Sport Anchors – Part 3 of 4 – Cleaning the Anchor

This 'Clean a Sport Anchor' article is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb free e-book ebook

Cleaning a sport anchor means removing all of your gear from it. Three of the main ways to do this are described below.

Which you choose depends on the type of anchor and whether you plan to lower or abseil.

Types of climbing anchor

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Lowering – Method 1

This method is suitable for anchors with a central point which is big enough to feed a bight of rope through. You will remain ‘on belay’ during the whole setup.

You will need:
* Two spare quickdraws
* One screwgate carabiner

Step 1
Clip your rope through a quickdraw on one of the anchor bolts.

How to clean a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 2
Clip another quickdraw into the other anchor bolt and clip it directly to your belay loop. Rest your weight on this quickdraw.

clean a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 3
Pull up a little slack and push a bight of the rope through the main anchor point as shown.

thread a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 4
Tie a figure-8 on the bight and clip this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

How to thread the rope through a bolted sport climbing anchor

Step 5
Untie from the end of the rope.

How to clean a bolted anchor

Step 6
Pull the end of the rope through the main anchor point.

How to clean a bolted sport anchor

Step 7
Remove the quickdraw which isn’t holding your weight. Ask your belayer to take you tight.

How to clean a sport climbing anchor

Step 8
Rest your weight on the rope, then remove the other quickdraw. You are now ready to lower.

How to clean a sport anchor


How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Lowering – Method 2

Sometimes, you won’t be able to push a bight of rope through the anchor. This depends on the thickness of your rope and the type of anchor. In this case, you must use a slightly different method. As with method 1, you will remain ‘on belay’ during the whole setup.

You will need:
* Two spare quickdraws
* One screwgate carabiner

sport climbing anchor chains and bolts

Step 1
Clip two quickdraws into the anchor bolts; one clipped through the rope and the other clipped directly into your belay loop, just the same as method 1.

Rest your weight on the quickdraw.

How to clean a sport anchor

Step 2
Pull up some slack rope and tie a figure-8 on a bight. Clip this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

What to do at the top of a sport rock climb

Step 3
Untie from the end of the rope.

What to do at the top of a sport climb

Step 4
Feed the end of the rope through the main anchor point(s).

What to do at the top of a rock climb

Step 5
Tie in to the end of the rope.

threading rope through climbing anchor

Step 6
Remove the screwgate carabiner and untie the figure-8 on a bight.

threading rope through sport anchor

Step 7
Remove the quickdraw which isn’t holding your weight. Ask your belayer to take you tight.

How to clean a sport route

Step 8
Rest your weight on the rope, then remove the other quickdraw. You are now ready to lower.

How to clean a sport route anchor


How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Abseiling (Rappelling)

In most cases that you clean a sport anchor, you will lower down - this is much quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering. However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

You will need:
* A belay device with a screwgate carabiner
* A prusik cord with a screwgate carabiner
* Three spare carabiners (two of these must be screwgates)
* Two 60cm slings

Step 1
Girth-hitch both slings through your belay loop and attach them to the anchor bolts with screwgate carabiners.

You can now tell your belayer that you are ‘off belay’.

abseil from sport climb

Step 2
Pull up some slack and tie the rope to a carabiner. Clip this to your belay loop. You don’t necessarily need to use a screwgate carabiner here, and it doesn’t matter too much what knot you use. The point of this is so you can’t accidentally drop the rope during the following steps.

Some climbers clip this to a gear loop, since it will not be weighted. This is okay, but it’s possible to break your gear loop if the rope gets stuck on something, meaning that you would end up ‘stranded’ at the top of the climb without a rope.

rappel from a sport climb anchor

Step 3
Untie from the end of the rope.

How to abseil from climbing anchor

Step 4
Feed the end of the rope through the main anchor points.

Tying a knot in the end of the rope stops it from zipping through the anchor if you accidentally let go of it during the next step.

How to rappel from a sport anchor

Step 5
Remove the carabiner from your belay loop and untie the knot. Pull the rope down so that both ends are on the ground. Some ropes have a convenient middle marker to make this easier.

Ask your belayer to confirm that the ends are down. If the ends are only just down, or if you’re abseiling to an exposed ledge, you should tie knots in both ends of the rope. These knots stop you from accidentally abseiling off the end of the rope.

How to abseil from a sport anchor

Step 6
Attach your belay device and prusik to the rope.

How to rappel from a sport route anchor

Step 7
Weight your belay device to check the setup. Then remove the slings. You are now ready to abseil.

How to abseil from a sport route anchor


Cleaning Sport Anchors – Top Tips

* Always double-check the setup before you untie each knot. A mistake could be fatal.

* Make sure to communicate with your partner so they know if you plan to lower or abseil. If you plan to lower but your partner thinks you will abseil, they will take you off belay! Be clear about what you are doing.

* Look out for sharp edges beneath the anchor. Consider abseiling, rather than lowering, if your rope could run over a sharp edge.

* It’s important that you don’t add wear on the anchor rings by top-roping off them. Make sure to use your own screwgates and slings for top-roping so any wear is on your own gear rather than the rings.

* Always inspect the quality of the anchors and the rock around them before trusting your life to them.

* Never thread a rope directly through a bolt hanger. The square edges are likely to damage or cut your rope. Only thread your rope through round-edged metal.

Sport Climbing – How To Descend

This article is part of the book - Sport Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to sport climb free e-book ebook

Lower, Abseil or Walk Off?

There are basically three ways to descend; walk off, lower or abseil (rappel). You will either lower or abseil to get down from most sport routes. Your choice largely depends on the type of anchor, how it is positioned and what you plan to do after the climb.

Lowering from a sport anchor is quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering. However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings and your rope. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

If the next climber is going to top-rope the route, you should make an anchor from your own gear and lower down from that.

If you are the last person to climb the route, you’ll need to clean all your gear from the anchor before you descend.

For anchors which are in a poor position for lowering or abseiling (e.g: far back across a ledge), it is much better to belay your partner from the top of the climb. You can then walk off.

Walking Off

When walking off is a common descent method, there will usually be an established trail back to the base.

Make sure to always be securely connected while cleaning the anchor. You will often have to do a ‘mini pitch’ in order to reach safe walking terrain. If you plan to walk off, make sure to bring a couple of long slings so you can make an anchor (such as slings around a tree) for this purpose.


Best Situation To Walk Off
- When the anchor is situated in such a way which means lowering or abseiling would be difficult or dangerous (e.g: far back from the top of the crag or on a ledge covered in loose blocks).

Walking off the top of a sport climb

Lower Off

Lowering is the simplest method of descent.

You Will Need:
* Two spare quickdraws

Best Situation To Use this Method
- When someone else will lead the climb after you
- When you plan to leave all your quickdraws on the bolts for the next climber

Warning!
Only lower down like this if you are leaving your quickdraws on the bolts in the pitch for someone else to lead next. The highest lead quickdraw acts as a back-up in case your anchor draws unclip as you descend. It is dangerous to lower down or top-rope from only two quickdraws. If you want to remove the quickdraws on your way down, you’ll need to either set up a top rope anchor or clean the anchor.

Step 1
Clip a quickdraw into each bolt. Make sure the rope-end carabiners have their gates facing outwards.

If there are chains or rings on the bolts, clipping your quickdraws underneath puts them in a better orientation.

Sport climbing anchor lowering chains

Step 2
Clip the rope through the quickdraws from the back so the rope is coming out towards you.

Sport climbing lowering chains

Step 3
Ask your belayer to take you tight. You are now ready to lower.

climbing anchor lowering chains


Removing Quickdraws

If you have cleaned the anchor, but your quickdraws are still in the route, you’ll need to retrieve them on your way down.

This is easy on a straight-lined, vertical route. Simply lower down and unclip them from the bolt and the rope.

The belayer will need to stop lowering you at each bolt so you have time to do this.

how to lower from a sport climb

Overhanging Routes
Removing quickdraws is more difficult on overhanging or traversing routes. To make it easier, clip one end of a quickdraw to your belay loop and the other end to the rope. This ‘lowering quickdraw’ keeps you in the same line as the route while you descend.

On your descent, unclip the lead quickdraws from the rope and then from the bolts.

lower from a sport climb

Removing the Last Quickdraw
Be careful when removing the last quickdraw. If you remove it in the same way as the others, you’ll swing out from the rock and pull your belayer with you.


