French Wrap Self-Belay

Discuss vertical caving, equipment, & techniques. Also visit the NSS Vertical Section.

Moderator: Tim White

French Wrap Self-Belay

Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 18, 2005 10:12 am

For years, there has been discussions about the merits of using a self-belay (rappel safety) while rappelling. Some say they're great. Some say they're terrible.

Recently, the French Wrap has been publicized as the new self-belay of choice. Gordon Birkhimer wrote an article about it that was published in the August 2005 issue of the NSS News. Gordon and Mike "TinY" Manke also wrote other articles found here: LINK (PDF, 215kb).

Bruce W. Smith wrote a letter to the editor rebutting Gordon's NSS News article. This letter is reprinted below with permission from the author.



French Wrap Self-Belay

In the August issue (NSS News, August 2005, Volume 63 #8), there was a Safety and Techniques article presenting the virtues of the French Wrap. Mr. (Gordon) Birkhimer has on numerous occasions demonstrated his skills as a rappeller, however it is grossly apparent that he does not understand the full knowledge of how to use a rack if he uses it with a French Wrap. He even mentioned that it was necessary for him to attach the connection loop under his thigh in a manner that allowed the connection wrap to extend between his legs when he rappelled El Capitan in Yosemite. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the limits that the French Wrap places on a rack user.

A rappeller using a rack should be acutely aware of how the rope leaves the bottom engaged bar, insuring that it is in capture position (Max left or Max right for some). In other words, the bottom bar should be captured by the rope as it encircles it. As one removes a bar or adds a bar it is often necessary to change brake hands to maintain this safe approach to rappelling. This results in changing the hip that one brakes with. If this is not done, folks removing bars will lose the bars in even numbers (either 8 to 6 to 4 or 7 to 5 to 3). A French Wrap totally limits the user from using both hips. You cannot change bars one at a time with a French Wrap. It has been conjectured that the rappelling death on El Capitan was the result of someone removing a bar and losing two. It has also been one of the suspicions presented that cause the death of Alexia Hampton in Fern Cave's Surprise Pit. This gets worse if the user desires to change hips to safely effect a brake bar change and cannot because his rope is tied to his other leg. Someone using a French Wrap with a rappel rack does not completely understand how to use the device. I asked Mr. Birkhimer how he negotiated El Capitan when it became necessary to add bars during his descent. I heard him tell me that he never had to change bars. This could be possible if his rack was long enough, but it leaves me scratching my head.

There is no question that Mr. Birkhimer presents a real concern regarding the dangerous nature of rappelling but his solution of using a French Wrap, I believe is a dangerous one. I have always believed strongly in the philosophy proposed in On Rope, Page 212, middle column, 3rd paragraph and that multi-tasking while rappelling is a recipe for disaster.

Bruce W. Smith




Personally, I am glad to see Bruce share his thoughts on this issue. I have had the same thoughts as well. The French Wrap limits the function of a rack, possibly enough to make it unsafe.
Scott McCrea
SWAYGO
User avatar
Scott McCrea
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 3198
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 3:07 pm
Location: Asheville, NC USA
NSS #: 40839RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Flittermouse Grotto
  

Postby hunter » Oct 18, 2005 12:04 pm

I read this article in the NSS news and had another concern about the French Wrap. Someone correct me if I am wrong but this system relies on the rappel device being used correctly. The little loop shown is not designed to hold the climber independently. The incident out east where an experienced caver died due to his Stop coming off the rope comes to mind as a case where the French Wrap wouldn't have helped (I am of course assuming that little loop fails...).
Following up on this, is convenience the only reason for using the French Wrap instead of a shunt or prussik as a backup? Seems like the hassle of tending the safety would be worth the extra protection.
Also, is there a way of rigging the French Wrap as weight bearing? I can think of some convoluted ways to do this and keep it basically non-tending but a device failure would shock load the system because the attachment point is so low on the rope.

James Hunter
hunter
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 395
Joined: Sep 9, 2005 9:47 am
Location: New Mexico
  

Postby AmyB » Oct 18, 2005 12:49 pm

This past weekend, I saw a rock climber use a prussik as a safety connected above the rappel device. This was, of course, a climbers ATC, as opposed to a rack. But are there any comments on the use of it that way? The one possible problem I saw was that the connection was higher, and when weighted could be out of the rappeller's grasp.

