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A Safer Way to Set Up Rappels: Pre-rigging   

Tagged in: Alpine Climbing, Rappelling, Skills, Sport Climbing, Trad Climbing
by Dale Remsberg
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A safer way to set up rappels 

Are you a climber who thinks double-checking your partner’s harness and knot is a good idea prior to launching up a route? Me too. That’s why I’m always mystified to see so many climbers ignoring such safety checks when coming back down.

Imagine you’re at the top of a multi-pitch climb and a few rappels are the only thing between you and a nice walk out. Usually what happens is the most experienced person rappels first to find the next station, position the ropes, and deal with any other issues that arise. At the next station she yells “off rappel” and leaves her less experienced boyfriend to fend for himself. This always makes me nervous—it leaves too much room for mistakes due to fatigue and darkness.

Rock Climbing Photo: Pre-rigged rappel setup by Chris Philpot

Pre-rigged rappel setup
by Chris Philpot
Pre-rigging is the solution—it minimizes any chance of a faulty rappel setup.

(1) First, prepare your rappel slings. I like to use a use a 48-inch nylon sling with an overhand knot tied into the middle, creating two big loops. Nylon slings are great for this purpose because they absorb energy and are very durable. This is also a great way to use a personal anchor tether; however, daisy chains were not designed for anchoring and should not be used to pre-rig rappels.
(2) Girthhitch the sling into the tie-in points on your harness, and then clip your rappel device into the inner loop in the sling;
(3) the knot creates a “shelf ” that will hold the device about 20 inches away from you.
(4) The outer loop can be clipped to your harness (preferably to your belay loop), ready to clip into each rap anchor. Using this setup, rig both climbers’ rap devices onto the rappel ropes, one above the other. With the extension, the climber waiting at the top station will have room to move a bit and won’t be jerked around by the ropes as the first person descends.
(5) A secondary advantage to extended slings is your auto-block backup cannot slip up and hit the device, thus rendering the backup useless.

Knot the ends of the ropes to avoid rapping off them. My preference is a barrel knot (half of a double fisherman’s). If there is much wind, consider saddle-bagging your ropes by looping them through a sling clipped to a gear loop on your harness, and thus keeping them with you as you descend.

Both people are now rigged to rappel, and two sets of eyes have double-checked all the set-up. Down you go.

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Comments on A Safer Way to Set Up Rappels: Pre-rigging Add Comment
By Joel Allen
From: La Crosse, WI
Aug 3, 2015
Clip Belay device across the knot to make it redundant assuming you clip the second loop back to your belay loop and not a gear loop.
By rgold
From: Poughkeepsie, NY
May 19, 2016
If the second person down is inexperienced and can't be trusted to rig their own rappel, then this is the best way to proceed. For a fully experienced party, it has a drawback, which is that the first person down can't test how hard it will be to pull the rope. Now that many rappels are done from pre-placed rappel stations, this is not as much of an issue, but if the party is retreating and building its own rap stations, then the ability to pull the rope can be critical and needs to be tested.
By Michael Douglas
From: Yucaipa, CA
Feb 20, 2017
I agree with Joel on the more "proper" way; you can make multiple derivations of this depending on the materials you have at the time (cordelette, single length slings, personal anchor, etc.). This is a great way to rappel when climbing with "newbies". I regularly extend the rappel device while guiding and backup clients with a top belay (no autoblock). It is a lot easier to control the decent with a rappel device extended. I use a similar setup described above personally and encourage my climbing partners to do the same. Further, you can stack all the rappel devices on the rope at the same time. One person can rappel at a time of course, but it saves time since you can get everyone in all at once and it adds a level of redundancy. Also, stacking the devices is safer because you are able to get multiple pairs of eyes to double check what you are doing when putting your device on rappel. This is especially helpful when you are tired and/or on a series of multiple rappels to get off a climb since fatal mistakes often occur while descending a route specifically those that require rappels.

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