Do you know what is the most important part of rappelling? Well the most important part of rappelling is to back up a rappel and we also know that many of you don’t know how to back up a rappel. But no worries! We are here to help you out, we have written some best methods to back up a rappel.
So what do you understand by back up a rappel and how to do that? Backing up a rappel involves setting up some system in case you are not able to pass the rope through the belay device. This will protect you in case of a rappelling accident.
In the simplest terms, it is a system, knot, or piece of gear that will take the place of your brake hand if your brake hand stops working and if the back up is set up properly and the back up rappel catch your fall before it even starts, preventing you from a rappelling incident. There are several ways to do so , let’s see how it is done.
Why do you need to backup a rappel?
Now you may have the first question and that is why will we need to back up a rappel. Well let’s just say nature is very very unpredictable!
For instance, when you are in the mountains, things will always go wrong because nature can be very much dangerous and even human are ought to make mistakes, and trust me at that time back up rappel can only save your life.
It may happen that you might lose control of the rope, the backup is there to stop you from falling to the ends of your rappel, it is a safety measure to save your life while rappelling.
If you are injured, tired, or careless, a backup will assist you. By doing this, you can protect yourself from seriously injuring yourself because of a stupid mistake or bad luck.
When should you back up your rappel?
As we have completed talking about the reason for which back up to a rappel is needed, well now is the time to know that when should we back up our rappel. Well we would recommend you to back up your rappel always. Now matter how much pro you are in this field, you should always back up your rappel.
We all are humans and are quite different from each other, so some of you might disagree with our point, so we have written about some scenarios when you should back up your rappel:
- If you’re super pumped: The more tired you are, the harder it is for you to grab the rope with your brake hand. Having to send 5.12b after work is hard; maintaining not to die on the descent because your forearms have been blasted is even more stressful.
- When your hands gets cold: The cold condition of your hands also reduces your ability to tightly grip the brake lever.
- There’s significant rock fall danger: Tie a backup knot anytime you’re seriously worried about getting smacked by a rock on the way down and regardless of whether you are knocked out by rock fall, you can be injured or distracted for long enough to lose control of your rope.
- Rope rappels on single strands or thin ropes: The thinner the rope, the faster it passes through your belay device, and the harder it is to grip.
- To reach the next rappel station, you need to pendulum: This one is for the multi-pitch climbers out there. It is easier to swing around on the edge of a rope if you can use both hands to operate, so a backup is essential.
- When the rope is wet: Once again, if the rope is wet, it becomes harder to grip.
We highly recommend you to backup your rappel in all situations whenever you feel the rappel will be more difficult than usual, or you may lose control.
How to Back Up a Rappel
Backing up a rappel can be done in a variety of ways, but all serve the same purpose: stopping the rope from passing through the belay device. As a result, people use three major methods, which are mentioned below:
- Friction knots
- Manual backups
- Gear-based backups
The friction knot is the most common method of backing up a rappel because it is quick, easy, reliable, and very effective. You will need about two feet of cordlette and minimal knot-tying experience, both of which almost all climbers have with them.
Ropes are tied with friction knots and attached to your harness using carabiners. By pulling tighter around the rappel rope knot, you will stop in place if your brake hand releases and you start falling.
The most common types of friction knots which are used to back up your rappel are as follows:
- Prussik Knots
- Bachman Knots
Where to clip the backup knot?
You tie a friction knot around your rappel line and then attach it to your harness in some way.
We have mostly seen people clipping their rope to their leg loop and trust me it is a complete and utter travesty.
You should always clip your backup knot to one of the gear loops on your harness because they are designed for that. This setup of back up knot will be more comfortable and a quite safer.
Should you tie the knot above or below my rappel device?
Well the answer to this can be quite different from other but we would always recommend you to tie the back up knot below the rappel device and this is done for the following reason:
- For Safety Reasons: You must have your entire weight on the backup knot if you tie it above your belay device to prevent falling. In contrast, if you tie it below, it will only need to grasp the rope as tightly as your brake hand does. This reduces the pressure on the device significantly.
- Ease of operation: It is often difficult to undo a rope once it’s cinched up once it’s weighted above your belay device. One does not want to be left hanging on the edge of a rope due to a tight knot.
