Self-belay during rappelling

Self-belaying is accomplished while rappelling through the use of prusik slings which the climber attaches to the rope. While rappelling the climber must pull down on the prusik sling with a clenched palm while the prusik is still not cinched. The rappelling climber can then bring rappelling to a halt at any time by letting go of the prusik and allowing it to hitch the rope. Afterward she will be able to release the rappel device and the prusik with both hands without sliding any further downward. At the same time, self-belaying with a prusik will brake a downward slide along the rope if the rappelling climber is injured, for example by a falling rock, and has lost consciousness. There are several prusik hitches which can be used for self-belaying while rappelling. The best is the double prusik, or the Machard prusik. On a doubled rope, which is the one most often used for rappelling, a double prusik adjusted for a doubled rope is very good. Caution must be taken for the strands of the rope to be clearly threaded through the prusik hitch. At the same time the rope must not be twisted. Prior to beginning rappelling it is necessary to check whether the selected prusik hitch is catching on the doubled rope. In case of doubt it is good to use a double prusik adjusted for doubled rope instead.

When rappelling, be careful marking the middle of the rope with tape. If rappelling proceeds across the tape, the prusik will need to be loosened slightly as it passes across the tape. Otherwise the prusik could grip it, or pull the tape off.

The climber should always tie the prusik sling to the belay loop of the seat harness in such a way that she will be able to sit into the prusik sling. There are various places to tie a prusik sling. Here are two possible options: beneath the rappel device or above it.

Prusik placed beneath the rappel device

This is the recommended method. This method of self-belay while rappelling is useful primarily when rappelling over unstable terrain, such as in the mountains, where there is significant risk of falling rocks. It is extremely important for the prusik sling not to reach the rappel device from below! For this reason it is wise to fasten the rappel device to the seat harness using a runner, ideally a flat webbing runner sewn in a loop. You can fasten it to the seat harness using a locking carabiner or a prusik. It is not good, however, for the rappel device to then be too high up close to the face of the rappelling climber, since this will then pose a risk of catching hair in the rappel device. It is optimal to have the rappel device somewhere at the level of the chest bone.

Extension sling setup, which separates the rappel device from the seat harness, creating a space for a self-belaying prusik under the rappel device.

Extension sling setup, which separates the rappel device from the seat harness, creating a space for a self-belaying prusik under the rappel device.

The reason to prevent the prusik sling from reaching the belay device is simple. As soon as the prusik sling presses against the rappel device from below, the prusik in the sling would then either fail to hitch (the prusik would stop working, self-belay would be lost; this is how it works only with certain rappel devices, e.g. for those based on the principle of the Sticht plate), or the prusik sling would be drawn along with rope into the rappel device (this occurs e.g. with the frequently used rappel eight), and then rappelling would come to a complete stop because the prusik sling and rappel eight would become tangled and mutually brake each other.

Prusik placed beneath a rappel device, variation with figure 8.

Prusik placed beneath a rappel device, variation with figure 8.

Prusik placed beneath a rappel device, variation with tube.

Prusik placed beneath a rappel device, variation with tube.

An advantage of placing the prusik sling beneath the rappel device is the distribution of the weight of the climber at the moment when you release the prusik with your hand and allow it to hitch on the rope so that rappelling can come to a stop. At this moment the climber is loading both the rappel device and the prusik beneath the rappel device. The load is thereby equally distributed and the prusik sling is not strained as much. At this moment the prusik actually replaces the hand which you would normally hold the rope with beneath the rappel device.

More in e-book.

Title Part 3Mountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-09-3

MMPublishing, 2013

Available for download from Apple iTunes (in the Books section).

For example U.S. store – link

Another countries – look on the page Download

See layout.

Another possibility is Google Play. This version is a simplified (as PDF).

Title Part 3 GPMountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-14-7

MMPublishing, 2014

Available for download from Google Play.