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I, an experienced climber who knows how to rappel, would like to take some people on a scramble route that requires rappelling into a notch. The other people on the trip have standard top rope climbing experience (i.e. know how to tie in to their harness, and be lowered at the end of a top rope climb), but they do not know how to rappel.

My plan is to set up a rappel anchor, using one or more slings around a boulder and thread the rope through rappel rings, or more likely, quicklink carabiners.

The process to get down into the notch would be as follows:

  • Rappel to the bottom, and go off rappel
  • The other person would pull one end of the rope up and tie in to their harness
  • I would put them on belay and lower them down as if they had just a finished a top rope climb
  • Pull the rope through the anchor and continue on

Are there any special considerations for this method? How should I build the anchor knowing that the rope will be moving through it, possibly multiple times?

  • 2
    Is a "quicklink carabiner" a mallion? Or are you referring to a snaplink? I've never heard of a quicklink carabiner before. – ShemSeger Aug 29 '17 at 19:57
  • @ShemSeger like one of these: backcountry.com/trango-quicklink-10mm – partiallyfulltime Aug 29 '17 at 20:07
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    Ok, just a quicklink (or mallion), you threw me off calling it a carabiner. I've never heard anyone refer to one as such before. No one calls them that in Canada at least. – ShemSeger Aug 29 '17 at 21:31
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    Personally I would use it as a teaching opportunity for the group. rappelling is an essential skill for every climber to know, and most people will love the opportunity. Setup a rappel, and top belay (You can use a single rope rappel if you only have one rope). Rappel each member with you providing a belay for safety and confidence. Once the group are down, you follow. – user5330 Aug 30 '17 at 23:36
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Here is what I don't like about your plan, the less experienced people will be tying themselves in without you present and the last person won't have a second pair of eyeballs to double check that they have everything set up right.

However there is a way to have everyone set up ahead of time. What you want to do is throw both ends down and then set all of the ATCs up to rappel. Extend the ATCs with a sling so that the people are not pulled to the ground.

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Only the last person in the line will be able to rappel, due to the weight placed on the rope. Once you reach the ground the next person will be able to rappel and so on.

This way you can do a double check that everyone is set up properly and ready to go. Also you will be able to give them a fireman's belay at the bottom.

I would take them rappelling first before you take them on this trip.

  • This is a interesting solution, I like the use of fireman's belay. I've been climbing with the people in question before, and I trust their ability to tie in properly and check each other, but nonetheless you have a point, especially with regards to the last person being unchecked. For the sake of argument, let's say you have two experienced rappellers, so that one can check everybody that's being lowered and then rappell as the last one down. Would you still go with the above method? What if people simply can't or won't rappell? (e.g harness but no ATC). – partiallyfulltime Aug 29 '17 at 18:36
  • @partiallyfulltime I would have everyone rappel rather than lower if you had another experienced person but I wouldn't set everyone up ahead of time. If they didn't have ATCs then I would have them use munter hitches (its much better to have an ATC) – Reinstate Monica Aug 29 '17 at 19:03
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Extending everyone's rappels and tying everyone into the rope before the first person descends is the proper, safest way to do things, unless you wanted all the followers to tie an autoblock as well. It's the quickest, simplest, safest thing to do.

The alternative would be to set up a proper top-belay anchor, lower all your friends from the anchor one at a time, then clean the anchor and rap down on whatever you're leaving behind. Or, you can have you friends rappel by themselves, but keep them on a backup belay with a second rope (also from above, you can also accomplish this using one rope: rappelling on one half, and using the other half as the backup belay). This way they get a chance to give rappelling a try, but you've got an extra line on them incase they slip up.

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    I'd go with option 2 if you really want to lower them, makes sense to do it from the top. – Oliver Houston Aug 29 '17 at 22:56
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My approach would depend on if I was confident that the rappel was straight forward with an obvious bottom with a solid secure place to become unsecured from the rope. If everything is straight forward, I would probably lower each person from the top and after everyone else is down rappel myself. Being lowered from the top is pretty similar to being lowered from the bottom, so the less experienced individuals should not have any problems. This lets you check that everyone is setup correctly before beginning to lower them. It also means you can monitor people near the edge and the rope as it goes over the edge.

