So this happened the other day; shouldn't have happened if I had been taking my time and paying attention to what I was doing, but it did:

I was cleaning several ropes from the top of a short crag after a session of climbing with a small group. After cleaning the last top rope anchor, I quickly pulled the one end of the rope up so I could feed it through the rappel ring on the belay station and rap down instead of hiking out. I was rushing a bit because everyone else had already walked off except one person, and truth be told I didn't have much on me at the time (long story short, I was climbing barefoot in a variation of one of these, and didn't bring a descender with me). So I fed the rope through the ring, dropped the end back down, quickly tied a munter and jumpped off the overhanging top. I got about a halfway down when I noticed that one of the ends of my rope wasn't touching the ground... In fact it was probably about 10-15ft above the ground. After rolling my eyes and chastising myself for being so careless, I had to decide what to do in order to prevent myself from running out of rope and taking a fall (I was free hanging and a good ways away from the wall).

Obviously, I should have confirmed my rope was on the ground and knotted the ends, but what I should have done couldn't help me after it was too late.

I know this is something that can happen when descending on two different sized ropes that are doubled up, because the smaller diameter rope will go through your device faster that the larger rope, and ergo come up short when you get to the bottom.

Despite whatever circumstance may put you in this situation, what is the proper way to get out of it?

  • 2
    Prevention better than cure here I think, to continue the cliches more haste less speed! :)
    – user2766
    Aug 3, 2017 at 8:15
  • I would go an my a lottery ticket....
    – user5330
    Aug 3, 2017 at 8:41
  • 2
    @Liam, Obviously I agree, but when it's too late, then what?
    – ShemSeger
    Aug 4, 2017 at 1:27
  • Lock off, knot the ends together, and then pass the knot. If you don't have any more gear, leave some tail/tails and use that/them to do the passing.
    – Dave X
    Jun 12, 2019 at 17:17

3 Answers 3


One thing you can do if there isn't too much friction in your rope, is lock off the short side of the rope, and continue to descend on the long side.

With the short end locked off, you can lower yourself on the other end as if you have yourself on top-rope. Do this until the short end is touching the ground, then you can continue to descend as normal.

This method only works effectively if you're descending off of a rap ring, it's not guaranteed to work in all situations.

  • No!!! As you were descending on a Munter hitch this is ridiculously dangerous and the moving end of the rope can effectively saw through the fixed end. Further most rap rings are not designed for the friction associated with a moving weighted rope (you can heat them up and wear through them).
    – StrongBad
    Aug 3, 2017 at 16:37
  • 2
    @StrongBad I disagree that this is "ridiculously dangerous". If you've threaded through the rap rings, you've probably inspected and made sure it's not completely worn through. If you're only 10-15 feet from making it to the bottom, that means feeding only 10-15 feet of weighted rope slowly through 2 rap rings. A single rap ring has nearly the strength of a carabiner and made of the same material, and you regularly run weighted rope through carabiners. It takes hundreds of lowers or more to wear out rap rings. Also, you're not going to saw your rope in half moving 10 feet across it slowly.
    – shimizu
    Aug 3, 2017 at 20:54
  • 1
    @ StrongBad - Respectfully Laughing at the comment - the 'ridiculously dangerous' bit was getting into the situation. Doing what is described in the answer is less dangerous and possibly the least dangerous option, therefore safer than the risk already accepted and safer than any alternate - therefore (in this situation) has to be considered safe enough.
    – user5330
    Aug 3, 2017 at 21:20
  • @StrongBad, I happened to be using a munter, but that isn't the norm anymore. Had I been using an ATC, then there would have been very little rope on rope friction if any at all.
    – ShemSeger
    Aug 4, 2017 at 1:52

I am sure that's not what you want, but from the exact situation you describe, there is another pretty simple (though still more involved than @ShemSegers variant) solution based on this:

[...] everyone else had already walked off except one person [...]

Tell this person to pick up the end that is on the ground and to take you on belay. Even if he doesn't have any gear, instruct him how to use a rock/tree/... for "belaying". Attach yourself to the short end as closely to the munter as possible. Then if you can unload the rope for a short time, do that and untie the munter. If you don't, you need to make a foot sling from the excess rope to do the same. After that you are let down to the ground by your belayer.

