single pitch rappel, rappelling

Rappelling- How to: Single vs Multi-Pitch Rappelling

And so we begin the wonderful topic of our favorite hobby this side of the planet! Rappelling! We love it for both it’s trials and its glorious benefits/feats. It comes in handy in the mountains and can really be as fun as you make it. Do not be surprised at feeling defeated at times, as rappelling can really be challenging and frustrating even at the expert level. However, there are only a few other approaches to journeying a route that can be as gratifying and as rugged as rappelling.

There are times when you need to rappel simply because the initial course you were going to take became too daunting on the group or has become blocked off by weather conditions/man-made blockades. One thing is constant though, gravity is on your team unless you ignore it’s properties! Once you are finished with a climb up a mountain, for example, there will be times where rappelling may be the only option for getting back down the mountain!


Therefore, it is essential to know how and what you are doing in case you get into this situation. Remember, rappelling= total focus and dependance on the equipment you are equipped with during the moment you are about to descend. The rigging aspect must be absolutely perfect with zero tolerance for mis-management of equipment and ignorance of the steps/checks needed. One failure to double check and/or lack of constant attention to detail and you are toast! This can happen fairly easy because many times, rappelling comes at the end of the journey when we are tired and our focus has depleted throughout the day. You will have to force yourself to keep your guard up!

Cautious Rappelling demands continuous attention to the details. Double-check , triple-check and then check again! Link check every part of the safety chain before even thinking about getting into rappel form. We will now discuss the two ways, essentially to pitch a rappel and what it means to pitch.

 Single-Pitch Rappel Basicsstopper knot, rappel station, rappel point, rappel anchors

So what does it mean when someone says “Hey, I made it down in a single-pitch”? This is translation for the person making it down to the ground in one rappel. Hypothetically let’s say you and a friend were  standing over a 100 ft edge/drop and you rigged a bombproof anchor system ( where the  structural component of the anchor are melded into one and the anchor points are so big that any movement would be nearly impossible without the help of mother nature) with the anchors “set” (permanent placement), you would inspect, re-inspect and then re-inforce the anchors if need be. You will have both use the same rappel station, if it is an exposed one. You will both to the anchors.

stopper knot

Pictured: Stopper Knot

Now what if you were going to set the rope in order to return to it later? What you would do in the instance would be to tie one of the ends into the anchors. If instead you are going to pull down the rope once you reach the ground,  you would actually push one rope through the anchors and ultimately tie it to the other rope. Another method would be to use one rope and run it through the anchors and fix the middle of the rope at the rappel point. You would tie a stopper knot on the end of the rope that is free, and you would then scream out , “Rope!”, and subsequently throw the rope down!



Pictured: Autoblock

One of you would then rig your rappel device to the rope, uses a autoblock backup and checks to make sure any long hair or baggy clothing will not get hooked onto the rappel device. Remember, Discount Double-Check!!! Everything! Then this person would unclip from the anchor and make sure to transfer all of their weight to the rappel device.  Using the guide hand atop the autoblock and brake hand underneath the autoblock, you would then allow for the rope to slowly slip through the rappel device.

Make sure to have your torso facing the mountain/edge you are descending down from and also make sure that it is bent at the waist line. Make sure your legs and feet are shoulder-width apart from each other and make sure your legs stay perpendicular to the mountain at all times. You should feel as though you are controlling the speed and it should almost feel like you are walking instead of running the wall in a downward fashion. If at anytime you need to take a breather, make sure to lock the auto block ( that is what is used for, so use it!). Make sure you keep an eye on the end of the rope on your descent! Once you reach the ground you can now detach from the rope and yell “Off Rappel!” If you hadn’t noticed yet, communication is paramount to the success and safety of your rappel experience. Next, this person should locate to somewhere away from any rocks or moving gear that would still be in the range of their face! Safety first. Your partner would then repeat this process..So to review

  1. Rig a bombproof anchor system
  2. Set anchors then inspect them and reinforce if need be
  3. Tie one of the ends to the anchor if retrieving( push through anchor and tie to another if using another rope)
  4. When ready to rappel down, yell “Rope!”
  5. Rig rappel device and attach an autoblock, making sure you don’t have anything that get stuck on it
  6. Unclip the anchor and make sure all the weight is now on the rappel device
  7. Guide hand on autoblock , brake hand underneath autoblock
  8. Position body correctlyu and descend down at a walking pace
  9. Disconnect from ropeonce you reach the ground and yell “Off Rappel!”
  10.  Move away from drop zone to avoid partner , rocks or equipment from falling on you
  11. Victory! Yell “Clear!” When completely out of the drop zone. You’ve done it.