Step 1
If it is a safe swing (i.e: you wouldn’t hit anything or anyone), unclip your lowering quickdraw from the rope and attach it directly to the bolt. Then allow your weight to hang on this quickdraw.

get down from a rock climb

Step 2
Remove the other quickdraw from the bolt and the rope.

Give your belayer time to take in the extra slack which is created.

how to get down after climbing up

Step 3
Remove the last quickdraw from the bolt. To make this easier, use holds on the rock to pull yourself in. Be ready to swing out!

If it isn’t a safe swing, one option is to lower to the ground, and then boulder up to retrieve it. This works best if you have a bouldering pad and the first bolt isn’t very high.

Another option is for the belayer to be anchored to the ground. In this case, you can keep your lowering quickdraw attached until you’re on the ground.

how to lower from top when climbing

Clipping into Quickdraws
If you have top-roped an overhanging or traversing route, and someone else wants to top-rope after you, you’ll need to clip the rope to some of the quickdraws on your way down as ‘directionals’. These directionals stop the next climber from swinging wildly across the rock if they fall.

Simply clip your rope into the quickdraws as you lower. Depending on the route, you may need to clip them all, or just a couple.

Sport climbing how to get down

Pulling the Rope Down
Untie any knots from the rope before you pull it down.

Shout 'rope' before it falls so everyone around you is expecting it – a falling rope in the head hurts!

Pull the rope so the falling end drops down through the quickdraws (if you are leaving them in). This will slow it down and make it safer.

Sport climbing anchors


Extending the Anchor

Never connect quickdraws together like this.

If you need to extend the anchor for lowering or any other reason, make sure to use a sling or cordelette instead, as described here.

clipping quickdraws together

Abseiling

The following description is for abseiling on a single rope where the descent is less than half of your rope’s length. For longer abseils, you’ll need two ropes. Learn more about abseiling.

Best Situations To Abseil
- If the lowering rings are already showing signs of wear (Abseiling puts much less wear on the rings than lowering).
- If your rope would rub across rough edges when lowering.

Attaching Your Belay Device and Prusik

Step 1
Attach yourself to the anchor and feed the rope through the main abseil point, as shown.

Attaching to a climbing anchor

Step 2
Clip your belay device to your belay loop with a screwgate (don’t lock it yet).

Climbing belay device

Step 3
Pull up about a meter of both strands of rope.

It will be heavy, so step on it to create slack so it’s easier to clip in.

Climbing rope ready to abseil rappel

Step 4
Push the ropes through your belay device making sure it is orientated the correct way up.

Attach belay device to climbing harness

Step 5
Clip both of the ropes and your belay device through the screwgate carabiner and fasten it.

You don't need to remove the screwgate from your belay loop when doing this; you are more likely to drop it if you do.

Attach belay device to climbing harness for abseil

Step 6
Lean into the anchor and pull any slack rope through your belay device.

Holding the ropes in the lock-off position, sit back and apply your weight to the belay device. This allows you to easily check the setup.

Attaching belay device to climbing harness

Step 7
For most abseils, it's wise to backup with a prusik knot. A correctly tied prusik will auto-lock if you let go of the ropes.

Wrap the prusik around both ropes a few times and then clip the ends together with a screwgate carabiner. More wraps will create more friction around the ropes, though four wraps are generally enough.

Pull the knot tight, make sure it is neat and the double fisherman’s knot is away from the ropes.

How to make a prusik cord

Step 8
Clip the prusik to your leg loop. The prusik will slide down the ropes if you hold it close to your leg loop and lock around the ropes if you let go. Test this before you abseil.

If it doesn't lock, take it off and re-tie it with an extra wrap around the ropes.


Prusik Too Long?
If your prusik loop is too long, it's possible that it could jam into your belay device during the abseil. If this happens, it can be difficult to control your descent. To avoid this, you can extend your belay device with a sling.

How to attach belay device to climbing harness

Abseiling - Check The System

Before you unclip your attachment point from the anchor, check:

How to abseil rappel infographic

Abseiling - The Descent

Step 1
With one hand holding both ropes in the lock-off position, unclip your slings from the anchor.

You can clip them out of the way on the back of your harness.

How to abseil from a sport climb

Step 2
Put your second hand over the prusik. Your hands should be in the same position as they would to lower a climber while belaying.

How to rappel from a sport climb

Step 3
While keeping a firm grip, lean your weight back and allow some rope to go through your belay device, remembering to slide the prusik down as you go.

Continue feeding rope through as you lower yourself down.

It takes a little practise, but you'll soon be able to figure out how fast to feed the rope while staying in control.

Descend from a sport climb

Step 4
Sit back in your harness and keep your body in an L shape with your feet wide apart. Walk backwards down the rock, making sure to look behind to see where you're going. Move smoothly down the ropes. Don’t bounce, jump or swing around – this puts much more force on the anchor and is likely to damage your ropes if they pass over rough edges.

To abseil past a roof, plant your feet on the lip and lower your body down. Once your body is below the roof, cut your feet loose to avoid hitting your head. Keep going until you've reached the ground.

Abseil from a sport climb

Step 5
Remove your abseil device, unfasten any knots from the ends of the rope and pull down on one side.

Keep an eye on the other end of the rope as you do this to make sure it doesn't go up with a mysterious auto-knot fastened in it.

When the ropes are about to fall down, shout ‘rope’ to warn people who are nearby. Be aware that the falling rope may bring down loose rock with it.

Abseiling from a sport climb


Abseiling - Top Tips

- Look out for ledges, trees, chimneys or anything you might abseil into on your descent.

- If your rope is stuck, stop just above it and allow your prusik knot to tighten. Make sure to keep hold of the ropes with one hand while you untangle them.

- Be aware of where your rope is (above and below you). Make sure it isn't rubbing over loose rock or sharp edges.

- You can only abseil half of the total length of rope that you have, so keep this in mind before climbing up.

- Be aware of rocks which may get dislodged when you pull your ropes down.

Prusik Knots: Different Types Explained

This article about prusik knots is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

A prusik (also known as a friction hitch) is a short piece of cord which can be wrapped around your climbing rope to add friction. They can slide up and down easily, but lock around the rope when weighted.

They are most commonly used for abseiling but are also incredibly useful in a variety of emergency situations such as ascending a rope or escaping the system.

Four types of prusik knot (friction hitch) are described below:
- Classic
- Autoblock (French)
- Klemheist
- Bachmann

prusik knot

Prusik Cord: Size

The diameter of your cord should be 60% to 80% of the rope’s diameter, whether you are using the prusik on one rope or two. If you use a cord that is too thin, it will tighten easily around the rope and will be difficult to move freely. If you use a cord that is too thick, it won’t have enough friction to lock up when you need it to.

In general, 6mm cord works well on 10mm ropes, whereas 5mm cord is better for 8mm ropes.

The cord length should be 1.2m - 1.5m.

Prusik Cord: Material

Prusiks are usually made out of nylon cord, tied together with a double fisherman's bend.

If the cord is too stiff, it won’t lock properly around the rope. The stiffness may also make it difficult to create the knot itself. Test your cord before you take it climbing so you can be sure that it works.

If you are planning to use your prusiks frequently, you should consider buying some pre-sewn prusik loops. These come in a variety of forms, either without a bulky knot or with the knot sewn together and covered by a plastic sleeve.



Prusik Types: The Classic

Advantages
- Very secure when loaded
- Locks in both directions

Disadvantages
- Often difficult to release when tightly loaded

Best Uses
- In situations where you don’t need to keep sliding the prusik (e.g; escaping the system)

classic prusik knot

How To Tie the Classic Prusik

Step 1
Pass the cord around the rope and through itself as shown, making sure the double fisherman’s bend is at the end.

classic prusik knot

Step 2
Pass the cord around the rope and through itself again.

how to tie a prusik knot

Step 3
Make at least three wraps around the rope, pull the cord tight and clip a carabiner through the loop. Make sure the knot is neat.

tie prusik knot

Step 4
Pinch the knot to loosen it. This allows you to move it up or down the rope. Weight the knot in either direction to lock it. If the knot gets stuck, you can push some cord in from the center of the knot to loosen it.

prusik knot classic


Prusik Types: The Autoblock (French)

Advantages
- Easy to tie and untie
- Can be released under load

Disadvantages
- Tends to slip when used to ascend ropes

Best Uses
- As a back-up when abseiling

autoblock prusik knot

How To Tie the Autoblock Prusik

Step 1
Wrap the prusik neatly around the rope a few times as shown.

autoblock prusik knot

Step 2
Clip the ends together with a carabiner. More wraps will create more friction around the ropes, though four wraps are generally enough. Make sure the autoblock is neat and the double fisherman's knot is away from the ropes.

auto block prusik knot

Step 3
Pinch the knot to loosen it. This allows you to move it down the rope. Weight the knot to lock it. The autoblock locks in both directions, but the double fisherman's knot tends to wrap itself into the prusik when the direction is switched, making it much less effective.

prusik knot autoblock

Prusik Types: The Klemheist Knot

Advantages
- Easy to release after being loaded
- Can be tied with webbing

Disadvantages
- Only works in one direction

Best Uses
- Ascending a rope

Klemheist knot

How To Tie the Klemheist Knot

Step 1
Wrap the prusik neatly around the rope a few times as shown.

