How to Climb a Rappel Rope Like a Pro


After completing an amazing rappel down a wide cave mouth or over an outstretched ledge on a cliff wall you glance upwards at what was achieved. After taking in the view for a few moments it is time to quickly begin planning the ascent back up. In some unique situations there are no trails that lead back out which means the only way out would be to climb a rappel rope.

Every rappel is unique and requires different methods to both descend and ascend. This could mean that even rock climbing back up could be out of the picture depending on the height and level of difficulty. This is why research must be done prior to any rappel to know if you will need to climb a rappel rope and what techniques or equipment will be needed to do so. There is power in knowledge and making the right preparations beforehand.

Climb a Rappel Rope in a Technical Situation

Imagine dangling from a rope and discovering that you are stuck midair because something is caught in the rappel. Being the wise rappeller you are, a skilled partner was brought with you to assist if an emergency arose. Even a skilled partner can only assist so much to raise or lower their companion or provide additional direction from their point of view. In some cases it will really come down to how prepared you are to successfully solve the problem and safely finish the rappel.

Always prepare for the worst and then there is no need for concern about what could happen. Countless hours should be spent to practice and train for these emergency situations so when this comes up your instincts should jump to the rescue based off your training.

Now let’s jump back into the hypothetical. You are stuck midair and are unable to get close enough to a wall to rock climb back out or relieve some of the tension on the rope to remove the object that is caught in the gear. At this point what should you do? At times a knife could help to carefully cut the caught object but this won’t always work. Don’t sweat any bullets though because many times the tension on the rope and gear from the rappel is too much to loosen what is caught. Tension needs to be removed and the only way to do this is to climb back up the rope. This step would only be taken if the partner is unable to help, rock climbing is out of the question, and a knife would be able to safely remove what is caught or tangled. The technique of climbing up a rappel rope can safely navigate through an issue when a fun activity quickly becomes dangerous.

This is just one of many examples of technical issues that could be crossed when rappelling. are more instances of necessity to climb a rappel rope when a technical issue arises in the rappel equipment being used. The vital technique of learning how to climb a rappel rope must be studied and practiced because it could truly save you in a dire situation, if  or when it arises.

Typical technical issues that would require this skill set would be if a piece of equipment, clothing, or hair gets tangled up in the rappel. The easiest way to untangle anything in this situation and solve this problem would be to reduce the pressure by climbing the rappel. Other scenarios could be the rope getting wedged and caught in a rock which requires ascension to remove the caught rope. Also, while rappelling down it is quickly discovered that the route being taken is unsafe or the rope does not secure touch a flat surface or the base of the cliff. A new route may need to be taken which again will require climbing back up to assess and determine a clean route to rappel.

By mastering these techniques, through proper practice and training, it will help any rappeller ascend their static rappel rope when the time calls. This step may not be used often but when it is needed, your knowledge and experience will be crucial to properly climb up a rappel rope, whether to loosen weight on the stuck item to fix the rappel jam or to ascend after going into a deep cave.

Using a Prusik Knot to Ascend

A Prusik knot is commonly used for ascending a rope because it is a friction hitch. Think cave rappelling, you get in a cave but now you need to climb a rappel rope out because there is no other method out. Tests have shown that the Prusik knot can carry a significant amount of weight and tension in comparison to other knots or methods. This is an excellent choice to support any rappeller’s own body weight or when a knot is needed to hold up more than your personal weight.

Prior to tying a Prusik an Autoblock is needed to safely hold up a rappeller so their hands can be used to tie the Prusik. The Autoblock is a precautionary step that is recommended to be tied prior to the rappel. To learn how to tie please visit the tutorial on How to tie the Autoblock. If an Autoblock is not tied (which in my opinion should always be done prior to any rappel) another basic but safe technique that can be used to remain suspended in the air while allowing free use of both hands to tie the Prusick would be the leg wrap.

