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Rappelling with an ATC on a single rope

Original Post
Mark Hudon · · Lives on the road · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 420

Okay, Beginners... you need to buck up and start using your brains and common sense. I’m seeing way to many of you out there not really knowing what you are doing.

Yesterday, we were getting ready to climb past two climbers who were climbing only the first pitch of a 10 pitch route. It was late in the day and we needed to practice climbing the entire route with headlamps. We told them that we were going to climb past them and that if they wanted to fix their line and rap off on a single rope, that we would drop their rope for them (they were going to drag a second rope and set up a two rope rap). The second replied that he didn’t know how to fix a rope. We replied that tying a knot to each bolt was all it took. He looked bewildered. They then both replied that they only had ATCs and that they couldn’t rap on a single rope. We mentioned that rapping on a single rope with an ATC was exactly like belaying and lowering a climber. Again, bewilderment, and the second added that he didn’t have a prussik so couldn’t do it. At this point we both realized that even this barest level of knowledge was above these two guys so we let them do their thing and just climbed past them.

So... rapping on a single rope with an ATC. Imagine that your leader is the anchor and instead of him moving up, you are moving down. Isn‘t it the same thing?
Fixing a rope. The leader leads a pitch that ends at two bolts. He takes two biners, clips them to the bolts, ties two knots and climbs them to to the biners. The rope is fixed. Isn‘t that just like setting up an anchor on a multi pitch route?
Rapping without a prusick. Sure, if you lose control, if a rock hits you in the head, if you suddenly pass out and lose consciousness you‘re going to plummet to your death. We do activities every day that our safety requires our concentration (driving a car?). I you concentrate for a bit, be aware, you can easily make it down from one rap to the ground and live to tell the tale.

Nathan Hui · · San Diego, CA · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 0

The problem is people for some odd reason only like to learn the procedure for doing something by rote memory, and not the concept of what they are doing, so if they are asked to adapt, they have no freaking idea what to do, because they only know the one procedure.  I.E., their brains are turned off when climbing and learning how to climb.

Edit: And I think this is because of how people learn to learn, because students apparently just love memorizing stuff.

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

Totally agree Mark.  The one caution is that, depending on the rope and the device, rapping on a single strand can be hard to control. (If it is, by the way, then the device/rope combination is inadequate for belaying, but that's another story.)  Of course you can double the attaching carabiners before starting the rappel, but I think everyone should know a good strategy for adding friction in mid-rappel.

Mark Hudon · · Lives on the road · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 420

Of course, I agree with both of you. These two guys, really, were a danger to themselves because they knew nothing outside of their little box. I mentioned to one guy how, when rapping without a prusick, that he could wrap the rope under his butt and clip it to a biner on the other side of his harness to increase drag on the rappel. He looked at me like I had just spoken latín.
These guys were so indoctrinated into the master point, quad anchor, daisy chain, equalize two modern 3/8” bolts in bedrock El Cap granite, that they couldn’t conceive that two knots on two bolts was far, far safe enough to rap from.

Christian Hesch · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2017 · Points: 11

Mark, thanks again for the ride up to Flume, that was a blast, my pops loved it!

what's your opinion on a knot in the end, no prussik/backup, and a glove on my right hand?  I went with a rap backup for my first two years but at this point I just toss a nice leather glove on my back loop, put it on for the rap, tie a nice knot, and zip down at a pretty good clip. The glove allows for a pretty damn fast rap, yet I still *feel* like i'm in more control than with bare hands.
 It's significantly sped up my raps to where I can usually have the excess rope threaded through the next anchors and be in direct (while still weighted, "on device") so that it speeds things up for my partner and I when we simul rap (pretty much the only way I'll rap nowadays).

pros/cons to this? I've tried to find significant weaknesses and I'm not aware of any that concern me, but I don't have 25 years of experience... thanks (others welcome to chime in)

Etha Williams · · Somerville, MA · Joined May 2018 · Points: 314

Eh. Maybe these two climbers just didn't want to use an unfamiliar system for the first time while off the ground and tired at the end of the day. I don't disagree that climbers should, over time, learn to think critically and adapt systems as needed, nor that rapping on a fixed single line is quite simple; but I'd personally much rather a newer climber risk looking a little dumb and taking a little extra time than that they take an unnecessary risk trying something they aren't comfortable with when what they are comfortable with will work.

