Self Rescue > Mid-Pitch Retreat

Sometimes, a climb may prove to be too difficult, forcing you into a mid-pitch retreat. This is fairly straightforward if you:
- Can downclimb
- Are less than half a rope length up a pitch
- Can reach an anchor by french-freeing, aiding or penduluming

However, if you are more than half a rope length up a pitch, cannot downclimb or make a belay, you can still get down.

Mid-Pitch Retreat with a Single Rope

This method assumes that the gear you lower from is very reliable. It is recommended that you back up the lower-off piece either by equalizing it with another or by leaving a couple of protection pieces below the top piece.

Step 1
Get lowered to a place where you can make an anchor.

self rescue bail from climb

Step 2
Attach to the anchor with a sling.

self rescue bailing from climb

Step 3
Pull a bight of rope through the anchor, tie a figure 8 and attach it to your belay loop.

self rescue mid-pitch retreat from climb

Step 4
Untie from the end of the rope, pull the rope through and re-tie back into the end.

self rescue retreating from climb

Step 5
Remove the figure 8 on a bight and ask the belayer to take in the slack. If there is a huge amount of slack, consider tying intermediate knots while the slack is being taken in.

Step 6
Once the slack has been taken in, you can unclip your sling attachment and lower down to the belayer, or to another anchor to repeat the process.

self rescue get down off climb mid-pitch retreat

If the route traverses or overhangs, make sure to lower down with a sling attaching you to the rope. This prevents you from getting stranded.

You’ll have to clip past any gear that you are leaving.

self rescue climbing

VDiff self rescue course

Mid-Pitch Retreat with Two Ropes

If you are climbing with a lead rope and trailing another rope (e.g: a lightweight ‘tag’ rope for hauling or adding distance to your abseils), it is possible to use a different technique which is slightly safer (if you protected the pitch well) and means you can leave less gear behind.

To set up the two rope retreat:

Step 1
Clip the middle of the tag rope (green in this diagram) into your highest good piece of gear.

self rescue trad climbing

Step 2
Abseil on the tag rope while getting belayed down on the lead rope. Remove protection as you descend.

Step 3
This technique allows you to descend up to half the length of the tag rope. At this point, you will need to create an anchor and repeat the process.

self rescue descent climbing

The Cost of Leaving Gear Behind

These methods involve leaving gear behind. When deciding on which pieces or how many to leave behind, remember that the cost of climbing gear is far less than the cost of being seriously injured. It is obviously very dangerous if the lower-off piece fails. Leave behind solid gear and worry about replacing it later.

Depending on the location, it may also be possible to retrieve your gear later by abseiling in from the top on a fixed rope and then prusiking out.

Self Rescue > Tandem Abseiling

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

VDiff self rescue course

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