Knotting the ends of your rappel rope - three approaches


It’s generally accepted as Best Practice to put a knot(s) in the ends of your rappel rope, to prevent the catastrophic accident of rapping off the ends. (This is also known as making a ”closed system”.)

Of course, if you’re rapping off a single pitch route and you can CLEARLY see that both ends of the rope are on the ground, a knot in the rope ends is not necessary. However, especially if you’re more of a beginning climber, it can be important to build good technique by repeating the same Best Practice all the time, so no one should chap on you if you decide to tie a knot in both ends of the rope.

There are a few different ways to approach this, and as with most aspects of climbing, no single one is right or wrong. Let’s explore each method and look at a few pros and cons.

Method 1 - Stopper knot in each strand

Method 2 - Tie both ends together

Method 3 - Clip both ends to your harness

Method 1 - Stopper knot in each strand

This is probably the most common technique. One benefit to this is that any twists generated by rappelling can work themselves out. 

However, there are two reasons why you might not want to do this.

1 -  A fairly common scenario that can lead to a Major Rappel Epic is forgetting to untie one or both knots in the rope before you start to pull the rope, and realizing, only too late, that you have a knot above you that will not pass through the rap anchor above.

F#$%^&*K!! Big Problem!!

(This usually happens when climbing with a new partner, when one of you likes to tie knots in the end of your rappel ropes, and the other one for some reason does not, and that other person decides to pull the rope without checking. Ask me how I know this . . . )

Do you or your partner REALLY want to put a prusik knot on that rope and ascend 60 meters, hoping like hell that stopper knot is somehow securely jammed in your anchor? The answer is NO, you definitely do not!

If you climb long enough, this will very likely happen to you, and hopefully you realize it FAST, when that damn knot is dangling only a couple of feet above your head, and you can do some crafty trick to pull it back down to you.

Super important - ALWAYS be sure the knots in your rope are untied before you pull your rappel!


2 - You may tie a knot in one rope strand and forget to tie a knot in the other.  If this were to happen, and the person rapping slides to the end of the rope, not only do they fall to the ground, they also could potentially pull the rope all the way through the anchor above, leaving your partner stranded. Depending on how remote your climb is, this could be an extremely serious situation. (Admittedly, this scenario is extremely unlikely, but why not avoid it altogether?)

Note: You can avoid this if both partners use an extended rappel and pre-rig at the upper anchor. Having the second person with their rappel device already on the rope essentially fixes both strands of rope for the first person, and the rope therefore can never slide through the anchor. One more reason to pre-rig your rappels.

Method 2 - Tie both ends together

The solution to both of these problems is to simply tie both ends of the rope together. An overhand knot with about 1 foot of tail will probably do the trick, but a triple wrap barrel knot will be a bit more secure.

This definitely eliminates problem number one, starting to pull the rope with a knot still in the end. If you start to pull the rope with both ends tied together, you have a closed loop, so you can easily retrieve it, untie the knot, and then continue pulling.

It also eliminates scenario number two, unlikely as it may be, because anyone who falls to the end of the rope is going to hit that knot and (probably) stop.

What about taking those twists out of the rope, you may be saying? Steph Davis suggests that the first person down can untie the knot, take any twists out of the rope, pass one end of the rope through the anchor for the next rap, and then retie the ends together.

Method 3 - Clip both ends to your harness

(advocated by Andy Kirkpatrick. See his great book, “1001 Climbing Tips, #252 for more.)

How about taking both ends of the rope, tying a figure 8 on a bight knot with both strands, and clipping the resulting loop to the your belay loop? This solves both the problem of rapping off the end of the rope and problem of pulling the rope before you untie the knot.

This gives an additional benefit: the rope is less likely to snag, because the rope is hanging in a loop below the rappeller.  With this method you you don't even need to throw the ropes. This makes it a good idea if there are climbers below you, it’s windy, you have a low angle rappel, or terrain with lots of shrubs, blocks etc. for the rope to hang up. Flake out the ropes carefully on your ledge, lower a bight of rope, the rappeller starts down, and the partner feeds out remaining rope as needed.

An additional benefit to this method is because you only have at most 30 meters of rope hanging below you, (assuming you're using a 60 meter rope) you're reducing the risk of damaging your rope if you knock off any rocks.

This technique can become more important in blocky terrain, high winds, low visibility, or if you're not sure where the next anchor is. Or some epic combination of these - basically, all the rappel situations that are Less Than Ideal.