Klemheist knot

Step 2
Pass the rest of the cord through the loop.

Klemheist prusik knot

Step 3
Weight the knot downwards to lock it, or push it upwards to release.

Klemheist prusik


Prusik Types: The Bachmann Knot

Advantages
- Easy to operate when wearing gloves

Disadvantages
- Not good on icy or slick ropes
- Doesn’t grip as well as other types of prusik

Best Uses
Ascending ropes when wearing bulky gloves

bachmann prusik knot

How To Tie the Bachmann Knot

Step 1
Clip the cord through a carabiner.

bachmann prusik knot

Step 2
Wrap the cord around the rope, feeding it through the carabiner each time. Keep the wraps snug to each other.

prusik knot bachmann

Step 3
Allow the end of the cord to hang down through the carabiner. Clip your load to this end. Do not clip your load to the carabiner which functions as the ‘handle’ – this will release the knot!

bachmann knot

Step 4
Push the handle carabiner up the rope to release the knot. Weight the lower carabiner to lock it.

bachmann prusik


Prusik Cord Tips

- Prusiks are not full-strength attachment points. Always have a back-up so you’re attached to the rope ‘properly’.

- Make sure not to wrap the double fisherman’s bend into any friction hitch. This will greatly decrease the knot’s effectiveness.

- The number of wraps should be increased or decreased depending on the cord stiffness, cord diameter and moisture conditions, with three wraps as a minimum. Before using any prusik knot, test it to see that it grips and releases well.

- If you don’t have a prusik cord, you can use a sling instead. Slings don’t work quite as well but it’ll help you get out of a tricky situation. A narrow nylon sling is better than dyneema (spectra). Don’t use a sling for anything except a prusik after using it once as a prusik.

- If using prusiks in conditions where they might fail (e.g; prusiking up a wet or icy rope), it’s better to use two different types of friction hitch (and a full strength back-up, of course). If conditions exist to cause one to slip or fail, the likelihood is that the other prusik would not fail under the same conditions.

- Check your prusik cord for wear and tear regularly. Make sure the double fisherman’s knot isn’t slipping and the cord isn’t abraded. When it’s looking worn, retire it and get a new one – cord is cheap.

How To Abseil

This 'How To Abseil' article is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

Abseiling (or rappelling) is a simple method of descending ropes that gets you back to the ground quickly.

You can walk down from the top of many climbs, but if that isn't an option, you'll have to abseil.

climber abseiling rappelling

How To Abseil: Check the Anchor

In most situations, there will be a fixed abseil point (such as two equalized bolts or some slings around a tree). This anchor must be bomber. Check the bolts, webbing or cord carefully. If the anchor fails, you will most likely die, so be prepared to replace it.

A bolted abseil anchor should have two bolts of 3/8” diameter or thicker, which are well placed in solid rock. Inspect the rings or maillons too. If they are rusty or have a groove worn in them, consider backing them up with a carabiner.

Rock climbing bolts

Closely inspect anchors made with webbing or cord, especially around the back of the feature. Slings which have been in place for years may be stiff or faded – signs that they have been severely weakened by ultraviolet radiation. Animals sometimes chew webbing too, so check thoroughly. If in doubt, add to it or replace it with webbing, cord or slings of your own.

Some anchors in seldom-climbed areas may be missing a ring or carabiner at the central point. In this case, you’ll need to add one of your own.

Rock climbing tree anchor

The rope should not run directly over nylon slings or cord. Nylon on nylon generates tremendous friction. When you pull your ropes, they will cut into the abseil slings, leaving them dangerously weak for the next team. For the same reason, you should never be lowered from an anchor this way. Your rope will probably cut through the slings before you reach the ground.

Always make sure your ropes are attached to the anchor with metal. Two carabiners with gates opposite and opposed works well.

lowering from a sport climb

How To Abseil: Attaching to the Anchor

The entire climbing team should attach to the anchor while rigging abseils. A common way of doing this is to girth hitch a short sling through your belay loop and clip it to the anchor with a screwgate.

On bolted abseil anchors where the two bolts aren't joined together, you can use two slings with separate screwgates. Attach one sling to each bolt.

Climbing slings girth hitched to belay loop on climbing harness
Ready for abseiling

Warning
Make sure not to climb above the anchor when attached only with a sling. High forces are generated if you 'static' fall (without a rope in the system) the full length of your sling which may damage or break it. Learn more.



How To Abseil: Tying the Ropes Together

You can abseil with either one rope or two. Whichever you use, you'll need to get the middle of your total length of rope onto the anchor.

If you're using one rope to abseil, feed one end through the abseil point. Then holding both rope ends together, pull the ropes through until the mid-point of the rope is at the abseil point. Some ropes have a 'middle marker' to make this easier.

If you are using two ropes, you'll need to tie them together. A simple and safe way to do this is to use the overhand knot described below.

Step 1
Thread the end of one rope through the anchor.

Then hold one end of each rope together and make a loop at least 60cm from the end.

How to tie climbing ropes together to abseil

Step 2
Put the ends through the loop to make an overhand knot.

How to tie climbing ropes together to rappel

Step 3
Pull each strand of rope very tight on either side of the knot, making sure the knot is neat.

How to tie climbing ropes together for rappelling

Step 4
Back it up with another overhand knot immediately next to it. Pull that tight too.
You should have at least 30cm of rope left after the knots.

How to tie climbing ropes together for abseiling

How To Abseil: Throwing Ropes

You should throw your ropes down in a way that they are unlikely to get tangled together or stuck on something. The following is a simple method of reducing your chances of a stuck rope.

Step 1
Tie knots (such as the triple barrel or overhand) in the bottom end of both strands of rope. This stops you from accidentally abseiling off the end.

Tie knots in the end of climbing ropes for rappelling

Step 2
Prepare to throw the ropes down. It's better to do this one rope at a time. Starting from the end, stack one rope in coils over your arm.

How to throw ropes when rappelling

Step 3
Shout ‘rope’ to anyone who may be in the area below. When you are certain that no-one could get hit by your ropes, you can throw them.

Take the first half of the coils in one hand and the second half in your other hand. Throw the second half of the coils down, closely followed by the first. Keep an eye on the ropes at the anchor. With all the weight on one side, the rope could zip through the anchor at this point.

How to throw ropes when abseiling

Step 4
Stack the other rope and throw it down in the same way. If there are climbers below, either wait for them to finish climbing, or ask them if you can slowly lower the ends of your ropes down. This may cause your ropes to snag on features, but will be much less dangerous for the person leading up.



How To Abseil: Attaching your Belay Device

Step 1
Clip your belay device to your belay loop with a screwgate (don’t lock it yet).

How to abseil

Step 2
Pull up about a meter of both strands of rope.

It will be heavy, so have your partner hold the rope up, or step on it to create slack so it’s easier to clip in.

How to abseil rock climbing

Step 3
Push the ropes through your belay device making sure it is orientated the correct way up.

How to abseil for climbing

Step 4
Clip both of the ropes and your belay device through the screwgate carabiner and fasten it.

You don't need to remove the screwgate from your belay loop when doing this; you are more likely to drop it if you do.

How to abseil a rope

Step 5
Lean into the anchor and pull any slack rope through your belay device.

Then holding the ropes in the lock-off position, sit back and apply your weight to the belay device. This allows you to easily check the setup.

How to abseil ropes

Using a Prusik Knot

For most abseils, it's wise to backup with a prusik knot. A correctly tied prusik will autolock if you let go of the ropes.

Step 1
Wrap the prusik around both ropes a few times and then clip the ends together with a screwgate carabiner. More wraps will create more friction around the ropes, though four wraps are generally enough. Pull the knot tight, make sure it is neat and the double fisherman’s bend is away from the ropes.

How to tie a Prusik knot for abseiling and rappelling

Step 2
Clip the prusik to your leg loop. The prusik will slide down the ropes if you hold it close to your leg loop and lock around the ropes if you let go. Test this before you abseil.

