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How to rappel in an indoor climbing wall

Picture of How to rappel in an indoor climbing wall
In this article I will show you how to rappel with an ATC (Air Traffic Controller) belay device on an indoor top-roping system.  Please note that climbing is inherently an extreme and dangerous sport and should only be attempted under proper supervision.  You are responsible for your actions and any accidents that may occur.

These instructions should not be attempted on an actual rock face as there is a difference in procedure between an indoor rock gym and a rock face.
 
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Step 1: Prepare for climbing

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Before you start, you will need to get all of your equipment ready to use.  In addition to the supplies required for top roping, you will need an ATC belay device, several carabiners (at least 6 locking), two lengths of tied webbing (use a water knot to tie your tubular webbing), and a belayer.  If you don't know how to tie a water knot, you can find information here.

First double up both of your webbings (if they are too long), so that it reaches from your harness's belay loop to slightly above your head.  Then attach a locking carabiner to one of the webbings and then to the belay loop of your harness.  Lock the carabiner.  Then use another locking carabiner at the other end of the webbing which will be placed on an accessory loop of the harness for now.  Do the same with the other webbing.  Hook the ATC to a locking carabiner and place it on an accessory loop, and keep your extra carabiner on an accessory loop.  You can also bring an extra ATC with you as a backup if you have it.  (I can't tell you how many times I have accidentally dropped equipment when rappelling!)

You can also use extra cords to ensure that you will not drop equipment, however, these can get tangled and in the way very easily.
gmoon2 years ago
OK, long-time climber here, with a little constructive criticism.

There is some good information here, along with some not-so-good. Unfortunately, the good info is a little difficult to follow. I think the organization could be improved.

For instance, a non-climber wouldn't know that you're tying in (clipping in, etc.) with the long yellow runner! You prep it; it's clipped your harness, but at no point to you explicitly say "unclip one end of the webbing loop, and clip that into your anchor, making sure the other end is safely locked to your harness."

It's implied, and the end of the webbing is shown in several photos, but in some there are two runners clipped to anchors, and in others there are one--so someone taking this as instruction for the first time wouldn't really follow this... If you're using two runners to clip in, say so, and show it.

When you clip in, the runner length will depend on the anchor--could be double runner, single runner, quick draw, etc., because the rappel anchors could be at your feet or above your head, or anywhere between.

Remove the photo in step three (4th pic) of all those 'biners clipped together--it's a horrible, unsafe practice (and I bet you know it).

As someone already pointed out, the biners in step three (3rd pic) don't have opposing gates. It's important to know that. Many of us wouldn't hesitate to rap off two draws that aren't lockers (typical practice for sport climbers), but not with the gates like that...

And that's not a locking biner on the anchor in step three. Well...I've done that if necessary, but DON'T do it in an illustrated guide. Seriously.

Also, you haven't explained the difference between a single-rope rappel and a double-rope rappel. Or why most rappels are double-rope...

There are TONS of other safety considerations when rappelling:

--Is there any loose rock that the rope or webbing can dislodge on rappel?
--Are there cracks or boulders where the rope could get stuck? Even knowing which end of the rope to pull can be of vital importance.
--zip up your jacket and keep and straps, gear (and hair!) away from the rappel device...
--Keep a small knife on your rack to cut objects like that that get sucked into the ATC. It's dangerous to use a knife around the gear, but it beats waiting two days for rescue.
--If rapping with a pack fasten that sternum strap--other wise the pack will keep slipping off your brake arm.
--DON'T weight the sling (webbing) before you lock the biner. If it's a screwlock type, they can jam (seen it, and had to cut another climber out of her anchor).
--If possible, weight the rappel setup BEFORE unclipping from the anchor.
--Don't "shock weight" ANYTHING.

CHECK, RECHECK, AND CHECK AGAIN, BEFORE YOU GO ON RAPPEL. Make sure you're wearing your harness correctly. Unlike climbing, rappelling depends 100% on the equipment.

Using a fireman's belay for a rapping climber is good practice.

And use the voice commands "ON RAPPEL" and "OFF RAPPEL", and make sure the other climbers understand them. One time a climber (yokel) above me almost yanked me off a ledge--I was removing the rope from the rappel device, but wasn't "safe", and he savagely pulled on the rope, thinking I was off rappel--I wasn't. Since it was a multipitch route, I wasn't on the ground, even though I was at the end of the rap.
thegeekkid (author)  gmoon2 years ago
Thank you for your advice, I appreciate constructive criticism. The photo in step 3 (4th pic) was taken just because I didn't have any quick draws (which would normally be used in that senerio). I do know that to use multiple biners together is a very bad practice, but I just wanted to have something there (and I did leave a comment that this would not be used in a real situation... that was about 2 ft off the ground). If you think it would be better to have nothing than what I do have, I will take your advice and remove it. (Please confirm that you think that it would be better to take the picture out.)