Also, some clarification: It was my understanding that when using a rack, the rope should go between the rappeller's legs, not over the hip, negating the need to switch hands while in motion. (don't mean to switch to another discussion, which may have been brought up before, but since it was mentioned in the letter, I thought I'd bring it up here)
User avatar
AmyB
Infrequent Poster
 
Posts: 8
Joined: Sep 6, 2005 12:47 pm
Location: Colorado
  

Postby Phil Winkler » Oct 18, 2005 1:09 pm

Amy,

You might want to get a copy of On Rope if you do a lot of vertical work. When using a rack the control hand goes outside your legs so additional friction may be applied against your hip. I have never heard of having it between your legs.

If you are also carrying a pack it may be suspended between your legs during your rappel.
Phil Winkler
13627 FE
User avatar
Phil Winkler
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2375
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 8:48 am
Location: Wilmington, DE and Dewey Beach
NSS #: 13627FE
  

Postby Tim White » Oct 18, 2005 1:26 pm

AmyB wrote:This past weekend, I saw a rock climber use a prussik as a safety connected above the rappel device.....But are there any comments on the use of it that way?....

.....It was my understanding that when using a rack, the rope should go between the rappeller's legs, not over the hip, negating the need to switch hands while in motion.....


The correct use of the racks requires the “off rope handâ€
Last edited by Tim White on Oct 18, 2005 3:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Be safe,
Tim White 26949 RL FE

Southeastern Region Coordinator - NCRC
Editor, Nylon Highway
Senior Technical Manager - Over the Edge, Inc.
User avatar
Tim White
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 846
Joined: Sep 8, 2005 11:57 am
Location: Suwanee, GA
  

Postby speloman » Oct 18, 2005 1:41 pm

At times when I have used a prussik as a safety but the down fall to that is that as soon as you put weight on that knott it is going to lock up. I always have my acending gear attached when I am rappelling so I would be able to get the knot free if I had to. There are many devices for sale for this pourpose other than a prussik knott. Like the Petzl Shunt. I have been looking to buy one. But it is always better to have a belay, I very seldom rappell with out a belay weather it is top rope, Bottom Rope, or a self belay like a prussik or other device ment for the purpose.
Justin Gleason 48217RE
:looking: If you can't grow it, I mine it.
User avatar
speloman
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 218
Joined: Sep 9, 2005 4:02 pm
Location: Elko Nevada
Name: Justin Gleason
NSS #: 48217RE
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Northern Nevada Grotto
  

Postby Buford Pruitt » Oct 18, 2005 2:20 pm

I have used a prusik belay, the Petzl shunt and the steel carabiner shunt, and all three stink. I now use the French wrap with a mini-rack and it's really nice. I have no need to add/subtract bars, as the mini's 4 bars are perfect for my 155 lbs. I use the mini-rack on the right side of my hips, occasionally placing it between my legs for tricky maneuvers, and it works fine in both locations with the French wrap.
Buford Pruitt
Frequent Poster
 
Posts: 67
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 7:33 am
Location: Gainesville, FL USA
  

Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 18, 2005 3:14 pm

AmyB wrote:This past weekend, I saw a rock climber use a prussik as a safety connected above the rappel device. This was, of course, a climbers ATC, as opposed to a rack. But are there any comments on the use of it that way? The one possible problem I saw was that the connection was higher, and when weighted could be out of the rappeller's grasp.

The prusik being out of reach is certainly a potential problem. But, the larger problem is, once it is loaded, it must be unloaded to release. So, you have to figure out how to step up, unload and release the prusik. A PITA usually.

AmyB wrote:Also, some clarification: It was my understanding that when using a rack, the rope should go between the rappeller's legs, not over the hip, negating the need to switch hands while in motion. (don't mean to switch to another discussion, which may have been brought up before, but since it was mentioned in the letter, I thought I'd bring it up here)

No right or wrong here. Just personal preference. There are sometimes when it's impossible to put the rope on a hip. Everyone should be able to do both.
Scott McCrea
SWAYGO
User avatar
Scott McCrea
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 3198
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 3:07 pm
Location: Asheville, NC USA
NSS #: 40839RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Flittermouse Grotto
  

Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 18, 2005 3:27 pm

Phil Winkler wrote:When using a rack the control hand goes outside your legs so additional friction may be applied against your hip. I have never heard of having it between your legs.