If it doesn't lock, take it off and re-tie it with an extra wrap around the ropes.

If your prusik loop is too long, it's possible that it could jam into your belay device during the abseil. If this happens, it can be difficult to control your descent. To avoid this, you can extend your belay device with a sling.

Attaching a prusik to belay loop to abseil


How To Abseil: The Descent

Before you unclip your attachment point from the anchor, check:

How to abseil how to rappel climbing

Step 1
With one hand holding both ropes in the lock-off position, unclip your sling from the anchor and clip it out of the way on the back of your harness.

Using a prusik to abseil
Using a prusik to rappel

Step 2
Put your second hand over the prusik. Your hands should be in the same position as they would to lower a climber while belaying.

Step 3
While keeping a firm grip, lean your weight back and allow some rope to go through your belay device, remembering to slide the prusik down as you go.

Continue feeding rope through as you lower yourself down. You'll soon be able to figure out how fast to feed the rope while staying in control.

Using a prusik to abseil

Step 4
Sit back in your harness and keep your body in an L shape with your feet wide apart. Walk backwards down the rock, making sure to look behind to see where you're going.

Move smoothly down the ropes. Don’t bounce, jump or swing around – this puts much more force on the anchor and is likely to damage your ropes if they pass over rough edges.

To abseil past a roof, plant your feet on the lip and lower your body down. Once your body is below the roof, cut your feet loose to avoid hitting your head.

Abseiling with a prusik cord

Step 5
If you are the first in your group to abseil, you may have to deal with tangles of rope hung up on ledges, flakes or in bushes.

Always deal with tangles when still above them. Lock off the rope with your prusik and pull the rope up to unfasten the tangle or flip the rope free of the snag.

When you're safely attached to the next anchor (remember to inspect it first) or on the ground, remove your belay device and prusik and shout up to your partner that you're 'off rope', so they can begin abseiling.

Abseiling rappel with a prusik cord

Step 6
When everyone is down, you can retrieve the ropes. Unfasten the knots from the ends of the ropes and pull down on the rope that you didn't thread through the anchor.

Keep an eye on the other rope as you do this to make sure it doesn't go up with a mysterious auto-knot fastened in it.

When the ropes are about to fall down, shout ‘rope’ to warn your partner(s). Be aware that the falling rope may bring down loose rock with it.

Climbers pulling ropes after abseiling

The Fireman's Belay

If a less experienced climber is worried they may not be able to control the abseil, they can be given a fireman’s belay.

The more experienced climber descends first, then holds the ropes while the other climber descends. A simple pull on the ropes will lock their device.

This is also useful if one climber has forgotten their prusik – they can abseil last with a fireman’s backup.

firemans belay

Self Rescue > Tandem Abseiling

This article, Self Rescue > Tandem Abseiling, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Tandem abseiling means two people descending with the same device. It is most useful when descending with an injured climber.

A simple tandem abseil setup:
- ‘Lead’ abseiler is attached to the belay device with a shoulder-length sling girth-hitched through their belay loop.
- Lead abseiler uses a prusik.
- Second abseiler is attached to the belay device with a shoulder-length sling doubled through their harness. This allows the climbers to be staggered slightly.
- Both climbers are attached with separate screwgates to the belay device. The two carabiners add extra friction therefore making it easier to control the descent. They also allow each climber to be on independent systems.

Because of the doubled weight, you might benefit from adding extra friction to the abseil.

self rescue tandem abseiling rappelling

Multiple Tandem Abseils

If your partner is incapacitated, you should attach them to each station with a releasable clip-in (such as a length of cord tied with a munter-mule-overhand), backed up with a sling.

Pre-attach this to their harness before you begin the descent.

self rescue tandem rappel


Tandem Abseiling > Chest Harness

You could make an improvised chest harness to keep your partner in a better position during the descent.


Step 1
Tie an overhand knot in the middle of a double-length sling.

rock climbing sling

Step 2
Insert your partner’s arms into the loops, as if you were helping them put a jacket on.

self rescue chest harness

Step 3
Clip the two ends of the sling around the abseil rope (no knot is needed – the carabiner should run freely down the ropes).

chest harness rock climbing

An alternative is to clip the chest harness to your partner’s abseil sling.

Be careful not to descend past your next abseil station – prusiking back up with an extra person hanging from your harness may be impossible.

self rescue tandem abseiling

Self Rescue > Prusiking Up a Rope

This article, Self Rescue > Prusiking Up a Rope, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Knowing how to prusik up a rope transforms a potential epic into a mere inconvenience.

This article explains how to ascend a rope using prusiks, assuming that you already know how to tie one. If you don’t know how to tie a prusik knot, you can learn here.

Prusiking is most commonly needed when:
- You abseiled too far
- You abseiled the wrong way
- Your ropes get stuck after abseiling
- If you fall while leading or following a steep pitch.

abseil and prusik up a rope

Before You Prusik up a Rope

Only prusik up a rope which is properly attached to an anchor
Sounds obvious, but many accidents have happened because a climber was ascending a ‘stuck’ rope which then came free.

Another fatal mistake is to ascend only one rope on a double rope abseil, hoping that the knot will remain jammed in the anchor. Never do this! When under load, even large knots can squeeze through carabiners and certain types of chains or rings. If you descended both ropes, you’ll need to ascend both too. Remember that prusiks work equally well on one rope or two.

Always back up your prusiks.
Prusiks are not full-strength attachment points. Tie a back-up knot in any rope which you are ascending. Clip this knot to your belay loop and re-tie it frequently as you ascend. When you re-tie it, make sure to tie the new back-up knot before removing the old one.

how to prusik up a rope


How To Prusik up a Rope: The Standard Technique

Advantages
- Safe to use in almost any rope-ascending situation.

Disadvantages
- Often more strenuous than other methods, such as the slingshot.

Step 1
Tie a back-up knot (clovehitch, overhand or figure-8 on a bight work well) in the slack rope(s) beneath you. Clip this knot to your belay loop with a screwgate. If you are ascending two ropes, make sure to tie back-ups in both of them.

If you are mid-abseil, simply weight your prusik and tie the back-up knots.

If you are abseiling without a prusik and dangling in space, you can wrap the rope around your leg at least three times, tie a prusik, release the rope from around your leg, weight the prusik and then tie the back-up knots. Whatever you do, make sure to keep hold of the brake rope until you have tied the back-up knots.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 2
Attach two prusiks (classic or klemheist types work well) to the rope(s) above you.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 3
Girth-hitch a 60 cm sling to your belay loop and clip it to the top prusik (if it’s too long you can tie a knot to shorten it).

Use screwgate carabiners for all connections. If you don’t have enough screwgates, you can substitute two snapgates with gates opposite and opposed.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 4
Girth-hitch another sling to your belay loop and clip it to the bottom prusik.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 5
Make a foot loop by clipping a long sling/piece of cord to the bottom prusik.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 6
Now the hard work begins. To ascend, push the top prusik up the rope as far as you can, then sit back in your harness to rest your weight on it.

Step 7
Slide the unweighted bottom prusik up the rope and stand in the foot loop. As you stand up, slide the now unweighted top prusik up the rope.

Step 8
Repeat this process, making sure to adjust your back-up knots as you ascend.

how to prusik up a rope


How To Prusik up a Rope: The Slingshot Technique

The ‘slingshot’ is a similar technique to the one used when winching yourself back up to your high point after falling on a steep sport route.

Advantages
- Less strenuous to ascend the rope than the standard technique.

Disadvantages
- Only works in an abseiling situation. You cannot use this technique to regain your high-point if you fall into space when leading or following a steep pitch.
- Difficult to set up if you can’t unweight the rope.
- Causes the rope to rub over the main anchor point. Never use this method if your rope is threaded through webbing, a sling or any fairly worn-out anchor point. The sawing action of this technique can cause the rope to cut the sling!

Step 1
Anchor yourself independently of the abseil ropes (if you’re not already on the ground) and remove your belay device.

Step 2
Tie a figure-8 on a bight in both strands of rope. Clip both of these to your belay loop, each with their own screwgate. One of these will remain weighted as you ascend, the other is your back-up knot.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 3
Tie both prusiks on the side of the rope which has the knot joining the two ropes. Attach yourself to both prusiks and rig a foot loop as previously described.

If you anchored independently from the abseil ropes, you will need to detach yourself from the anchor at this point.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 4
Prusik up the rope, using the same technique described above. As you pull down on one side of the rope, the opposite side will pull up, assuming there isn’t much friction at the anchor point. This makes the ascent easier, but slower, than using the standard method.