StrongBad brought up the point of unsuitable rappel wrings that may break from the rope friction: I have never seen a rappel ring like this and can't imagine any metal being abraded to the point of breaking by one slow descent of 3m. However I do hear some scary stories of material in place on the other side of the great pond, so who knows :P

  • When I read rap ring, I think of these: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/7327/…
    – StrongBad
    Aug 3, 2017 at 21:51
  • How do you unload the rope? A foot sling is still going to weight the munter
    – StrongBad
    Aug 3, 2017 at 21:53
  • @StrongBad And you would worry about this in a single instance? I agree it would be a very bad practice to routinely use them with a loaded moving rope, but when I just inspected it and considered it still usable, I really wouldn't fret at all about using it this one time. About unloading: You attach the excess rope for the foot sling above the munter (e.g. using a Klemmheist).
    – imsodin
    Aug 3, 2017 at 21:54
  • I might have to try the klemmheist with equal diameter ropes to see if it gives enough holding power to unweighted the rope.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 3, 2017 at 22:19
  • This solution seems needlessly complicated and slightly dangerous. The only possible benefit is maybe reducing friction encountered when lowering on the munter. It's complicated, because you have to tie yourself off to be hands free, so that you can tie in to the short strand. And then some complex foot sling maneuver just to get out of the munter hitch. And most dangerously, asking someone to belay you from a rock or tree. If you tied in too high up or the tree too far, they might just run out of rope on the "longer" side and drop you. Or they just lose control and drop you.
    – shimizu
    Aug 3, 2017 at 22:43

Basically this is almost the textbook worst case scenario lacking only on not being hurt, completely alone in the dark and bad weather.

To summarize the situation you have a piece of rated webbing you are using as a harness, a single locking carabiner and the rope. The rope is running through a rap ring of unknown strength.

While you could try and adjust the lengths of the ropes, the problem is that they need to be unweighted to do it safely because many rap rings can wear through if a weighted rope is pulled through them. Things are even worse since you are using a Munter because if you hold one strand fixed and allow the long strand to move this can saw through the rope. You could attempt to have the strands move at different rates, but this would still cause the weighted rope to run through the rap ring. If you wait until you are very close to the end of the rope, then if you do saw through the rope or rap ring, the fall will not be very far (and you may even make it to the ground). If you do this, make sure you hike back to the top and replace the potentially compromised rap ring.

Depending on the exact heights, you might be able to safely rap off the end of the ropes. If the end of the rope is only 10 feet up, your feet will only be 7 feet above the ground when you get to the end of the rope. Hopefully with the additional rope stretch you would make it (or at least be close enough to not get injured in the drop). Being bare foot adds to the risk.

The best option is to go up and not down. You can ask the person on the ground to tie some extra gear onto the long end of the rope (a couple of slings and carabiners is all you need). That said, you have enough gear to rescue yourself since you are using a swiss seat harness made from webbing (if you were in a modern harness and alone, I think you are screwed).

The key is to use the webbing from your harness to create a klemheist and the carabiner from the Munter to ascend the rope. Of course you have to first free up the webbing. To get the webbing, you need to create a second swiss seat harness from the running end of the rope. Then use some extra rope to saw through the webbing harness (bet you wish you had a small knife). Depending on how tight the second swiss seat is, you will fall a little. All of these steps could be eliminated if you had a piece of webbing or cord (maybe from your chalk bag).

Once you have the webbing make a klemheist and a foot loop (if needed, use some more rope). Push the klemheist high, step up, clip in with the carabiner, sit down, repeat. You should tie in short frequently since otherwise when you open the carabiner to reclip in, you will be out of the system (a second carabiner would be super helpful here).

  • It was about 20ft of webbing wrapped around me multiple times, arguably stronger than any harness; the rap ring was a 50kN ring,stronger than any carabiner; untying the harness was not an option in the variation I had tied, and would have been far more dangerous than what I did. And I fail to see how jumping off the end of the rope is less dangerous than the risk of the rope failing. Also, you're wrong about the rope getting sawed through, I inspected the rope after, it was fine.
    – ShemSeger
    Aug 4, 2017 at 1:44

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