Step three (3rd pic) is both locking, and opposing... are you sure you are thinking of the right pic?

Regarding biner on the anchor in step three... I will re-take that picture the next time I am at work... with a locking. I tend not to use locking on that end when I am at work for what I normally have to do and here's why:
Normally I am belayed up on one side of our wall, and I have to traverse across to the other side. I stay safe because I am in fact using three webbings in this senerio, and moving them over one at a time as I move across. In this manner, there are at least two hooked up at any given time (and most of the time, three), should I fall. It is too much hassle to use a screwgate for every time I am moving those over, and there are at least two hooked up, so the possibility of both failing at the same time is practically 0. There would be more chance of me making a mistake if I was using screwgates for every change. (I have considered using auto/quick locks, but they would get caught in the anchors.)

Keep in mind that I am only telling people how to do this in an indoor wall... not outdoor. The following would not be concerns for indoor walls:
1. Loose rock that can dislodge on rappel
2. Cracks or boulders for the rope to get stuck
3. Knife to cut objects that get stuck in the ATC (although I will admit that I always have at least a small one with me; even indoors... I might still add this one)
4. Rappelling with a pack... unless you are practicing for an outdoor climb, you wouldn't have a pack

The rest are good points. I would assume that you wouldn't mind if I put those in my safety concerns step (crediting you, of course)... correct?

Quick note about weighting the slings before you lock the biner:
You are very correct, I should have added that, and I will as soon as I have time to make all these edits. One trick that I have found (and you probably all ready know this... I'm just adding it in here for anyone who doesn't), if someone has weight on the biner when they lock it, and it locks up (as it will), when trying to un-lock it, put weight on it again. About 80% of the time it will loosen up enough to unlock. Be sure to retire it should it lock up like this. (If that trick doesn't work... pliers always come in handy... but they damage the biner.)

Fireman's belay is a good practice... I will add it in. Thanks for the reminder.

I did mention to check your equipment... but I will emphasize it more.

Those commands are not a bad idea... again, thanks for the reminder.

Thank you for commenting in a way that I don't feel as if I'm on the defensive. I really do appreciate it. I work at an indoor climbing gym, but I don't have a ton of actual rock face experience, I really appreciate advice from those who do have the experience. :)
thegeeke2 years ago
OK, you made some good edits, but still this should only be used indoors (as you stated).

I realize that it is difficult to teach this online, but maybe you should pay closer attention before you publish. I get how there is an urge to type it up and publish it, but you have to fight it. You are a fantastic instructor in real life (unless there have been some major changes since I quit), so don't sell yourself short online.

Little side note here:
It's funny that you're the one who talked me into joining, but you are just now writing your first instructable! ;)

I would like to see you write some stuff on the basics too. I know you wrote this one for that contest, but you should have covered the basics first.
thegeekkid (author)  thegeeke2 years ago
OK, thanks for the advice.

There have been quite a few changes since you left, but I would say they're for the better.

I guess I might have to do some on the basics too...
No problem. Are you going to be working Sat? I'm in the area, I might stop by.
thegeekkid (author)  thegeeke2 years ago
Yes, I am there this Saturday.
aeray2 years ago
"Carabiner" is the correct spelling. Please correct it.

I've been climbing and mountaineering for over 20 years, mostly trad, and mistakes like this, and others in the 'ible, don't inspire confidence, especially when included in a purported "how-to" guide. I probably wouldn't climb with you after reading this Instructable.

Rappelling, while an important skill to have, is much more dangerous than climbing, and I avoid it if possible. I much prefer the actual climbing, and I think that a few basic climbing instructables would be much more appropriate and well-received than this one.
thegeekkid (author)  aeray2 years ago
Thanks for the correct spelling... my spell check couldn't find it, and another site spelled it carribeaner, so I assumed that was the correct spelling.

Please understand that I am mostly an indoor climber, and this is specifically for indoor gyms, not on an actual rock face. I am in the process of correcting some of the other mistakes in the 'ible... again, I normally do a little more than just rappelling when I am at work, so I take extra precautions in those circumstances. I guess I will be changing some things here... I'm sorry that you wouldn't feel safe climbing with me after reading this, however, my specialty is indoor climbing. I am actually considered to be one of the indoor safety experts in my area. (Although there are only 2 climbing gyms in my area, so I guess that doesn't say much!) ;)

Rappelling is an important skill to have, however, I would disagree with you that it is more dangerous than climbing; assuming it's done correctly.