Re-tie your back-up knot as you ascend (on the blue rope). Make sure to get the right knot though - do not untie the weighted knot!

how to prusik up a rope

Step 5
In most cases, you’ll have to pass the knot which joins the two ropes. Simply re-tie your prusiks past this knot one at a time.

how to prusik up a rope


How To Prusik up a Rope: Using an Extended Belay Device

Advantages
- Fairly quick to set up.
- Great for ascending a short distance, such as if you abseil past an anchor.

Disadvantages
- Only works if you are abseiling with an extended belay device which has a guide mode function.

Step 1
Fasten a prusik knot (klemheist works well) around both ropes above your belay device with a long piece of 5mm or 6mm cord. This will be your foot loop.

Step 2
Step into the foot-loop and stand up, taking the weight off your belay device. Make sure to keep hold of both brake ropes as you do this.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 3
Connect your belay loop to the auto-block hole on your belay device with a screwgate.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 4
Sit your weight onto your now auto-blocked belay device.

how to prusik up a rope

Step 5
Slide the top prusik up the rope and stand in the foot loop again. This takes the weight off your belay device, allowing you to pull the slack rope through it.

Step 6
Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you reach the anchor.

how to prusik up a rope


Prusiking up a Rope - Summary

Knowing how to prusik up a rope is an essential skill for any trad climber. It is strenuous and awkward at first, and it may take a while to figure out the exact lengths of cord you need. But with a little practise, you will soon become a prusiking pro.

If you’re anything like me, you will one day end up marooned in space, gazing wistfully at the anchors 60 meters above after abseiling the wrong way, in the dark, without a headlamp. Prusiking back up the free-hanging rope was easy. The rest of the night, however, wasn’t easy. Read the story here.

how to prusik up a rope

The Munter Hitch – How To Belay Without a Belay Device

Uses:
- Belaying without a belay device
- Abseiling without a belay device
- Creating a releasable knot when escaping the belay

The munter hitch tends to 'kink' the rope when used for abseiling or belaying. It can also cause slight abrasion to the rope's sheath, especially if the leader falls.

It is a useful skill to know, but is not intended for long-term use.

drop belay device climbing

How To Tie a Munter (Italian) Hitch

Step 1
Clip the rope through a large, pear-shaped (HMS) screwgate. Smaller screwgates work too, but will make belaying more difficult.

Munter italian hitch rock climbing

Step 2
Twist a loop in the climber's end of the rope as shown.

How to tie an italian hitch rock climbing

Step 3
Clip the loop into the screwgate.

How to tie a Munter hitch rock climbing

Step 4
Clip the carabiner to your belay loop and fasten the screwgate.

Munter hitch belaying

Warning!
Make sure the brake strand is on the 'spine' of the screwgate. If the brake strand is on the 'gate' side, it could rub against the gate and potentially open it.

Italian hitch belaying

Step 5
Test the knot by pulling tight on either end of the rope. The knot should flip through the carabiner easily both ways.

Munter italian hitch rock climb belay


Belaying With a Munter Hitch

Belaying with a munter hitch is similar to using an ATC: you must keep hold of the brake rope at all times. The main difference is that you 'lock-off' in the opposite direction (see below). This goes against a climber's natural reaction, so make sure to practise this technique well before using it.

When bringing up the second on a munter hitch, it's easier to belay directly from the anchor (if your anchor setup allows), rather than from your harness.

Italian hitch belaying top rope

To Lock Off
The Munter hitch creates a lot of friction. Depending on the situation (rope thickness, weight of climber, rope drag, etc..), it can be locked off in any direction. However, for maximum friction, you must hold the brake rope forward (so that both strands of rope are parallel to each other).

Munter hitch belaying

To Give Slack
Hold the brake rope loosely and pull through slack rope, similar to giving slack with an ATC.

Italian hitch belay

To Take In
Pull the brake rope so that the knot 'flips'. More rope can now be taken in by continuing to pull rope through forwards.

Munter italian hitch rock climb belay

To Lower
Lock the rope off in the maximum friction position described above. Slowly move the rope back and lower as you would with an ATC. It can be tricky to find the 'sweet spot', so make sure to move position slowly.

Munter italian hitch belaying


How To Tie-Off a Munter Hitch - The Munter-Mule-Overhand

Uses:
- Tying off a munter hitch when belaying or escaping the system.

Step 1
Form a loop in the brake-strand of rope as shown.

Munter-mule hitch rock climbing

Step 2
Feed a bight of the brake rope around the climber's rope and through the loop as shown.

Pull the knot tight, either by easing the climber's weight onto the rope if they are weighting it, or by pulling up on the climber's strand of rope if they're not weighting it. The munter hitch is now tied-off, but not backed-up (see next step).

Munter-mule hitch belaying

Step 3
To complete the knot, you must back it up. One way of doing this is to tie an overhand around the climber's strand of rope. To start, wrap the loop around the back of the rope.

Munter-mule hitch

Step 4
Then feed it back through as shown.

Munter-mule hitch climbing

Step 5
A carabiner completes the hands-free munter-mule-overhand.

Munter mule overhand knot

To Release
Unfasten the overhand knot Then pull forwards on the brake strand of rope until the knot pops free.

If the rope is weighted, you can expect a few centimetres of rope to slip through the munter hitch. Prepare for this by holding the brake strand tight with both hands.

Munter-mule hitch release


Munter Hitch Belaying - Top Tips

When using a small diameter rope, it's worth using two carabiners to increase belay friction.

Munter hitch belaying skinny rope

To belay the second with half ropes, you can treat them as one and tie them together in the same munter hitch. If you need to pull one rope through faster than the other, you should use two separate knots (see next tip) instead.

Munter hitch belay two ropes

To lead belay with half ropes, you'll need to use two separate screwgates with a munter hitch on each. This can be difficult at first, especially giving slack on one rope while simultaneously taking in the other. Practice well before you use this technique.

Munter hitch two rope belaying

Abseiling > How To Extend a Belay Device

Extending your belay device before abseiling can be useful in certain situations.

Advantages
- You can use a prusik with less chance of it getting sucked into your belay device.
- Your prusik will be centred, making it easier to use than if you attach it to a leg loop.
- You can transition from abseiling to ascending easily – useful if you abseil too far on a multi-pitch descent.

Disadvantages
- Takes longer to set up.

Best Situation to Use This Method
If you don't know where the next abseil anchor is on a tricky multi-pitch descent.

Extending your Belay Device with a 60cm Sling

Simply girth hitch a 60cm sling through the hard points of your harness (the same points that your belay loop goes through) and clip your belay device to this sling instead of your belay loop.

It's much better to use more durable, thicker nylon slings than thin Spectra/Dyneema for extending your belay device.

You could also girth hitch the sling through your belay loop.

Extending your belay device using a prusik to abseil rappel

Extending your Belay Device with a 120cm Sling

Alternatively, you can use a 120cm sling in a similar way.

Feed the sling through the hard points of your harness, tie an overhand knot in it and then clip both ends of the sling to your belay device.

Extending your belay device with a sling for rappel


How To Transition From Abseiling To Ascending

It is possible to ascend the rope with the following setup. This is a useful trick if you have abseiled too far down a steep face and need to go up a short distance in order to reach the next abseil anchor.

First, make sure you are using your autoblocking belay device in the Guide Mode orientation. You'll need to do this before leaving the anchor.

Using guide mode to rappel abseil

Step 1
Fasten a prusik knot (klemheist works well) around both ropes above your belay device with a long piece of 5mm or 6mm cord. This will be your foot loop. If you don’t have a long piece of cord, just use a short one and attach a sling to it.

Extending a belay device and using a prusik to abseil rappel

Step 2
Step into the foot-loop and stand up, taking the weight off your belay device. Make sure to keep hold of both brake ropes as you do this.

Step 3
Connect your belay loop to the auto-block hole on your belay device with a screwgate. Sit your weight onto your now auto-blocked belay device.

Extend a belay device to abseil rappel safely

Step 4
Slide the top prusik up the rope and stand in the foot loop again to take the weight off your belay device.

Extend a belay device

Step 5
Pull the slack rope through your belay device and weight it again. Repeat as necessary.

Extending a belay device to rappel

Abseiling > How To Abseil with a Damaged Rope

How To Abseil with a Damaged Rope is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

If you climb long enough, you will inevitably end up having to abseil with a damaged rope at some point. Unfortunately, getting a core-shot (when the white core is visible) seems to be more common on long multi-pitch climbs where the terrain is blocky and the abseil descent is complicated.

