I'm working on a novel. The main character recently (six months ago) lost her arm above the elbow. She's attending a summer camp, and I'm wondering if, with proper planning (and probably a mountain of release forms), it would be possible for her to join in on rappelling? Is there a way to tie the ropes, or some special equipment that would let her control the rope, either with just one hand, or using what's left of her other arm?

She's fourteen, if that matters, and the bluff being used is one the camp's been using for years.

Edit: I've read Rappelling with an injured arm but felt it didn't answer my question for two reasons:

1) My main character, strictly speaking, is no longer injured. She's had time to recover from the car crash and is perfectly healthy, other than the fact that she's missing an arm.

2) More importantly, that scenario seems to be about what to do when you need to get down a rock cliff while injured. This being a planned activity, precautions can be made well ahead of time.

  • 1
    I voted to reopen because I disagree that this is a duplicate of "Rappelling with an Injured Arm." In that Q, the person had broken her arm. In this Q, the person lost her arm six months ago. Thus she has developed extra strength in her remaining arm, and has developed strategies to do things with only one arm. Moreover, she is no longer in substantial pain, and does not have a very recently injured arm that needs to be cosseted. These three factors make the two Qs significantly different.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 21:38
  • I agree with @ab2, and voted to re-open. Beacon80, please accept my apology for jumping the gun on closing this, especially without first asking a clarifying question that would have prevented my close vote. I know someone with only one arm, and she's had to adapt to doing things outdoors as best as she can. I welcome you to the site, and hope you'll continue to contribute! Thank you! Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 22:11
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    Also, participating in a camp rappelling activity is not exactly the same as self rescue.
    – Guran
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 6:02
  • 2
    In general you don't just let "summer camp" kids just rappell. The chances of a kid with two arms falling and injuring themselves is high. So all the rappels would be backed up using top ropes anyway. So TBH one arm or two, it doesn't really make a lot of difference. The kid can still get a sense of controlling the decent, but lets be clear the real person in charge is the person holding the backup rope.
    – user2766
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 9:33
  • I think we have or had a user here on TGO who volunteered in outdoor camps for people with all kind of disabilities, but I sadly don't remember who... Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 10:37

2 Answers 2



If we assume that this is a summer camp setup where experienced (ish) instructors set up and oversee the rapell, sure.

A one-armed person would face two major difficulties. Setting up the rapell (is tying knots and loading rope into brakes/rapell devices) and handling the brake during the actual rapell.

On a summer camp, I assume that the kids wouldn't be trusted to set up a rapell by themselves anyway, so that is not a problem for your story.

As for the actual rapell, a one-armed person would have trouble handling a more advanced assisted-braking type device (where you would need one hand to control the device and another to hold the rope). A simpler device (tube style or figure eight) however would work just fine.

Usually, while rapelling, you attach a prussik loop to the rope as a backup, which would be manageble (once set up by an instructor) with one hand. However, if I was the instructor here, I would use what is called a "firemans belay". That is simply someone standing at the bottom holding the ropes being ready to pull on them (engaging the brake) if the rapelling kid loses control.

Additionally, a chest harness with a carabiner clipped to the rope might be a good idea, helping to keep the rapelling kid upright.

Another option would be for an instructor to rapell with the kid. Both hanging from slings connected to the same rapell device. That is how you do it when you have to bring an injured climber down from a cliff.

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    A chest harness clipped to the rope with a carabiner would aid in keeping the one armed person upright. Without that second arm to either hold the rope overhead, or wrap around the rope and work to braking end there's a good chance they are going to go over backwards, or at least get a serious ab workout on the way down.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 3:24
  • @ShemSeger Good point, feel free to edit it in.
    – Guran
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 9:37
  • Also, with a top rope safety, it should be possible to do an easy and safe single-handed rappel with a tube rappel device.
    – Usurer
    Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 11:34

I've done it with a broken arm in plaster, but that was nearly 30 years ago when I was a similar age to your character. We always used figure of 8 descenders in those days and had a safety belayer with a second rope (standard practice for kids). In this case I believe the instructor/belayer was at the top. My immobilised arm (in a cast from bicep to palm) was useless even for things like fastening the harness so I needed a bit of extra assistance getting set up.

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