The following is a scene I have always been perplexed about. I’ve seen it many times. A mountain climber has no one above him as he descends and is trailing rope behind him that he is using to stabilize and protect him from an unplanned plunge and that rope is anchored to something well above.

How does he retrieve that rope when he has descended the length of it, and wants to use it again to complete the remaining stages of his overall descent?

  • This video from wild country covers it well for sport climbs at least
    – user2766
    Aug 8, 2014 at 14:53
  • A mountain climber has no one above him as he descends I'm not sure if this is describing someone climbing alone (which is not what you would usually do), or the second person in a two-person team descending. Rory Alsop and Nick were describing rappelling off. If we're talking about a team of two, then down-climbing is also an option. If you down-climb, then you can place and clean gear just as you would for normal up-climbing, and the advantage would be that you don't leave gear behind.
    – user2169
    Aug 8, 2014 at 17:26
  • Here is a link to a video that shows an answer to the question facebook.com/beal.official/videos/1754083811298297/…
    – Munjago FB
    Jun 21, 2017 at 21:27

2 Answers 2


You would use the rope doubled, so that when you are at the length of it, you anchor off and release one end of the doubled rope so you can pull it through the anchor.

Then re-anchor at your current position in order to continue your descent.

  • 10
    In addition to the info in this answer, the OP may be interested to know that this almost always going to result in leaving something behind, even if it's just some webbing and a rappel ring. An exception would be if there is a bolted anchor with a rappel ring.
    – user2169
    Oct 27, 2013 at 18:52
  • 1
    Some people use a cord as well to help retrieve the rope. I've not used it, but the petzl catalog has some good info about it, but you would need more than that to do it. I would say this is a more advanced technique and the safest thing is to do it with a single rope until you're comfortable. Oct 27, 2013 at 22:48
  • 1
    @BenCrowell That is not strictly true; there are methods for retrievable slings, though they are apparently not commonly used, and some are certainly unsafe.
    – Mr.Wizard
    Jan 11, 2014 at 16:07
  • @Mr.Wizard In American canyoning (canyoneering) this is done using a FiddleStick. :) Not a fan of that, but glad I'm a European canyoneer!
    – Nick
    Dec 19, 2016 at 8:39

I'd like to make an addition to the answer by @RoryAlsop. Namely the case where only ONE end of the rope is used.

Next to descending on both rope-ends at the same time, it's also possible to do it only on one end. This is for example done if you have very technical rappels where you need to use extra gear or lock yourself into the rope (in that case single-rope techniques prove to be easier).

Another example when to use one-rope techniques is when you are canyoning with other people (people of the same level, or even clients who don't have any techniques if you are acting as a guide).

A typical installation one only one end of the rope is given on the figure below. The big advandage of installing a rappel like this is that when someone gets stuck in the middle of the descent, you can still lower them from above without the need of special techniques. Rappel

On the figure you see that the eight blocks the rope from going trough the two anchor-points. So the rapelling is done on the left end of the rope. Once you're at the bottom of the descent you pull the other end of the rope (the one containing the eight) to retrieve your rope.

Notice that no material stays behind after my descent !

  • 2
    No material... except for the bolts! It's pretty much always possible to build an anchor which leaves "no material" behind when there are bolts available. This is certainly an interesting approach I hadn't seen before. Do you have any concerns with a guided client accidentally yanking on the wrong rope, releasing the knot prematurely?
    – nhinkle
    Dec 7, 2015 at 18:48
  • 1
    @nhinkle No, I ALWAYS put in a climbing set in the eight. That way if a client ties into the wrong rope it won't release. Of course I also always to the standard check of the relaxed life lines. Also in Europe almost all of our canyons are bolted and every canyoneer maintains them at his own cost, I recently found out that in America you guys take ghosting really serious and mostly don't bolt but work with sand bags and what not? If you know any references to these techniques, I am most interested :-). I'm mainly curious on how this would change rescue operations and movement in a canyon.
    – Nick
    Jan 20, 2016 at 9:17
  • 1
    This looks similar to a caving "pull-through" descent (although we normally use a plain overhand loop with no extra metal in it). A couple of notes - the knot should jam against the lower of the two bolts, to reduced friction when retrieving (I've had a complete jam when I got that wrong); it is useful to clip a krab into the knot loop and around the "live" rope to help guide away from snagging during retrieval; the "dead" rope can be stored in a bag until the last person, to reduce risk of descending on the wrong end. Jun 22, 2017 at 10:35
  • There are some useful examples of safe variations of this on Petzl's site Jul 26, 2018 at 19:43
  • @spinup, just to be clear. The above method is perfectly safe :). It's not the simplest, but that's because this is a contingency anchor that also allows for lowering the person on the rope (e.g. to reduce friction or for rescue).
    – Nick
    Oct 15, 2018 at 12:08

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