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Rappelling off the belay loop


Kelley Gilleran · · Sacramento, Ca · Joined Sep 2012 · Points: 2,800
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526
Erroneous Publicus wrote:

So the method that works perfectly for the vast majority of climbers is the least effective of all the perfect methods? That's deep.  

I chose my words carefully.  I didn't say the method is extremely dangerous, just that it is the least effective option.  It is least effective because it is the most easily defeated.  Raising the leg, tilting sideways to reach something, and flipping upside down will release the autoblock.  If the primary purpose of the autoblock is to save the rappeller from possible emergency situations, then the harness loop--leg loop combination is the least effective for that task, regardless of some hypothesized "vast majority" of users opinions.

If indeed a "vast majority" use the least effective method---and I have no idea where that statistic comes from---then the deep question would be why that choice is so popular, given that the problems with the belay loop - leg loop combination are very old news at this point.  Why would the "vast majority" of climbers chose a method with the most known failure modes?

Moreover, when the type of accident is a rare occurrence, citing proper functioning for a "vast majority" misses the point.  For example, the vast majority of climbers never experience a serious head impact, but helmets are considered an appropriate protection for a rare but potentially serious incident.  There are a lot of things some climbers "get away with" that aren't optimal.  The fact that they are "getting away" with suboptimal practice does not contradict the suboptimality.
. Mobes · · MDI, ME · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 865
Erroneous Publicus wrote:

So the method that works perfectly for the vast majority of climbers is the least effective of all the perfect methods? That's deep.  

Really the most effective way to rap safely is to not leave home, after that pretty much any backup works, some smoother than others. 

Adrienne DiRosario · · Troy, NY · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0

RGold for the win 

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
Sawyer W wrote: So I rap off of my belay loop because a tensioned PAS is the worst thing to try and screw with, and my buddy is of the “yer gonna die” camp

Other than personal preference is there a reason to rap off of the extended PAS vs a belay loop?

The extended rap with an atc is a noob red flag.

John Barritt · · The 405 · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,084
Tradiban wrote:

The extended rap with an atc is a noob red flag.

I thought it was risk homeostasis.........

Been waiting for just the right time for that...... ;)
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
John Barritt wrote:

I thought it was risk homeostasis.........

Been waiting for just the right time for that...... ;)

Risk homeostasis would be if the noob decided it was ok not to tie knots in the end of the ropes because of their rap extend.

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,860
Bill Lundeen wrote: I'm one of those old-schoolers who never raps off the belay loop.  I was taught (many moons ago) to reduce the number of links in a chain, if possible.  I just use a large locker for the belay device and slip it thru the tie-in points to reduce the extra link of a belay loop.  (Why is it not called a rappel loop???)

Read the instructions that came with your harness.

Matt Wenger · · Bozeman · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 3,058

I don't know why I bother to read these threads. They just make my eyes hurt from all the rolling around in my skull...

If I am very tired, I will extend my rappel device with a couple of slings because I feel like I have better and easier control with my hands more in front of me, vs. lower down by going straight off of my belay loop. However, I rappel straight off my belay loop 95% of the time, with a prusik backup or firemans belay usually. Going through the tie in points? That sounds awkward, but to each their own.

Also, hooking up a PAS to your belay loop = YGD? Really? One guy who did this, climbed like 2,000 routes a year and didn't inspect his gear dies, and suddenly we're all gonna die because we do this? Like I said, so much eye rolling...

Inspect your gear often. Our equipment is super over-engineered. Stop freaking out over illogical things. Climb on.

Brandon.Phillips · · Portola, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 55

The only reason to not use your belay loop is that you also want to use a prusik as a backup. 

If you aren't using a backup, use your belay loop.

The reason for extending your device on a PAS is to use a prusik on your belay loop. If a prusik is on your belay loop, you need the extension between the two, so that the top of the prusik doesn't jam into your belay device, which would defeat your back up.

If you want to your device on the belay loop and back up, you should put the prusik on your leg loop- but this is awkward and doesn't work well with many harnesses.

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Shaniac wrote:

I hope that was sarcasm, as I believe you are supposed to girth a PAS to your harness, NOT the belay loop ... rockandice.com/climbing-gea…;

Not in the least. There is absolutely no problem girthing your pas to your belay loop. On the page you linked, reread the first paragraph very carefully. As Matt wrote upthread:

"One guy who did this, climbed like 2,000 routes a year and didn't inspect his gear dies, and suddenly we're all gonna die because we do this?"
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

Girthing to the belay loop is absolutely fine, unless you let your harness deteriorate until it is literally in shreds, and then no girthing strategy is likely to protect you.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 210
rgold wrote:

I chose my words carefully.  I didn't say the method is extremely dangerous, just that it is the least effective option.  It is least effective because it is the most easily defeated.  Raising the leg, tilting sideways to reach something, and flipping upside down will release the autoblock.  If the primary purpose of the autoblock is to save the rappeller from possible emergency situations, then the harness loop--leg loop combination is the least effective for that task, regardless of some hypothesized "vast majority" of users opinions.