In spite of this, tying the knot above your rope will be easier if you’re going to have to unclip the rappel device for this to happen. A climber should only attempt this maneuver if he or she is extremely experienced.
So now let’s move on to different type of knots.
The Prussik Knot
The prussik is simple, easy to use, and super effective at gripping the ropeand for these reasons this is common amongst climbers. A prussik is also a two-direction knot which means that it can be used for both ascending and descending purpose.
But there is one drawback of prussik knot and it is that it would probably be that it tightens pretty tightly around the rope which means that, once you stop, the prussik can sometimes be difficult to loosen enough to allow you to begin rappelling again.
Now let’s see how to tie a prussik knot:
- Tie a fisherman’s knot at the ends of a piece of cord 3-5 feet long.
- Hold this rope perpendicularly to your rappel cord.
- Take one end of your rope and fold it over the rappel line, so the cord is enclosed in the rap rope. In other words, you should set up the same way as if you were tying a girt hitch.
- To complete your girth hitch, loop the short end of the rope several times through the longer one instead of passing the longer one through the short one. You will be able to tighten your knot more tightly as you repeat this.
- In the end, pass the long rope end through the short one and tie firmly. You’re ready to rappel once you attach the rope to your harness.
Klemheist Knot is very similar knot to the prussik, only the cord is twisted in a stacked fashion, not a collapsing one like the prussik knot.
Klemheist looks pretty similar like the prussik knot on the surface, but it is going to be a much smoother ride. The details may show that it does not perform as well when you really get down to it.
Klemheist knot is a good, solid knot in many ways and it can be tied quickly , even for a beginner. It allows you to ascend and descend the rope quickly and easily and most importantly, it doesn’t jam up as often as the prussik knot.
However, klemheist knot also have it’s weakness which means that it doesn’t tighten to the same degree as the prussik does. The klemheist won’t have the same catching capacity as the prussik knot if your rope is thin, wet, or you’re carrying a lot of weight.
Klemheists have another potentially major disadvantage: they are unidirectional. The tail should always be at the bottom, otherwise this won’t be nearly as effective as it will be if you wrap it towards the load.
However, it is a good option if you’re just performing a very simple rappel, and you want a backup for peace of mind.
Now, let’s see how to tie a klemheist knot:
- Start with a rope four feet long.
- Double-fisherman’s knot is used to create a loop.
- Wrap the rope around the rappel line at one end.
- The rope should continue to be wrapped around the rappel line, and each wrap should stack on top of the last one.
- Repeat this three to four times
- Clip the ends of the rope to your harness and hitch the ends.
An auto block knot is very similar knot to the klemheist knot, but you do not girth- hit it.
If you are an experienced rappeler and you want peace of mind, one of the autoblocks may be the way to go. You can set it up quickly, and it is less likely to mess up the flow of your rappel. The autoblock is probably the knot you should use if you’re in a hurry to get down; it’s less likely to tighten involuntarily, and if you do stop, it’s a lot easier to re-start.
Autoblocks have some advantages, although they also have some drawbacks: they have the lowest stopping power of the three knots above, so they are marginally less safe than the others. This type of rappel is not recommended if you’re rappelling with a thin rope. The autoblock can be a very good choice for a friction knot, under normal circumstances.
Let’s see how to tie a auto block knot:
- Using about 2 feet of cord, make a loop
- As you did with the klemheist, coil it around the rappel rope.
- The cords should be wrapped three or four times or until you feel them bite into your rappel line
- Attach both ends of the rope through a carabiner rather than girth hitching, and clip this to your harness loop instead of girth hitching
The Bachmann is a klemheist knot but with a additional carabiner.
For some reason that we can’t fathom, the Bachmann knot was never really considered a friction knot for backing up a rappel. It should fit right next to the autoblock knot: it still provides enough grip to prevent most rappelling accidents, and the carabiner allows for much easier unloading once you’ve loaded it up and only for this specific feature, the Bachmann is great if you need a modified ascender.