Rock Lasagna · · Unknown Hometown · Joined 21 days ago · Points: 0
Etha Williams wrote: Eh. Maybe these two climbers just didn't want to use an unfamiliar system for the first time while off the ground and tired at the end of the day. I don't disagree that climbers should, over time, learn to think critically and adapt systems as needed, nor that rapping on a fixed single line is quite simple; but I'd personally much rather a newer climber risk looking a little dumb and taking a little extra time than that they take an unnecessary risk trying something they aren't comfortable with when what they are comfortable with will work.

This. While these are pretty basic things, adapting systems and understanding which adaptation are safe and which are not, can be intimidating for a new climber - and it can be nuanced ("if joining ropes for a rappel with a flat overhand is safe, joining them with a flat figure-8 should be even safer.... right?").

Maybe they should have spent more time on understanding the systems before heading out, but they were only climbing one pitch and other than a rigid adherence to the techniques they were comfortable with it doesn't seem like they were being unsafe (I'm sure we've all seen far bigger shit shows out there). Better this than doing whatever any rando they encounter cliffside suggests.

Mark Hudon · · Lives on the road · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 420

Etha, sure, I’ve no problem with that. These guys had been trad climbing for a year and half and still knew nothing of the techniques I mentioned. They had been trad climbing for a year and a half and had never rapped on a single line or even knew that it was possible. They had never fixes a rope to an anchor with two biners, they felt that rapping with an ATC without a prusik was unsafe and could not figure out an alternate method.

We’re not talking rocket science here. These are basic techniques, this is rank beginner stuff. This stuff is so basic that it’s hard for me to believe that anyone even needs to be taught it! I mean, c’mon, two bolts, two biners, two knots, rope is fixed? At what level is someone required to think for themselves to safety their own lives? 

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526
Christian Hesch wrote:what's your opinion on a knot in the end, no prussik/backup, and a glove on my right hand?  I went with a rap backup for my first two years but at this point I just toss a nice leather glove on my back loop, put it on for the rap, tie a nice knot, and zip down at a pretty good clip. The glove allows for a pretty damn fast rap, yet I still *feel* like i'm in more control than with bare hands.
 It's significantly sped up my raps to where I can usually have the excess rope threaded through the next anchors and be in direct (while still weighted, "on device") so that it speeds things up for my partner and I when we simul rap (pretty much the only way I'll rap nowadays).

pros/cons to this? I've tried to find significant weaknesses and I'm not aware of any that concern me, but I don't have 25 years of experience... thanks (others welcome to chime in)

It sounds as if you think the purpose of the rap backup is to add friction.  The purpose of the rap backup is to stop you if something causes you to let go with the brake hand.  For me, that would mean being knocked unconscious, but from what I've read and seen the bar to brake-hand release is somewhat lower in general.  (Again , from what I've read and seen, people who lose control grip the rope even harder in spite of the pain.  If this is so, the prusik backup will not save you.)

If, as you say, you regularly simul-rap, then the prusik backup is not only for you but also for your partner.  In that case, I think it is strategically and morally wrong to abandon it, and I'm a bit surprised that your partner(s) haven't insisted on both of you using it.

The minor speed advantage you get from the glove simply isn't worth the risks it imposes in terms of control.  And getting way out ahead of a partner in a simul rap has been associated with accidents already.
phylp · · Upland · Joined May 2015 · Points: 612
Mark Hudon wrote
These guys were so indoctrinated into the master point, quad anchor, daisy chain, equalize two modern 3/8” bolts in bedrock El Cap granite, that they couldn’t conceive that two knots on two bolts was far, far safe enough to rap from.

