My friend and I were on a tough sport climb and couldn't make it to the chains. Thus, we had one quickdraw still on a bolt and we didn't want to leave this behind, (a quickdraw on this same project had been stolen only 2 days prior when I left it the first time)

We decided to hike up and around the cliff and decided it was much too difficult to try and reach the chains from down climbing the cliff.

We saw a big tree (definitely thicker than my whole body and alive, the trunk I could barely give it a hug and connect my hands, I'd say) and didn't want to hike back down the cliff after rappelling. Thus we had our rope go around the tree equalizing the lengths of the rope and threw the rope off until we could see both ends hitting the ground.

We didn't wrap around the tree at all so we could pull the rope down at the end.

Was this safe?

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    What you did is absolutely not acceptable - when retrieving your rope you risk damage the tree - either ring barking it or exposing it to disease.
    – user5330
    Aug 20, 2015 at 0:10
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    Describe the tree - how big (trunk diameter), alive or dead, any movement at the base?
    – user5330
    Aug 20, 2015 at 0:29
  • Related: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/8147/…
    – ShemSeger
    Aug 20, 2015 at 14:26
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    "Thus we had our rope go around the tree equalizing the lengths of the rope and threw the rope off until we could see both ends hitting the ground" This is awfully and dangerously wrong. You should always tie the two ends together, otherwise they can slip due to unequal friction in the rappeling device and you'll have one of the ends many meters above the ground. A deathly surprise...
    – Steed
    Oct 31, 2016 at 12:01
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    @endolith, right, but imagine this. You have a 20 meter drop and a 40 meter rope (both ends 20m). When you start rappeling, one of the ropes slips, so when you arrive at the middle of you rappel, the rope is now 10+30 and you hit the end knot. Imagine being 10 meters above the ground being held by only a tiny knot (and if you e.g. use a figure 8, it can go through). If is catches you, you still have to continue the descent somehow - a difficult and error-prone task for a person without a good training in rope work (I myself just considered what would I do and the first idea was dangerous).
    – Steed
    May 31, 2018 at 7:52

4 Answers 4


Short answer: If the tree is a living and thick one, then it was OK.

That being said, there are several reasons you should had done a proper anchor with multiple points (trees, in this case) and equalized, and then walked back again to the top.

One simple drawback of your approach is, that the friction between the rope and the tree trunk, when you recall the rope after the rappel, can be harsh to the rope sheath and abrade it. And your rope costed more than the quickdraw you wanted to recover. It would unlikely cut it (and you would already on the ground anyways) but would it be worthy to damage the sheath of your expensive rope?

Also you could, although unlikely, misjudge the solidness of that single tree. Having two points (trees) is of course going to be better, since we're talking about something you're about to hang your life from.

That being said, what we usually do here in the Alps (where is most of the time, if not always, impossible to reach the top of the crag by other means than climbing) is to leave behind a maillon rapide in place of the quickdraw when this situation happens. A maillon is much cheaper and many people carry one just in case.

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    -1. For first line - Just because they got away with it does not mean it was safe, (and joking about it is like joking about bombs at airport security). Backing up large (large > .5M diameter trunk) trees with multipoint anchors is pointless - if the tree falls over and detaches from the cliff face, the other anchors will probably not hold anyway, with the rope wrapped around the tree if the tree fell over but stayed attached, the absail could be complete safely. A case of following a dogma (All anchors must always be multi point anchors) makes little sense.
    – user5330
    Aug 20, 2015 at 0:27
  • @mattnz Apart from the point about cynicism I respectfully disagree: He only states that it is safe as long as the tree is sturdy enough - which is true. This does not imply that how they assessed whether the tree is sturdy enough was save. But clearly the result (it did hold up) showed the assessment was correct. In case of a smallish tree it absolutely makes sense to back it up. I do not see why the backup has to fail because the tree failed (maybe its roots were less big than hoped for). Of course backing up huge trees is not at all necessary.
    – imsodin
    Aug 20, 2015 at 9:41
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    "Cynism" removed and answer improved.
    – Dakatine
    Aug 20, 2015 at 13:38

Was it safe? Yes, you were not in any danger here (unless your tree was a Charlie Brown Christmas tree).

