How do you bypass the overhang, mid-rappel?

 --.  <-- Start of rappel
 __|  <-- Overhang

Do you go to your knees and then step one foot over at a time trying not to squash your hand?

Do you drop quickly, making sure to drop low so your face doesn't bash the rock? What if it's not deep enough to swing into air?

I'd love some tips to bypass this sort of obstacle safely, especially on slippery rocks.

  • 3
    Plant feet on the edge of the overhang, lower yourself (without moving feet) until hips are below overhang. Bend knees and either step under overhang, or if step is too big, swivel sideways/push off with free hand (if needed) till clear. Detail depends on exact topography. Does not need to be dynamic or a grovel.
    – user5330
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 23:59

5 Answers 5


I was thinking about this question while rappelling over an overhang this evening with my little girl and payed attention to exactly what I do:

Plant your feet on the edge of the overhang, keep your legs straight, and let the rope through your descender until your body has cleared the roof.

Think of the wall as flat ground, you want your body as perpendicular to the wall as you can, just make sure you don't lose control and go straight upside-down. Lower yourself to a point where you feel you can easily plant your feet on the wall under the overhang, or let yourself free-hang with out kissing the rock. You should be able to let out enough rope with your feet still planted on the overhang so when you cut your feet and go under it, your head safely clears the rock.

  • 2
    This is the way I do it. The "Leaning back" part is a bit scary, but thats the way to do it. +1!
    – WedaPashi
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 4:39
  • I usually do this, and additionally push off a bit right before the overhang and descend faster for the next one or two meters, so that I quickly clear the overhang.
    – anderas
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 6:56
  • Makes sense. Plant feet on ledge, lower body vertically below your feet, step down. Got it. :) Thanks! Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 9:47
  • 3
    ...and do use a prussik or similar backup. It is easy to involuntarily let go of the rope if you slip at the wrong moment => splat
    – Guran
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 11:15
  • 2
    @Guran, That goes without saying, but how to safely rappel wasn't the question, how to get over an obstacle was. I rappel with and extension and an auto block (aka French Prusik). I much prefer it to a prusik knot.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 14:42

This is not a direct answer but more of an extended comment about safety when rappelling on overhanging terrain.

When rappelling over an overhang or an overhanging wall, make sure that you are certain that you will be able to reach the ground. Ideally you know that both ends of your rope are touching the ground. If your rope doesn't reach the ground you will have to down-aid by placing gear to stay close to the wall in order to set up for another rappel. If you rappel over an overhang and you end up at the end of your rope, you will have to ascend your rope. If you don't know how to do that, or you didn't bring prussics or ascenders, you will be stuck. Sadly this happens more commonly than one would think... If you are not certain that your rope will reach the ground, triple check that you tied backup knots at the ends of your rope.

Rappelling is dangerous. People get killed every year. Seek instructions from a trained professional and know your and your gear's limits.

  • This is of course good general info, and not new to me. I always double or triple barrel knot the tails when possible, and bring basic ascending gear. However, I also rappel in canyoning where single strand is the norm and knotting the ends could be disastrous (where you need to swim off rappel, for example). The advantage there is also a fellow up top could also haul you to safety if need-be as well, assuming a releasable blocker. So, good advice to climbers and a general rule, but knotting the ends isn't always a good idea. :) Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 9:46
  • TL;DR: always have a couple of Prusiks on your harness, and always put knots in the end of the rope.
    – user2169
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 21:09
  • This made me think of that one documentary of those two english blokes down in the Patagonia. Long story short: One broke his leg on the descent, the other had to lower him one 300' rope length at a time, and lowered him unknowingly over an overhang in a blizzard. The guy was free hanging at the end of his rope, where he couldn't take his own weight so his buddy could climb down to him for the next pitch. After maybe an hour of just hanging there (he dropped his only prusik) his friend eventually had no choice but to pull out his knife...
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 3:35
  • @BenCrowell and always be the one with the knife.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 3:37

I'm not aware of any special technique, as it mostly does depend on the actual situation.

If you already rappelled quite a length, then the force pulling you to the rock might not be to great anymore, and if you feel confident you can certainly just take a big leap to cross the overhang.

Otherwise I'd go slow. When rappelling you usually lean back and push yourself away from the rock with your legs. When you're just above the overhang it helps getting back close to the rock, which reduces the force with which you're pushed against the rock and you can actually use your hands to get over the overhang.

In this situation it is very helpful to have a backup prusik that allows you to go hands free if you need it.

Then you can easily get over the overhang, basically similarly to climbing over an edge at the top of a cliff, just backwards=)

  • 1
    UPvoting for "Use a prusik"
    – SpoonerNZ
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 12:55

This reminds me of basic training when I was in the military. We started with the basics and went backwards over a 30' rock wall then I think it was a 90-100' rock wall backwards. When you do it the first time, the most unnatural thing was going from standing on the edge and letting the rope through your hands until you were still standing at the edge but now with your body horizontal to the ground and over the edge. We had a safety person at the bottom that would apply tension to the pair of ropes and would prevent us from sliding down if we slipped. I walked down the first wall. I took the second wall in 3 bounces. I got crapped on for being to cautious on wall 1 and then crapped on for taking wall 2 in too large of a bounce.

A few years later we were training again on a 50' rappel tower. It had a solid wall on one side to go down, and a huge pipe with no wall to simulate going off a helicopter skid. The first time I did it I went over backwards (back to the ground) and as per the instructors direction "remember to drop far enough or when you swing back in you will lose your teeth when you kiss the rail!" I think he said to make sure you drop about 6-10 feet to make sure you clear the skid. I did that and just clamped my hand to the rope and let it slam into the small of my back and I waited for me to stop swinging and then I lowered my self to the ground letting the rope slide through my hand.

The second time off the helicopter skid was a little more scary. Did it face first. This was with the concept of allowing a free hand to hold a weapon. I dropped straight to the ground. By the time I clamped on to the rope with my hand to stop me, I was too close to the ground for the safety person to apply any tension to the rope. I had too much speed, and my hand hitting me around my abdomen caused me to flip, which resulted in me standing on the ground. I colleagues were really impressed and said that was amazing. They did not realize how lucky I actually was.

Key to remember...Make sure you drop enough that you dont lose your teeth!

Also look at DudeOnRocks answer about having enough rope to reach the ground.

  • A large percentage of this answer, though interesting does not answer the question. Please try and stick to the facts, it makes for a more useful answer.
    – user2766
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 10:49
  • @liam its there in big bold letters to draw to the important stuff
    – Forward Ed
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 22:49

I have the truly terrible technique of rappelling down to the point of the overhang, stopping, turning sideways so the rope is only half my hips width away from the cliff, then continuing.

It makes me look like a rank amateur.

  • 1
    @Liam why not? It's a technique to overcome overhangs. Still it's not well written and should be extended to make it more clear.
    – Wills
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 11:34
  • Actually I might of misread it...appologies
    – user2766
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 12:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.