Faster rappelling with a group - fix each strand

 
 

Note - This post discusses techniques and methods used in vertical rope work. If you do them wrong, you could die. Always practice vertical rope techniques under the supervision of an experienced climber, and ideally in a progression: from flat ground, to staircase, to vertical close to the ground before you ever try them in a real climbing situation.


Sometimes, a fast moving climbing team can come to a screeching halt when making a rappel (or a few of them.) The logistics of setting up and completing a rap seems to gobble up the clock like no other part of climbing, especially if you have a group of newer climbers. Add to this approaching darkness, a building storm or the horror of missing happy hour, and reasons to rap quickly become even more pressing. The next time you’re stuck in a crowd at a rap station, try this trick:

  1. Feed the rope through the rap anchor as for a normal rap.

  2. Clip a locking biner to each bolt, provided the bolts are stout. (If it’s a gear or sling anchor, clip the 2 lockers to the anchor master point.)

  3. Tie each strand of rope into the lockers with a clove hitch.

See photo sequence below.

You now have two fixed single lines, allowing one of two things:  one climber can rap at a time while another is rigging their rope (I call this being in the "on deck circle" like in baseball) and getting ready to rap the moment the climber ahead of them is on the ground, or two climbers can rap at once on each strand of the rope.  While this is somewhat of an unorthodox technique, this can really speed up your downward progress. The last climber unties the clove hitches (which are used because they are easy to untie even after being loaded), cleans the biners, and raps normally.

Cautions:

  1. If you choose to have two climbers folks go down at once, be super sure the anchor can absolutely hold the weight of two rappellers at the same time.

  2. Watch that one rappeler does not boot rocks down on the other – it might be best if they both depart at the same time.

  3. Be sure that all party members are comfortable rapping on a single strand of rope. If the rap rope is free hanging, and/or the rope is skinny or wet, climbers may descend faster than they are used to. If this happens, climbers can use some techniques for adding friction to a rappel; one of the easiest is using two biners rather than one to attach your rappel device.


Another method - “pre-rig” with an extended rappel

Another approach to expediting a group rappel is to have everyone use an extended rappel, and do what's called a “pre-rig”. This means that everyone in your group has their rappel device on a shoulder length runner, and they are all attached to the rope at one time. By extending the rappel, the climbers waiting at the top will not be jerked around when the road goes under tension.

Doing this expedites the rappel, because the moment the first person gets to the ground or the next anchor and creates a little slack in the rope, the next person can immediately head down. This is the same idea as the fixed single strands Illustrated above, but allows each person to rap on double strands of rope, which gives a little more friction and is probably more comfortable for beginners.

The number of people in your party, and the size of the ledge around the rappel anchor will dictate the method you use. Lots of people, and maybe a small stance? Use The “fix separate strands” method mentioned at the top. Small team, and perhaps a larger ledge around the anchor? Then use the pre-rig method described here.

 

1 - Thread the rope normally for a rappel.

fix each rap rope strand 1.JPG
 

2 - Clip a locking biner to each bolt (or the master point if you're using slings)

fix each rap rope strand 2.JPG
 

Clove hitch each strand of rope to the lockers. Voila, each strand is now fixed separately. The last person unties the cloves, cleans the biners, and raps normally. 

fix each rap rope strand 3.JPG