How you solve this problem depends on the severity of the rope damage and where you are when it happens.

climbing with damaged rope abseil with a damaged rope core shot ropes

Climbing with Damaged Ropes

If it is more practical to continue up than descend (e.g; If you are ten pitches up a steep face, but only one pitch away from an easy walk-off descent), you can continue climbing on the longest section of undamaged rope. You’ll have to do shorter pitches, but this may be the best option.

If using the rope in a situation where it will not pass through any gear (such as hauling on a big wall, or moving together on a glacier), you can tie an alpine butterfly over the damaged section to return the rope to its full strength.

climb with core shot climbing ropes

How to Abseil with a Damaged Rope

If a small amount of core is showing through the sheath, and the core is in perfect condition, you can wrap a piece of finger-tape tightly around this abraded section. This helps to hold the sheath together and prevent the core from being further exposed. Use just a small amount of tape so that your abseil device still feeds through easily.

It is not safe to lead on a damaged rope like this, whether taped or not. This technique is only suitable for abseiling. It enables you to get down safely, but is not a permanent solution. The rope should be retired afterwards.



Abseiling with a Core-Shot Rope

If the core is damaged, you’ll need to abseil on a single ‘good’ strand of rope, and treat the damaged part as the pull-down cord. You don’t need to cut your rope. Here’s how:

Step 1
Attach the rope through the anchor as shown. A figure-8 is shown in our diagram, but you could also use other knots (such as the overhand, figure-9, clovehitch or alpine butterfly). The point is to have a knot which physically cannot pull through or get stuck in the main anchor point.

The important part of this setup is to clip the rope back to itself with a screwgate carabiner to make a ‘closed loop’ around the main anchor point. This way, the system wouldn’t fail completely if the knot slipped through. You would, however, have to prusik back up to solve the problem.

The same setup applies if you are abseiling on two ropes. Tie them together and use the damaged rope as the pull-down cord.

how to abseil with core shot ropes

Step 2
Attach your abseil device to the good strand of rope.

Follow the same safety precautions as you would when abseiling at any other time: tie a knot in the bottom end of the rope, use a prusik and weight the rope to check the system before you commit to it.


Step 3
Abseil down the good strand while keeping hold of the pull-down cord. It’s a good idea to keep the end of the pull-down cord clipped to you.

Watch the setup as the first climber descends. If the knot gets jammed or slips through, you’ll need to tie a bigger knot or change the main anchor point to something smaller (small maillions/ quick-links are good for this).


Step 4
Pull your ropes down.

It’s possible that the knot and carabiner could get stuck. As when abseiling in a normal situation, keep an eye out for cracks and features where this could happen before you pull your ropes.

On a multi-pitch descent, remember that you will have to thread the same rope through each anchor.

Top Tip – Abseil Extra Distance

Add slings and cordelettes to the end of the pull-down cord if you need a little extra distance on your abseils.

Top Tip – Add Extra Friction

There will be less friction when abseiling on a single strand of rope, which can be harder to control. To make a smoother descent, see our article on increasing abseil friction.

how to rappel with core shot ropes

Top Tip – Two Damaged Ropes

If both of your ropes are damaged, the best option is to salvage the longest section of undamaged rope as the ‘good’ rope and join the rest together as the pull-down cord. You won’t be able to abseil as far, but it is better than not being able to abseil at all.

Another option is to fix one end of the rope to the anchor and abseil on a single strand, passing knots on the way. You will not be able to retrieve your ropes, so this only works if your ropes reach to the ground.

Abseiling > How To Abseil Past a Knot

How To Abseil Past a Knot is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Times when you might need to abseil past a knot:
- When descending a single strand ‘fixed’ rope, where a knot has been tied to isolate a damaged section
- Passing a knot joining two ropes during an emergency retreat

As always, first try to utilize the terrain to make passing the knot easier. For example, if you have a ledge to stand on, you can bypass the knot without needing prusiks. However, if you are dangling in space with a heavy pack pulling you backwards, you’ll need to follow all the steps described.

(If you are abseiling with your own damaged ropes, it may be better to use this technique.)


Here’s how to abseil past a knot:

how to abseil past a knot

Step 1 – Stop

Stop abseiling when your prusik is about 30-40cm before the knot. Allow the prusik to take your weight.

If you are abseiling without a prusik (not recommended), you can wrap the rope around your leg a few times. This adds friction but does not lock your belay device, so make sure to keep hold of the rope for the next couple of steps. And use a prusik next time.

If your belay device jams into the knot, you’ll need to ascend a short amount.

how to abseil past a knot rock climbing

Step 2 – Back Up

Pull up about two meters of rope and fasten a back up knot (clovehitch or figure-8 work well).

Attach this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

how to rappel past a knot

Step 3 – Add Prusik

Fasten a prusik above your belay device (classic or autoblock types work well) and attach it to your belay loop with a short sling.

Abseil down a few inches to allow your weight to be taken by this prusik.

how to rappel past a knot rock climbing

Step 4 – Pass the Knot

Detach the un-weighted lower prusik from your leg loop but keep it in position on the rope.

Remove your belay device and reattach it to the rope immediately beneath the knot. Lock your belay device by tying it off with a mule-overhand.

Step 5 – Add Foot Loop

Clip a short sling to the lower prusik. Stand in this sling to un-weight the upper prusik.

how to abseil past knots

Step 6 – Remove Prusiks

Remove the upper prusik and sit back to weight your tied-off belay device.

If you can’t weight your belay device from this position, you may have to down-prusik a couple of times until you can weight it. Alternate between weighting the upper prusik and standing in the lower foot loop. Adding an extra sling to the lower foot loop makes this easier.

how to rappel past knots

Step 7 – Descend

Reposition the remaining prusik back to your leg loop (without the foot loop sling), unfasten your back up knot and then release your tied-off belay device.

You can now continue your descent.

how to abseil past a knot when climbing


Abseil Past a Knot - Top Tips

Before you pass the knot, assess if it would be better to:
- Unfasten it
- Re-tie a better knot (alpine butterfly is recommended)
- Ascend back to the anchor and find a different way down

The same technique can be used when abseiling with an extended belay device. During step 6, you will need to down-prusik a few moves to ease your weight onto your tied-off belay device.

If you know there are knots in the rope before you descend, you can speed things up by abseiling with a pre-attached prusik above your belay device.

Abseil Past a Knot - Summary

There are many variations of this same technique. The most important thing to remember is to fasten a back-up knot before you detach your belay device.

It’s highly recommended to practise this technique before you actually need to use it.

Dangling in space with your belay device jammed into the knot and a prusik out of reach above is a common error for first-timers.

Try it out on different angles of rock, with your prusiks at different heights and attached to different lengths of sling.

Abseiling > The Carabiner Brake – How To Abseil Without a Device

This article about The Carabiner Brake is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Dropping your belay device at the top of a ten-pitch abseil descent isn't recommended. But if you do, knowing how to use the carabiner brake will change your descent from epic to easy (You can use a munter hitch to abseil, but it tends to kink the rope and causes abrasion to the sheath).

You Will Need:
- 1 screwgate
- 4 snapgate carabiners.

Full size oval or D-shaped carabiners provide the smoothest descent, but almost any carabiner can be used. Really small or sharp-spined carabiners should only be used as a last resort.

drop belay device climbing

How To Set Up The Carabiner Brake

Step 1
Clip a screwgate to your belay loop and fasten it. Then clip two snapgates to the screwgate, making sure the gates are facing opposite directions and they are opposed.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 2
Push a bight of both ropes through the snapgate carabiners.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 3
Clip another snapgate around the ropes and also through the loop as shown.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 4
Clip a second snapgate next to this, with the gates on the same side, but facing opposite ways.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 5
Pull down on the rope until the carabiners align over each other.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Step 6
Make sure the rope runs over the spines (not the gates) of the outer carabiners.

You can now add a prusik and abseil as you would with an ATC.

As always, remember to check the system before you detach from the anchor.

Carabiner brake abseil rappel no belay device


Abseiling > How to Deal with Stuck Ropes

eiger north face russian route

You try to retrieve your ropes after abseiling and they get stuck. What do you do?

Stuck Ropes – Prevention

If you are about to abseil down complex terrain, consider the following prevention strategies before you throw your ropes.

