The situation is, that you started a high route with fixed protection (bolts) and misjudged its length, so before reaching the belay the middle mark of the rope passes the belayer.

What can you do to descend safely leaving no or the least amount of gear behind?

You only have a single rope and there is no way to retrieve material from above or another route. I am looking for solutions as simple as possible, as you usually have only quickdraws and maybe a sling and a locker with you on such climbs, but feel free to state good possibilities with some additional gear, just try to minimise - thanks.

6 Answers 6


Whether you run out of rope or just can't complete the route, you have to bail as safely as possible.

As soon as your belayer reaches the rope's middle mark, he should double check that there's a stopper knot at the end. Then, you would down climb to the nearest bolt and then proceed to bail on the route using a prusik backup, as described by this old Petzl article.

lowering with prusik

Essentially, the prusik short-circuits the top bolt in the event that it fails, lowering the chance of hitting the ground. The only time you'll be on one bolt is right after cleaning the bottom bolt, at which point you should continue down-climbing to safety. In this situation, you would only leave a single carabiner or quick link, and in your scenario, you would use your (nylon) sling and locker for your prusik.

As noted in the comments, leaving a carabiner is preferred to quick links, but use what you have to be safe.

  • Nice idea! I've modified my own answer to suggest using this technique.
    – user2169
    Sep 14, 2015 at 14:26
  • I think the quick link is really bad advice. It might be fine for you, but it might get in the way of the next person arriving at that bolt, leaving them with the option of fiddling around trying to clip a narrow bolt, or clipping into a quick link of unknown quality and age. And this right before a hard move (that's why you bailed!). Rusty quick links can get impossible to remove, see for example an image here: mountainproject.com/v/bailing-on-sport-route/106368116__3 I would recommend a "bail biner", i.e. an almost-retired one that you still trust enough to be lowered off of.
    – anderas
    Sep 15, 2015 at 7:17
  • 1
    @anderas In this particular question, the poster was bailing because they ran out of rope, not because it was a hard move. Still, I agree that a biner is better than a quick link for cleanup, but if you only have a link, use it. I updated my answer to reflect the preference, thanks. Sep 15, 2015 at 13:02
  • @ChrisMendez Right, somehow forgot about that point. I totally agree with the sentence you added!
    – anderas
    Sep 16, 2015 at 6:52
  • This is the first time I have seen this method and I like it! However I have a concern: a single Prusik is not usually considered adequate for fall-arrest, and Prusik knots can fuse to the rope after a fall which could complicate things significantly. Perhaps that is not a problem here if the dynamic rope is the primary energy dissipator rather than the slipping Prusik?
    – Mr.Wizard
    Sep 18, 2015 at 7:54

The first thing I would do is yell down to my belayer to put a knot in the end of the rope. You could also try to evaluate the situation and try to figure out what happened. Is it a route that requires a 70 meter rope, and you just didn't realize that? Is it possible that you passed by a belay and didn't see it?

Next you could look around for options, such as traversing to a walk-off. Maybe there are other climbers nearby who could climb up to you with a second rope. If your belayer has a ground anchor available and knows how to escape the belay, they could go for help.

If none of those options exist, then I can only think of one way you're likely to get out of this situation without leaving gear, and that's simply to downclimb the entire climb, while your belayer keeps you on belay. As you downclimb, clean each piece of gear as you pass it.

If downclimbing the whole thing doesn't seem appetizing, then another option would be to downclimb until you only have half the rope out, then clip a locking carabiner through a bolt and be lowered off. As discussed in Chris Mendez's nice answer, you can add a Prusik backup so that if the top bolt fails, you don't die.

  • Better to use two bolts, sacrifice a non-locking carabiner for one of the bolts and use a locking for the other. They will be above each other, but you'll be on a dynamic rope. If the bolts are round (like glue bolts) you might be able to thread the rope through it while hanging in it or the one above.
    – gauteh
    Sep 13, 2015 at 19:24
  • @gauteh: I like the idea in the first sentence of your comment. But I'm confused by the second sentence. Are you talking about putting the rope directly through the bolt? Even if it would fit, wouldn't that tend to cause the rope to be severed by the bolt if you fell hard on it?
    – user2169
    Sep 13, 2015 at 21:35
  • 2
    I hope you mean, tell your belayer to double check the knot that's already at the end of your rope... Sep 14, 2015 at 13:01
  • 4
    @ChrisMendez: Personally, I always do the knot in advance. However, many outdoor sport climbers don't seem to do it. I do it in the gym as well, and I've even have people act surprised, as if I was doing something wrong.
    – user2169
    Sep 14, 2015 at 14:17
  • 2
    Just being picky: you mention you'd "yell down to my belayer" however, it would be the belayer who notices that the "middle mark of the rope passes the belayer". Semantics aside, I agree: you should communicate the situation to your parter first, then assess, then take action.
    – Roflo
    Sep 14, 2015 at 15:10

An alternative to @BenCrowell's answer would be to rappel like you would on a multi-pitch route. You will be rappelling on single bolts, so you should know how to judge their quality:

  1. (Tell the belayer to put a knot into the end of the rope, if not done yet.)
  2. Rappel down from the next bolt until you reach a lower one where the rope would be long enough.
  3. Fix yourself to that one, retrieve the rope, rappel to the ground.