If indeed a "vast majority" use the least effective method---and I have no idea where that statistic comes from---then the deep question would be why that choice is so popular, given that the problems with the belay loop - leg loop combination are very old news at this point.  Why would the "vast majority" of climbers chose a method with the most known failure modes?

Moreover, when the type of accident is a rare occurrence, citing proper functioning for a "vast majority" misses the point.  For example, the vast majority of climbers never experience a serious head impact, but helmets are considered an appropriate protection for a rare but potentially serious incident.  There are a lot of things some climbers "get away with" that aren't optimal.  The fact that they are "getting away" with suboptimal practice does not contradict the suboptimality.

Rich - while we’re on the subject of autoblocks on the leg loop: does the failure methods you described still apply on an extended rappel?  This came up with a friend recently who rigged an extended rappel and connected his autoblock to his leg loop.  I pointed out that it was customary to connect your autoblock to your belay loop and that there was a failure associated with using your leg loop, but this has always been with the typical unextended setup you described and I wasn’t sure whether it would apply with an extended rappel.  As you mentioned, it’s a pretty low-likelihood risk scenario and not exactly a YGD move, but all things being equal, does it matter where you connect an autoblock on an extended rappel?

SeƱor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10
Ted Pinson wrote:

Rich - while we’re on the subject of autoblocks on the leg loop: does the failure methods you described still apply on an extended rappel?  This came up with a friend recently who rigged an extended rappel and connected his autoblock to his leg loop.  I pointed out that it was customary to connect your autoblock to your belay loop and that there was a failure associated with using your leg loop, but this has always been with the typical unextended setup you described and I wasn’t sure whether it would apply with an extended rappel.  As you mentioned, it’s a pretty low-likelihood risk scenario and not exactly a YGD move, but all things being equal, does it matter where you connect an autoblock on an extended rappel?

I'm not speaking for Rich, but doesn't the extended belay shift the center of gravity enough to mostly prevent the threat of ending up upside down from your rappel? 

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Señor Arroz wrote:

I'm not speaking for Rich, but doesn't the extended belay shift the center of gravity enough to mostly prevent the threat of ending up upside down from your rappel? 

Yes.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526
Ted Pinson wrote:

Rich - while we’re on the subject of autoblocks on the leg loop: does the failure methods you described still apply on an extended rappel?  This came up with a friend recently who rigged an extended rappel and connected his autoblock to his leg loop.  I pointed out that it was customary to connect your autoblock to your belay loop and that there was a failure associated with using your leg loop, but this has always been with the typical unextended setup you described and I wasn’t sure whether it would apply with an extended rappel.  As you mentioned, it’s a pretty low-likelihood risk scenario and not exactly a YGD move, but all things being equal, does it matter where you connect an autoblock on an extended rappel?

It probably depends what "matters" means to the person in question.  One of the worst mistakes a rappeller can make is to improperly load the rappel device with either just one or neither of the rappel rope strands. ( I've read quite a few accounts of 1-strand accidents, almost all fatal.)  For something like this, the climber ends up mostly or entirely hanging from the autoblock backup, and in that case I'd sure as hell prefer it on the harness belay loop rather than the leg loop.  (Of course, this type of error is probably best dealt with by testing the rappel while still tethered in.)

A second issue, by now well-known, is that if the leg loop is adjustable, then it is possible to install the autoblock in a way that will strip open the buckle if the autoblock is loaded, so this is a potential failure mode as well.

Finally, there is the concern about what happens if the rappeller is somehow knocked upside down.  A hip autoblock is below the pivot point and is raised considerably, whereas a belay loop autoblock is at the pivot point so doesn't move at all.  I've never experimented with this, but is seem conceivable that inverting with a leg loop autoblock might enable the knot to collide with the device, depending on the length of the extension.

Take all this together, and add in the fact that there isn't a single advantage to putting the autoblock on a leg loop with an extended rappel, and it seems to me that by far the most sensible location is on the belay loop.
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526
Señor Arroz wrote:

I'm not speaking for Rich, but doesn't the extended belay shift the center of gravity enough to mostly prevent the threat of ending up upside down from your rappel? 