This obsession that people who have learned stuff from classes have with SERENE, master points, quad anchors, cordelettes, only belaying off the anchor, etc, amazes me.  (I'm sure I'll get flamed for saying this. LOL) 

I once did a route where my partner lead the first pitch which culminated in a bomber 2 bolt anchor with rap chains at a somewhat uncomfortable stance.  This person spent 20 minutes F'ing around with a cordelette at the anchor until I finally called up "is there some issue"?  Not exaggerating, it was 20 minutes.  When I was finally was put on belay and arrived at the anchor 5 minutes later, the explanation to me was "I couldn't find a way to arrange it to have the master point so I could belay off the anchor".  Or something like that.  Which made no sense to me because it would have taken 5 seconds to clip biners into the bolts, secure themselves with the rope and belayed me off their harness. Where statistically there was about a one in a thousand chance that I might fall following at that grade.  Where they had gear and there were bomber cracks above them that they could have built a higher, equally bomber anchor for a redirect if that was so essential to them.  

I was really lucky that I got to climb with very experienced people when I first started and could learn by watching them do so many different things, based on the circumstances at hand.  They taught me how to think about what was needed and why. 
Robert Hall · · North Conway, NH · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 18,392

It is actually quite surprising to me how many climbers are not familiar with the term "fix my rope / fixing my rope", but when you say "tie my rope to the anchor with a figure 8" they are OK.  I think the term "fix" comes from the days when most everyone in climbing either did some aid climbing, or at least knew the basic principles, but most of today's newer climbers no nothing of this technique. I suppose the fact that the verb "to fix" normally carries the connotation of "to repair" doesn't help either.

I'm not saying anything negative about Mark's observation (and agree 100%) , just pointing out that if there were a "climbing dictionary" the term "fix" as in "fix a rope" might be relegated to "archaic" status by the vast majority of climbers....most of whom have started only in the last 3 - 5 years.  

 

Christian Hesch · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2017 · Points: 11
rgold wrote:

It sounds as if you think the purpose of the rap backup is to add friction.  The purpose of the rap backup is to stop you if something causes you to let go with the brake hand.  For me, that would mean being knocked unconscious, but from what I've read and seen the bar to brake-hand release is somewhat lower in general.  (Again , from what I've read and seen, people who lose control grip the rope even harder in spite of the pain.  If this is so, the prusik backup will not save you.)

If, as you say, you regularly simul-rap, then the prusik backup is not only for you but also for your partner.  In that case, I think it is strategically and morally wrong to abandon it, and I'm a bit surprised that your partner(s) haven't insisted on both of you using it.

The minor speed advantage you get from the glove simply isn't worth the risks it imposes in terms of control.  And getting way out ahead of a partner in a simul rap has been associated with accidents already.

thanks, well aware of the proper purpose of the backup (i'll increase friction other ways...glove, extra biner, leg wrap, waist wrap, etc.). I tend to accept the risk of traveling all the way to the stopper in such case...perhaps foolish, but one I consider acceptable, at least on climbs I'm familiar with and that don't have high rockfall potential. Won't get significantly in front of a partner but happy to get the ball rolling when partner is 20-25ft behind me, considering I don't unweight without both of us acknowledging each other are about to "go off device" or something of the sort.


apologies for thread drift...
Fan Yang · · San Diego · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 138
Mark Hudon wrote: Okay, Beginners... you need to buck up and start using your brains and common sense. I’m seeing way to many of you out there not really knowing what you are doing.

Yesterday, we were getting ready to climb past two climbers who were climbing only the first pitch of a 10 pitch route. It was late in the day and we needed to practice climbing the entire route with headlamps. We told them that we were going to climb past them and that if they wanted to fix their line and rap off on a single rope, that we would drop their rope for them (they were going to drag a second rope and set up a two rope rap). The second replied that he didn’t know how to fix a rope. We replied that tying a knot to each bolt was all it took. He looked bewildered. They then both replied that they only had ATCs and that they couldn’t rap on a single rope. We mentioned that rapping on a single rope with an ATC was exactly like belaying and lowering a climber. Again, bewilderment, and the second added that he didn’t have a prussik so couldn’t do it. At this point we both realized that even this barest level of knowledge was above these two guys so we let them do their thing and just climbed past them.

