Rock Climbing and Rappelling is something I’ve always wanted to do. I already do a lot of free climbing when I’m out hiking or adventuring about. I took a course in rock-climbing when I was in Malibu about 6 months ago and really enjoyed it, but didn’t learn nearly enough to do it on my own. Since it’s winter in Virginia and most of the places that offer rock climbing and rappelling courses aren’t active right now, I have decided to teach myself how to rock climb and rappel with gear.
I started writing on this subject in my journal but realized I wanted pictures to go with what I was referring to, so I decided to put it in here for my own notes, and for anyone else who’s interested.
The first article I came across was 6 Essential Rappelling Skills:
It goes through “the 6 basic climbing skills you need to learn and know how to safely rappel”:
At least two bomber anchors are needed, but three’s preferred. Anchors can be bolts, cams, nuts, pitons, trees, or tied-off boulders.
- an anchor is a point or points where a climber is secured to a cliff face or ledge by using gear
- a bolt is an artificial anchor hammered into a hole drilled into rock (placement of any bolts should be last resort and made by expert climbers who are aware of legal and ethical ramifications of bolting)
- a cam is a metal, mechanical spring-loaded camming device (SLCD) that fits in cracks and crevices
- a piton is a forged piece of metal, formed in various shapes, thicknesses, and lengths, which is pounded with a piton hammer into cracks in the rock surface (rarely used anymore since their repeated insertion and removal damages cliff faces)
Rappel ropes are always threaded through metal - carabiners, quick links, and descending rings - rather than nylon, which can melt, break, and fall if it’s in contact with rope.
When rappelling, you use either one or two climbing ropes, which are threaded through the anchors. Preferable to use a double single rope so you don’t have to worry about knot failure or the rope getting jammed in the anchors when you pull it.
- climbing ropes vary in diameter from 7.5mm to 11mm. ropes under 9mm are usually used in pairs. come in two lengths: 165 feet and 200 feet (becoming standard length for american climbing & europe). should only buy and climb on ropes approved and certified by the International Union of Alpine Associations (UIAA).
- static ropes are stout cords that do not stretch when loaded. not used for climbing since they do not absorb shock of a climber’s fall but instead transfer it to the climber and his gear. used for top-roping, rappelling, fixed ropes, and caving.
Tie your two ropes together with one of four rappel rope knots.
- double figure-8 fisherman’s knot - the usual way to tie rappel ropes together, strongest of the bunch, will not come undone if properly tied. best knot to tie ropes of unequal diameters (thin and thick rope). biggest disadvantage is its bulk, so increased chances that it might jam in a crack while you’re pulling the rappel ropes.
- square fisherman’s knot - easy to tie and easiest of the four to untie. square knot backed up with double fisherman’s knot on either side (always need backup knots with this knot).
- double overhand knot - aka “european death knot”. fastest and easiest of these four knots to tie and has the least bulk. do not use this knot with ropes of varying diameters (at least one fatal accident occurred from it coming untied).
- double fisherman’s knot - traditional knot to tie two ropes together but has generally fallen out of favor for the above knots. can be difficult to check visually and is often difficult to untie after being weighted. best used for tying thin pieces of accessory cord like spectra together for anchors or slinging nuts like hexentrics.
Tie stopper knots, which is a double fisherman’s knot, overhand knot, or figure-8 knot, at the ends of both ropes so that you or your partner won’t rappel off the loose ends of the rope. Also use an autoblock knot as a safety back-up.
4) Rappel Device
It’s best to thread the rappel ropes through a rappel device, like an ATC or figure-8 descender. In a pinch you can use the old-style Dulfersitz, a Munter hitch, or a carabiner brake rig.
- rappel device - a metal device that is attached to a climber’s harness. climbing rope is threaded through device and through a locking carabiner on the harness, allowing the climber to make a controlled sliding descent, a rappel, down the rope.
5) Autoblock Knot
Use an autoblock knot or a Prusik knot as safety back-up on the rappel ropes to let you stay in control.
- autoblock knot - a friction knot that is tied onto the rope below the rappel device and then attached to the rappeller’s harness with a carabiner clipped into a leg loop or the belay loop, as a safety back-up. This knot is an essential safety knot that every climber should know, adds friction to the rappel descent.
6) Pulling Ropes
Pulling rappel ropes is not as easy as it sounds. Common problems getting knot jammed, rope catching in cracks or behind flakes, or too much friction.
Since that last paragraph about pulling ropes was completely useless, here is another article titled How to Pull Your Rappel Ropes Down:
The pulling they are referring to is the act of pulling or retrieving the ropes after the descent or before your next descent.
Which Rope Do You Pull?
Look at which side of the descending ring that the knot is on, that’s the side to pull. Look at the color of the climbing rope. If the wrong rope gets pulled (which apparently happens all the time), it can end up getting stuck. Make sure that both strands of rope run cleanly down the wall from the rappel anchor without twists or binding against each other.
Use a Guide Finger to Keep Rope Strands Separated
Get in the habit of putting a finger on your guide hand above the rappel device between the two ropes as you descend. This simple act keeps the rope separate from you to the anchor above and keeps the ropes from twisting impossibly around themselves. If those ropes are twisted up at the anchor, may have to reascend the stuck rope to untwist them.
Are there Rock Features to Hang Up the Rope
Look for notches, flakes, grooves, sharp edges, and loose rocks, especially in the first 10 or 15 feet of the rappel. Position the rope if possible to avoid these features which could possibly hang up the rope. Also look for trees, bushes, flakes, and rock blocks that the rope could hang up on when you pull it from below or if the rope could possibly dislodge any loose rocks that could hit you. Pay attention and position the rope safely.
Test the Rope Full from Below
After the first climber rappels down to the next rappel station, have him test the pull of the ropes. If it pulls easily, you will be fine. If it is difficult to pull, look for adjustments to the system at the top before you rappel down. The usual solution is to move the bulky knot that ties the two rappel ropes together further down the cliff. If you are standing on a ledge, the knot will often hang up on the edge of the ledge. Move the knot down below the ledge and have your buddy try to pull again. That usually solves the problem. Then pull up the ropes, attach your rappel device to the ropes, and then carefully climb down over the ledge edge before weighting the ropes.
How to Pull Your Rappel Ropes
After you have both rappelled down to the next station, pull your ropes. If you have carefully checked the system and avoided possible hang-ups and tangles, they should pull easily. As you pull the ropes on multiple rappels, feed the free end of the rope through the new descending ring as you pull it. This saves you lots of extra rope work and keeps you from losing the rope if you just let it fall to you before threading the ring. As you pull the ropes, pay attention for falling rocks that the ropes could dislodge. Wear a helmet and keep your head down so a flying chunk doesn’t hit your face. Also remember that the flying free end of the rope after it has pulled through the rappel anchor can act like a whip, lashing your face or your arms. Lastly, remember to yell “Rope!” when you pull the ropes so anyone nearby is warned of both falling ropes and falling rocks.