Rappelling- Be Vigilant!


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Nov 10, 2011 - 01:16pm PT
I had thought the thicker rope was more likely to get stuck. So I'd pull it rather than the thinner line. Why is the thinner line more likely to get stuck?

With the prussik while on rappel,... this is a dumb question but I'm not getting something, ... are we talking when rappeling a single line? If not, is the prussik around both lines?

Or one prusik on each line?

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 10, 2011 - 01:22pm PT
The thinner line is more pliant and has much more of a tendency to catch around flakes and in cracks, also more prone to be blown around by wind. I actually never have a prusik on the rope when rapping but might have one handy if I rap too far and need to get back up a bit. Good questions.

Trad climber
northern CA
Nov 10, 2011 - 01:31pm PT
I posted this in a 3rd Stone TR but here it is again. A short video of Aaron ripping some old rap webbing WITH HIS BARE HANDS!!


Gym climber
Nov 10, 2011 - 01:48pm PT
Good stuff here.

I like DMT's pull-test method, never thought of that.

I once learned a "trick," the hard way. In windy conditions, set up your ropes so the line you pull is upwind at the anchor. This makes it so the loose end (as you pull the ropes) blows away from the line you're pulling. This trick keeps the two lines from wrapping (rapping?) around each other.

Trad climber
Santa Barbara, CA
Nov 10, 2011 - 01:49pm PT
A lot of climbers never think rap is an option and do not prepare for it. How many of us carry a rap ring and a junk sling for that eventuality? The ring is critical if you want to retrieve the rope!

Trad climber
Lander, WY
Nov 10, 2011 - 01:50pm PT
I tie the prusix around both lines (2 rope rappel)and clip it into a large locking biner in my harness. Have to pay attention to keep it sliding with you so doesn't cinch up.

Trad climber
Anchorage, AK
Nov 10, 2011 - 01:53pm PT
I've gotten in the habbit of carrying a rap ring or two when on a route I'm unfamiliar with, and I always have at least one knotted sling. A knife really should be included in your gear to cut off old tat.

The rap ring thing was ingrained in my brain after topping out on a local ice climb. There was an existing rap ring, but multiple dumbazzes decided to use it to top rope from, so it was nearly worn in 1/2.

So yeah, a couple of rings and a couple 6-7' lenghths of black or brown 1" webbing are part of the rack.

Trad climber
San Francisco, Ca
Nov 10, 2011 - 02:02pm PT
Another option is to rap with one rope, keeping the other as a spare. I've only done it a couple of times in dark and very windy conditions, but it's an option where a stuck rope is likely and would lead to a grim situation.

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Nov 10, 2011 - 02:13pm PT
The pull test by the first one down is an excellent idea. I'll do that one from now on.

I encourage that each rapper pull tests in turn. Ropes move, sh#t happens, just because it pulled once doesn't mean it will after the 2nd rapper (assuming > party of 2, or course)

If there is a pull test problem last rapper positions knot as needed (if possible)


Trad climber
Nov 10, 2011 - 02:13pm PT
One thing I often see is climbers who don't know how to throw a rope on rappels. I was taught by the kracken to gather the rope in roughly two halves and throw the middle first. You then can throw the end in a more directed and controlled manner. Let the most experienced, i.e. faster, person rappel first to deal with cleaning the throw so the team moves faster as a whole. Repeat.

Adopt an assembly line philosophy for bigger teams or where you're lowering a bag on retreat, so that you develop a rhythm and each person gets progressively better at their specific tasks.
ME Climb

Trad climber
Behind the Orange Curtain
Nov 10, 2011 - 02:43pm PT
Great thoughts everyone....my biggest "Oh shit!" moment was while rapping.....Now I triple check everything!


Trad climber
30 mins. from suicide USA
Nov 10, 2011 - 02:52pm PT
K-man that is good advice.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 10, 2011 - 02:54pm PT
A small folding knife is always a useful thing to have when climbing. One can be handy for cleaning up old slings, cutting sewn slings (if needed), and also while actually on rappel, for example to cut things that get stuck in your rappel gadget, or even a jammed prusik.

