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Alpinfox

How to not die while rappelling

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I’m not a certified climbing guide, and I’m sure there are better treatments of this subject spelled out in more detail in books somewhere, but here is my attempt to give newbie climbers (as well as reminding myself and other non-newbie climbers) some pointers on how to stay safe while rappelling.

 

Three common and potentially fatal errors while rappelling and how to avoid them are discussed here. The first is mis-rigging the rappel device such that only one strand of rope runs through the device and carabiner. When the rappeller weights the device they begin free falling as the free end of rope whips through the rappel anchor.

 

To avoid this accident, develop and follow a systematic protocol while rappelling that tests the rappel system prior to the rappel. An example of one such system is given here:

 

1) rig your belay device for the rappel

2) while you are still connected to the anchor via your daisy or a sling or whatever, take up all the slack and transfer your weight onto your rappel device.

3) Lean back. Jerk backwards. Really weight that thing.

4) If you have mis-rigged your rappel device, this test should reveal that error

5) Only then should you disconnect your daisy/sling from the anchor and start rappelling.

 

The second error is rappelling off the ends of evenly-matched strands of rope. Some people choose to try to prevent this error by tying knots in the end of each strand of rope. (Note that tying the two ends together is NOT recommended due to twisting of the ropes resulting in a big mess). If you use this method, make sure to use an adequate stopper knot such as a double overhand or figure-8 that will not “roll”. Many people prefer to not tie knots in the ends of the strands due to the chance that the knot will become jammed in a crack or behind a flake. If you choose to not use stopper knots (and even if you do use stopper knots) look below you periodically while rappelling to confirm that BOTH strands continue below you and reach the ground (or the next rappel station). Another step that may prevent this error from becoming fatal is to have a prusik back up knot located above your belay device. The idea being that if you do rappel off the end of the rope, the prusik will tighten up on the rope and leave you hanging from the prusik rather than falling to the deck. However, folks who have tested this theory in a controlled situation found that when one rappels off the end of the rope and starts falling, the tendency is to tightly grip the prusik with one’s hand which prevents it from engaging.

 

The third error is rappelling off the end of one of the two strands of rope that run through the belay device. This can occur when the rope is fed through the rappel station unequally. This MAY have been the situation that recently resulted in the death of a climber on Condorphamine Addiction. To avoid this error, it is a very good idea to clearly mark the middle of your rope with a dye especially made for that purpose, or buy a rope that is pre-marked. Remember to periodically remark your rope as the dye will wear off with use. It is probably a good idea to use a dye made especially for ropes (rather than a sharpie or some other permanent marker) as there is some controversy about solvents in markers potentially damaging the rope fibers. Beal is one company that makes a dye intended for use on climbing ropes. If your rope is not middle marked, be sure to match the ends while feeding the rope through the belay station to insure that the two strands will be the same length. When doing double-rope rappels, be aware that the two ropes might not be exactly the same length. Not all “60m” ropes are really 60m. Again, be sure to periodically look below you while rappelling to insure that BOTH strands continue to your target.

 

CLICK HERE for another thread discussing some of these same issues.

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Nice write up..but this whole thing with middle marking ropes and such..seems so pointless..just grab both ends and coil..why is that so hard ?

if you have two ropes even easier..

 

any ways I hate rappelling..and I always try to avoid it

 

Be safe out there

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Nice write up..but this whole thing with middle marking ropes and such..seems so pointless..just grab both ends and coil..why is that so hard ?

if you have two ropes even easier..

 

any ways I hate rappelling..and I always try to avoid it

 

Be safe out there

 

I actually find an accurate middle mark to be the better option. Again ACCURATE MIDDLE MARK - always check the rope when you get it out of a package! With an accurate middle mark you just pull to that point and rig to go. With the two ends feeding method, which does work, you have to be careful you pull both sides evenly through the anchor after you've found the ends. You can mess this up if you're not focussed. Duodess and Bi-Color are worth it in my opinion.

 

Adding to Alpine's comments - Every climber should have an OBSESSION with the ends of the rope. When I rap that's my MAIN FOCUS. Everything else is a lesser priority. I look for the ends after doing my weight check, and I KEEP MY EYES on them as much as possible. IF you're looking at the ends you shouldn't rap off them! As you watch ask "are they on the ground?" "do they reach the anchor?" "Are they really even?" Don't just do it once or twice - keep doing it so AS SOON as one of those answers comes back "Oh shit! NO!" you can STOP and figure out a solution (leg rap, prussik what ever). The last 30 or so feet of rope near the ends is a "death zone" when rapping. Do YOU KNOW where the "zone" is?

 

Again:

1) Test the system while still anchored in (see alpine's tip)

2) CONSTANTLY LOOK for you rope ends. not just once or twice; continuously as you descend. If you don't know EXACTLY where they are or aren't looking at them STOP AND FIND THEM.

