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Learn the Basics of Rappelling   

Tagged in: Beginners, Fundamentals, Rappelling, Sport Climbing, Trad Climbing
by Julie Ellison
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The Essential Technique of Rappelling 

Getting to the top of any route is a success, but it also means one thing: You’re only halfway there. To descend single- and multi-pitch routes, rappelling is an excellent option that gets you down quickly and puts minimal wear on fixed anchors. The process of rappelling is simple in concept, but it can seem complicated in practice, especially at first. Mistakes are easy to make; accidents happen all the time—and they’re often fatal. Here’s the step-by-step process of rappelling plus some tips to prevent mistakes.

The following instructions assume the rope or ropes are already set up, they will reach the next anchor, and the ends are knotted or touching the ground.

ONE
After the ropes are safely set up through the rappel anchor, you should be clipped directly into the anchor with a personal anchor tether and a backup, and untied from the rope. Clip the rappel device to your belay loop with a locking biner (don’t lock it yet), and then pull up a few feet of both strands of rope. It will be heavy, so have your partner hold the rope up, or step on it to create slack so it’s easier to clip in.

Rock Climbing Photo: How to Rappel by Ben Fullerton

How to Rappel
by Ben Fullerton
TWO
With that slack, create two small bights in each strand and push them through the openings in your device, keeping the brake end of the rope (the section that leads to the ground) coming out through the friction grooves—if your device has them. Orient the brake/friction-groove side so it’s on your dominant side. Keeping the biner on your belay loop, clip it through the device and both strands of rope. Now lock it.

THREE
Before letting the rope drop, pull the brake strands up and through the device as much as possible. Stand higher or pull up on the anchor to lift your body up; keep pulling until it’s clear that you’re fully weighting the rappel setup and not your tethers going directly to the anchor (they should be loose, not taut). If the rappel device is not set up correctly, it will not hold your weight, and you will have to set it up again.

FOUR
Double-check that both strands of the rope are threaded through the device; the biner is clipped through the device, your belay loop, and both strands of rope; and the biner is locked. (Have your partner check, too, if he is around.)

FIVE
Set up your auto-block (climbing.com/skill/rappel-to-ascend) so it’s wrapped around both strands of rope below your belay device, clipped to your leg loop, and the biner is locked. An auto-block is a rappel backup or a “third hand,” meaning if you get knocked unconscious or lose control of the rope, it will tighten up and keep you from plummeting downward. (It needs to be short enough so it can’t get caught in the belay device, which would render it useless.) Beware that if the leg loops have auto-doubled-back buckles, the auto-block could undo the buckle when weighted. If you do have those buckles, clip the biner to the inside of the leg loop-waist connector, near your crotch.

SIX
Once you’re fully clipped in, it’s time to start moving down. With one hand firmly on the brake strands in a locked-off position (like when belaying: down and behind your butt), undo the tethers connecting you to the anchor. Now put that second hand on the brake-side of the rope over the auto-block. With the lower hand, slowly feed the rope up through the belay device. Use the top hand to move the auto-block down the rope so it won’t tighten up.

SEVEN
As you start to move downward, you will be able to figure out the ratio of how fast you feed the rope to how quickly you move down the rope. Don’t go too fast or you might lose control. Once you’re safely clipped into the next anchors or on the ground, unclip the biner from the device and ropes, and then quickly clip just the device again, pulling it free from the ropes. Yell “Off rappel!” up to your partner.

Tips 

  • Don’t walk backward unless it’s really slabby. Sit fully in the harness and have your hips bent at 90 degrees so your legs are straight and pushing you out from the wall.
  • Don’t wear a heavy pack—that will pull your upper body down. Instead, take off your pack and clip it to your belay loop with a sling so it hangs between your legs. Keep in mind the weight will cause you to move down the rope faster.
  • Be aware of branches, ledges, and anything you might rappel down onto.
  • Pay attention to where your rope is—above and below you. Ropes swinging side to side and loose ends tossed down can cause rockfall.
  • Stay light on your feet to maneuver through chimneys, gullies, slabs, and steep sections.

View the original article on climbing.com.

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Comments on Learn the Basics of Rappelling Add Comment
By Old lady H
From: Boise, Idaho
Aug 24, 2015
Assuming your ATC is hanging on your harness from a biner (mine always parks front right gear loop), load the rope strands into the ATC and biner first, then move the biner into your belay loop and lock. No dropped ATC or biner.
By rgold
From: Poughkeepsie, NY
Jul 19, 2016
The advice in the article is decades out of date.

First, the autoblock-on-legloop is a suboptimal method. There are at least two problems:

1. Prying open a legloop buckle. If the leg loop has buckles, then depending on where the autoblock is placed it might or might not pull open a buckle. See blog.alpineinstitute.com/2011/... for bad and good places to clip.

2. Autoblock failure. As alluded to in the article, the length of the autoblock sling has to be very carefully determined so as to keep the autoblock from colliding with the rappel device. But even with what seems like the proper proportions, the autoblock might collide (and so either release or fail to grab) if the rappeller takes a high step with the leg on whose loop the autoblock is installed. In any case, if the rappeller inverts for some unfortunate reason, the autoblock will collide and is likely to fail.

Here's a classic example from the internet advice mill of how to set things up to almost guarantee a catastrophe. Note the tiny distance between the tightened knot and the device. Raising the right leg an inch or two will release the autoblock.

Rock Climbing Photo: Dangerous Rap Backup
Dangerous Rap Backup


These problems can be avoided by extending the rappel device on a sling or tether and placing the autoblock on the harness belay loop. This has been common knowledge for many years and should by now be the standard method.

Here's the right way to rig (from climbing.com/skills/5-steps-fo...



Second, the rigging sequence is suboptimal. The best way to rig is to first put the autoblock on the rope and attach to the harness belay loop. Then pull some rope through the autoblock and let it hold all the rope below, leaving an unloaded loop above that can be threaded through the rap device on the tether. This is far better than standing on the rope and more efficient than having a partner hold the rope for you.