June 2001 - Tech Tip Supplement
Important: This is not meant to replace hands-on
instruction, nor the need for hands-on practice.
Things can go wrong, such as allowing the rappel to be long enough
to weight the belay/lowering line. A variety of skills are necessary
to implement this system and to trouble-shoot anything that goes
wrong. As with anything in climbing, trying this is at your
Disclaimer 1 - Keep in mind that this is a technique note,
not instruction on application. Different configurations are potentially
useful and it is reasonable to choose to apply variations or entirely
different techniques in different situations.
The Rigging at the Anchor
The darker rope will be used to rappel, the lighter to belay.
They are attached with a double fishermans knot. The light rope
is attached to the anchor with a Munter/Mule knot.
The Rigging on the Climber
The darker rope is attached to the climber both at its end
and 6-10 ft before its end (to be sure the rappel is shorter
than the belay rope). The lighter rope is attached to the harness
independently as a belay.
Transition to Lowering
When the climber reaches the end of the rappel on the darker
rope she unclips the belay rope. The belay device is removed
at the top and the rope is pulled back up to the anchor and
stacked to be used for lowering.
The mule hitch is released and the climber is lowered the
length of the lighter rope with the munter hitch.
Imagine yourself in a variation of the above Wy'East route attempt.
You're leading a couple of climbers who are all relatively inexperienced,
perhaps for a club. You've reached a ridgeline but are running so late
and moving so slow that continuing seems unsafe. You can abort the climb
and return safely if you can descend about 250 feet. Before it warms
up too much more, or before that storm moves in. One way to do this,
assuming you have two ropes in your party, is to set up an assisted
rappel/lower to get the less experienced members of the team down quickly.
The leader will then have to follow in some other manner.
By tying two ropes together you have the potential to descend up to
300 ft or so. One rope (the rappel rope) is used for the climber to
rappel on. The other rope (the belay/lowering rope) is used by the leader,
intially to belay the rappel and then to lower an additional rope length.
The rappel rope must be shorter than the other one used to belay, so
it is tied into the rappelling climbers harness both at the end and
again about 6-10 ft from the end. (If the rappel rope is not shortened
enough the belay may become weighted.) It helps to know the relative
lengths of the ropes - be familiar with your equipment before you go
The rope is attached to the anchor system on the belay/lowering rope
just above the knot joining the two ropes (often a double-fishermans
or a variation of one). By attaching the rope to the anchor system with
a Munter hitch it can be used for lowering later, but initially the
Munter hitch needs to be secured with a Mule knot (or equivalent).
The rappelling climber now sets up on the rappel rope just below the
knot joining the two ropes. The end of the belay/lowering rope is attached
to their harness independently and used as a belay.
When the rappelling climber reaches the end of the rappel rope (or
the knot which they also tied into 6-10' before the end) they unclip
the belay rope. The leader now pulls this back up to the anchors and
stacks it ready to feed out for lowering. The leader can now unblock
the Munter hitch and lower the other climber an additional ropelength
using the belay/rappel rope.
There are a few things to note about this system:
- If the rappelling climber needs to descend an extra 6-10 ft they
can take the knot use to shorten the rappel rope out when they get
close to it. They'll need to stop and unclip the belay at the same
- The leader will need to make two or more rappels or descend in some other
way. (Perhaps even downclimb if the difference in abilities is great
enough.) In a worst-case scenario where speed is essential and the
rope won't be needed after this descent they could rappel down the
two ropes, but would need to pass the knot in the middle.
- This entire set-up assumes certain skills and should not be attempted
by anyone not familiar with them. As a minimum it requires tying two
ropes together with a safe knot and tying a munter-mule knot (or equivalent).
If problems arise it may be necessary or helpful for either party
to be able to ascend a rope. Other skills
may end up being useful as well.
- This system cannot be used to lower a climber who is injured to
an extent that precludes their active participation. In this situation
other techniques such as an assisted or counter-weight rappel may