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Called out by a guide for my rap technique


Original Post
Mark Berenblum · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 105

I was climbing in Peterskill in the Gunks this weekend and had a guide call me out for what he seemed to think was my unsafe rappel technique. Here's what I'd rigged:


I set up a top-rope with a static rope for all of the anchor components, tied to two trees as anchors. I started by tying a re-traced bowline on tree #2, giving me two loops around the tree, and backed the bowline up with a double fishermans. I slung the other tree (tree #1 in the diagram) with a double length sling, tied an overhand, and clipped the redundant loops with a locker. I adjusted the clove to get the legs to the right length, and made a BHK master point with 2 lockers. Because we were rigging from the top of a cliff and were going to top-rope, I had the masterpoint over the edge of the cliff and hanging in air just at the top of the face. Since the masterpoint was below our feet, a regular rappel would have required a bit of a drop, so I rigged the end of the static anchor rope so we could start by rappelling on that with a munter and then transfer to the main rappel down our dynamic line once we were below the masterpoint. Given that the static rope rappel was redundant with the main rappel (pre-rigged and with a third-hand backup prussik), I wasn't too concerned about the initial short rappel down the static line. I rigged that line by dead-ending it to a locker clipped to the two loops of the bowline that were going around tree #2. It's a little confusing the way it's drawn because I had all the slack at tree #1, but wanted to set up the initial rappel on tree #2. I realized that rappelling from a biner clipped to the bowline would ring-load the bowline and that this would weaken the knot, but I wasn't concerned at all about it holding body weight.  

We rappelled without issue and went on with our climbing. There was a guide on the climb next to us who was teaching rappelling to a big group of kids, and he yelled down to us from the top of the climb to let us know that it was unsafe to clip a bowline the way I'd done. I told him I appreciated the concern and knew it was weaker than other methods but still plenty strong. He seemed dismayed that I didn't accept his premise and left. So, was I wrong to consider this safe enough? Did I take an unreasonable risk?
Mobes Mobesely · · MDI · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 865

Ask to see their permit to guide and credentials next time.

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,800

Yes, ring loading a bowline is a bad idea. The question is: how bad is it for a retraced bowline?

Mike G · · Pennsyltucky · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

bowlines are known to slip easily during ring loading so its really not ideal but if you tied a nice tight double fishermans that shouldve prevented that. is there a reason im missing not to rappel off the slack from the clove on tree 1 and not have to have redirected it to the ring loaded bowline?

Jon Frisby · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 120

He probably didn't see the main anchor, which is fine and all that matters. Alternatively he's a supersafe know-it-all. Seems a little complicated but as long as they weren't scrub pines, you're good dude

K Weber · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 15

There is a theory that bowline tends to work itself loose if left unattended and/or in a dynamic situation like being repeatedly weighted.  A normal procedure is to use a finish or safety tie off.

Brassmonkey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 115

Was the guide a white guy with dreads?

Jon Frisby · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 120

FWIW, there was a guide at the Trapps with a TR set up on the first pitch of Frog's Head, both monopolizing the rap station and making pitch two inaccessible. They're not all geniuses

Derek Doucet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 64

Ring loading bowlines is a bad idea. As long as you finished yours with a snugly tied finishing not, and thoroughly tightened the bowline itself, it’s not surprising it didn’t unroll with such a brief and light load, but it’s still a bad idea. Without those precautions, it’s pretty sobering to see how easily you can get a ring loaded bowline to unroll.  As an aside, the “cowboy” bowline where the working end ends up outside the loop is actually less susceptible to unrolling when ring loaded than the standard variety.

Based on your drawing, it also appears there was several quick and easy alternatives to construct your rap line with the same equipment. One of the easiest would have been to tie one end to tree one with a knot of your choice, measure out enough for a BHK masterpoint, then tie a bowline on a night to the other tree and use the second load strand as your rap line to get below the BHK. So while this was hardly an imminent death moment, it was a potentially serious and entirely avoidable error. 

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,455
Mark Berenblum wrote: I was climbing in Peterskill in the Gunks this weekend and had a guide call me out for what he seemed to think was my unsafe rappel technique. Here's what I'd rigged:


I set up a top-rope with a static rope for all of the anchor components, tied to two trees as anchors. I started by tying a re-traced bowline on tree #2, giving me two loops around the tree, and backed the bowline up with a double fishermans. I slung the other tree (tree #1 in the diagram) with a double length sling, tied an overhand, and clipped the redundant loops with a locker. I adjusted the clove to get the legs to the right length, and made a BHK master point with 2 lockers. Because we were rigging from the top of a cliff and were going to top-rope, I had the masterpoint over the edge of the cliff and hanging in air just at the top of the face. Since the masterpoint was below our feet, a regular rappel would have required a bit of a drop, so I rigged the end of the static anchor rope so we could start by rappelling on that with a munter and then transfer to the main rappel down our dynamic line once we were below the masterpoint. Given that the static rope rappel was redundant with the main rappel (pre-rigged and with a third-hand backup prussik), I wasn't too concerned about the initial short rappel down the static line. I rigged that line by dead-ending it to a locker clipped to the two loops of the bowline that were going around tree #2. It's a little confusing the way it's drawn because I had all the slack at tree #1, but wanted to set up the initial rappel on tree #2. I realized that rappelling from a biner clipped to the bowline would ring-load the bowline and that this would weaken the knot, but I wasn't concerned at all about it holding body weight.  

We rappelled without issue and went on with our climbing. There was a guide on the climb next to us who was teaching rappelling to a big group of kids, and he yelled down to us from the top of the climb to let us know that it was unsafe to clip a bowline the way I'd done. I told him I appreciated the concern and knew it was weaker than other methods but still plenty strong. He seemed dismayed that I didn't accept his premise and left. So, was I wrong to consider this safe enough? Did I take an unreasonable risk?

