The scenario

My climbing partner and I are at the top of a pitch and we drop a belay plate to the ground. There is no safe descent, we were planning on rappelling down off safe anchors.

What do we do?

Also covers: "How to abseil without a descender device?"

  • 5
    Sit down, cry for a while, get your mobile out and call mountain rescue to get you out... ;-) But I don't think you would accept that as an answer, right? Mar 23, 2014 at 8:05
  • related: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/617/…
    – user2169
    Mar 23, 2014 at 21:22
  • @BenediktBauer, ha ha! Mountain rescue tend to frown on that kind of call!
    – user2766
    Mar 25, 2014 at 10:07
  • 1
    @Liam Of course they will frown upon such call. It was only a joke! Mar 25, 2014 at 10:21
  • 1
    Tons of great answers here... but my solution is to always carry multiple devices. I usually have an ATC and figure 8 on me. Both are cheap and useful for multiple applications.
    – DawnPatrol
    Feb 11, 2017 at 4:05

8 Answers 8


If you drop a belay plate you can use a Munter Hitch to descend down the rope.

enter image description here

Here's an animated example of how to tie this knot (1 to 6 only)

It works like a belay plate (but in reverse) so if you hold your hand close to your leg it will release. Moving it forward locks the slip knot. You can use a munter with two ropes (or one rope in half) or a single rope.

Here's a video describing the whole process in detail.

  • 1
    @BenCrowell I remember seeing that in that book. I can't remember if it is supposed to be superior to the HMS; do you? I remember thinking that it would be easier to carry a second ATC than enough ovals to set that up.
    – Mr.Wizard
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:07
  • 1
    @Mr.Wizard: I remember thinking that it would be easier to carry a second ATC than enough ovals to set that up. If you're climbing trad, then you have a bunch of extra biners simply because you need them for various tasks. By the time you're ready to rap off, you've got all or nearly all of your hardware back on your rack, so you have those biners available. Carrying a spare ATC would mean carrying extra gear that you're unlikely to need and that has no other use.
    – user2169
    Mar 20, 2014 at 22:21
  • 3
    @BenCrowell (1) I'm pretty sure I remember FotH saying that you must use oval carabiners for that setup. How many people are carrying six ovals these days? (2) There are several options to add friction to a Munter; one is extra turns on the spine as linked in the answer above; another is the "Super Munter.".
    – Mr.Wizard
    Mar 21, 2014 at 1:55
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    @Mr.Wizard: Interesting info about the options for adding friction to a Munter -- cool! The carabiner brake method doesn't require 6 ovals, it requires a minimum of 3, plus a locking biner. I don't know about other people, but my trad rack does include 3 ovals and a locker.
    – user2169
    Mar 21, 2014 at 3:23
  • 4
    I think it would be worth pointing out in the answer that while the Munter is useful, it imparts crazy amounts of twist into your rope and will also wear the outer sheath more quickly than a belay device.
    – montane
    Apr 22, 2014 at 7:48

One method is to build a brake out of carabiners. The minimum equipment for this is three oval biners plus a locking biner, and the diagrams below show how to construct the system with only this many biners. However, this setup doesn't give much friction, especially with a thin rope, and normally people use at least one more oval, as described in the text below.

diagrams showing how to construct a carabiner brake

To construct the brake start with the usual large locking biner clipped to your belay loop, as you would for any rappel. The diagrams show a double-strand rappel.

  1. Clip the two oval biners A and B, with their gates opposite and opposed, through the locking biner. Pull a bight through the ovals.

  2. Insert your third oval, C, through the bight, with the spine oriented as shown.

  3. Clip the load strands back through the sideways biner C.

  4. Flip C around and over the tops of A and B, forming a crossbar with its spine. Make sure that the rope ended up passing over the spine of C, not its gate.

As noted previously, the setup shown in figure 4 doesn't really give much friction. If you have a fourth oval biner D, it's a good idea to add it next to C, so that they form a sort of double-thickness crossbar. Both C and D should have their spines touching the rope, not their gates. (They can be reversed, but not opposed.) Only A and B should be opposite and opposed.

Don't try to do without the locking biner. If you simply clip A and B to your belay loop, the rope will rub against your belay loop and possibly destroy it through intense frictional heating. It is OK, however, to replace the locking biner with a pair of nonlocking biners, opposite and opposed.

The standard braking position for this standard setup is to hold the brake strand down at your hip, just as you would with an ATC. If you raise the brake strand to a higher angle, it could press against the gates of C and D, possibly causing them to open.