Remember to avoid any constraints that might jam the rappel device and throw the rope out of whack! Once you are both to the ground and if it is time to pull down the ropes, make sure you yell “rope!” again so that your partner is aware ropes are dropping down to avoid hitting someone in the head!

How to Multi-Pitch Rappel?

attack rappel

Pictured: Attack! Rappel System. Most of all you will need

Same scenario, you just finished a few pitches up a spire and the only way you can get down is through multi-pitch rappelling. So instead of a single rappel you are doing multiple ones, just as the name suggests. This can get very confusing to make sure you know what you are doing. The best way to explain the process is by giving you a step by step guide…So here goes

  1. Make sure you inspect the anchors for solidity and make sure they ar untarnished. If they do are not firm another, make sure to reinforce and if they are not reinforceable, replace completely.
  2. Link to the anchors by  a daisy chain. Pass through one roeps end in between the anchor rappel point and then tie the ropes to each other.
  3. Once again, tie stopper knots to the ends of each rope
  4. “Rope!” and throw the ropes down
  5. Both rappellers make sure to know which rope to pull down once it’s time for retrieval. (they may want to link the daisy chain onto the rope as a reference tool for which rope is the correct one to pull down once it is time. This stops the rope from getting tangled which leads to jamming.
  6. First one down connects the rappel device to the ropes and attaches an autoblock
  7. double check time! check harness, harness  buckle, rappel device, anchors, knot that has joined the ropes, autoblock and rappels.
  8. Make sure to avoid and sharp edges on the descent as well as any loose sediment (rocks) and keep a keen eye to find the next anchor station. If the area is unavoidably shapely (undulations in the drop zone) or prickly, bushy etc, you will have to go through periods of having to undo twists in the ropes and rethrow the ropes every once in a while to keep things in order.
  9. Whoever makes it down first must make sure to avoid rappelling off the rope ends. If you have stopper knots in place then you will avoid running into this mistake. That is of course, the rappeler isn’t using a larger figure-8 device and has failed to connect the autoblock.
  10. As the first rappeler approaches the next anchor station, she would then check these new anchors and would reinforce them if they need reinforcement (when the anchors fail the bombproof test) and would then rig them properly if the rig turns for the worst (tangle city!)
  11. Then clipping into these anchors, makes sure to double and triple check the clip-in is good to go, clips the rappel lines into the anchors if the rappel was overhanging.
  12. Time to dismantle the rappel device so that the second rappeler can begin to descend down to where the first rappeler is (at the next anchor point). As the dismantling is finished yell “Off Rappel!” so the first can begin the descent.
  13. The second rappeler links the rappel device and makes sure to add an autoblock for a backup, does the routine check up to everything mentioned and begins the descent to the next anchor point where the first rappeler is. As they drop, make sure to keep the ropes remain untangled and free from any impediments to jam it.
    multi-pitch rappel, multi-pitch

    Pictured: Group of 2 multi-pitching

  14. While waiting , the first rappeler makes sure to pass the rope through the next rappel point and ensures that the a stopper knot is tied to the end of this rope. 
  15. Once the second rappeler arrives to the station , they would clip in and double check. They would then dismantle their rappel device while holding onto the ropes.
  16. They then both remove the stopper knot from the rope that is free. Team work: one would pull down the rope while the other passes the rope through making sure that the rope is free from knots or tangles so it doesn’t get stuck. Make sure that both never drop the ropes! You do not want to lose them as this can be a critical mistake and may eventually lead to having to be rescued!
  17. Once the the ropes are pulled and just as they come free from the top anchor, one of the rappelers screams “Rope!” The person who is in charge of pulling, tugs it in an outward fashion in the opposite direction of the cliff. Once the rope drops, they would re-gather the rope and tie a stopper knot on the end once more, yelling “Rope!” . Once they do this they then toss it in order to use it for the next rappel. Once they are set for the next rappel, and as the knots are at the anchor points, the team redoes this whole process.

This is repeated until the rappelers reach the ground so you can see how tedious and how detailed this can be. Make sure you are with someone who knows what they are doing or else things can get very stressful when pulling off a multi-pitch.


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