3) Be prepared or know what to do if a problem IS spotted.

Edited by matt_m

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this whole thing with middle marking ropes and such..seems so pointless..just grab both ends and coil..why is that so hard ?

 

It's not hard, but it is slower, slightly less convenient, and maybe slightly more error prone (see Matt's comment) than an accurate middle mark.

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Good stuff Pax. To compliment what you said, we teach a five point check of the rappel system before unclipping and casting off. While this is all pretty intuitive for most of us, it's a good approach for a new climber.

 

Anchor: Verify it's bomber, that any webbing, rap rings or anything that's part of the anchor is in good condition.

Rope: Fed through the anchor correctly, that ends either touch ground, or are even with knots in the end if free hanging.

Belay Device: Fed through correctly with biner securing the bight and a quick weight test.

Biner: Locked

Harness: Double backed and adjusted properly.

 

This was all triggered by me seeing a woman fall 100' off a cliff in Ouray two years ago. She had everything rigged, but her rope wasn't attache to the anchor blush.gif

Edited by Toast

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To avoid this error, it is a very good idea to clearly mark the middle of your rope with a dye especially made for that purpose, or buy a rope that is pre-marked.

 

[Rant mode ON]

 

Arrrgh.

 

Mammut sells ropes with THREE middle marks. One in the middle and the other two about 20 ft from each end. The marks are IDENTICAL - two bands of black dye.

 

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!

 

It's impossible to tell the ends from the middle without flaking out the entire rope! A middle mark is at the anchor, but is it the middle or near the end? They could have easily made the middle two bands of dye and the ends one band. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!?!

 

[Rant mode OFF]

 

No, really. wazzup.gif

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I know, I used such a rope (it is Alpinfox's rope tongue.gif), and I thought too that "what a stupid idea"...at least they should have used a different color for the "near the end of the rope" markings. Of course, the rope is a bi-pattern rope (rope weave changes pattern halfway through the rope...but it is hard to tell when you look at it closely). Other than that, that rope was awesome.

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... the rope is a bi-pattern rope (rope weave changes pattern halfway through the rope......

 

You and Hansel must have been mushsmile.gif. The Mammut Revelation is NOT a bipattern rope. cantfocus.gif

 

 

 

I agree that it was stupid of Mammut to make the 5m marks the same pattern as the middle mark, but it shouldn't be very difficult to know whether you've pulled 5m or 30m through the rap anchor.

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look at the rope from a distance...the weave changes half-way through so the while the rope is a red and blue weave, it looks like it is red on one half and it looks like it is blue on the other. It is very subtle...I didn't notice it at first at all...and if you look at it up close it doesn't look different.

 

we wish mushsmile.gif

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na-na told you so:

 

This is one of the lightest single ropes on the planet, for use when every gram counts. DuoDess sports a bi-color, sheath weave change the middle of the rope to aid in easy identification the middle and ends of the rope for extra safety when rappelling and lowering from a route. Mammut's Coating Finish allows unheard-of performance from such a light weight cord.

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The duodess is an option (one that I didn't pay for). The color difference that you noticed results from the weave pattern having a directionality to it such that if you look at it from one angle you see the red threads more predominantly and if you look at it from the other direction you see the blue threads more predominantly. If you bend one strand of my rope over at any point along it's length so that it runs anti-parallel to itself, the two strands appear to be a slightly different color.

 

Check this picture:

Revelation_coil_ocean_bild2.jpg

See how it looks redish on the left and bluish on the right?

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Another step that may prevent this error from becoming fatal is to have a prusik back up knot located above your belay device. The idea being that if you do rappel off the end of the rope, the prusik will tighten up on the rope and leave you hanging from the prusik rather than falling to the deck. However, folks who have tested this theory in a controlled situation found that when one rappels off the end of the rope and starts falling, the tendency is to tightly grip the prusik with one’s hand which prevents it from engaging.

 

It should be noted that you need two prussiks (one for each strand of rope your abseiling), otherwise you end up being a victim of similiar fate as "AlpinFox rappelling f-up victim #1".

 

Good stuff here thumbs_up.gifthumbs_up.gif

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damn, you'll try anything to be right, won't you? this is what I saw:

587950-Revelation_coil_ocean_bild2.jpg

 

mushsmile.gif cheapest i can find that sucker for is ~$200 cry.gif

587950-Revelation_coil_ocean_bild2.jpg.c898c2024e4da53c9806163215e8eb5d.jpg

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but it shouldn't be very difficult to know whether you've pulled 5m or 30m through the rap anchor.

 

But yet folks still rap off uneven ropes.

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There is a reason why you guys are still alive and kicking and posting on cc.com and not a rapp statistic. That is you have good tips and insight into the dangers of rapping.

