Rappelling begins and ends with the anchor system construction. We would recommend each rappel station to have at minimum 2 bombproof anchors, setup as rigging to make one, equal rappel point. We can’t stress enough the importance of having anchors at bomber level. If the anchor is not bomproof, make sure to reinforce or replace them with some that are bombproof. Make sure you never get too comfortable with the gear that is already in place as if you never heard of metal corrosion or loose metal!
Just because there is a bolt or piton afixed from prior use doesn’t mean the bolt and piton are in great shape, so check them! Make sure to also check the webbing, rock and surrounding terrain. Also, even if you just witnessed some rappelling from the same spot using the same anchors, double check and check again! They may have just gotten lucky with not having to reinforce the anchors.
Remember, it only takes one fall from failing to reinforce the anchors! This is called Anchor Failure. Anchor failure is the prime reason that climbers and rappellers die out when they are in the journeying! So what is some gear that will make/break your journey?
Rappelling Gear List
The best kind of nuts you can get here are the Wallnut ones and the wired ones. They really do a great job resilience wise and do their job as rappel anchors with tons of maneuverability inside the crevices of a rock, for example.
Make sure they are rigged into bomb construct with great rock positioning! Make sure to stay clear from placing nuts in between rocks to where you can easily tug on them only to find would easily pop out! As far as nuts go, you can get a pack of 50 for fairly cheap, so when you are done using them , they can be left as rappel anchors without too much thought.
Placement of nut
When you are placing the nut in between rocks, make sure there are downward and outward constrictions, meaning if you were to try and tug down on the nut , it wouldn’t move and would be impossible to dislodge in those two directions. Try and look for deeper spots to place the nut so that there would be no chance of pulling outward and jerking it free. That wouldn’t be ideal! Look also for a deeper lip to combat this jerking movement.
Make sure you do your due diligence at every junction that you come across a fixed piton. Make sure there is no sign of rustage, make sure it is deep in position and not sitting shallow and ultimately make sure it is good enough to take on a large load such as your weight! The key here is to make sure this is not old damaged or loosely fit. That can spell disaster! Again you are looking for bomber grade. If they aren’t toss them and replace, and don’t waste your time trying to reinforce. We use the Black Diamond Pitons as they seem to be the most reliable and seem to last longer than any piton’s we’ve used.
Two notes here: When rock expands as a result of thermal expansion (hot days and cold evenings), the pitons will find themselves loose and out of position. This can also cause damage to the pitons overtime which will cause damage to them and make them unworkable. So how do you test these pitons to make sure they are bomber? Take a hammer and tap with 4 out of 10 in force. Don’t whack as hard as you can because hammers can easily ruin them. It is not too common to have a hammer handy as an abseiler. If you do not have a hammer with you then you will only be able to judge by looking at them.
Rule of thumb: If they look new and well positioned then use the pitons. If they are not either one then replace, do not reinforce for safety measure. Also, even if you are so sure they are workable them back them up with other pins when you are able to.
In our humbling opinion, cams should be considered last resort for rappel anchors. However, they make for good backups to the anchors up until the last person in the group rappels down.
Rule of thumb(s): Make sure you have the stem pointed in the correct direction in relation to the loading. Make sure you have the correct size for the loading which would be between 20% to 60 % open. Make certain that the opposing cam units are deployed as even as possible and that they are not in the offset position. Lastly, make sure the cams are only used when solid rock is in play!
We have love Black Diamond’s cams as they seem to resist from jamming and are wonderfully constructed. There are others you can find but these are affordable and are professional grade. Make sure that if the cam utilizes a stiff stem (strong rigidity), we would probably avoid affixing to a rock’s edge or you will find yourself with a snapped off cam.
The more stiffness the less load! Keep in mind the cables are made to bend a little, but you will find that the cables aren’t made to withstand these kinds of loads. Make sure to always check for cables not to fray. Make sure to bend the cables back to par position. Cam’s tend to force themselves outward at double the force of whatever is pulling the cam downward. So, DO NOT PLACE AROUND LOOSE BLOCKEY AREAS OR FLAKES THAT ARE NOT FIXED/PERMANENT ! You will thank us!
How to Rappel off a tree
We love trees for anchoring! Make sure they are healthy trees though! Last thing you want to happen is you unroot an old tree by pulling it down with you! The roots should be anchored down with roots / very deep soil. If you have to measure to at least a foot of soil to be on the safe side. If you spot some slings, don’t just ignore this very important element. Others may have just gotten lucky with the tree not slacking to the point of collapse. There have been numerous events where even used spikes for climbing trees created weakened roots to the point where the tree is no longer rooted properly.
- (Medium sized trees) Make sure to tie the tree as close to the bottom of the stump/ground to reduce the amount of leverage and optimize the amount of durability.
- (Oversized trees) You’d be able to get away with tying off one of the thicker branches (1.5 ft + in diameter) instead of the stump. You would probably get away with tieing off one tree but if it is not a massive tree we recommend anchoring others spots on the tree to balance the weight.
If the rappel is a short one, you would be ok just wrapping once around the tree but make sure it is a healthy one. The reason many avoid this is because it ends up being quite the challenge having to pull the rope from down below and repeating this process over and over. It can also be detrimental to the tree and who wants to do that! Hug a tree don’t hurt it! 😀 Rather, try tying a couple of slings (We use slings by Jili for trees and Metolius for durability and price!) completely around the tree, introduce a couple of rappel rings and then simply channel the rope through the rings! Oiala!
Rappelling off Stone
If you are lucky enough to be in an area where you can rappel off natural rock like boulders or flakes then this is the most ideal way of anchoring and most will say the most gratifying/pleasant. A simple cord or webbing plus a few solid anchors will be most of what you need. You will notice how much safer this is to do because of how solid most boulders can be. Most rappel stations you come across will actually utilize quite a few slings around the solid object (rock, horn etc) or in a tunnel.
Again, we are not scaring you but make a sound decision when deciding whether or not to use the anchors that were already in place. There is nothing wrong with adding some back up nuts to make sure you are safe. Backups save lives! Last thing you want to happen is the boulder/chockstone rolling off squishing you or ripping through the rope. Although we recommend using a nut, an alternate would be to tie a knot, web it and jam it along the crack side of a rock to backup your primary anchors.
Other Mention on Forces
Your rappel with about 1000 lbs of force but you can reduce this significantly the smoother you rappel. Make sure you are as relaxed as can be but at the same time, cognizant of your surroundings and quick to react. Again, make sure your anchors are bombproof or else you will be going way faster than you are cut out for! Rip! Consider the anchors we have discussed, but make sure they are strong and resiliant to take on 1000 lbs+ of force on a downward pull. Avoid leaning on these anchors and make sure to load them in a downward position.
How to Rig an Anchor
The idea is to create equal pressure along one rappel point. Equalization is key! Something to remember is the acronym EARNEST which stands for
E- Equalized..all the anchors in place need to share the weight equally in order to maximize durability of the AS (anchor system)
A- Angle…You want the slings to connect in a V shape which should total less than 60° ..
R- Redundant– you always want more than one of everything (anchor, sling, ring, rope, etc) ..have backups with you at all times
NE- No Extension – if one anchor fails, your other anchors should handle the rest of the journey down and you shouldn’t feel any slack/shock since the remaining anchors will be kicking butt fighting for you and taking on the load with ease.
S- Solid– You probably guessed it..your anchors need to be solid as well as the complete system you have in place . Solid = Bombproof!
T- Timely– Be smart about time. If all you do all day is work on building your anchors, paranoia will set in and you will never actually get any rappelling in! Be smart but have fun!