I appreciate your input, and would appreciate it if after a few days, you could look over the instructable again, as I hope to make my changes within 2-3 days. I would also appreciate any specific suggestions that you might have after I've made corrections. I would consider un-publishing it temporarily, but I think that would remove all comments, and I don't want to do that at this point.

Thanks!
-thegeekkid
I'll do that. By the way, here is a link to the AAI site discussing rappelling vs. climbing safety. The first paragraph is the important one.

http://alpineinstitute.blogspot.com/2009/06/rappelling-safety.html



thegeekkid (author)  aeray2 years ago
Hmmm... I would have guessed leading would be considered the most dangerous... either that or not checking equipment... but I guess I'm wrong. Thanks for the article!
gmoon2 years ago
For some strange reason, I cannot reply to a reply--it's been happening with regularity here, so I have to make a new comment to reply to yours.

Hey -- get outside and climb, if you can! It's really the best. I started top-roping outside, and graduated to trad leads and sport climbing. There's always more to learn, but you seem well on your way...

Re: Step Three, pic 3--I've checked it again to make sure I wasn't mistaken, and yes, those 'biners are not in "opposing gate" configuration. Several other people here commented on it as well.

If the left biner rotated so the gates were on the same side, the gates would be facing the same way. "Opposing gates" means that when both gates are on the same side, they face opposite directions, so if you press on both gates at the same time, they form an "X". That X shape blocks the rope or webbing from slipping out.

You can't just rotate the gates away from each other and call that "opposing gates", as they can easily rotate back and the gates will be together.

Take two biners in your hand with the same orientation, and simply flip one over--now they are "opposed," regardless of whether the gates are on the same side or not.
thegeekkid (author)  gmoon2 years ago
Opps... the replying is my fault. I marked your comment as a feature comment (it stays at the top of all the comments), but for some reason when you mark it as sticky it can't be replied to. Sorry about that!

I try to climb outdoors as much as I can... but I have three jobs, and am a full time student at my local college... so I don't exactly have a ton of extra time! ;) I did do some climbing in the catskills last summer though... that picture in the intro is from that climb. Talk about fun! :) I always enjoy learning new things... that's part of the reason I posted this instructable... I figured there would be people who knew more than I do that would post suggestions... like you! Thank you so much!

Now that I look at it, you are correct that they are not in opposing configuration... however, they are screwgates, so it shouldn't matter... right?
Carabiners have been known to break, so the idea of opposing gates is just a little more "redundancy" in your anchor system. When using lockers it probably wouldn't matter so much, but it's worth clarifying--especially in a tutorial.

Teaching others carries a whole other level of "correctness"--you can fudge the "rules" of climbing (at your own peril), but it's always better to teach others to be over-cautious. They can make up their own minds later, whether something is a "rule" or a "guideline." ;-)

Thanks for the patch--Climb on!
thegeekkid (author)  gmoon2 years ago
OK, I understand.

I do understand that it carries a whole other level of correctness, but as thegeeke (who I used to work with) said, it's much easier to teach in person than over the internet. I guess I just need to take a closer look at what I wrote before I publish.

No problem! You deserve it just for putting up with me! :)
50-502 years ago
This is not very extreme.And thease are bad instuctions.
Let us have proof that you went and actualy DID something extreme.
(like doing a multi pitch off that big-wall) Then I just might vote for you.
thegeekkid (author)  50-502 years ago
I agree that rappelling isn't as extreme as some things... but it is more extreme than other things! :)

If you are referring to the rock face in the intro picture, that is from a climb that I did the Catskills in 2011... I don't have any more proof than a couple pics of the scenery. :'( If you are refering to the climbing wall where I took the instructional pics at, I suppose I could do a multi-pitch... although it isn't that big of a wall. (20 ft.) "That big-wall" isn't that descriptive... please rephrase. :)

Could you please tell me why these are bad instructions? I am always looking for constructive criticism. (If you are going to say it's unsafe... I assure you that it is... please see my comments to alexmac131... if there is any other safety concern, please list it.)
Big-Wall refers to rock faces that are more than 200m.
thegeekkid (author)  50-502 years ago
Right, but it sounded like you were referring to a specific picture I had. Sorry for the confusion. It seems like it may not be an issue anyway, since after I made an edit, my instructable isn't in the contest anyway.

I would not have a problem doing a multi pitch off a 200 m wall if I had the time, but I have three jobs and I'm a full time student, so I don't think I'll be doing that anytime soon. Sounds like fun though! :)
alexmac1312 years ago
Who is the body that is doing your certifications ?


No slip knot while rappeling, so you get wacked on the head on a rapple and proceed to the bottom.

