Dealing with damaged rope in a counterbalance rappel


Original Post
aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200

So the other thread on self-rescue and counterbalance rappel brought up an interesting scenario: so let’s say your second is unable to move and hanging on the rope, you did everything stated in the other thread and now you’re rappelling down your end of the rope with a prussik attached to your second’s (loaded) rope. Some distance into your rappel, you see a section of badly damaged rope on your second’s strand that was not visible to you until you got close. Your second is essentially hanging off just a few strands of nylon. Rappelling past that section of rope is out of the question, you’re pretty sure the added weight will snap the rope cause you both to fall to your death. You look around for any anchoring opportunities, but you’re on a long section of runout with no gear placement whatsoever. What can you do?

 I have an idea that doesn't involve a knife (but it still needs to be tested when I get home), but I'm curious to see what others come up with.

Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 120

Terrifying scenario you've created.

The only thing that immediately come to mind is to carefully get to the bad section, add a prussik (probably using alpine draws) both below and above it, and attempt to run another draw from one to the other and back to the first, and trying to create some tension on both.

The only other thing I can think of is to ascend the rope to the closest available spot where you can build another anchor. Fix the climber's side of the rope,  and go direct into the anchor. From here, hopefully you have enough rope to either get to your climber, or else reset the CB rap and lower them to a ledge. But all the while they're dangling on a thread.

Perhaps a combination of these two could work.

Edit: if attempting to ascend, fixing their side (even with just a prussik) to the first available placement would help mitigate any rope movement  transfer on your part to the damaged section as you ascend further to construct a solid anchor.

curt86iroc · · Golden, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 3

Call 911

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Mathias wrote:

Terrifying scenario you've created.

Haha, probably why people are more interested in discussing whether we should use a clove hitch or a sliding-x on the anchor instead.

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Mathias wrote:

The only thing that immediately come to mind is to carefully get to the bad section, add a prussik (probably using alpine draws) both below and above it, and attempt to run another draw from one to the other and back to the first, and trying to create some tension on both.

Why run a draw from one to the other and back? If the goal is to create some tension, why not just slide the two prussiks away from each other? Not questioning you, just trying to create a discussion so we can think through the details.

The only other thing I can think of is to ascend the rope to the closest available spot where you can build another anchor. Fix the climber's side of the rope,  and go direct into the anchor. From here, hopefully you have enough rope to either get to your climber, or else reset the CB rap and lower them to a ledge. But all the while they're dangling on a thread.

If they are dangling on a thread the whole time, then it's probably not an acceptable solution. So I think the first order of business is to backup the damaged section (like you stated above), or isolate it if we can (alpine butterfly). If the backup/isolation is acceptably strong, then we can just continue with the counterbalance rappel without having to ascend the rope or set anchors, right?

Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 120
aikibujin wrote:

Why run a draw from one to the other and back? If the goal is to create some tension, why not just slide the two prussiks away from each other? Not questioning you, just trying to create a discussion so we can think through the details.

If they are dangling on a thread the whole time, then it's probably not an acceptable solution. So I think the first order of business is to backup the damaged section (like you stated above), or isolate it if we can (alpine butterfly). If the backup/isolation is acceptably strong, then we can just continue with the counterbalance rappel without having to ascend the rope or set anchors, right?

I see running the draw from one (top) to the other (bottom) and back as a way to avoid putting any downward pressure below the damage. I was thinking of it as a 2:1 ratio pulling upward. Also, creating the tension seems preferable to allowing it to happen as the rope breaks.

Having your partner dangling on a thread is not acceptable. But if you notice the damage much further below you than pro is available above, it  may make sense to me to attempt to stabilize the rope on their side of the anchor before descending much further. But in general, I agree that backing up the damage should be considered the priority.

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 1,875

Is the damage on the second's strand of the rope?  And you're rapping down the other side?  In that case the damaged part is holding your partner's weight the whole time, and there won't be any increased stress on it after you've gone down past it.

If it's on your side, then you need to tie it off and do some knot-passing shenanigans to get by it.

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Mathias wrote:

I see running the draw from one (top) to the other (bottom) and back as a way to avoid putting any downward pressure below the damage. I was thinking of it as a 2:1 ratio pulling upward. Also, creating the tension seems preferable to allowing it to happen as the rope breaks.

I got you now. I think you're getting close to what I'm thinking.

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

Attach a friction hitch around both strands above you at maximum reach.  Pull up some slack on your strand.  Tie a knot in it and clip it to a biner on this new friction hitch.  Attach a Munter to your belay loop to this new strand. Continue rappelling on this new strand. 

What happens next is the big question.  

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Greg D wrote:

Attach a friction hitch around both strands above you at maximum reach.  Pull up some slack on your strand.  Tie a knot in it and clip it to a biner on this new friction hitch.  Attach a Munter to your belay loop to this new strand. Continue rappelling on this new strand. 

What happens next is the big question.  

