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The competition's idea is to ascend 10-20 m of rope, then do a short sprint, then abseil 10-20 m back down. Repeat several times.

I am specifically interested in the abseiling part. I want it to be at least as safe as traditional abseiling with a friction device and prusik knot. But I imagine there are devices which can minimize the time lost for the setup. Which equipment can I use to make the setup as fast as possible? Or should I just train hard to tie the traditional system very fast?

"Fireman's belay" looks like it's simplest and fastest, but one would need an extra person for it; this is not allowed.

I am checking options on whether to make such an event, what the rules should be, and who will participate.

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    I think whatever method you use, the speed it can be done will depend on the equipment used and not on the skills of the competitors. So this won't be an interesting challenge.
    – PMF
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 11:41
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    And I presume you don't want to have a competition which is won by the person/team that can tie the fastest (!= the safest!) knots.
    – PMF
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 11:42
  • Body rapelling - outdoortroop.com/3-great-tips-on-how-to-rappel-with-just-a-rope No equipment needed.
    – Darren
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 13:17
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    Just remember: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Don't rush. That said, "fast" and "safe" should be considered as antonyms.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 14:42
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    I am checking options on whether to make such an event, what the rules should be, and who will participate.
    – anatolyg
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 5:12

5 Answers 5

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Using a Grigri for abseiling doesn't require an extra friction knot.

Timing the setup may be pushing participants towards unsafe behaviour, so ideally you'd have the device attached to the rope by organisers, and participant would just clip it to their harness.

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I think the only way to make such a competition safe is to use a securing system that is foulproof. For instance, you could use a safety system like the one used in public rope courses, where it's just not possible to disconnect oneself completely from the securing line. There are systems that even allow connecting to loose elements such as auto-belays.

Any securing system that depends on the competitor to tie a knot or manually connect to something will favor people who trade speed for safety. And that obviously provokes accidents, which might have severe consequences.

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  • The only fool-proof (safe for children) systems I have seen are such that you must return to the same point after use. Is there anything else? What to search the Internet for?
    – anatolyg
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 11:35
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    @anatolyg I have been in rope gardens that use what Wikipedia describes as "kommunizierende Karabinersysteme" (communicating carabiners, not sure about the english term). You have two carabiners (sometimes with a glider) and you can always open one at a time only, except at the very end of the course, where there's a special hook that allows you to release both. Works nice, because it also supports auto-belays (for abseiling) or rope gliders (to cross long distances).
    – PMF
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 12:09
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The fastest, reasonably safe method would be an autobelay of some sort. That would only require the participant to attaching a carabiner to his/her harness, present it to an official for a quick safety inspection and jump off.

The same device could be used for safety during the ascent part as well.

While this would not be "abseiling" in the usual sense, going down 10-20 meters is so much easier and faster than climbing up that rappel speed will never be the deciding factor in a contest.

You could have the contestant rappelling a rope in the usual manner, while still connected to an autobelay (or a manual belay by an official) but since no security function (automatic or manual) would allow for a descent at... competitive speed it is quite superfluous.

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Having the only criterion for winning be a stopwatch will likely encourage reckless and unsafe practices.

If you're trying to organize a "rope skills" competition, you might take inspiration from the industrial rope access world, e.g., Grimpday (youtube vlog from The Rope Access Channel, CMC GRIMP 2022 held on the USS Iowa). It consists of multiple rope team rescue scenarios, requiring ascending/abseiling, raising/lowering victims, confined space rescues, water hazards, and so forth. Each scenario is judged with time as only a secondary/tertiary factor---main judging criteria include General Safety, Appropriate Rope Techniques, Victim Comfort, Team Management/Dynamics/Communication, Team Conduct & Respect towards organizers/volunteers/other teams, and so forth.

While the rules are written for the industrial rope access world, they give inspiration for a recreational scenario. Here are some paraphrased examples along with suggestions of how they might look for you:

  1. Saftey Practices and PPE (helmets etc) required at all times; unsafe practices lead to immediate disqualification.
  2. While systems are being rigged, the stopwatch is running. However, once any system is rigged, a safety observer will call a SAFETY CHECK. During this period, the clock is STOPPED while knots/anchors/carabiners/mechanical devices are inspected. The team is informed of any deficiencies, which they must correct after the stopwatch is restarted. Consider adopting this verbatim---participants are timed while they rig their rappel system, but timing is halted while it is inspected by a qualified supervisor. Even automobile racing has a separate vehicle safety inspection that is untimed.
  3. All participants require certification (e.g., IRATA, SPRAT, NFPA, ...). Have an certification/qualification mandated for all participants. Having someone who has never rappelled/ascended before being involved in a timed competition is a horrible idea. Similarly, have minimum rigging standards for participants: acceptable ascending/abseiling systems & devices and so forth.
  4. Industrial Rope Access mandates redundancy---completely redundant anchors and connections, never being connected to only a single rope or tether, etc. Consider adding redundancy to the ascending/abseilling events by, e.g., tying participants into a completely separate rope system during the time-stopped safety check and having them belayed by a qualified organizer. Or even an independently rigged auto-belay that is connected during the safety check.
  5. All systems must be capable of passing the “whistle test” (meaning if the person in control of the lowering or descent operation lets go, the system(s) default to stopping). Mandate assisted braking devices, "third hand" backups, etc.

My local climbing coalition organizes an annual event that you might also take inspiration from. It consists of a timed 14mi (3,500' vert) trail run combined with a climbing competition (untimed) at a local crag. Each route has a pre-rigged toprope with a dedicated belayer; redpointing any given route awards a certain time deduction. The winner is whoever has the lowest net time at the end of the day. By organizing the event in this way, observe how everything related to safety in the vertical world is decoupled from racing & rushing.

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  • This is not an answer to my question, but a lot of useful info — thanks!
    – anatolyg
    Commented Apr 29, 2023 at 3:29
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As a knot tyer who has abseilend one time under proper guidance and with assistance I doubt the event can run safely, but my personal experience is not big.

If you want to allow people any method and gear you need to assure that they have the right experience to use said method and/or gear safely under stress.
This might result in restricting the potential number of participants to such a small group it is not viable.

Or you might restrict the method and gear to one deemed safe, at least one answer here has suggested such, and have someone standing at the top of the drop to check the participants on using this method and gear as intended, which may make for a traffic jam there.

An other important part of organizing an event is getting insurance and that might be another big problem. If you can find an insurance company that is willing to take on this event they might have rules or guidelines to follow on safety. In which case it is their choice or no event.
You as a private person can not bear the cost of having to pay for a serious injury or death, and I fear that most organisations can not or will put restrictions on the event like an insurance company.

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