the prusik is already attached to the victim's strand since it was part of the PMMO. If the rope doesn't go over an edge and you don't want to manage this prusik during the first part of the CB rappel, you could let it slide down to the victim.

Using a fixed tether instead of a prusik to link rescuer and victim works too but I feel that a prusik can add flexibility to some parts of the procedure in certain circumstances. For example, if a narrow ledge offers itself along the way, the rescuer could guide the victim to this ledge and correctly position him on it, then desuspend him by hoisting himself back up (pulling down on the prusik) and/or by locking off his brake rope and climbing. In this situation, the prusik would essentially give the rescuer a self-belay for going back up and (once the rope between the prusik and the victim has just enough slack) CB rappelling the short distance down to just below the ledge without retensioning the victim's rope attachment and risk shifting him to a worse position or yanking him off the ledge. The rescuer could then set a back-up clove on the loose rope below the prusik, secured to his harness, do a preliminary assessment from a suspended position next to the victim and even provide some of the most urgent first aid before deciding whether to resuspend the victim and keep CB rappelling to a better station lower down, or set up an anchor right there and continue by tandem rappelling.

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 310
Guy Keesee wrote:

How are you going to rap down a tight line? To get to your climber? Assuming you climb like most, with only one rope. 

For example..... You are at the top of a nice long pitch, say 150 Feet. Your 2nd has climbed only 30 feet when something happens, and is now unconscious and hanging in space. 

Riddle me this? 

jktinst · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 55

This was discussed recently:

Self-rescue question

R.Walters · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 350
jktinst wrote:

Well in this scenario, the prusik is already attached to the victim's strand since it was part of the PMMO. If the ..

Good points. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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