Simple and fast. It does allow you to reach your second quickly to render aid. I would probably add a prussik on the second's strand below the damaged section and connect that to the top prussik, just to protect the second in case the rope does break.

But yeah, once you've rapped down to your second and took care of them, next you either call 911 and wait, or you need to anchor your second (assume you can build an anchor in place), ascend the rope, deal with the damaged section, and then rap back down again in order to continue with the descent.

Slartibartfast · · Magrathea · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 0

I'd just tie an alpine butterfly with the damaged section isolated. You can then pass that section the same way you would any other knot.

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Slartibartfast wrote:

I'd just tie an alpine butterfly with the damaged section isolated.

That's what I'm going to do too, but you're missing quite a few steps in there. How do you tie an alpine butterfly on a rope while a climber is hanging on it?

Slartibartfast · · Magrathea · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 0

oooooh it's above them? Got it. That's tricky.

RockinOut · · NY, NY · Joined May 2010 · Points: 0

Tie 1 prussik below and 1 above the damage then clip into both either with a biner or a quick draw. pull the prussiks apart to put the tension on the QD or biner. 

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
RockinOut wrote:

Tie 1 prussik below and 1 above the damage then clip into both either with a biner or a quick draw. pull the prussiks apart to put the tension on the QD or biner. 

You can achieve the same with just one tied prussik cord if it's long enough, just not with the normal method for tying a prussik. To me this is an acceptable solution if I think the chance of rope breakage is low, and the prussik adds more confidence as a backup. However, if I think the rope is going to break at any moment, I'd much prefer isolating the damaged rope with an alpine butterfly instead of purely relying on prussiks.

jktinst · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 0

I must say that my fist instincts were also to somehow bridge the damaged area but I think that in this situation it should be possible and make more sense to first secure the rescuer's rappel strand and next secure the victim at the end of this rappel strand.

Even as you pile on unlikely complicating factors in this desperate situation, there are still practical implications to the scenario you describe. The rescuer has just led the pitch so he's probably not completely oblivious to the fact that his second has come to rest in (probably has pendulumed into) the middle of a blank wall. The fact that the rescuer has committed himself to the CB rappelling option should mean that he's reasonably sure that he has sufficient cordage not only to reach the second in this manner but also to keep going down by CB rappelling with the victim to a lower spot with some anchoring possibilities. In all likelihood, this would mean that he's taking advantage of double ropes or a single rope lengthened by a long and solid cord as I discussed in the earlier thread.

If the team is on a single rope with no extra cordage available, the fact that the rescuer goes for the CB rappel option should mean that the victim has come to rest significantly closer than half a rope's distance from the rescuer. This would make it less believable that the rescuer realized only well into the CB rappel that his partner's rope is about to snap (though we're obviously not dealing in likely situations here) but that wouldn't change the fact that there should be enough rope available at least to make things secure for both partners as a first priority.

So being on CB rappel with the victim's strand close to snapping, the most urgent thing is indeed for the rescuer to attach the two ropes together above him to be sure that his own strand is secured to the anchor even if the victim's rope were to snap. Setting a prusik on both strands together is not a great option because it would require that something/someone heavy be always weighting the tail. However, you could achieve much the same result with something like a Machard hitch cranked tight and with the tail knotted to the tightening loop. Alternatively, in this situation (as was discussed in the current thread on CB rappelling to rescue the second), it's likely that the rescuer already has a prusik from the victim's strand to his harness, in which case, setting another prusik on the rescuer's strand and joining the two tails together (with a knot or a locker) is also an option. Either way, whatever is going to be grabbing the victim's rope (and to a lesser extent, the rescuer's rope) must be completely secure: using an additional back-up prusik, ensuring that there is no doubt (in terms of diameter ratio and flexibility) that the wrap cord can grab the rope(s) hard, doing more wraps and setting them very tightly, etc.

Next question: by the "second being unable to move", do you mean that he is completely incapacitated? Because if he is at least able to clip a locker to his harness loop, the situation changes quite a bit. If he can do that:

- Dangle a locker on a bight at the end of the rescuer's brake strand and get the victim to clip in.

- Clip an HMS locker to whatever system is closing the rope-to-anchor loop and put the victim on a munter belay on this locker.

- Take in the slack on this back-up rope (but not so much that it would block the ATC) and lock the munter in place with an MMO.

If the victim cannot clip a locker, the rescuer must keep rappelling to the victim and clip it himself. In this case, he should set another prusik on the rope below his ATC and use that prusik as anchor point for the MMO that will take up the slack on the rope.

I'm running out of time right now to discuss the next steps in detail but will at least outline that I feel that the rescuer should then get back up to the rope-to-anchor loop-closing system, transfer himself to a rappel set-up on the damaged strand (in the process transferring the victim by counterweight to the intact strand shortened by the MMO) and undo the loop-closing system to get back into a CB rappel situation that is a mirror image of the initial one.

The rescuer could also opt for a "rappel pick-off" type of approach. This could get both him and the victim down to a lower spot suitable for anchoring but would leave the rope tied up, which would mean reascending to free it up if it's going to be needed for further self-rescue steps. If possible, I always prefer to go for options that leave the rope recoverable.

