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Pros and cons of simul-rappelling

Original Post
pfwein · · Boulder, CO · Joined May 2006 · Points: 50

Many people would prefer not to see the page about the death of Brad Gobright commingled with general thoughts and comments about simul-rapping.
So perhaps those inclined to make such comments can post here?  I'll start.

I haven't simul-rapped a ton, but did it on my last trip to EPC and am planning to do it again on my next trip.  My partner and I simul-rapping seemed to be something like twice as fast as parties that didn't simul-rap.  It's vaguely possible that we were just a lot faster for other reasons (I'm anything but a speed-demon, but have a lot of general multi-pitch climbing experience, whereas a lot of EPC climbers seemed pretty much straight-from-the-gym).

One significant speed advantage that isn't totally obvious:  At places like EPC where there are a lot of rope-catching flakes and spikes, getting the rope sorted out below each anchor takes time.  When simul-rapping, each climber can work on their side of their rope at the same time, instead of the 1st rappeller having to do both sides.
Another maybe less significant advantage:  you can rap with Gri-gri, which eliminates any need to use friction-knot backup, so you save the time setting that up.  And rapping with a Gri-gri is generally a quick/safe way to go, and this gives you an "excuse" bring along a Gri-gri for lead belaying too, which I believe has a safety advantage (obviously people can debate that too).  And belaying the 2nd on a Gri-gri hanging on the anchor is nice and smooth.

But again I'm not super experienced at simul-rapping and have an open mind as to what may be the best practice.

alpinist 47 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

I thank you

mpech · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 2

yeah, being able to use a grigri and have two people dealing with rope management are the big pros. In situations where the rope needs to be saddlebagged,  you can have two people dealing with that, which is a lot easier.  Another pro is that it is a bit harder for one climber to knock rocks onto the other climber.

Cons are pretty obvious-- more weight on the anchor; one person's mistake can kill two people.

best
matt 

Hobo Greg · · My Van · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 200

The single biggest factor that’s overlooked is that normal rappelling allows the first climber down to be rigging the next rap. So whatever time you’re saving on the rappel (30 seconds?) you probably gain most of it back this way. Pulling the rope down, sorting clusters along the way, that’s what takes time rapping, not the actual movement down the rope.

Daniel Melnyk · · Covina · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 30

The only time I don't simul-rap is when I'm using a pull cord, so I simul 99% of the time. It saves a ton of time and when done correctly, can be safe. There are a few things that need to be done every time you simul rap:
ALWAYS tie knots in the end. If one person goes off the end, most likely both will die
ALWAYS use an assisted braking device or third hand if using a tube style device

Communication is key. Say out loud when you are weighting, unweighting, unclipping from the anchor, etc

Condolences to Brad's family and friends

David Ebel · · Guelph, ON · Joined May 2018 · Points: 0

I don't see any real advantages to simul rapping. I've been to EPC a handful of times and done a fair amount of simul rapping there. EPC is definitely the most rappel intensive place I've been. At first I thought simul rapping was cool and quick but eventually went back to regular raps.

Rapping a halved 35m takes less than a minute as long as its not tangled etc. In my experience the time savings come from smooth transitions and good coils for a good toss. The first person down can start feeding the rope through the next anchor, tie a knot and start coiling. Usually when rapping a regular halved rope, I'm not even finished prepping the next rap by the time my partner reaches the anchor.

Like Hobo Greg said, the time savings on the rap (~1 minute?) will be gained with the first climber rigging the next rap.

old5ten · · Berkeley + Sunny Slopes, CA · Joined Sep 2012 · Points: 2,744

there are different ways of simul-rapping.  the gobright accident illustrates the fastest, but least safe version (ie no backups).  with a stopper knot at the end of the rope and a backup at the climber the system becomes much safer (but sacrifices some of the speed aspect over no backups).

i primarily like using simul-rapping in a party of three: fix the rap lines at the anchor, then have two climbers rappel the individual fixed lines (with backup at climber and stopper knot in end of rope), third climber releases fix at anchor and rappels double strand as regular (also with backup at climber).

Daniel Melnyk · · Covina · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 30

Rapping down Royal Arches last year, my partner and i simuled, while are other friends did not. Started at the same time and beat them down by over an hour. When you get the the next anchor, each goes it to a bolt with a PAS. One starts the pull the rope and the other feeds it through and ties a stopped knot. When the climber that is pulling the rope gets to the middle the rope is already threaded there so you both put on your device and you're off. This might be mean, but anyone who says there is no speed advantage to simul rapping is not doing it right.

Brandon R · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 63

I've always felt that the time saved simul-rapping is usually insignificant enough to be not worth the added risk. I've had partners ask to simul-rap from short (sometimes even single rappel pitches) routes numerous times, with plenty of daylight left, and I always decline. I can see the benefit in certain settings/situations, like EPC, but most of the time, not worth it. When I have done it, we obviously always tie knots in the end, use a rappel back up, stay close or tether to each other, etc. 

Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,696
Daniel Melnyk wrote:One starts the pull the rope and the other feeds it through and ties a stopped knot. When the climber that is pulling the rope gets to the middle the rope is already threaded there so you both put on your device and you're off.

Imagine it can take some time to pull in and knot the second end.

