Don't let go!!!

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Re: Don't let go!!!

Postby ek » Apr 17, 2012 9:59 pm

Having personally caught a falling rappeller by bottom belaying, who would otherwise very likely have had to have been backboarded, hauled out of the cave, hospitalized, and possibly permanently paralyzed or brain-damaged, I disagree with the folks who say it never works or that it's always more dangerous to do it than not. I've bottom belayed many, many people on that particular drop, without ever being injured by rockfall.

However, as others have said, it's a judgment call in each particular situation. Except in extremely clean drops, standing in the rockfall zone is a very bad idea. But usually it is possible to stand sufficiently to the side or, more often, under sufficient cover to make the risk of being hit by a rock very small indeed. A more serious problem with bottom belaying is that, for a long enough drop, it tends not to be effective. And it should not be considered a sure thing to work, even for a shorter drop.

I think bottom belays are more important for beginners but I think it's not limited to them. Sometimes someone may not want a bottom belay for various reasons, but unless someone expresses their desire not to have one (and you know they are sufficiently experienced to make that call), I think one should weigh the various factors and make a decision. For experienced cavers, often time (progressing more quickly through the cave) is a good reason not to bother with them. But every time I am on a trip, I think about whether or not bottom belaying would make sense, and if I think it would, I offer (or request) it. Occasionally I think a bottom belay might be a good idea, and an experienced caver refuses it. But I've never had anyone object to my bringing up the question.

Billy wrote:Not to further quibble/nitpick, but this guy is not in a climbing situation, he is canyoneering. He is also doing a single rope (instead of a doubled rope) rap. Climbers almost always (actually I don't know anyone, but I'm sure someone will correct me on on a new burgeoning style or area where it is done) double rope rap.

Rappelling on a doubled rope is a nice way to get your rope down afterwards, and to avoid having to reconfigure it too much after (or occasionally, as in toproping, before) climbing. But doubling a rope is not primarily done as a safety measure. It does increase friction, but you might use your device somewhat differently to compensate, and if you let go of just one side (or it slipped or broke), the rope would run through the top and come down. While rock and ice climbing, I (and other climbers including those far more experienced) have rappelled on single ropes, though this is most often done with a dedicated rappel line that is not also climbed on.
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Re: Don't let go!!!

Postby potholer » Apr 18, 2012 9:26 am

I'd only tend to bottom-belay novices, though then I tend to do it from very much sideways where I can, which works out much more automatic on short pitches than doing it from close to the natural rope bottom.
Typically with novices, pitches only would be short, rarely above 20m.

A well-sideways position means that from having some vague initial tension, as the person descends it requires me to pay out rope to avoid tension/braking building up, rather than my having to take up slack to counter stretch the way I would if closer to the landing place, so even if they try to plummet, all I have to do is keep hold of the rope and feel the tension build as they slow down.

It's also often easier to see what they're doing while off to the side and fairly simple to keep paying out rope a little ahead of time such that the novice doesn't feel any interference unless they suddenly speed up.
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Re: Don't let go!!!

Postby Cody JW » Apr 18, 2012 11:48 am

I think common sense tells you that another good time to use a bottom belay is when you try a new device for the first time. Above or under ground. I know the first time I tried a mini rack with no hyper bar I was VERY glad I had the sense to have a bottom belay, if not I would be pushing up dandelions right about now. I agree with EK ( nice to see you back EK) on novices, I saved the life of one once because of a bottom belay. I went to a race last summer with the guy and he thanked me 10 years later.
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Re: Don't let go!!!

Postby potholer » Apr 18, 2012 12:00 pm

For checking out a new device, I'd be tempted to try it with a knot in the rope, or with some safety like a prussik or a shunt.
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Re: Don't let go!!!

Postby Randy88fj62 » Aug 2, 2012 10:06 am

I recently started caving and I have been canyoneering for over four years. The video is from Rubio Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains near LA. It is a popular beginner canyon and is also used by Alpine Training Services to take guided tours. The rappeller did not extend his rappel device from his harness and the autoblcck knot he was using as his backup was too long and jammed against his device when he let go. His rappel device acted as a prusik minder and he took the fall.

If I take anyone canyoneering that is unsure of their skill then I extend their rappel device if they want a backup. I also rig contingency anchors with a fugure eight in case they get stuck and need to be lowered. In most situations we rarely use a back up when canyoneering. If needed we can easily provide a fireman's belay. If I am the first one down an unknown drop then I will rig a backup unless it's in water.

I hope this added some good info to the thread, feel free to ask any canyoneering questions as I'm sure I'll be asking a lot of caving questions.
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Re: Don't let go!!!

Postby Jeff Bartlett » Aug 3, 2012 1:25 pm

Randy88fj62 wrote:The rappeller did not extend his rappel device from his harness and the autoblcck knot he was using as his backup was too long and jammed against his device when he let go. His rappel device acted as a prusik minder and he took the fall.

That is very good insight; thanks for contributing and welcome to the forum. Many of us are familiar with Prusik-Minding Pulleys (PMP), but the unintentional Prusik-Minding Descender (PMD??) is a new one to me! As noted by others above, this person's rappelling technique (leaning forward, "downclimbing" more than letting the descender do the work) seems to confirm that he is a novice being introduced to the sport. Hopefully the very scary-looking mishap hasn't scared him off for good.

As for questions, that's what we're here for. Lots of experienced folks on this forum who can help you get started, and the archived threads are an extensive resource for many frequently-asked questions.
"Although it pains me to say it, in this case Jeff is right. Plan accordingly." --Andy Armstrong
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