There are various ways of increasing the friction. If you have a huge load to lower and lots of oval biners, you can build two of these brakes in series. You can rearrange the brake bars to send the rope through in an S shape. In comments, Steed suggests using a locking biner for C, in which case it becomes safe to brake with the brake strand raised.

A possible advantage of the carabiner brake over a Munter is that the Munter will tend to twist up your rope. A possible disadvantage is that you may not have enough oval biners.

Further information

  • Note that with this device you brake by lifting your hand up, not by putting it behind your back as with most belay plates. So you should bring your reflexes under strict control.
    – Steed
    Mar 23, 2014 at 15:30
  • Note 2: if you are using locking carabiners, only three are required (B may be omitted). Please correct me if there are some advice against this. Also, if C is a locking carabiner too, it is really MUCH safer. Imagine that C turns around when you release the weight from the ropes for a moment... In fact, we are usually using 1 carabiner in place of A and two carabiners at C, gates flipped, to make sure at least one gate will not get opened by the passing rope.
    – Steed
    Mar 23, 2014 at 15:41
  • 2
    Note 3: never ever clip carabiner A/B directly into your belay loop, or it will be destroyed instantly by the passing rope.
    – Steed
    Mar 23, 2014 at 15:46
  • @Steed: Note that with this device you brake by lifting your hand up I don't think this is right. See this article: climbing.com/skill/rappel-without-a-belay-device Also, biners C and D both have their gates facing away from you, so if you were to lift the rope, it seems to me that it could risk opening the gates. The braking position is also shown on this video at around 8:15 youtube.com/watch?v=03JjYHk2L2A .
    – user2169
    Mar 23, 2014 at 15:57
  • @Steed: In fact, we are usually using 1 carabiner in place of A and two carabiners at C, gates flipped, to make sure at least one gate will not get opened by the passing rope. Hmm... by gates "flipped," do you mean not putting the spines side by side, or do you mean spines side by side but gates forming an X? All the sources of information I listed in the answer say to put C and D not opposed. This would be because the rope should be passing over the spines, not the gates.
    – user2169
    Mar 23, 2014 at 16:03

This topic will be incomplete without mentioning the good old dulfersitz method used by our fathers when there were no belay plates and no carabiners.

This method doesn't require any equipment other than the rope itself. And, well, sturdy clothes.

The method is to pass the rope around your body in a special way shown in the picture 1 below. Picture 2 shows a variation with a carabiner.

original: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corda_alpinismo.jpg?uselang=ru

(origin: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corda_alpinismo.jpg)

This is a "last resort" type method, because it is quite hard on your body on inclined slopes and simply painful on verticals. But it works and you can even use a prusik to back it up.

Because the rope presses hard on your leg and eats up your clothes by friction, people started to add more fabric to their pants at the main friction point. Then they started to sew metallic parts to their pants. Then they realized that they didn't need pants if they had metallic parts. This way the first belay devices were born.

  • Method 2 looks like a nice idea for saving your crotch! If you didn't do the art yourself, you might want to credit the source.
    – user2169
    Mar 23, 2014 at 20:13
  • 1
    Sorry, mentioned it in the image description, but it looks like this info in not displayed in the title of the image as I expected. Edited the post to provide reference.
    – Steed
    Mar 24, 2014 at 8:56
  • the sheer balls that must of been involved in doing a long committed abseil using this method must of been immense! Scares the cr*p out of me....
    – user2766
    Mar 25, 2014 at 10:28

Climbing Magazine has an article about this situation. The basic game plan is to build an improvised tube device with four carabiners. The picture from the article is pretty clear:

carabiner rappel device

You can also do a carabiner wrap. It really is as simple as it seems you just wrap the rope around the spine of a carabiner until you get the friction you need/want. This will twist your rope though which is something you wanted to avoid.

carabiner wrap

Of course there are those that want to complicate things and make them fancier...

three biner wrap

With the three carabiner wrap you might be able to decrease friction as you go down the rope like a rack device. I've never used this technique so I can't say for sure.

Of course depending on the angle of the rock or your level of daring you can do it with the rope alone as has been discussed here.

