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I found an old police service magazine from 1969 and it has an article named "a day out with the police mountaineering section"

In there I saw the picture below of a guy rappelling with nothing but his arms. What is the name of this rappel method?

Looked around the interwebs a bit and could not find. Found one reference on a how not to climb video calling a similar setup as the "Australia rappel", but could not find any other supporting info.

Not something I want to try or would recommend. I like living. Just curious to know if there is a commonly known/universal name for this type of rappel method (Apart from death wish)

police 1969 rappelling with only arms

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    When I was in the military, we would make a swiss seat out of rope and a D-ring to rappel. Aussie style was rappelling face first or looking down. The advantage of this method was it freed up a hand. When you went down backwards, you had a hand behind you to pace you and a hand in front of you as a guide. Aussie style you just had the hand in front of you and it hit you in your gut/pelvis when you braked. With your free hand you could be carrying something like oh say a weapon...
    – Forward Ed
    Apr 14 at 5:01
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    This particular method isn’t quite either of these, but lookup the Dülfersitz abseil or South African abseil for similar techniques.
    – Darren
    Apr 14 at 6:17
  • Could it just be a posed photo and not a rappel?
    – endolith
    Apr 14 at 16:22
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    My book calls this arm repel and doesn't recommend it on vertical cliffs like this one.
    – Joshua
    Apr 15 at 2:25
  • My guess is that this was the standard rappel in the days before rock climbing took off as a sport. (I may write a question on this.) I recall that the standard ice-ax had a straight (not curved) pick at right angles to the handle before someone Chouinard (??) applied elementary physics to the design.
    – ab2
    Apr 19 at 19:34

3 Answers 3

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Another British English answer, with a few more terms:

  • Body abseil: rarely used term, any abseil not using a abseil/belay device or carabiner
  • Classic abseil: Rope goes between legs, round the thigh, across the chest, over the shoulder, across the upper back, down the arm. This is also known as Dülfersitz, but that's not a common term.
  • South African abseil: Needs two ropes, one goes under each armpit, cross behind the back, come over the hips and between the legs, and then both together up to the hand.
  • Body Belay: A similar technique for belaying with the rope wrapped around you instead of a belay device. Still a popular technique for easier ground in winter, often combined with a bucket seat. The rope comes along your arm, behind the small of your back, then wraps around your other arm.

Body abseils are taught as emergency techniques. When I did my Mountain Leader ticket (10+ years ago) you were expected to demonstrate one or both techniques on c. 60 degree ground, but I've used both on free hanging abseils too, to see what it was like. Gloves are strongly recommended especially for skinny modern ropes, and even if done correctly it's going to hurt a bit on steep or overhanging ground. You are usually taught to use the South African where possible, as it is safer and less painful. The classical is reserved for when you need to go a whole rope length in one go. These are very much the dominant techniques, most instructors would call other ways of wrapping the rope "wrong".

I can't tell exactly where the rope goes in that photo. It looks like it goes up the arm, across the back, down the other arm, but if so, then I don't think it is a safe technique. That is kind-of the route used for a body belay, but that only works properly with the rope going down (as for belaying a second) not up (as for an abseil). I think it is likely that there is more rope, hidden in the folds of his jacket. In particular the flash of white near his navel might be more rope - but I can't figure out how it's routed.

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  • I don't think that the bit near the navel is rope, but if you zoom in on the rope that is on the lower forearm and below the lower hand, it appears to be 2 ropes, whereas the one on the upper hand appears to be a single rope.
    – Peter M
    Apr 14 at 16:00
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    Dülfersitz is still a somewhat well known term in German speaking countries. But the depicted technque is definitely different. Apr 15 at 9:27
  • @phipsgabler And not only in Gerrman speaking countries. In Czechia as well, albeit perhaps in the direct translation "Dülferův sed". It used to be a technique used by everyone, before the widespread use of harnesses and descenders. And it is perfectly doable even on vertical walls, when properly dressed and on classical thicker ropes. Apr 15 at 12:39
  • "Proply dressed" in this case would be Lederhosen and a matching thick woolen jacket... otherwise I imagine it must be a horrible experience. Apr 15 at 15:18
  • That flash of white near the navel - it's probably not part of the climbing system. It's the strap/cord used to fasten the jacket. In group use situations, like in the armed forces, the buttons of shared equipment , like rappel jackets that the man is wearing, come off. Without buttons, you use a cord to fasten the jacket. The rappel rope is just routed along the back and shoulders in this case. I've done this rappel many times.
    – ahron
    May 14 at 12:51
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In Britain, this is considered a form of classic abseil. In the other common variant, the live rope passes between the legs, then across the front of the body and over the shoulder to the control hand.

The term is sometimes also applied to any abseil without a mechanical friction device, such as using a harness and karabiner but still braking using a turn around the control arm.

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I have been shown this as an emergency method with the note that you would only want to do if there is a real danger of death if you do not do it.

We were allowed to try the feel of the method with no real drop, (like putting the rope in place and then bend your knees,) and it hurts.

I was told it was called 'emergency rappel' but it is likely to have many names.

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  • Aah make sense, only in life or limb situation. Sounds like it's not "it's all so easy" might be ironic given that you say its quiet painful. Thanks you for the info! :)
    – Henry F
    Apr 14 at 11:14

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