There may be other options. I'll keep thinking about it until I get a chance to write again.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,407
Gunkiemike wrote:

Is the damage on the second's strand of the rope?  And you're rapping down the other side?  In that case the damaged part is holding your partner's weight the whole time, and there won't be any increased stress on it after you've gone down past it.

A variation to Mike's line of thinking ...

If comms are ok, and if my partner can eventually reliably get his / her weight off the rope, the quickest way to back off from the edge of the abyss might be to:

a) keep rapping while letting the prusik tighten up on the second's strand a few feet above the damaged part - isolating me somewhat from the damaged rope.

... am assuming in the next step that the damaged part of the rope isn't at risk of further damage (e.g., rope movement over an edge) ..

b) continue rapping which starts lowering my partner;

c) ideally, my partner has already clipped into something bomber (e.g., bolt, replaced gear that had been cleaned); if not, partner is lowered to where he/she can do so or simply and securely comes to rest on an adequate ledge - isolates my partner somewhat from the damaged rope.

... the next step takes some care to avoid uncontrollably reloading the damaged part; so, assuming I and my partner are still good with this plan ...

d) keep rapping until second has unweighted his/her strand and enough slack has built up for me to knot off the damaged part - tie that knot while also removing as much slack from the system as practical; 

... circumstances are now significantly improved ...

d)  reascend my rope strand and/or rap as needed to unlock and clean the prusik - moving up on my strand will reapply the counterbalance;

e) resume rappelling down to my partner

f) reattach to my partner or my partner's strand using prusik or simply attaching a sling from my belay loop to his/her's

g) continue to counterbalance rap to where ever we originally intended to go

h) get off the rope and pull the damaged side first

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Bill Lawry wrote:

If comms are ok, and if my partner can eventually reliably get his / her weight off the rope, the quickest way to back off from the edge of the abyss might be to:

The point to these brain exercises is to think about the unthinkable. So whenever there's a question about the scenario, it's better to think about the worst case, not the best case. So assume your partner is totally incapacitated, not able to help in anyway except weighing down the end of the rope. The knife is becoming a more attractive option by the second...

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,407
aikibujin wrote:

Mea culpa. It is a weakness of mine in a difficult situation to find the simplest and easiest way out: KISS.  So, perhaps a slight variation on my sequence to  address an unhelpful partner ...

b.1) rap & lower as needed to some protection (good bolt or good gear placed while rapping/lower);

b.2) attach hitch below damage and secure that to protection; somewhat isolates my partner from the damage;

b.3) keep rapping to build up slack in damaged section - (edit to add: may need to tie off rap and ascend other strand above damage; a game of inches here); hopefully one has enough slack to knot it off; we're back from the abyss. I can re-enter my original sequence at step d.

Is that too risky?  Speed is of the essence.  Harness Hang Syndrome is real.

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,037
aikibujin wrote:

So the other thread on self-rescue and counterbalance rappel brought up an interesting scenario: so let’s say your second is unable to move and hanging on the rope, you did everything stated in the other thread and now you’re rappelling down your end of the rope with a prussik attached to your second’s (loaded) rope. Some distance into your rappel, you see a section of badly damaged rope on your second’s strand that was not visible to you until you got close. Your second is essentially hanging off just a few strands of nylon. Rappelling past that section of rope is out of the question, you’re pretty sure the added weight will snap the rope cause you both to fall to your death. You look around for any anchoring opportunities, but you’re on a long section of runout with no gear placement whatsoever. What can you do?

 I have an idea that doesn't involve a knife (but it still needs to be tested when I get home), but I'm curious to see what others come up with.

I don't understand how you got into this scenario to begin with, and if that's the case, what's the point of even worrying about a scenario that would be impossible to get into.  Your partner had to somehow get below the damaged portion of rope either by rapping past it (where they would notice it and stop prior to passing it) or they would have to be lowered past it (in witch case you as the person lowering them would notice it prior to letting it slide through the lowering device).  

Now, pretending that you were somehow able to get into the scenario, here is what I would do:

1. Tie a friction hitch to both strands of rope above me to protect myself in case the rope breaks.

2. If partner is at an anchor or can build an anchor, have them provide slack so I can tie an alpine butterfly in the damaged portion of the rope, have partner take in the slack, I remove friction hitch and continue on my marry way.

3. If partner is not at an anchor, tie a friction hitch to the rope below the damage to back up partner, and have them continue rapping until they get to the anchor and then follow the steps above in 2.

Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 120

My intent when suggesting the rescuer re-ascend to secure the victim's side of the rope to the closest available placement, was to reduce rope movement on the victim's side, and to secure the rescuer's side in the event the rope did break.

But fixing both rope strands together with one or more friction hitch is a much easier and more accessable option. I totally failed to consider it, but it is a far better solution to the immediate problem of protecting the rescuer.

Good thread!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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