Reduce Anchor Friction

If there is a lot of friction at the abseil anchor, you can reduce it by:

1) Adding a carabiner if the rope was previously threaded through cord.

stuck ropes abseiling

2) Extending the main abseil point over the lip of a ledge.

extend abseil cord

3) Moving the knot so it is over the lip of a ledge.

abseiling

Rope Angle

Avoid abseiling from anchors that are low down and far away from an edge, forming a right-angle in the rope. The added friction from the rope running around the edge will make it more difficult to retrieve the rope.

Also, if there is mud or snow on the edge, the rope will cut into it, causing the knot to get stuck.

stuck ropes abseiling

If you must use an anchor like this, you can extend it with cord so that the main point hangs over the edge. If this is not possible, you could make a short abseil over the edge and then set up a second anchor on the face.

Check While Abseiling

As you abseil down, look for places where the knots could get caught as they are pulled down during retrieval.

Flakes, cracks, spikes, trees or constrictions between boulders are classic places for ropes to get stuck.

Flick your ropes so they don’t run over these features.

abseiling single pitch rappel

Windy Abseils

When throwing your ropes down in high winds, they are unlikely to drop where you want them. To combat this, clip the rope to yourself in short loops. Release the loops one at a time as you descend.

Test Pull

If there is a lot of friction between the ropes and the rock or anchor, it is worth doing a test pull. Once the first climber is down, they pull on the retrieving rope.

If the ropes don't move, the second climber can reduce friction at the anchor (see above). Do another quick test pull to see if that solved the problem.

If the ropes still won’t pull, the second climber could abseil part way down the face and make an intermediate anchor to abseil from, before joining the first climber at the lower anchor.

This, however, may cause more problems if the ropes get stuck during retrieval, since it is much harder to retrieve ropes alone.

pulling ropes abseiling

Shorter Abseils

When abseiling down terrain where ropes are likely to get stuck, it is much better to do shorter abseils.

This will allow you to have more control over where the ropes run, and will also mean that you won't have to climb back up as far to retrieve stuck ropes.

When Pulling Ropes

By standing further out from the wall when pulling ropes, the knot is pulled through the air instead of against the rock, meaning that it is less likely to get caught.

It also helps to flick the rope to guide the knot around obstacles.

how to avoid stuck ropes when abseiling


Stuck Ropes - How To Retrieve Your Ropes

Sometimes, no matter what you do to prevent it, your ropes will get stuck anyway. How you retrieve them depends on:

- If you have both strands within reach
- How much rope you have pulled through
- How easy it is to climb up
- What the rope is stuck on

First Considerations

Be aware that when a stuck rope comes free, it could dislodge loose rock. Try to get yourself into a position where you can move out of the line of rock fall and not shock-load the belay which you are hanging from.

If you have just started pulling the ropes, first make sure you are pulling the correct one, and are not pulling the knot up into the anchor.

Resist the temptation to immediately pull hard on a stuck rope, as this may jam it further. Instead, flick the ropes to see if you can dislodge them from wherever they’re stuck. You can also pull on the other end to see if reversing the ropes unsticks them.

If this doesn’t work, try pulling as hard as you can on the stuck rope. To make this easier, wrap a prusik cord around the rope and lean back with it clipped to your belay loop, or get more weight on the rope by having your partner pull too.

Climbing up to reach a stuck rope

If a stuck rope cannot be freed from below, you must climb back up to deal with whatever is holding it in place. There are two main ways to do this; leading and prusiking.

Leading is the preferred method since it avoids the obvious danger of releasing loose rock if the rope suddenly comes free.

Tie into the end of the rope that you have managed to pull down, then get belayed on this end as you lead back up to the problem. The obvious limitation is that you can only climb back up as far as you have rope available.

If the rock you abseiled down is unclimbable, you will have to climb the rope itself using prusiks.

what to do when your climbing ropes are stuck

Prusiking up to reach a stuck rope

Just because you and your partner have been pulling on the rope doesn’t mean that it won’t suddenly come free while you are prusiking up.

This is especially true when you get higher up and change the direction of pull in the ropes. Therefore, it is essential that you keep yourself safe while you ascend.

The method you use to do this depends on if you have one or both ends of the ropes.

Prusiking - If you have both ends of the ropes

Having both ends of the ropes within reach is much better than just having one. You can either wrap your prusiks around both ropes (described here), or just the ‘pulling’ rope (described below).

Whichever method you choose, make sure to keep re-tying back-up knots (figure 8 on a bight or clovehitch work well) in the ropes as you ascend.

how to prusik for climbing

If you prusik up just one rope, you’ll need to counterbalance it with your partner’s weight in order to be safe. Do this by getting them to attach to the other rope. This closes the system so that you won’t fall if the ropes suddenly come free.

The advantage of this method is that your partner will be able to feel your weight pulling on their harness at the point when the ropes can move freely. This gives you a better idea where the ropes are stuck.

Once you reach the anchor, or a point where the ropes move freely, you can avoid getting them stuck again by re-routing the ropes, building an intermediate anchor or extending the original anchors over an edge.

how to prusik up a rope

Warnings:
1) If the ropes are running through cord at the abseil station (instead of a carabiner), make sure to prusik on both ropes. The sawing action of you prusiking on one rope could melt the cord and cause it to fail.

2) Bouncing up and down on the ropes while prusiking generates more force on the anchor than the force you applied when abseiling from it. If you are uncertain about the quality of your anchor, you can place gear on the rope which you are ascending, while being belayed (described below).

abseil cord


Prusiking - If you only have one end of the ropes

If you were able to pull quite a lot of rope through, you can tie into the end of the rope and get belayed up on this. Place gear and clip it to the lead rope as you prusik up the stuck rope.

Once you have reached the end of the other rope, it will be safer to switch your prusiks to be around both ropes. Make sure to back up your prusiks with a knot on both ropes if you do this.

Before committing to prusiking up a single rope, assess how many gear placements there are above and how much rope you have available to lead with compared to where you think the rope is stuck. If you have a lot of rope, the safest option could be to cut the rope and abandon the section which is stuck above you. You will then be able to make a series of shorter abseils.

how to prusik up a climbing rope

Prusiking - If you only have one end of the ropes but not enough to lead back up

This is a poor situation to be in. One option is to cut whatever rope you have managed to pull down and use this to protect sections of downclimbing and to make short abseils.

You can add extra distance to your abseils by descending on one rope and joining together a collection of slings/cord to use as a pull down cord (learn how here).

A second option is to prusik up the stuck rope, placing gear on it as you go. Your partner belays you on this rope. Here’s how:

Step 1
Tie a clovehitch (figure 8 on a bight is fine too) on a screwgate and attach it to your belay loop.

This is your tie-in point.

clovehitch rock climbing

Step 2
Your partner ties into the end of the stuck rope (to close the system) and then puts you on belay.

close the system climbing

Step 3
Prusik up the rope. You will need to re-tie the clovehitch as you ascend. Tie a new one before untying the old one.

You could also shuffle rope through the clovehitch to adjust it, but be aware that if the stuck rope pulls free while you are mid-shuffle, there is a real danger of severing your finger in the suddenly tightened knot.



Step 4
Place gear as you ascend and clip this into the rope between you and your partner. If the stuck rope suddenly pulls free, you will fall and be protected by the gear you placed.

Your belayer will need to give slack as you ascend and take in slack when you adjust your clovehitch.

ascend climbing rope

Stuck ropes - Summary

The techniques described in this article are merely a guideline to the basics of staying safe in standard 'stuck ropes' situations.

There are endless possible situations of varying complexity and danger. Practise the basic skills outlined above in a safe environment and use your judgement.

Abseiling > How To Increase Friction

This article, How To Increase Friction when Abseiling, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Whether you're abseiling down a skinny rope at the sport crag, or retreating down a multipitch with rain-slicked ropes and a heavy pack, the following techniques will help you increase friction when abseiling, and get down safely without rope-burnt palms.

How To Increase Friction when Abseiling

Method 1 - Reverse
Many belay devices are asymmetrical, offering more friction if reversed. Try it out both ways around to see which way provides the most friction for your device.

Which way to use belay device. Belay device direction orientation

Method 2 - Double Up
Try attaching your belay device to your belay loop with two screwgate carabiners, instead of just one. Large carabiners work best for this.

Using two carabiners on belay device

Method 3 - Extend
Extend your belay device with a sling. This puts your belay device further away from your body, making it a little easier to control.

How to extend belay device

Method 4 - Prusik
We recommend always using a prusik knot for abseiling. A prusik won't provide ‘consistent’ extra friction during the abseil, but it will autolock if set up correctly. This means you can 'rest' mid-abseil and provides added security for tricky descents. You can use a prusik in conjunction with any of the other described methods to further increase friction when abseiling.