Now, Let’s check how to tie a Bachmann Knot:
- The gate of the carabiner should face outwards when you attach it to your rappel line
- Through your carabiner, attach the cord
- As you pass around the rope, pass the cord through the gate of the ‘biner for it to wrap around the rappel line and the carabiner each time.
- Repeat this three to four times
- Attach the remaining rope to your harness by girth-hitching it
Here are the four most popular friction knots in climbing. Before you try them out on the wall, practice them in a safe area.
Method two: Manual Backups
Due to their ease of use and reliability, friction knots are the most common method of backing up a rappel. However, with a friction knot, you have to trust the person rappelling to be in control of their descent. This might not be the best idea in some situations. Rappelling a novice or an individual who is incapacitated might require an extra level of safety.
It is best to use a manual backup in this situation. Essentially, a manual backup refers to someone controlling the rope instead of the rappeller. You will be able to control your partner’s descent; if they make an error that leads to them losing control, you will be able to stop them from hitting the ground.
Manual Backups can be performed in two ways:
The fireman’s belay is a hybrid belay in which someone spots the rappeller by holding the rope at the bottom of the rappel. Creating friction through the tails of the rope can stop the person from descending further by pulling them down.
Fireman’s belays are essential for backing up another climber down a rappel. In this case, it’s best if you are teaching a beginner. You are able to let them participate in a rappel while retaining control, but if they make any mistakes, you can stop their descent. The process is easy to set up and easy to execute, which reduces the likelihood of errors.
The basic method of fireman’s belay is as follows:
- The rappel is set up the way it is normally done
- During the rappel, the climbing partner holds both pieces of rope in their hands at the bottom
- Without backup knots or other safety devices, the person rappelling can now lower to the ground. In the event they lose control, the person holding on to the rope in the bottom can tighten it. As a result, rappelling will come to a stop, just like a normal brake hand pulling down on the rope.
This is a great option for teaching someone how to rappel, you can also check out this article to know more about rappel. Despite allowing for spotting, it still allows the person to retain control of their own actions. When they mess up, you can still manually back them up. For beginners, this method may be superior to knotting a backup knot because you can easily stop and start the rappel.
Despite this, it is not the best method of backing up a rappel, and you should never use it as your primary method because first of all, it will never work for everyone: someone will always have to descend the rappel first without the security of a backup, so they should learn an alternate method of backing themselves up. Second, the person who is doing the backing up is at risk of rockfall, since they will have to stand directly beneath the person who is lowering themselves.
To know more about fireman’s belay, check out this video!
Summary: Fireman’s belays are great for spotting beginners as they descend, but they shouldn’t be used as your primary rappel anchor.
Although this method of manual lower isn’t technically a back-up for a rappel, it is interesting because it has some relationship with a fireman’s rappel. In an emergency situation, lowering yourself via a top-rope rappel will be a much better option than relying on a fireman’s belay when climbing with someone you aren’t sure of. It may be a little difficult to set up, but it allows you to maintain more control over the other person, and it can be much safer for the person doing the lowering.
Alternatively, it can be used to spot someone who is just learning to rappel. Do a dual method (if you don’t want a fireman’s): let the person descend on rappel, but tie them to a top rope so that if anything should happen, you can arrest their fall.
As a third option, you can use a piece of gear that automatically locks into place. Although less common, it’s still worth explaining some of the advantages and disadvantages of using this type of system.
If you lose control over the gear based back up device, it automatically closes in place around the rope and locks in place.
This system has the advantage of taking a good deal of the responsibility off your shoulders. Your knots will no longer need to be tied, your rope will be stacked correctly, and the setup will be in the right direction. Once that’s done, all you have to do is trust that the gear manufacturer did their job correctly and clip into the rope.
It has the disadvantage of limiting versatility, along with the increased security. If your gear fails, you can be in some trouble if you rely on it. If you depend on it, you become dependent on it; if it doesn’t work, you can become in trouble.
Once again, the Gri-Gri can be used as an example. Those rappels involving single strands can be excellent for using this rope. However, if you find yourself needing to perform a two-strand rappel, your device is not going to help you at all.
So, in regards to gear-based backups, we would suggest using them as an extension of your safety procedure, not as its sole purpose. You can use a gri-gri if you like, but be sure to also know how to tie a backup knot.