The leg wrap can be safely used to temporarily stop. Simply wrap the rope around the leg several times. Your feet should be planted on the surface of the cliff wall with your upper body slightly arched up. For safety concerns I still highly recommend the Autoblock be tied prior to the rappel but the leg wrap is a good plan ‘B’ to keep in mind.

Now with the Autoblock (or leg wrap) safely in place, move the Autoblock up until it is fully engaged. Once engaged both hands can safely be removed from the rope and used to tie the Prusik about a foot above the rappel device. The following steps teach how to tie the Prusik knot:

  1. Tie a double fishermans knot to join two cords (see fisherman’s knot below).
  2. Tie a second double fishermans knot with the other tail. The cords should now make one big circle.
  3. Pull the double fishermans knots together to create a barrel knot.
  4. Take the loop of the cord and place it under the rope.
  5. Wrap the cord around the rope three times. Be sure the wraps stay on the inside of the cord, with the doube fisherman’s at the bottom.

To properly tie the Prusik knot make sure to have additional cord on hand. Always be prepared for anything! By taking proper measures beforehand it will decrease the likelihood of any incident taking place when rappelling.

With the Prusik friction hitch tied it’s important to understand what actions need to be taken based off the given situation, such as whether you would be ascending the rope or trying to unweight the device. The following scenarios will instruct you on what to do:

  • When needing to unweight the device to untangle it or remove a foreign object that is caught in the device. Take two 48 inch slings (double-length sling) and clip it in the friction hitch. Place your feet in each sling once it is clipped in and stand to unweight the device. Now use your hands to remove any object stuck such as clothing, hair, etc. or to untangle the rope now that tension has been eliminated from the device.
  • When needing to climb a rappel rope from a cave rappel or changing the rappel route. If you are rappelling on a double rope you need to start by tying two friction hitches using the Prusik knot. Use two different soft nylon cords, 5mm or 6mm for best results. Both Prusiks will be tied on the rope above the waste, one above the other. Do not overlap. With both Prusiks tied do these steps.
    • On the top Prusik attach the end of the cord to a locking carabiner. A 24 -inch sling will be attached to this locking carabiner and directly to the harness.
    • The bottom Prusik attach the end of the cord to a locking carabiner. Attach two 24 inch slings. Once sling will be attached from the carabiner to the harness. The other sling will dangle and will be used as a foot sling.
    • At this point place the foot in the dangling sling and stand. This will place your weight on the bottom friction hitch (Prusik). Slide the top Prusik up as high as you can.
    • Now sit back in the harness (keep your foot resting in the sling), placing your body weight on the top friction hitch (Prusik). Slide the bottom friction hitch up until the foot resting in the sling’s knee is bent at a 90 degree angle.
    • Stand up in the sling again and repeat the steps of moving the top and bottom hitches. The rope can be used to balance when standing but make sure to not grab and balance on the Prusik hitches. Only use the rope for balance, only make physical contact with the hitches when sliding them up.
    • Continue to repeat the process until the summit is reached. You are moving the speed of a tortoise in this process but be confident in your abilities and take your time so no mistakes are made. This is a slow and awkward method but this basic step can be learned quickly and adapted promptly when the need arises.

Conclusion

Learning how to climb a rappel rope can appear daunting but it is a technique that should be absolutely practiced. It can be extremely effective in getting out of tight spots. Like always seek guidance from trained professionals to ensure that you understand the techniques of rope ascension so you can be in control when these techniques are needed. When you climb a rappel rope new doors of opportunity will be opened to you. Good luck and go exploring, hopefully somewhere that you may not have ventured before now that you are better equipped to navigate the rappel.

Jacob

I love the great outdoors. I've tried to write the go-to info for all the Rappelling enthusiasts out there. Whether you finished your climb or hiked and rappelled down you will find tips, tutorials, and additional resources to help you. I live in Idaho with my wife and three kids and the great outdoors is our playground.

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