How to Rappel in an Indoor Climbing Wall

About: I currently work in a climbing wall as my main job, but I am majoring in Computer Internetworking Technologies, with an emphasis on computer forensics. I love to work with all electronics.

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

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.

Step 2: Climb to the Top!

First, you will have to get to the top of whatever structure you are rappelling from.  Don't forget to use proper belay commands (On Belay?  Belay is on!  Climbing?  Climb on!  Take!  Break is on!/On Me!)

It might help to use a carabiner through your crotch strap and belay loop rather than tying yourself in with a figure 8.

Step 3: Tie Yourself In

After you are at the point you want to rappel from, you can hook yourself in.  There are a number of different anchor points you can hook into, but they all have one thing in common: You need a redundant backup!

Weight bar:
Some top ropes will be wrapped around a "weight bar" at the top of the climbing wall.  These bars will have two "holes" on each side of the bar.  You will take one of the locking carabiners attached to the webbing off of your accessory loop, and clip it into one side, and the other carabiner from the other webbing into the other side of the weight bar.  Make sure to lock your carabiners.

Two quick draws:
Some top ropes will be setup through two quick draw carabiners (Most will have the quick release carabiner replaced with locking carabiners in a permanent setup).  You will unclip one of the carabiners attached to the webbing from your accessory loop, and clip that into one of the anchors, and then unclip the other carabiner from your accessory loop and attach that to the other anchor.  Make sure to lock your carabiners.

Eye hook:
Some climbing walls will have "eye hooks" as you go up the wall.  These will hold your weight if you do not want to go all the way to the top, however, it is best to use two at the same time as a redundant backup, so unless there are two already in the wall where you want to rappel from, bring an extra one with you.  Clip into these the same as you would the anchors listed above.  Make sure to lock your carabiner.

Step 4: Test Your Connections

Testing your connections is the most important step in ensuring that you will not fall.  To test your connections, you will ask your belayer for slack in the rope, then lean back on your webbings to make sure that they are supporting your weight.  You should have enough slack in the rope so that it is obvious that the rope is not holding you.

Step 5: Preparing to Rappel

After you are sure your webbings will hold you, use the command "Off Belay!".  Your belayer will disconnect from the rope.  As the belayer is disconnecting from the rope, you can start to untie the knot that attaches your harness to the rope.  (Or if you used a locking carabiner, start to unhook the carabiner.)  After the knot is untied and the belayer has responded "Belay is off!", you can lower the inside end if the rope so that it is even with the outside end of the rope, and preferably on the ground.  (If the wall you are climbing at leaves knots in the rope, and/or the knot is too tight to untie quickly, you can lower it so that both the outside rope and the knot are touching the floor... however, it is the "text book way" and the safer way to untie the knot.)

After both ends of the rope are even on the floor, you will then take the carabiner and the ATC belay device from your accessory loop and attach it to the belay loop of your harness.  (You can attach it to the crotch strap and belay loop, but it makes it almost impossible to put the ropes through so I don't recommend it unless you have had some experience working with ropes while attached to them.)

Hold the ATC up so that one "hole" is closest to the wall and the other is closest to you.  If you are right handed (or are used to belaying right handed), you will want to make sure that the excess rope is coming out to your right once you hook the rope into the belay device.  Reverse that for lefties.  You will want to move both ends of the rope to whichever side of your body the excess rope will be coming out, and make sure that both of them are in front of you and one isn't behind you stuck on the webbing.  This happens quite frequently.  Once you have moved both ends of the rope to whichever side you want them on, squeeze the inside rope through the hole that is closest to the wall on the ATC.  Then squeeze the outside rope through the hole that is closest to you on the ATC.  You should then have a small loop of rope on the ATC.  Clip the carabiner through both loops of rope (and it should already be through the wire holding the ATC).

Step 6: Testing Connections Again

Now you will need to test your ATC connection to be sure that it will hold you.  Climb up the wall a foot or two and pull the slack through the ATC by pulling the excess rope up and through.  Then lock it by pushing straight down on the rope so that it creates a break in the rope with the ATC.  Lean back on the rope to be sure the ATC is holding you.  There should be obvious slack in the webbings, so that you can be sure it is the rope and not the webbings that is holding you.  If the rope is holding you, you can unhook the webbings while keeping a hand breaking the rope at all times.  NEVER take your hand off of the break for ANY reason!!!!!

Step 7: Rappel Down

Now that you are completely relying on the rope, use the command "On Rappel".  This command means that you are about to come down.  Your belayer (or anyone below you) should respond "Off Rappel".  This means that they are totally disconnected from the rope and you can start to come down.  Lean back like you are sitting in a chair, put the bottoms of your feet (the soles of your shoes) flat against the wall (as if the wall is the floor), pushing your body away from the wall with your feet, and slowly start to let the rope through the ATC and walk down the wall as you come down.

Once you are at the bottom of the wall, you can unhook everything from your harness.