Was it the best thing to do? No, for a couple of reasons, the most important being that it does not comply with leave not trace ethics, and can badly scar the tree. It's also no good for your rope, dragging your rope through dirt and sap can significantly shorten the life of your rope. When anchoring off trees you should tie an alpine rappel anchor around the tree and lower off of a rap ring.

What you should have done, is rappelled off of the bolt. You could have tethered right to the last bolt you were able to climb to, threaded your rope through the hanger, and rappelled off the fixed anchor while still on belay with a prussic backup below your ATC, cleaning your gear on the way down.

Not only is this cleaner, it's also easier, and safer than being lowered by your belayer, because you still use all of your intermediate protection in between your top bolt and the ground. If your top bolt fails somehow, you're prussic will catch and you're only going to fall as far as the next bolt.

Alternatively, you could leave something else up top instead of one of your quick draws, like an old carabiner that's ready for retirement anyways, or a mallion/quicklink that you brought with you because you knew ahead of time there was a possibility you might need to bail on this route again.

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    The second section is key: All the tree business is much less important for safety than being lowered off of one bolt without the safety mechanism described here!
    – imsodin
    Aug 20, 2015 at 15:25
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    Sorry, but rappelling directly off a bolt is not the accepted practice. Always leave a carabiner: they're called "leaver" biners for a good reason. Threading the rope directly through the hanger can damage the rope and the hanger.
    – Felix
    Jan 10, 2016 at 21:27
  • "threaded your rope through the hanger" Doesn't that put a sharp edge against the rope? o_O
    – endolith
    May 30, 2018 at 16:27
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    @endolith Depends on the hanger. The hanger shouldn't be so sharp that it'll cut rope under body weight, some hangers are even specially designed to accommodate rope retrieval. Either way, you should be carrying something on your harness to facilitate a rappel in the event you need to bail off a route.
    – ShemSeger
    May 30, 2018 at 20:18
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    @endolith That's a mallion, and yes that is the recommended mode for descending of a single hanger. Sharp hangers can cut your rope, especially if you're bouncing on it or take a fall, but for a slow controlled descent you can lower off the hanger in emergency situations. Just make sure you inspect the hanger first. If it's sharp, then you're probably going to have to leave something behind to lower from.
    – ShemSeger
    Jun 4, 2018 at 5:06

You do not say what size tree, but to me big means something like 1/2 meter or more diameter trunk. Presuming a living tree with no obvious movement of the roots the tree was infinitely stronger than your quick draw or chains or bolts holding them to the rocks. "Was it safe" is not the right question "was it safer than what I already accepted as safe enough" is the question and the answer is absolutely yes, its safe enough.

You do have a single point failure, but if you pulled the tree over, its unlikely a second anchor would hold you and the tree. In the end, on abseil you have a single point in the rope. Is the tree stronger and more reliable than the rope? Its it not uncommon where I live to set-up a multi point belay using slings or rope around a single large secure tree. This is to protect against your equipment failing, or you failing to set up correctly - either far more likely than a large tree falling on you head.

If the tree was smallish, as long as its over about 300mm diameter, alive, its roots not into fractured rock and not moving when you swing on it, it is more than strong enough to be safe. I have happily abseiled off a much smaller trees but every climber has to deal with situation where absolutely safety no longer exists, weather they know it or not.

As I said in my comment, its not acceptable to pull the rope down if its going around the tree. The correct way to use a tree as an abseil anchor is to use a sling around the tree and abseil off the sling.


These rock climbers Obviously did not read your question. if the tree was bigger than you could hug. this was overkill. use the rule of thigh. A branch as big as your thigh in softwood is good enough.

Also, you would not hurt the cambium of the tree. Us tree climbers do it all the time...and we care about trees. if you are worried and want increased safety, tie a mid line knot (use an Alpine Butterfly) at the half way point put a locking carabiner though it and around the other line that goes around the tree. This the repel line. Note you now have a secure non moving loop around the tree. When you get to the bottom, you can pull the other end and retrieve the whole system.

I find there are good ideas from Rock and Tree climbing. Take the eclectic approach to knowledge

  • 1
    User13583 - please do not use multiple posts. Stack Exchange is not like online discussion forums. Please read our tour page.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jul 15, 2017 at 19:40
  • "Us tree climbers do it all the time" But do you do it all the time to the same tree? Like multiple rock climbers per day?
    – endolith
    May 30, 2018 at 16:31

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