Using prusik cord on belay device


Maximum Friction: The Z-Abseil

The Z-abseil is quick to set up and provides excellent friction, meaning that you can abseil rain-soaked skinny ropes confidently.

Step 1
Set up your belay device for abseiling as normal, staying attached to the anchor with a sling.

Rock climbing abseiling

Step 2
Clip a screwgate to one of your leg loops and clip another screwgate around the ropes above your belay device.

Increase friction abseiling

Step 3
Run the ropes down from your belay device through the leg-loop screwgate, up through the upper screwgate and back down to your brake hand. Make sure the ropes are running neatly next to each other.

Increase friction rappeling abseil

Step 4
Fasten up the screwgates and make a final check of the system. Then detach yourself from the anchor to enjoy a maximum friction descent.

Increase friction rappeling increase friction when abseiling


The Z-Abseil: Top Tips

* Make sure your screwgates are fastened tight. Vibrations in the rope can cause some types of screwgate to unfasten. Check them during your descent.

* If you don't have enough screwgates, you can use two opposite and opposed snapgates instead.

* You can use the same method for single rope abseils. Simply set up the system in the same way.

* Don’t use this method when abseiling with a GriGri. The top carabiner will hold the handle down and prevent it from locking.

* It's possible to set this system up mid-abseil – useful on the last half of a long abseil when the weight of the rope below you has decreased. This will be easier if you pre-attach the two screwgates before you leave the anchor; one on your leg loop and one sliding down the ropes above you.

* As always, make sure to practise this in a safe environment before abseiling down those icy 7.8mm ropes.

Abseiling > Pendulums

This article, Pendulum Abseils, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Multi-pitch descents are not always straightforward. The next abseil station may be far to the side of the previous one (they often are when descending loose ground). Or maybe you need to bail down an overhanging wall.

Being able to swing or tension across to reach the next abseil station is key in these situations.

(You can pendulum when leading too).

It is recommended to abseil with an extended belay device and a prusik for tricky abseils like these. Being able to go hands-free is crucial.

extend rappel device

Step 1
To swing to an abseil station on overhanging ground, you’ll need to start the pendulum early. Push out from the rock with your legs as you descend. Keep your momentum and be ready to clip or grab the next anchor.

If you end up stranded in space, you’ll need to prusik back up and try again.

On traversing ground, it’s often better to tension across (semi-climb while weighting the rope), so your rope isn’t rubbing over possible sharp edges of rock. If this is too difficult, a pendulum will get you further across, but be very careful of loose rock and sharp edges when doing this.

pendulum abseil swinging rappel

Step 2
Once you have made it to the next station, tie the end of the ‘pulling’ rope (the one you will pull to retrieve your ropes) to the anchor.

This gives your partner something to grab so they can get to the anchor without having to pendulum there. It also ensures that you cannot drop your ropes.

On long traverses, you can help by belaying them in too.



Step 3
Once all climbers are at the lower station, pull your ropes and repeat.

pendulum abseil rappel


Pendulum Abseils - Top Tips

* It’s better for the first climber to descend with the minimum gear needed. The other climber(s) should take the heavier loads since it is much easier to follow than ‘lead’ a descent like this.

* To avoid getting your ropes stuck when traversing, consider abseiling with them in coils clipped to your harness. Release them one at a time as you descend.

Abseiling > Bad Anchors and Loose Rock

Bad Anchors and Loose Rock, is part of the book - The Trad Climber's Guide To Problem Solving.

VDiff trad climbing self rescue book

Poor abseil anchors are often found on seldom travelled multi-pitch descents or alpine ridge traverses. Sometimes there is no anchor where you need one, or the existing anchor is untrustworthy. It is your responsibility to fully inspect every anchor before you use it.

Never trust an anchor if you have any doubts about its reliability. Other options include:

- Belayed downclimbing
- Beefing up the anchor
- Backing up the anchor

Bad Anchors - Belayed Downclimbing

If the terrain is easy enough, it may be possible to downclimb. This means you don’t need to leave any of your own gear behind.

The leader climbs down first, placing gear as they descend. Once they reach an anchor (or the ground), they can belay the follower, who removes the gear on their way down.

The last climber must be careful as they will downclimb above gear which they didn’t place.

You will need some sort of anchor at the top to begin the descent. This anchor needs to be solid but can be fairly unsuitable for abseiling, such as a few cams which are widely spaced apart.

bad anchors poor belay abseil

Bad Anchors - Beefing Up the Anchor

If you embark on a route which has a complicated descent, it is worth bringing ‘leaver’ slings, nuts and carabiners for beefing up anchors.

Poor anchors do not necessarily need replacing entirely. Often one extra piece equalized to the anchor will make it good enough. If you make a new anchor, be sure to remove any ancient gear that you replace so no-one uses it in the future.

Sometimes the anchor pieces are good, but the carabiner or maillon (quick link) at the main point is worn. This is a critical part, since it is the only thing connecting the rope to the anchor. Add another if you are unsure. If you leave a snapgate carabiner, make sure to tape the gate closed so it can’t unclip during your descent.

Sacrificing your expensive climbing gear to beef up an anchor is painful. But it’s not as painful as falling down a mountain after the anchor fails. Make sure it is bomber.

bad anchors belay abseil

Bad Anchors - Backing Up the Anchor

If an anchor is okay but not completely bomber, you can add a separate backup to test it’s strength without fully committing to it. Your backup must be:

1) Connected in such a way which means it doesn’t hold any of the weight
2) Positioned appropriately for any potential direction of pull
3) Capable of holding the load should the initial anchor fail

The heaviest climber descends first with most of the gear or the heaviest bag. The second climber carefully watches the anchor for any signs of failure and then decides whether to leave the backup in place or to remove it and trust the original anchor alone.

The original anchor has not passed the test if the backup holds any of the weight. In this case, the backup should be left in place when the last climber descends.

If you’re not sure, just leave the backup there and enjoy a stress-free and safe descent.

bad rappel anchor

Reaching a Poor Anchor when Leading

If you reach a poor anchor after leading a pitch, you can use these techniques to get down safely.

retreat bail from climb


Descending Loose Rock

Abseiling down loose rock is a climber’s nightmare. Seek out other options (such as downclimbing or abseiling a different way) before committing to the abseil.

However, if you encounter a choss-pile in the middle of a multi-pitch descent, you can ‘zigzag abseil’ to reduce the chances of being hit by rocks when you pull your ropes.

Move sideways as you descend (pendulum or tension traverse) and make the next abseil anchor as far to one side as you can. This might mean leaving gear behind, but it puts you out of the line of rockfall when you pull your ropes.

abseil loose rock rappel

Abseiling > How To Abseil On Two Ropes With a GriGri

Sometimes you may want both hands free while abseiling to do things like clean a route, free a stuck rope or swing under an overhang. Using a GriGri is a safe way to do this. Or maybe you have a damaged rope and still need to abseil. Here's how to abseil on two ropes with a GriGri:

You can also use bigger knots such as the figure-9 or figure-8 double loop. Either way, make sure the knot is big enough so that it can't be pulled through the chain or carabiner at your main anchor point. To be extra safe, use two opposite and opposed screwgate carabiners.

How to abseil rappel with a gri gri on damaged ropes

You can also abseil in the same way using two ropes.

Instead of joining your ropes with a double fisherman’s, you could also use a bigger knot such as the re-threaded figure-8. Just make sure the knot is big enough so that it can't be pulled through the chain or carabiner at your main anchor point.

abseil on two ropes with a grigri

In the unlikely event that the knot slips through the chain at the main anchor point, you won't be able to pull your ropes down. To solve this problem, tie a prusik knot (klemheist works well) around your descent rope with a long piece of cord. Use this as a foot-loop. Stand in the foot loop and pull the rope through your GriGri. Then rest on your GriGri and slide the klemheist up the rope.

It's a good idea to back up your GriGri by tying a clovehitch to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner as you go up. It'll be hard work, especially on overhanging terrain, but if you need your ropes to do another abseil, it'll probably be your only option. Make sure to ascend the same rope that you descended!

How to abseil on two ropes with a grigri


How To Abseil on Two Ropes with a GriGri - Top Tips

- Avoid using this technique on low angled terrain: The extra bulk of a carabiner and bigger knot is more likely to get stuck on something when you retrieve your ropes.
- Make sure you attach your GriGri to the correct side of the rope.
- Always make sure you test the system before you detach yourself from the main anchor point.