Your setup seems a bit funky, don't sweat it though, there's lots of so-called "guides" out there who think they know what's best cause they took a "course" one day and what they learned is the ONLY way to do things.

Here's my TR setup from a different thread:

There's all sorts of wack shit anchors out there and always some crazy over-thought way of doing it. Here's the simple way:

1. Select one-anchor (tree, rock, nut, hex) and connect webbing or cord (doesn't matter which, it really doesn't).

2. Tie one over-hand knot so that it hangs off the edge, then tie another right next to it for redundancy.

3. Hang your rope off that anchor with two locking and opposing biners.

4. Take the remaining cord or webbing (it still doesn't matter which) and pull it back to a second anchor. Clove hitch and adjust or measure to the back of the anchor biner and tie an overhand (the length of a biner is about the amount of webbing or cord that is taken in while tying a knot).

5. Back up your master point with the remaining webbing to a 3rd anchor. DONE!

Probably better to learn this in visual format, but the above will get you there. I think I could teach anyone how to set a TR anchor in 30 minutes or less, so don't waste time or $ on some ridiculous TR anchor class and don't fret as to if you have enough gear or not.

But most importantly DON'T FUCK THIS UP, PEOPLES LIVES DEPEND ON THE ANCHOR! If you're unsure, ask someone.
eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 502

Bowline on a bight with a double overhand back-up knot? Not the greatest in terms of ring loading but it's still fine. If anything your problem is going to be unying that back-up knot if the bowline rolls and the double overhand becomes atomically welded.

However, you could do the climbing community a big favor if you would kindly go up to the guide next time and remove the stick from his ass. That'll make the experience much more enjoyable for all. 

bttrrtRock Charles · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 5

I have heard one particular bowline story from a credible source that scared me away from them forever. Plus, I've never had a problem with other knots. 

wes calkins · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 339
 I told him I appreciated the concern and knew it was weaker than other methods but still plenty strong.

If you knew that what you were doing was not the best that you could do in that moment then why did you do it? Tying square knots to a tree might be strong enough but I would rather have the thing thats best practice, not just good enough practice. 

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

Your set-up was fine.  I don't think there is the slightest problem ring loading a rethreaded bowline backed up with a double fisherman's.

Josh Cameron · · California · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 1,120

Was the guide a boy scout? Ha! That would be the worst of both worlds.

lucander · · Stone Ridge, NY · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 257

Don’t sweat it. Just another opinionated New Yorker flexing.

ubu · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 0

Ring loading a bowline with a backup knot (even a single overhand) seems to be a non-issue: https://player.vimeo.com/video/40767916.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,631

One can get wrapped around the axle chasing “best practices.” Have been there myself.

Nice linked video, ubu.

Mark Berenblum · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 105

Thanks for the comments and feedback. I didn't call the guy out and have no idea how legit his guide credentials were or whether he had dreadlocks or a boyscout troup. I don't mean to shame that guy, really, just wanted a sanity check on my setup. Whoever he was, he was evidently legit-enough to feel comfortable with elementary school kids standing unroped no more than one or two feet from the edge of the cliff edge. I was tempting to call him out, but the kids survived and I thought it better to mind my own business.

To answer Mike G's question, tree #2 gave a better angle over the edge that prevented a minor swing. I'd originally set up the secondary rap to tree #1 then moved it (hence the seemingly overly complicated rigging). The original setup had the secondary rap from Tree #1 and it was simpler and didn't involve rapping from the bowline. When I moved it, I knew my setup was less than ideal, but I was hurrying and I was the only one who'd rappel the secondary line of the bowline and I thought it an acceptable shortcut. I realize I could have used a simpler systems like the one Tradiban's proposes, just wanted to rap from the top without having to drop below the master point.

It seems like there's no clear consensus on how bad of an idea this was, but I'll take the RGold endorsement and the video ubu posted (which shows the backed-up bowline actually does pretty well with ring loading) as a sign that I wasn't gonna die. Thanks, y'all.

Mark Berenblum · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 105
 Wes calkins wrote:

If you knew that what you were doing was not the best that you could do in that moment then why did you do it? Tying square knots to a tree might be strong enough but I would rather have the thing thats best practice, not just good enough practice. 


I guess my philosophy is different... There are plenty of cases where I go with a good-enough solution in order to save gear and time. Not to the extent of hanging my life from a square knot, but to the extent of rapping off a ring-loaded bowline.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526
ubu wrote: Ring loading a bowline with a backup knot (even a single overhand) seems to be a non-issue: https://player.vimeo.com/video/40767916.

And that was a single bowline.  A rethreaded bowline (which, when completed, is a bowline on a bight) would be much more resistant to ring loading failure, which involves pulling the "bitter end" back through the knot, not rolling as in the case of the figure eight.  The structure of the knot and then the double fisherman's backup make this failure mode virtually impossible; I'd expect a more intense slow-pull test would break the rope first.

The bowline bias that has come over the climbing world has people quaking in their boots at the mere mention of the knot.  Whether or not this new paranoia is justified (it isn't), the rethreaded bowline is a different animal; just because it has "bowline" in the title doesn't mean you have to abandon ship.  The DAV, in an analysis of tie-in knots, rated the rethreaded bowline as the best knot, as solid as the figure 8 but not subject to welding under load.

All that said, if the OP had doubts about ring-loading the knot in question, it would have been easy enough to throw a sling around the tree and clove hitch the slack line to that. Lacking a sling, the slack line itself could have been directly fastened to the tree in several ways (assuming there was enough extra rope for that purpose).
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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