I love the outdoors and exploring new treks. That being said it is important to always be prepared. A great example of personal preparedness is Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild, that guy is never caught off guard. I never know when a trail less traveled may require a rappel to safely descend and continue on my trek. This is especially true for mountaineering. On some of these excursions where the difficulty is unknown or unforeseen I won’t even think about lugging along all of my rappel gear. But being precautious, it is always wise to bring a versatile rope. If a semi-safe emergency descent is needed I can rappel with just a rope.
If you love to explore the outdoors, mountaineer, or are involved in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts I recommend learning these techniques. You never know when they could come in handy.
To rappel with just a rope all that is needed is quality rope. Preferably a static, 10.5mm in diameter and 200 feet in length rope. The thicker the rope the better it will be to withstand friction and wear. The length is recommended in an instance where you may double the rope or to provide enough rope to reach the dept of the descent. For additional rope recommendations read choosing the right rappelling rope.
Find an anchor for your rope and lower any gear that may obstruct or creates unnecessary weight. Once the gear is lowered, use one of the following three techniques to rappel with just a rope: the Dülfersitz rappel, the arm rappel, and the South African rappel. It is equally important to understand which technique is best suited to the terrain and descent. Each type of rappel has a unique purpose depending on the level of descent. When the correct rappel type is used in the preferred terrain you will be able to rappel with just a rope to the base of the descent.
Prior to performing any of the following rappels you need to make sure that you are properly anchored with your single rope. Find a natural anchor, such as a tree or boulder. For the Dülfersitz rappel and arm rappel you will anchor in by tying off with the figure-eight loop follow through. Click Figure-Eight Loop to learn how to tie this knot.
When using the South African Rappel you will simply wrap the middle of the rope around an anchor, like a tree. If your rope is not already marked in the middle do so with a permanent marker or tape. This rope will not be tied to the tree but remain loose. The rope running along the tree will create friction but also wear and tear. None of these methods are clean by any means and create more wear than normal rappelling but because of the circumstances of the emergency and lack of gear this is to be expected to rappel with just a rope.
Now that the rope is anchored, more climbing or rappelling gear would be ideal; however, in an emergency it is important to work with the equipment that is accessible. For the following examples I will assume that only a rope is available for use. If you have gloves or cloth that could be used for your hands that would also be helpful to add further friction and protect from rope burns. I’m not going to lie, these methods may cause rope burns to your arms and body.
Through the loose ends of the rope down your descent. Make sure that the length is sufficient to reach the base of the descent. You do not want to be caught at the end of your rope with more to descend. That being said it is always wise to tie stopper knots at the end of your rope to warn you when the end of the rope has been reached if it is running a little short.
Before starting the rappel, if a backpack or any other gear is being carried be sure to lower it first. Any unnecessary weight should be removed from the body. It is equally important to remove anything that could obstruct the rope during the descent. If there are straps on the backpack or gear simple run one end of the rope through both straps. Now grab both ends of the rope and lower the pack and gear to the floor.
This step of lowering gear is dependent on the level of descent. This means every situation will be unique and you will have to make a decision on what action will be best for the given scenario.
There are three rappels that can be used based off the needs of the descent and should be handled carefully when performed with a single rope. It is highly recommended to practice prior to using any of the rappels in real life situations. Seek professional guidance as well from trained climbing instructors. This will ensure the technique is followed with exactness and teach you the importance of anchoring, tying the rappels and descending. This means greater success in your descent as you rappel with just a rope.
The Dülfersitz Rappel
The first option to rappel with just a rope would be the Dülfersitz. When using the Dülfersitz rappel it must be used only on vertices that have a face that can make contact with your legs during the descent. If there are any ledges you will be putting yourself or others in extreme danger. This is also known to be one of the more dangerous methods to rappel with just a rope.
When tying the Dülfersitz rappel you will be making the letter ‘Z’ on your body as follows:
- Run the rope over one leg and under the other.
- Now pull the rope across the front of your chest and behind your neck.
- Run the rope around the backside of your arm and grasp with your brake hand. This hand will control the speed of the descent. At this point you can visually see a letter ‘Z’ that was created by the rope. The brake hand should always be on the same side as the leg with the rope running behind it.
- Your other hand (not tied with the rope) will be used as the guide hand and grab the top of the rope between your body and the anchor.
- Now begin the descent. To allow slack to run your brake hand should be out, away from the body. To stop pull the brake hand across the body.
- Push off the face of the vertice in a small hopping fashion. Remember to always go at the pace that is most comfortable to you.
The Dülfersitz rappel should only be used in an emergency where all other options have been exhausted.
The Arm Rappel
Only use the arm rappel in emergencies and when descending inclined slopes and not vertical terrain such as cliffs or caves. The arm rappel creates additional friction and support while descending an incline. Examples of use could be a sloped descent where there is loose sediment, rock (such as shell), or during a rain shower causing the ground to be slippery. In any of these situations where it is difficult to maintain your footing you could use this method to rappel with jsut a rope.
To rappel using this method do the following:
- Run the rope behind your back.
- Take both arms and wrap them around the length of the rope running behind them. The rope should be resting between the forearm and bicep bend.
- Wrap the rope on either end around your hands so the rope is now resting in your palms. At this point the rope will be wrapped around your arms twice.
- Begin the descent with your guide hand on top (should be the hand facing towards the anchor) and the break hand down (the hand facing the direction of the descent).
- Descend at a pace that you are comfortable with and will allow you to be in control while not losing your footing.
The South African Rappel
The South African rappel is a no nonsense rappel and should be used with caution. This will be used in a significantly sloped descent or vertical. Make sure their is a cliff face to descend and bounce off of. To setup the South African rappel with just a rope do the following:
- Take up the rope wrapped around the tree with both hands. Lift each side of the rope up so it is level to your body.
- Run the rappel rope under your arms and cross them behind your back.
- Bring the ropes around your body again. With the loose ends of the rope on the ground step over both of them. Both lines of rope should be running freely between both legs.
- Bring the ropes up between the legs (groin) and off to one side.
- Wrap your brake arm once with both rope ends of the rope and hold with the brake hand.
- Use your free hand (guide hand) to grab both ropes between your body and the anchor.
- Begin the descent while leaning back into the rope. Go at a pace the works best for you.
All three of the methods explained can be used to rappel with just a rope. Remember these are primary for emergency. They are not the most comfortable and will rub in various places of your body, potentially causing rope burn.
Be mindful of when to rappel with just a rope and double check everything from the anchor to how the rappel method has been tied. No mistakes can be made as there are few to no backups available to stop your descent if a mistake is made or an object strikes you.
When properly trained and practiced by a certified professional, each of these methods can serve its