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There may be an emergency situation where I find myself needing to lower myself but with no or damaged equipment.

Assuming I only have a rope, can I lower myself to safe ground?

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up vote 35 down vote accepted

It is of course possible, but definitely not something I would recommend. The most common method for repelling without gear is the Dülfersitz method (invented by climbing pioneer Hans Dülfer). It involves wrapping the rope around your body in such a way as to allow you to better control your descent.

enter image description here

The rope first goes between your legs front to back, then around your leg and across your chest. Then it goes over your shoulder, and you hold the loose end of the rope with the arm opposite of the shoulder the rope just went over.

This is definitely not comfortable, and not safe unless you know exactly what you are doing.

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4  
I've done it and +1 for "not comfortable" lol! The girl I was with did have as painful issues as I did. – Ryley Jan 26 '12 at 3:49
2  
Probably worth practicing at least once before you need it. – Jay Bazuzi Jan 26 '12 at 5:52
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It's good idea to "double" the rope and bend around a tree or sth instead of fixing it with knot at the top. That way you can retreive it later and use again. It unfortunatelly can only work when the rope is ~2x longer than the planned descent... – Tomáš Fejfar Feb 5 '12 at 15:00

This is called "Natural Abseiling". The method mentioned by Timothy is called "Classic Abseiling". There is another method sometimes called the South African method where the two ends of the rope a separated and cross over your chest or back. This offers more control, higher friction against the body and no tendency to rotate the body, unlike the classic method. It is however slower to descend with this technique.

enter image description hereenter image description here

Note that both methods should be used in an emergency only, and then only by someone trained and experienced in them. It is painful, slow, hazardous and ruins your clothes. You are almost always better off walking round the obstacle rather than going down it.

Edit: The 2nd image has been changed to reflect the correct technique.

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4  
Note: The picture at the bottom (Photo) is NOT the South African Abseil. This photo is incorrect and dangerous as you could tip over easily. Compare with the diagram above for the correct method. or see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_African_Abseil – Andrew Aug 25 '14 at 14:38
    
I Used the South African method today to descend a twenty foot cliff. It was my first time ever rappelling and I was not with anyone experienced. I know, not the best idea. I had practiced this method down steep hills a few times and watched several detailed YouTube videos on the method. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. The danger, courage, stupidity, and opportunity combined for an amazing climax. My buddy chickened out, I did not push him because of the risk and danger involved. The only advice I give is lean back into it and let the rope do the work. Get comfortable, – user7738 Sep 7 '15 at 0:03
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Qwerky, based on Andrew's comment I was about to edit this answer to remove the misleading final photo, assuming this to be an abandoned post. However I see from your activity page that you have recently logged in to this site therefore I ask instead: will you remove that photo, please? The rest of the answer is good but I do not want to up-vote something dangerous. – Mr.Wizard Mar 8 at 13:00
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@Mr.Wizard Second image now reflects correct technique. – Qwerky Mar 9 at 15:32

There is also a swiss seat, a harness you can make out of a piece of spare webbing or rope.

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2  
A harness is not enough. You also need a sturdy friction point(s): something metallic or at least your body. – Steed Feb 11 '13 at 8:53

Depending what you are abseiling of you can tie yourself into the rope emergency harness style tied off with a bowline with your rope running up to a mule over a railing or such. Which also makes the rig retrivable. Unfortunately if there isn't a low friction point for the mule you would also need at least a krab as well, which you would have to leave behind.

It would be uncomfortable. And dubiously "safe" but it would work.

Emergency harness: http://www.animatedknots.com/harness/index.php?Categ=rescue&LogoImage=LogoGrog.png&Website=www.animatedknots.com#ScrollPoint

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