 

I too have a Mammut with the red blue weave and the three marks (two at ends and one in middle). Setting it up to rap last weekend I thought to myself that it was stupid for them to make the same marks. Then I remembered that climbing demands that my brain is ON at all times and I can't blame a rope manufacturer for my inattentiveness. It was pretty obvious how much rope I had pulled through the anchors. If it broke thats a different story.

 

Here is another tip. When you start rapping off, make sure you have everything with you. A party in front of us had started the 1st of 3 rapps and left their rack and all slings lying at the top of the first rappel. First time I had seen this mistake and they did feel kind of silly for the error. The worst case would be if the ropes got stuck and they needed the rack to climb and free the ropes. That'd be a bummer.

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With 99% of all rappelling accident’s happening to the first person down, the best way to assure that there is never a rappelling accident is to always use a second line belay on all rappels. So how can one set up a second line belay with one rope? (or two tied together) Thread the rope through anchor points like normal. Tie a double figure 8 know on one side, then equalize the eight knot with two quick draws, back to the two anchor points. Throw that line off the cliff. Use the other end of the rope tie it on to the rappeller, and have your partner belay you down, as you rappel. There are several advantages to this method. First, if the first rappeller has problems with a tangled rappel rope, the rope is to short, anything, he just fixes it, (he’s on a belay). Second, both ropes end up in picture book manner, so the second person down has no problems. Third, this method can save lots of time messing with tangles or missed placed rappelling lines. Finally and most important every one goes home. A couple of final notes make sure your second unties the eight not and grabs your two quick draws. The second should always check their rappel setup before un-hooking from the rappel anchor, and if you want extra security the first climber down can hold the two rope from the bottom and pull, that will stop anyone coming down the rope.

So be safe and take your time to do it right.

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Another step that may prevent this error from becoming fatal is to have a prusik back up knot located above your belay device. The idea being that if you do rappel off the end of the rope, the prusik will tighten up on the rope and leave you hanging from the prusik rather than falling to the deck. However, folks who have tested this theory in a controlled situation found that when one rappels off the end of the rope and starts falling, the tendency is to tightly grip the prusik with one’s hand which prevents it from engaging.

 

It should be noted that you need two prussiks (one for each strand of rope your abseiling), otherwise you end up being a victim of similiar fate as "AlpinFox rappelling f-up victim #1".

 

Good stuff here thumbs_up.gifthumbs_up.gif

 

Not to be contrary, but you can tie one prussik around both ropes. The prussik will hold better on two strands of rope than it will on one.

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I don't know if anyone else has already mentioned this, so please pardon if so...

 

When I first started rapping and was nervous, my very patient climbing partner/mentor helped alleviate my worries and my risk by holding the ends of the rap rope(s). This way, he was ready to either help me control my descent speed as well as able to arrest a fall if I had let go of the rope.

 

Looking back, I realize that this simple action was really helpful not only because it lowered my stress, but also b/c I had someone watching me closely and reminding me how to rap safely while actually coming down the rope.

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I do that when climbing with my teenage son. It's more for me than him, though!

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I had my first rap accident last week. Nothing serious but it did send a reminder to me how little one has to fall to do some serious damage. I was rapping over a roof and got too far off to one side of center and for some reason my foot slipped. I loosened the brake so I could get below the sharp edge of the roof before impact but wasn't fast enough and slammed the edge with my elbow. It hurt like hell so I zipped down so as to suffer my pain out of view of my partner smile.gif He hoolered down to see if I was ok and actually sounded a bit disappointed in not being able to use his rescue skills smile.gif Never had problems on roofs before - just a chance slip on a vegetable and bam. Anyhoo, much swelling and bruising and bleeding but no real damage. More caution on roofs for me. I just happened to have a backup prissick on and it would have been handy had the collision been much worse.

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Never rappel

Always downclimb.

 

That way if you die, you will die downclimbing and not rappelling thumbs_up.gif

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I had my first rap accident last week. Nothing serious but it did send a reminder to me how little one has to fall to do some serious damage. I was rapping over a roof and got too far off to one side of center and for some reason my foot slipped. I loosened the brake so I could get below the sharp edge of the roof before impact but wasn't fast enough and slammed the edge with my elbow. It hurt like hell so I zipped down so as to suffer my pain out of view of my partner smile.gif He hoolered down to see if I was ok and actually sounded a bit disappointed in not being able to use his rescue skills smile.gif Never had problems on roofs before - just a chance slip on a vegetable and bam. Anyhoo, much swelling and bruising and bleeding but no real damage. More caution on roofs for me. I just happened to have a backup prissick on and it would have been handy had the collision been much worse.

Glad to hear you are ok. thumbs_up.gif

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I....... slammed the edge with my elbow.

 

Waiting for the next 20 posts of a variation saying not to slam your elbow into the wall.

 

...................................

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