Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

Rope Bar

Guiding Newsletter

June 2001 - Tech Tip Supplement


Assisted Rappel/Lower

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 own risk!

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.

Photo Photo

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.

Photo Photo

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.

Photo Photo

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.

Photo Photo

The mule hitch is released and the climber is lowered the length of the lighter rope with the munter hitch.

Technique Tip(s)

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 out climbing.

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:

  1. 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 time.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 be necessary.


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