So... rapping on a single rope with an ATC. Imagine that your leader is the anchor and instead of him moving up, you are moving down. Isn‘t it the same thing?
Fixing a rope. The leader leads a pitch that ends at two bolts. He takes two biners, clips them to the bolts, ties two knots and climbs them to to the biners. The rope is fixed. Isn‘t that just like setting up an anchor on a multi pitch route?
Rapping without a prusick. Sure, if you lose control, if a rock hits you in the head, if you suddenly pass out and lose consciousness you‘re going to plummet to your death. We do activities every day that our safety requires our concentration (driving a car?). I you concentrate for a bit, be aware, you can easily make it down from one rap to the ground and live to tell the tale.

haha you took a few years off from climbing - well welcome to our brave new 2019 world of climbing!

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 557

Everybody wants you to teach them some fancy system.
They don’t want to learn the why behind the concepts.

Suburban Roadside · · Abovetraffic on Hudson · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 2,184
Christian Hesch wrote:
what's your opinion on a knot in the end, no prussik/backup, and a glove on my right hand?  I went with a rap backup for my first two years but at this point I just toss a nice leather glove on my back loop, put it on for the rap, tie a nice knot, and zip down at a pretty good clip. The glove allows for a pretty damn fast rap, yet I still *feel* like i'm in more control than with bare hands.
 It's significantly sped up my raps to where I can usually have the excess rope threaded through the next anchors and be in direct (while still weighted, "on device") so that it speeds things up for my partner and I when we simul rap (pretty much the only way I'll rap nowadays).

pros/cons to this? I've tried to find significant weaknesses and I'm not aware of any that concern me, but I don't have 25 years of experience... thanks (others welcome to chime in)

&

thanks, well aware of the proper purpose of the backup (i'll increase friction other ways...glove, extra biner, leg wrap, waist wrap, etc.). I tend to accept the risk of traveling all the way to the stopper in such case...perhaps foolish, but one I consider acceptable, at least on climbs I'm familiar with and that don't have high rockfall potential. Won't get significantly in front of a partner but happy to get the ball rolling when partner is 20-25ft behind me, considering I don't unweight without both of us acknowledging each other are about to "go off device" or something of the sort.          apologies for thread drift...

I am not tactfully sugar-coating my reply in verbiage . . . I do not think it is "thread Drift" people need to think & understand how, where, why and when to apply certain techniques. Using them for the wrong reasons or no reason is a mistake that has & does lead to tragedy.

While "masters of speed"  -think the risks are a safe trade-off - speed or safety . not speed and safety. speed based on skills & efficiency,   While Simul-(climbing/rappeling) is a technique to  ~know well & be practiced in~  so be ready & able to use when it is necessary (IE: due to in-coming weather) it is the cause of many near misses and a number of tragedies.  I think simul raps can be perfectly fine & accepted, "advanced" "rescue" or"emergency" technique that is being pushed into service needlessly. (Prusickstype back up required)@!. (Also, for what it's worth, Given where and what you are climbing,  in the "Ditch",  I understand it has become very popular) but to my eyes, it is adding significant risk.   & at the end of a day . . .  so putting you & your partner at exponentially more risk when you cut corners and do not follow the safest standard operating procedures, which slow the process down. . .

Maybe slow down, take the time to soak in the atmosphere, bath in the waning light. Take in the view & start your retreat earlier next time?


Gumby King · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 25

I'll bite, and I think I'm saying part in what Fang is referencing...  Climbers (regardless of common sense) are only as good as their mentors/classes.  In this case, seems like the climbers had a smaller toolbox.  With the surge of people getting into climbing I suspect there's a lot of partial information being spread around.  Everyone is eager to climb and it takes a long time to learn every little nuance to build a large toolbox.

But seriously, we should never give people crap if they want to use a prusick.  Its one extra step towards safety.  Hell, it saved my life one time when I was knocked out.    