Depending on the quality of the bolts (sharp edges etc), you might have to leave behind a biner or two, or some cord. This answer assumes that you are comfortable with rappelling down from a single bolt. (In my area, bolts are generally really good, and some top anchors even consist of single bolts.)

This trick might save you from having to leave behind stuff if the two rappelling sections are at most 1/3 of your rope length each (though the use of a screw link is a highly controversial practice and I personally wouldn't do it if the anchors look solid enough):

Bailing on a flat hanger

Warning: The sling/cord will suffer from the rope being dragged through it. The purpose of this method is to avoid leaving behind any stuff, such as quick links that could become rusty and block critical bolts. You probably wouldn't want to use the sling after using this method.

  • See my comments above, committing to one bolt is poor advice. Leaving another carabiner in the second bolt is cheap insurance. Doing sports-climbing, it is likely at some point to have to leave the equivalent of one quickdraw. Bolts sometimes fail too. (your sketch does use a backup bolt. also it would be interesting to know its source).
    – gauteh
    Sep 14, 2015 at 11:48
  • That is why I made some remarks about that. Basically this is a similar scenario to rappelling from a from a route that has only a single top bolt and no way of walking down. How would you handle that otherwise?
    – anderas
    Sep 14, 2015 at 11:52
  • That is true. Ideally I'd use the top two bolts like in your sketch. I have come across single bolt anchors, but in general they are not common. The situation is similar to having to get off a route that you are unable to climb.
    – gauteh
    Sep 14, 2015 at 11:54
  • 2
    I think a warning is needed - The sling is stuffed after pulling the rope though it and cannot (safely) be used again. Apart from cleaning the route, there is no benefit in doing this.
    – user5330
    Sep 14, 2015 at 22:06
  • @mattnz added the warning!
    – anderas
    Sep 15, 2015 at 7:11

If you've missed by only a little bit, then you should be able to rap down anyway. Removing the knots, plus the rope stretch, will add a some length. But it would be best to have a plan B in case you don't reach the ground: swing to a nearby boulder, free solo the last bit, have some tall strong friends.


I assume you're referring to a single pitch climb. In which case, the simplest thing to do–without leaving any gear behind–is to rappel as if you were descending a multi-pitch sport climb.

Tether to the top anchor, feed your rope through the hangers/rap station at the top to the half way point of your rope, knot your rope ends with triple barrel knots, and rappel down to the lowest anchor that you can. Then, tether to that anchor, pull your rope and repeat.

If you concerned about rappelling off of only one bolt, first remind yourself that your body is more likely to snap in half than your bolt is to pull out of the rock (supposing whoever set the anchor did it properly), if that doesn't settle your nerves, then just feed your rope through two adjacent intermediate anchors on the wall.

You can accomplish this at least two different ways:

  1. The first requires that you have three times as much rope as there is distance between two anchors. As you pass one anchor, feed one of the free ends of your rope through the hanger, then continue rappelling to the next bolt. Tether to that anchor, go off rappel, then feed the same free end through the bolt you're anchored to. Tie your descender back into your rope and you're effectively rappelling off of a backed up anchor.

  2. If you guess your distance wrong and end up not having enough rope to do #1, then simply tether to the anchor, pull your rope, rappel down to the next anchor, tether off again, feed a free end of rope through that hanger, then pass the anchor with your rappel device before continuing. It's not as safe as #1, because it's more steps and takes more time, but chances are you're only up one or two bolts from the bottom at this point anyways, so your fall potential is a lot less severe.

  • 3
    your body is more likely to snap in half than your bolt is to pull out of the rock (supposing whoever set the anchor did it properly) This is poor advice. Bolts fails all the time. Nobody should be trusting their life to a single bolt if they can possibly avoid it. The other thing that bothers me about your suggested method is that you seem to be talking about putting the rope directly through the bolts. (Maybe I'm misunderstanding?) These are meant to have carabiners clipped through them. They aren't for putting rope or cord through. They could cut the rope or the rope could get stuck.
    – user2169
    Sep 15, 2015 at 2:45
  • @BenCrowell - Nobody should be trusting their life to a single bolt Yet we're ok trusting our lives to a single rope? Bolts do not fail all the time, but poorly placed bolts can potentially pull out. This is not a failure of the bolt, but a failure of the bolt setter. Climbers are not capable of generating enough force to make a properly placed bolt pull out of good rock. It's just as much the climbers responsibility to inspect fixed protection as it is for them to inspect their own gear.
    – ShemSeger
    Sep 16, 2015 at 14:41
  • @BenCrowell There are a number of fixed anchors you can rap directly off of, like most glue-in bolts, and thicker hangers like Metolius rap hangers.
    – ShemSeger
    Sep 16, 2015 at 14:43

You have three real options:

  1. Lower off of your last quick draw and recover the others as you descend. This will loose you one quick draw, but is a safe method for lowering. (As an alternative you can rerun the rope through the one beaner to save the dog-bone and other beaner on your draw). Worth it depending on how cheap you are.

  2. Down climb unclipping one bolt at a time and taking falls if you have to. This is less than ideal, but in a pinch can work, and you don't loose any gear.

  3. I would never do three, but you could set up an anchor where you are.(Depending on your standards for anchors) Belay your be-layer and make it a multi-pitch climb. This is bad for several reasons, but is mentioned in the interest of expressing several options.

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