James S · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2018 · Points: 0

hobo greg "The single biggest factor that’s overlooked is that normal rappelling allows the first climber down to be rigging the next rap."
what rigging r u doing a muilt pitch sport area, bolted archers and u have to wait 4 ur partner so u can pull the rope to set up for the next rap... 

mpech "yeah, being able to use a grigri and have two people dealing with rope management are the big pros. In situations where the rope needs to be saddlebagged,  you can have two people dealing with that, which is a lot easier.  Another pro is that it is a bit harder for one to knock rocks onto the other climber."
In epc using saddle bagging system is the only really safe way to rap IMO because rock fall there is a serious concern, there r to many things for the rope to get caught up in people on the ground and groups following others peeps and u can easily knock s(*t down.

When done properly/improperly the dangers of rapping off ur rope r the same if u do/don't knot ur rope...  

Adrien C · · Bend, OR · Joined Jan 2018 · Points: 65

I have to agree with the OP that simul rapping feels both safest and quickest assuming it is done correctly. Tying knots and closing the system gets you 95% of the way there in terms of safety, and good communication and being in synch with your partner does the rest. You can also check your partner's rappel setup closely... in traditional rapping the second guy doesn't have anyone checking his rappel system. In addition, rapping on GriGri's is a lot faster, safer, and as OP stated it's also much safer (and quicker when bringing up the second) to belay with a grigi (that being said I never bring only a grigri on a multipitch). In situations where there is a lot of loose blocks it seems safer to not have one partner rapping above the other. And both climbers can manage their ends of the rope which, let's face it, is a cluster in most terrain. Don't really see the downsides... more weight on the anchor? you both go if the anchor fails? Would definitely love to hear more about others' experiences and situations where simul-rapping isn't appropriate.
Anyways, massive condolences to Brad and his family and close friends. The climbing world loses another bright light. 

Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,696
James S wrote: hobo greg "The single biggest factor that’s overlooked is that normal rappelling allows the first climber down to be rigging the next rap."
what rigging r u doing a muilt pitch sport area, bolted archers and u have to wait 4 ur partner so u can pull the rope to set up for the next rap...
Yeah, not much rigging to do with bolted rap anchors.  Still, some rap routes require a bit of scrambling about to find and / or inspect the tat of the next rap anchor. 
Brandon R · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 63

Another (rare) instance that simul-rapping is basically required: counter-weight rappel off a formation with no rap anchor. 

pfwein · · Boulder, CO · Joined May 2006 · Points: 50
Bill Lawry wrote: Yeah, not much rigging to do with bolted rap anchors.  Still, some rap routes require a bit of scrambling about to find and / or inspect the tat of the next rap anchor. 

IMO, that's actually another (minor) advantage of simul-rapping:  two pairs of eyes to search for the next anchor (and maybe anything else important, like the anchor after that), rather than the 1st rapper looking around and the person at the anchor being useless.  I wouldn't oversell this or any other single advantage of simul-rapping, just my overall experience that simulling is faster/smoother. 

We didn't always tie knots in both ends; sometimes we'd only knot the end fed through the anchor, let the other end fall free without knot, and have the person with the knotted end rap first (i.e. somewhat below the other climber).  I am now rethinking that strategy, and am thinking that maybe both sides of the rope saddle-bagged (and tied to climber) is a better way.  Or, in any event, put a knot in both ends.

old5ten · · Berkeley + Sunny Slopes, CA · Joined Sep 2012 · Points: 2,744

..... in traditional rapping the second guy doesn't have anyone checking his rappel system....

not disagreeing with the general gist of the post, but the above scenario is easily avoided by both climbers setting up their rappel at the same time (ie what happens in guiding situations).  this is also a way to get away with only one backup knot on double rappel strands (single rappeler, not simul-rap) and can ‘fix’ two independent strands in the three person scenario i mentioned earlier.

Allen Sanderson · · On the road to perdition · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,188

Those comparing simul rappelling to single rappelling are assuming that the other parties (conditions) they are comparing themselves to are exactly the same. They are not. If you want a valid comparison compare against yourself on the same route with the same partner. Simul rap the first time then single rap the next time. Even then there will be variances that will affect the time taken.

Simul rappelling requires a more concerted effort and is more prone to human error. Especially as one is doing it at the end of the day when one is tired and lets their guard down because they are on their way down.

SinRopa · · parts unknown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 30
Brandon R wrote: Another (rare) instance that simul-rapping is basically required: counter-weight rappel off a formation with no rap anchor. 

Not saying you can’t simul in a counter weight situation, but it’s certainly not required.

wing thing · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 90

In addition to ensuring that the rope ends are knotted, and that a back up is used on each brake strand, does anyone else add the tether to connect the two climbers simul-rapping down at the same time? This was the way I was taught.  It's also important to add this if there's a large weight discrepancy between the 2 climbers rappelling.

Hobo Greg · · My Van · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 200
Brandon R wrote: Another (rare) instance that simul-rapping is basically required: counter-weight rappel off a formation with no rap anchor. 

Rigging as in pulling up one end, unknotting, threading for next rappel, retying knot.

Brandon R · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 63
Hobo Greg wrote:

Rigging as in pulling up one end, unknotting, threading for next rappel, retying knot.

Threading through what? I'm talking about short (single pitch) towers with no fixed anchor at all, or bolts with no rings/chains right in the middle and not set up to rap off of. Like I said, rare (but not unheard of - I've done it twice).

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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