While going through the process of becoming a Mountain Guide through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), I was thrice instructed and evaluated by a colleague who was very fond of using the phrase “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” during course debriefs and performance evaluations.  While this idiom generally conjured up distracting thoughts of  joining the ALF and hunting down these cat skinning SOBs, I understood his point. In guiding and in most mountain situations; there truly are many different paths and the art is truly in the application.

Translation: there isn’t necessarily a right way, but there are plenty of wrong ways!

Recently there have been some really great ways to rappel being disseminated through the interwebs and with that, many folks interested in the “AMGA way” of effective abseiling. With that in mind, I’d like to add two more ways of rigging a rappel system to your ‘bag of tricks’.

Disclaimer: the below systems assume a high level of experience and understanding of some of the complexitites associated with multi-pitch rock climbing and rock rappelling systems. Please seek expert instruction for clarification and real life practice in these techniques.

First, I’d like to utilize Dale Remsberg’s piece on Pre-Rigging Rappels published in Climbing magazine to introduce the concept of extended or pre-rig rappels and their application.

Rappel Extensions, Dale Remsberg

Next, I’d like to focus primarily on the configuration of the sling in the above rig. Let’s start by reaffirming that the above graphic is excellent, and I’m interested in sharing a practical refinement to the system that I have found particularly excellent.

Overhand on a Bight: In lieu of the simple overhand knot, which can bothersome to manipulate, load awkwardly and is a huge pain to untie; I employ an overhand on a bight less than halfway up the length of the sling. The placement at less than half length is crucial (just as it is in the above graphic) because when weighted the ‘leash’ side must be available and easy to clip into the anchor (impossible to do when weighted! try it.)

*Note: autoblock (my friction hitch of preference) backup is omitted for clarity*

The benefits of the overhand on a bight method are that;

  • The rappel device is easy to setup and manipulate while the system is loaded (while you are attached to the anchor)
  • The device stays oriented and loaded properly throughout all steps
  • The knot is easier to untie after your rappelling shenanigans are over

You will notice that our rappeller has clipped the ‘leash’ end back in to her belay loop while rappelling. Although this loop is not under load during the rappel, clipping it to the belay loop keeps the system clean, and is stronger than clipping to a gear loop (as pictured in Climbing’s infographic above).

So, where do you clip your ‘leash’ side while rappelling? Sure, you can let it dangle, but I prefer to keep it tight. As opposed to clipping it to your belay loop as pictured above, one can clip it to the retrieval rope (when using two ropes to rappel) to help you remember which rope to pull (are we pulling green?). When using this method it is imperative that your leash strand is not under load or undesirable outcomes may result.

Pulling Green

Some final tips:

  • Keep the bartack/stitches out of your knots. Always.
  • When clipped to the anchor at transitions always maintain tension on your ‘leash’. No F’ing around above the anchor, especially with your superthin-ultralight-skinny slings.
  • Use locking carabiners, backups and tie knots in the ends of your rope when appropriate.

There are many ways to rappel safely and these particular variations work well for me.