Dulfersitz method

natural/south african method

  • 1
    Re second-to-last: "free rappelling" this way is historically one of the more dangerous climbing activities. With most of the others, even if you let go entirely there's some braking, and it's relatively easy to regain control should that happen. With a simple rope wrap, especially a single rope, you can lose all protection quite suddenly. Unless you're a military type and are under fire, so clipping in/out could cost you or a buddy your lives, Not Recommended.
    – keshlam
    Mar 3, 2016 at 0:02
  • 1
    I presume I don't have to remind everyone that leather gloves are essential, but I'll do so anyway. Rope-burned hands make lousy brakes.
    – keshlam
    Mar 3, 2016 at 0:03
  • 2
    @keshlam agreed. Gloves that can't be melted from the rope's friction are always a good idea. Also it is always a good idea to have as many safe guards as possible and a large margin for error. Like you pointed out free rappelling has a virtually no margin for error and basically no safe guards.
    – Erik
    Mar 3, 2016 at 0:14

Carabiner Braking Device

You can make a braking device using only carabiners, which is how things were done before tubular devices, or braking plates:

enter image description here Source: Freedom of the Hills

  • Isn't this just a shorter duplicate of my answer?
    – user2169
    Mar 3, 2016 at 15:47
  • @BenCrowell - Well... If I had known this question existed I would've marked the other one as a duplicate. I never posted my answer on this question, I posted it here: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/11080/…
    – ShemSeger
    Mar 3, 2016 at 22:03
  • I'm guessing these questions have been merged.
    – user2766
    Apr 20, 2016 at 7:28

If you have an ice axe, you can make a setup similar to the standard "carabiner braking device" - use the ice-axe instead of the additional carabiner.

With this setup, you can get away with using just one carabiner. Also, (not directly related to the question) it helps if you cannot use your braking device because your rope got soaked with water and froze.

A disadvantage of this system is, it's less safe - the ice-axe may slip off because it's not secured in any way - so you should constantly check that it's not sliding out.


The first answer that comes to mind: presumably your climbing partner didn't drop their belay device at the same time? It would be astronomically rare for both belay/rappel devices to be dropped at the same time.

As such, lower the first climber (something you've already practiced almost every time you've been out climbing). The second climber then rappels as normal, taking extra care not to chuck their device as well.

This may seem like a total smart-alec response, but make sure you haven't exhausted all the easy alternatives in an emergency before you go mucking about with "I think I saw how to do this on the internet once." When was the last time you actually practiced rappelling with a carabiner brake or Dulfersitz? That being said, every climber should absolutely practice self-rescue techniques (including the Munter Hitch and others).


Curiouser and curiouser! /Alice in Wonderland/

DISCLAIMER: this is definitely not a proven advice from the book and may be suitable only for experienced climbers, who do it on their own risk!

Wonder what to do if you have no spare carabiners for the carabiner brake and need to descend many rope lengths so that Munter Hitch would twist and damage it like hell?

Use your ascender (I mean Petzl Ascension or something similar). If you look at it from the bottom (handle) side and add some imagination, you will see a figure eight there: Original image from Wikipedia

So you can use this instead of a figure eight.


  • It doesn't need extra carabiners
  • It doesn't twist rope that much


  • Obviously, the device was never meant to be used like this

PS. This is mostly an example of how you can think out of the box.

PPS. Thinking out of the box is your own risk. I personally would use this method only as the last resort if other methods fail (e.g. in the middle of an expedition, when you can't throw away your ropes after the descent).

PPPS. Yes, this was used in practice.

PPPPS. No, there are even weirder methods, e.g.: http://video.yandex.ru/users/rus-alp/view/1/?ncrnd=739692

  • 3
    I don't think it's a good idea to encourage other people to try something like this.
    – user2169
    Mar 23, 2014 at 19:37
  • 1
    Them edges look sharp, I'd rather take my chances climbing down I reckon.
    – user2766
    Mar 24, 2014 at 8:45
  • 1
    @BenCrowell, I have posted a disclaimer and two P.S. notes to warn against this method. If you think it's not enough, please feel free to edit my answer to emphasize it more.
    – Steed
    Mar 24, 2014 at 8:54
  • 2
    @Ben Nobody encourages anyone to use this method. Only because you find something anywhere in the web doesn't necessarily mean you should do the same. I like the answer because it shows how creative people think out of the box - and this could safe your life being in an emergency situation.
    – Wills
    Feb 3, 2015 at 11:12
  • It's worth noting that the OP specifically mentioned climbing. People don't typically ascend dynamic rope except in emergencies and I have never seem a climber carry a handled ascender. Furthermore, if you have a handled ascender with you, then you most likely have a carabiner or quicklink attaching it to your harness that you could descend with. I get that you're just having fun thinking of obscure things to descend with... but this really isn't all that helpful to the OP.
    – DawnPatrol
    Feb 11, 2017 at 4:18

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