There is no knot in the end of the rope , a common problem is people rappeling off the end, yes in this case the end is already on the floor. Good habits make safe climbs when the ends are out of site and not at the ground.

I climb Alpine, Ice, Trad, Sport, Aid and big wall. I am a professional instructor.

ACMG and IFMGA are the two certifcation bodies I respect

http://www.acmg.ca/ Association of Canadian Mountain Guides
http://www.ifmga.info/ International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations

These instuctions for inside, maybe passable, but consider the audience, people take these and go out and do them , indoors and outdoors.

Knots are basic, someone takes this photo , goes to REI or MEC and away they go .


Anyway....
thegeekkid (author)  alexmac1312 years ago
Oh... and by the way... I did a quick search on rappelling, and found this instructable:
http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to%3A-Rappelling-without-any-gear!/

While this will work if there is no other option and it is a life or death situation, you will have to admit that my instructable is much safer. How is it that mine is getting so much criticism and all he got was one comment about safety and the rest saying "that has got to hurt"?

Mine tells people how to do what it claims to do and that is rappelling in a top rope indoor climbing wall. I'm just asking, because it just seems a little weird.
thegeekkid (author)  alexmac1312 years ago
I am certified through the Chubb heights rescue program.

I agree that this procedure is only for indoor climbing. I did specifically add that into my intro.

I did say that you should technically take the knot out, but if it reaches the floor than it is safe as long as the knot is on the floor.

And did make it very clear that people need to know what they are doing before they attempt this.
alexmac1312 years ago
As a climber of 30 years these directions are unsafe.

Please, rappel is the most dangerous area of climbing

There is no safe on the atc to assist in decent speed, this does not cover breaking, or buddy belay , prusik knot with the atc, the diagram shows the rope over the pike or single ancor.

the ancor to safey is a non locker , not doubled and opposing,.

yes there is a policy of being nice but this instuctable will get people killled and waiver or not exposes the website.
thegeekkid (author)  alexmac1312 years ago
I have been climbing for 12 years, and this method has never failed me. I am also certified as a heights safety instructor. The ATC is actually considered one of the safer devices to rappel with on a top roping system, which is what I specifically stated this article was for.

I agree that rappelling is one of the more dangerous areas of climbing, and should only be attempted under professional instruction.

Some of your comment is worded very oddly, so forgive me if I mis-understand something that you said.

In terms of speed on the ATC, it can be controlled very easily. The speed is controlled by how fast you let it through the device and the angle that it is held at. (Resistance is also controlled by the angle.) I did cover breaking... in the pictures as well as the text. (Step 6)

I did not cover belay because if you are rappelling, you should already know how to belay, which you would be taught first assuming you seek professional instruction before attempting to belay, which I did specifically state you need to seek professional instruction before attempting this. (More than once)

Knots are not covered in this article because that is something you should already know before attempting to rappel. If you are referring to the single anchor the rope is attached to, (which is called a weight bar), this is considered to be the safest possible setup for an indoor climbing gym, which is where I work and took the pictures at.

The carribeaner that attaches the webbing to the anchor is a quick release, yes. The reason is that I am using two webbing setups (one for each side). This accomplishes two things:
1. Should one fail, it then has a redundant backup, and
2. It keeps you balanced on the wall rather than swinging all over the place.
This is safe because:
A. you have two quick releases, and although they are not negated (which is the term for doubled and opposing), they are about 2-3 ft. apart, which would reduce the chance of them both coming out at the same time much more than negating them would.
B. Your weight is on it pretty much the whole time you are relying on it, which when your weight is on the carribeaner, even if the gate were to open, it is physically impossible for the carribeaner to come unattached from the anchor unless something is pushing/pulling it up that is grater than your body weight.
C. I do not say you have to use quick release carribeaners, I do mention that you can use a locking instead. I just find that the locking carribeaners are more trouble than they are worth in this rappelling method.

Also, I did have my Dad (who has been climbing for 40+ years, and was also on ski patrol for a living at one time... so I would consider him to be an expert in heights safety expert) to proof read this for technical errors before I published it. Please note that he does not like the ATC, and uses the figure-8 belay device almost exclusively... so he is not in any way biased...

In terms of the be nice policy, I do not consider you to be in violation of it. You are not attacking me personally, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As a professional climbing instructor, if I saw something that I believed to be unsafe, I would not hesitate to post something similar to what you did. (I would just be a little clearer about the way I phrased it...)
thegeekkid (author) 2 years ago
If you liked this article, please vote for it in the "Extreme" contest!

Thanks for reading! :)
thegeekkid (author)  thegeekkid2 years ago
thegeekkid (author)  thegeekkid2 years ago
And there is a banner at the top.
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