Step 8: Safety Concerns

As I said in the intro, climbing is inherently dangerous, as is rappelling, so you should only rappel under the guidance of professional instructors until you are good enough that you can do it in your sleep.  There are a number of safety concerns that you should be aware of that are not just limited to rappelling, but every part of rock climbing.

1.  Suspension Trauma:
Suspension trauma is a condition that occurs when you have your weight sitting in a harness for too long.  The harness will interfere with your blood flow.  Your heart will be strong enough to pump blood down into your legs, but not back out; basically you are bleeding to death inside your own body.  Your blood is then pooling down in your legs causing your muscles to die, which then in turn releases toxins into your blood.  Because all of your blood is pooling in your legs, your brain has reduced blood flow so you will eventually pass out.  Most climbing harnesses are rated between 15 and 20 min before suspension trauma will start to set in, but you should check your documentation to be sure of the rating.  Always make sure you are on the ground at least 5 min. before the time rating so that you can allow for any unexpected event.  Some cheap "safety" harnesses have as little as 4 min. before suspension trauma becomes critical.  If you suspect that someone has suspension trauma, or if someone passes out while on a climbing wall, try to keep them standing up and walking around, or at worst, sitting.  DO NOT Let Them LIE DOWN!  The pooling of the blood can cause clotting, which is why you want them walking around.   Call a paramedic immediately, and explain to them as best you can what is happening.  Many paramedics (at least in Illinois) have not heard of suspension trauma, but there is another condition called compression syndrome that they will know about, so you can always tell them that the victim has something similar to compression syndrome (an older term is closed cell injury).  Suspension Trauma is the number one cause of fatalities in rock climbing.

2.  Equipment breakage:
Safety equipment does not last forever, so be sure to check carabiners for signs of wear or problems with their operation, ropes for signs of stress (this needs to be done after every hard fall... many ropes will need to be retired after one hard fall), webbing for signs of stress, knots to be sure they are tied correctly, and your climbing partner to be sure they are hooked up correctly.  This should be done before every climb.  Also be sure to check your knots before using them.

3.  Climber error:
Some times you can make a mistake when connecting your equipment.  Always test your connections before using them, especially when switching to a new connection mid-air.  If something doesn't seem right (even if it is something that you think wouldn't matter), be sure not to use it, and have your belayer lower you down. 

4.  Speed:
Be sure to come down slowly when you are rappelling - you are not in the movies.  As you come down, the friction on the ATC causes extreme heat build up if you come down fast.  In some cases, you will not be able to slow down, or it could damage or even burn through the rope.  (Not to mention that you can burn yourself.)  If you do come down fast by accident, do not slow down or stop, keep going at the speed you are descending at, but do not speed up.  Gloves are also very nice for rope work, so that if you start to go fast, you can let the rope slide through your hand without rope burn.

Special thanks to gmoon for reminding me about the following:

5.  Clothing and hair:
Be sure that any part of you such as your clothing, hair, etc. can't get caught in the belay device.  If at all possible, take everything that you don't need off before climbing (jacket, extra straps, etc.).  Also, you should never wear jewelry when climbing.  Necklaces and dangly earrings can get caught in ropes, rocks, equipment, etc, so never wear them.  Tight watches on the opposite side of your belay hand are fine, as well as studs in your ears, but nothing more than studs or watches.

6.  Equipment lockup:
Never lock the carabiner once it is holding any weight.  You will damage it, and it will not want to unlock.  If this happens, put weight on it when you are trying to unlock it, and sometimes it will unlock easier.  If it does lock up, retire the carabiner immediately.

7.  Check your connections:
As I said in steps 4 and 6, always put your weight on your webbings and rappel setup before unhooking from your rope and webbings.

8.  Hard falls (AKA "Shock weighting):
NEVER stress your equipment by "jumping" on it, or by falling on it when there is any slack in it.  This is especially true with any type of static line.  Webbings, and assault rope are both static lines.  Should you have any slack in a static line and fall, retire it immediately.

Step 9: Fireman's Belay

Special thanks to gmoon for reminding me about this one:

A good practice (especially on your first few rappels) would be to have a buddy/belayer use a "fireman's belay" at the bottom.  Basically what they will do is hold the rope loosely as you are coming down, and should something happen to you (you pass out, freak out, get knocked out, etc.), they will pull straight down, (taking out all the slack between them and the ATC), which will break for you until you can regain control.  If you are incapacitated and they are experienced, they can also adjust the angle at which the rope is held, slowly letting you down, which makes this method superior to other backup methods because your buddy/belayer can let you down, rather than having you stuck there dieing from suspension trauma.

Step 10: Conclusion

If you have any questions about rappelling, please leave a comment, I am very happy to answer them.  I can not stress enough that climbing and rappelling are both very dangerous when not done correctly, and you should seek professional instruction before attempting to do either.

Special thanks to Gmoon for helping me on this article.

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    26 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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. :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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...


    7 years ago on Introduction

    "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.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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.



    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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! :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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.)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    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! :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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 Association of Canadian Mountain Guides 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 .


    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Oh... and by the way... I did a quick search on rappelling, and found this instructable:!/

    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.