There isn't any center of gravity shift at all.  You are moving the friction point up, but the climber is anchored at the harness level in any case.  Ok, the insignificant raised mass of the belay device has, in theory, a tiny effect on the center of gravity of the climber plus rap system, but this is of absolutely no practical consequence. 

Regardless of system used, it isn't super hard for a rappeller to end up inverted in an emergency situation, especially if they are wearing a pack.
Kelley Gilleran · · Sacramento, Ca · Joined Sep 2012 · Points: 2,800

I always put my ATC on my legs and hip points then put the prusik above the device connected  to the belay loop (when a backup is needed). This allows freedom of movement up or down with minimal effort. The ability to capture progress has been very convenient numerous times.

Tri axial loading of the biner is irrelevant in my opinion because you will never generate enough force while rappelling. Plus soft goods tend to rotate to the direction of the load.

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

I think that having the autoblock above the device deserves a fresh look.  There were two considerations that motivated the switch to the knot-below protocol.

1. Claimed reduction in failure likelihood because the knot below the device doesn't have to take full body weight.

2. Failure to protect from brake-hand release: in order for the above-device knot to activate, the "feeling hand" has to release the knot.  Letting go with the brake hand only won't activate the backup.

I don't know about #1; the knots seem to me to be up to the task, but some testing (or re-publication of known results) would be nice.  The Valdotain Tresse might be the most effective choice.

#2 is a problem one would have to accept.

I think a contemporary view of knot-above would connect the knot directly to the top of the rappel device.  The advantages would be

1. A very compact system that doesn't require extensions.

2. If the party is stacking rappelers, both the devices and their backup knots can be pre-installed and inspected by all.  (I think it is a bad idea for anyone after the first person down to rappel with a backup knot, the firefighter's belay being a better solution, but I don't sense much agreement about this.)

3. Elimination of the failure modes associated with knot-device collisions.

4. Without any intervention, the rap device becomes an auto-capture device for any kind of ascent.

#4 seems to me to me particularly useful.

Mind you, I'm not promoting any of this at the moment, just thinking it might be time to re-evaluate conventional "wisdom."

Nate Doyle · · Sierra Foothills · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 39
rgold wrote:

It probably depends what "matters" means to the person in question.  One of the worst mistakes a rappeller can make is to improperly load the rappel device with either just one or neither of the rappel rope strands. ( I've read quite a few accounts of 1-strand accidents, almost all fatal.)  For something like this, the climber ends up mostly or entirely hanging from the autoblock backup, and in that case I'd sure as hell prefer it on the harness belay loop rather than the leg loop.  (Of course, this type of error is probably best dealt with by testing the rappel while still tethered in.)

A second issue, by now well-known, is that if the leg loop is adjustable, then it is possible to install the autoblock in a way that will strip open the buckle if the autoblock is loaded, so this is a potential failure mode as well.

Finally, there is the concern about what happens if the rappeller is somehow knocked upside down.  A hip autoblock is below the pivot point and is raised considerably, whereas a belay loop autoblock is at the pivot point so doesn't move at all.  I've never experimented with this, but is seem conceivable that inverting with a leg loop autoblock might enable the knot to collide with the device, depending on the length of the extension.

Take all this together, and add in the fact that there isn't a single advantage to putting the autoblock on a leg loop with an extended rappel, and it seems to me that by far the most sensible location is on the belay loop.

I'll put myself out there. Maybe it will save someone from YGD. 

The first time I rappeled I used the leg loop for a backup with an autoblock. I have a BD Aspect harness that has adjustable leg loops. How the leg straps fit and adjust to my leg creates a hidden danger. The point where the adjustable straps goes back through the outside of the padded leg loop there is a little keeper loop to hold the strap out of one's way. This means there are two straps one needs to put their carabiner around. There is the inner one and the outer one. The outer one can appear tight but, is not. The inner one is the one you want. But it's very easy to put your carabiner on only one strap if you're not paying attention, thinking it's on both. Especially when you're rappelling for the first time, not fully aware and not fully familiar with the concept etc. It can fully pass the partner check as well, as it looks correct. Until it is weighted, that is.

Of course, this is a dumb mistake I made but, one people can make, nonetheless. And I caught it before I rappelled and fixed it. But if you're a guide or the leader taking a noob out for their first time, and you tell them to use their leg loob to put on a backup, then pull on that carabiner and make sure it's around the correct strap. Or just use the extended rappel and forget legs loops altogether. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Beginning Climbers
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