Noah R · · Burlington, VT · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 0
Gumby King wrote: I'll bite, and I think I'm saying part in what Fang is referencing...  Climbers (regardless of common sense) are only as good as their mentors/classes.  In this case, seems like the climbers had a smaller toolbox.  With the surge of people getting into climbing I suspect there's a lot of partial information being spread around.  Everyone is eager to climb and it takes a long time to learn every little nuance to build a large toolbox.

But seriously, we should never give people crap if they want to use a prusick.  Its one extra step towards safety.  Hell, it saved my life one time when I was knocked out.    

I want to hear about your time getting knocked out. Sounds interesting.

I would just say in response to "climbers are only as good as their mentors/classes" That my "mentor" was a total noob too. We took no classes. But frankly there is sooooo much info on how to build anchors, back up a rappel, ascend a rope, join two ropes for a rappel etc that there is little excuse not to know that shit if you are really "into rock climbing" Shit I knew what a good placement looked like before I even touched a cam...
Andy Eiter · · Madison, WI · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 126

As a relatively new climber who still learns or practices something new almost every time I go out, I don't blame them too much. I don't see a massive issue with the desire to stick to what you know while off the ground, and, in this case, it didn't sound like they were doing anything dangerous; it was just a matter of etiquette and speed. One thing I've learned from reading accident threads (and just debates over the merits of one technique/method vs another) is that "common sense" solutions often come with not-so-common-sense caveats that can get you killed.

Climbing-knowledge and -technique quivers/toolboxes/arsenals take a while to assemble, and different people learn in different ways. Feeling rushed or otherwise pressured can make it more difficult (e.g., if they were receiving instruction while belaying or while climbing). When you're really good at something and have been doing it for years, it is easy to be impatient with beginners who need a few extra moments to think about something or need to see it done before trying it themselves or just can't be overladen with information. It's also easy to forget at what stage in our own progression we learned or were ready for certain things (and to recognize that our experiences with learning will vary from others'). This has frustrated me, personally, as a coach, at times.

If I ran into someone with a ton of experience who was recommending new-to-me techniques, I'd be very open to hearing about them. Depending on what they were, I might go for it right then and there; otherwise, I'd look more into it when I got home and learn it/practice it/apply it accordingly.

jackson reich · · slc · Joined Apr 2019 · Points: 90

if they were experinced enough to set up a belay from the top I think they should know how to rap off with their atc

Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0

Relatively easy to belittle those who know less and are less experienced then you.  There is nothing wrong or untrue about anything that has been said but my take on it is that the climbers in question weren't doing anything unsafe or wrong - just inefficient.  They didn't ask for help or advice but it was thrust upon them in what sounds like sort of a "mansplaining" manner.  There is more then one way to do things cuts both ways.

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Eric Engberg wrote: Relatively easy to belittle those who know less and are less experienced then you.  There is nothing wrong or untrue about anything that has been said but my take on it is that the climbers in question weren't doing anything unsafe or wrong - just inefficient.  They didn't ask for help or advice but it was thrust upon them in what sounds like sort of a "mansplaining" manner.  There is more then one way to do things cuts both ways.

How did you get that out of what Mark actually wrote?

Yesterday, we were getting ready to climb past two climbers who were climbing only the first pitch of a 10 pitch route. It was late in the day and we needed to practice climbing the entire route with headlamps. We told them that we were going to climb past them and that if they wanted to fix their line and rap off on a single rope, that we would drop their rope for them (they were going to drag a second rope and set up a two rope rap). The second replied that he didn’t know how to fix a rope. We replied that tying a knot to each bolt was all it took. He looked bewildered. They then both replied that they only had ATCs and that they couldn’t rap on a single rope. We mentioned that rapping on a single rope with an ATC was exactly like belaying and lowering a climber. Again, bewilderment, and the second added that he didn’t have a prussik so couldn’t do it. At this point we both realized that even this barest level of knowledge was above these two guys so we let them do their thing and just climbed past them. 
It was an offer to help them and make their climb easier by them not having to bring up a second rope. What we saw here is Mark's reaction to the other party's lack of basic knowledge, not a transcript of the conversation.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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