Other things to keep in mind:
 Know how to do a carabiner brake rappel, and have enough equipment to do one if needed. (Modern tiny and wire gate carabiners don't work well.)
 Know how to do a body rappel, in an extremity.
 Communications can be a real problem.
 Make sure your rappel gadget matches the diameter of your ropes.
 Think about falling rocks, as lots of stuff gets dislodged while rappelling, both by the humans, and the rope. Wear a helmet!
 Many rappel routes follow natural lines of weakness, and so may be more exposed to weathering, rockfall, etc.

Social climber
Nov 10, 2011 - 03:04pm PT
Hey, Jim,

That's a great summing up of rappel safety.


Trad climber
Bay Area
Nov 10, 2011 - 03:09pm PT
Jim, you caught all my rapp cautions except one (which you did imply).
which includes.
Get it right each time.
Communicate with your partner at EACH rapp. Make a plan and review it for each pitch. This only takes 30 seconds.
When the dookie is hitting the fan SLOW down even more. Be as sure as possible what you're doing before you do it.

Tossing one half of the rope first is an old trick taught to me by my Father: WWII Royal Navy destroyer officer. That's the ONLY way they did it. Done right you release the second coil just as the slack is gone so the lead end keeps going. Of course it assumes both coils are neat.

Test pulling the rapp. I'm surprised so many don't do it. My mentors taught me this first thing and I've used it ever since. Ditto for pulling the knot over constrictions/restrictions before the last rapper weights it.

I refused to rap rope to nylon sling last trip out, made them leave a biner.
Two sides to this one Jeff.
From the safety point of view, the rope through a good sling is fine to rappel on. It's pulling the rope that screws up the sling, but not the rope. I carry a rapp ring and am willing to leave a biner. It's OK in extremis to just use the sling. Retrieving the rope can also be more difficult due to the friction.

On multipitch, I always carry a sling tied with a knot in case I need it for a rapp anchor.

I use an Autoblock as a backup below my rapp device when I need it. Make sure the fixed end is short enough that the knot can't get into the brake. This is one special purpose tool I carry on my harness: a pre-tied loop for a Autoblock of the correct length.
An excellent reference on the use of auto block, prusik, Klemheist here:

EDIT: lowering directly off a sling with no 'biner, ring, etc, is of course attempted suicide.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 10, 2011 - 03:50pm PT
Once had to do a forced rap down the face of Mt. Wilson with Scary Larry and Texplorer. We were lucky to have our shoe laces by the time we got down and all the anchors were single slung shrubberies. Not a good time...

Trad climber
Denver, CO
Nov 10, 2011 - 05:02pm PT
Great post, Jim. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!


Trad climber
Westboro, MA
Nov 10, 2011 - 05:16pm PT
Italic TextRapping from less than ideal anchors in order to save a few bucks is a zero sum game.Italic Text

I don't think this means exactly what you think it does. It does sound pretty hip though - certainly more then the tired old chestnut -Italic Text How much is your life worth?Italic Text

Mostly sound advice if a bit simplistic and not exactly earth shattering.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Nov 10, 2011 - 05:21pm PT
Italica! FAIL!!!1111


Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Nov 10, 2011 - 05:24pm PT
I'm going to be a posterboy for Jim to rant about....

When dealing with questionable rap anchors, sometimes I have a more expensive backup piece with some slack, then let the first person rap with that backup, and if it looks good I clear the backup piece and rap.

These are definitely the worst moments of climbing for me, coming down with unhappy thoughts and hoping it stays in place. If there is anything about my climbing habits I'd like to change, it would be to rap first in these situations! Or just be less cheap and build a better anchor for both ;)

I usually try to bring extra 9/16" bulk webbing and cut-to-length as needed for trees/etc. during the descent.
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