If the descent for the first person could be tricky or an anchor needs to be set up at the bottom, then it might be better if you go first. Instead of them tying in, I would probably have them each clip in to a large locking carabiner (maybe two that are opposite and opposed). The key thing to stress in this situation is for them to NOT drop the rope. If you have a bunch of people, this is really asking for the rope to get dropped.

When setting up the anchor, for either method, you need to be aware of the edge. Putting the "master point" right at the edge decreases the chance it runs over anything sharp, but it also makes it more tricky to weight the rope. Putting the master point far from the edge makes weighting the rope easier.

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While Charlie Brumbaugh's solution will work, it has the downside that everyone's attachment relies on a sling as a single point of failure, and slings are not nearly as robust as the things that we would normally accept as single points of failure, such as ropes, harnesses, and carabiners. If there were any unnoticed damage to one of the slings, someone could be dropped.

An alternative solution is this:

  • Set up the rappel anchor.
  • Anchor yourself to the rappel anchor.
  • Fix the middle of the rope to the rappel anchor. If using maillons or carabiners, you can just tie a figure 8, bowline on a bight, etc in the middle of the rope and clip that in. If using rappel rings then threading the rope to the centre and then tying a stein knot will be more convenient later on.
  • Throw one half of the rope over the edge. Everyone but you will rappel on this single strand. We'll call this half of the rope the "rappel strand" and the remaining half, which is still at the top, the "belay strand"
  • Have each person set up their rappel device on the rappel strand, and tie in to the end of the belay strand with a figure 8.
  • Get out your belay device, and put the person who will be rappelling on belay using the belay strand.
  • Let them rappel, paying out enough rope on the belay strand that it is just slightly slack, so that they are in control (and learning how to rappel!), but you can catch them if they let go of the rappel brake.
  • When they reach the bottom, they untie, you take them off belay and pull the belay strand back up, and repeat with the next person. If you don't have enough rappel devices for everyone, they can even attach the device to the belay strand to be pulled up and given to the next person.
  • When everyone is down, rig the rope as a normal retrievable rappel, either by unclipping the rope, undoing the knot and reclipping it if using maillons or carabiners, or just by undoing the stein knot if using rappel rings.
  • You rappel down to the others, either using a Prusik backup or getting one of them to give you a fireman's belay.
  • Pull the rope.
  • CE-certified slings are rated to 22 kN (4946 lbf) Typical CE-certified carabiners (e.g., lockers, wiregates, bent gates, etc) in closed gate are rated 20 kN minimum (4496 lbf) blackdiamondequipment.com/en_US/… – Reinstate Monica Aug 29 '17 at 23:09
  • In other words I don't think the argument in your first paragraph holds true, and you could always use two slings. – Reinstate Monica Aug 29 '17 at 23:12
  • I'm not talking about likelihood of failure when being pulled between two 10mm shackles, I'm talking about susceptibility to being cut by rocks or other sharp things, and how easy it is for such damage to go unnoticed. A friend of mine one discovered that one of her dyneema slings had been cut 90% of the way through, with no idea how it could have happened! Personally, I prefer to only extend a rappel device when using a Prusik backup, as then at least there's something else to catch me if the sling fails. – David Scarlett Aug 29 '17 at 23:17
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    Wouldn't it be just as easy to "miss" a 90% cut in a rope or harness as it is so in a sling? – Martin F Aug 31 '17 at 19:09
  • Not really. Firstly, harnesses and ropes are designed to be subject to wear, and are much, much tougher than slings. (Look at how thick a belay loop is, and ropes have the mantle that provides abrasion resistance, completely surrounding the core.) The rope is also passing through your hands and in front of your eyes as you use it, and any damage will expose the white core and be immediately obvious. – David Scarlett Aug 31 '17 at 23:31

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