Adding friction with your hip is an optional method for appling friction with a rack. But, it is an option that will not always be available. Everyone should know how to vary the friction using only the rack.
Scott McCrea
SWAYGO
User avatar
Scott McCrea
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 3198
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 3:07 pm
Location: Asheville, NC USA
NSS #: 40839RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Flittermouse Grotto
  

Postby Tim White » Oct 18, 2005 3:42 pm

Scott McCrea wrote:
Phil Winkler wrote:When using a rack the control hand goes outside your legs so additional friction may be applied against your hip. I have never heard of having it between your legs.

Adding friction with your hip is an optional method for appling friction with a rack. But, it is an option that will not always be available. Everyone should know how to vary the friction using only the rack.


:exactly: :yeah that:
Be safe,
Tim White 26949 RL FE

Southeastern Region Coordinator - NCRC
Editor, Nylon Highway
Senior Technical Manager - Over the Edge, Inc.
User avatar
Tim White
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 846
Joined: Sep 8, 2005 11:57 am
Location: Suwanee, GA
  

Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 18, 2005 3:45 pm

Buford Pruitt wrote:I now use the French wrap with a mini-rack and it's really nice. I have no need to add/subtract bars, as the mini's 4 bars are perfect for my 155 lbs. I use the mini-rack on the right side of my hips, occasionally placing it between my legs for tricky maneuvers, and it works fine in both locations with the French wrap.

Buford,

Does your mini-rack have a hyper-bar? How do you lock it off?

I haven't heard of anyone using one with a mini-rack. Just curious how it's done.
Scott McCrea
SWAYGO
User avatar
Scott McCrea
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 3198
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 3:07 pm
Location: Asheville, NC USA
NSS #: 40839RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Flittermouse Grotto
  

Postby Buford Pruitt » Oct 18, 2005 4:29 pm

Scott, my mini-rack has two hyperbars, and obviously I can wrap the rope around them to tie off. One neat thing about the French wrap, however, is that I can use it to tie off. Loosening the wrap to then go back on rap is easy. Now, don't get me wrong, I prefer to use the hyperbars if I want to stop and hang out on rope, but in a pinch the wrap locks me off just fine.
Buford Pruitt
Frequent Poster
 
Posts: 67
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 7:33 am
Location: Gainesville, FL USA
  

Postby AmyB » Oct 18, 2005 4:37 pm

[quote]Adding friction with your hip is an optional method for appling friction with a rack. But, it is an option that will not always be available. Everyone should know how to vary the friction using only the rack.[/quote]

:yeah that:
I have definitely used both in either situation.

I guess I'm a little off topic with the higher attachment- thinking maybe it might be good to do that with a figure-8 - then it could hold body weight better, but there's definitely some arguments against it.

[quote]You might want to get a copy of On Rope if you do a lot of vertical work.[/quote]

Thanks Phil, I've actually read On Rope and Alpine Caving Techniques. Nothing's better though than practice, practice, practice.
User avatar
AmyB
Infrequent Poster
 
Posts: 8
Joined: Sep 6, 2005 12:47 pm
Location: Colorado
  

Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 18, 2005 6:32 pm

Buford Pruitt wrote:Scott, my mini-rack has two hyperbars, and obviously I can wrap the rope around them to tie off.

Do you have to feed rope thru the French Wrap (FW) in order to have enough slack to loop it over the hyper bar/s?

One neat thing about the French wrap, however, is that I can use it to tie off. Loosening the wrap to then go back on rap is easy. Now, don't get me wrong, I prefer to use the hyperbars if I want to stop and hang out on rope, but in a pinch the wrap locks me off just fine.

Just to clairify, using the FW this way is only stopping you, you are not 'locked off'. Basically, the FW is giving you a bottom belay–increasing the tension on the rope.
Scott McCrea
SWAYGO
User avatar
Scott McCrea
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 3198
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 3:07 pm
Location: Asheville, NC USA
NSS #: 40839RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Flittermouse Grotto
  

Postby Buford Pruitt » Oct 18, 2005 11:19 pm

I can simply pull the rope up and over the hyperbars as long as I do it smoothly. The FW doesn't engage unless the rope suddenly accelerates through the FW.

As for whether I am "locked off" or not, well, you can debate the finer points of semantics if you want. All I know is that once the FW is engaged, I ain't going anywhere. :wink:

We've been trading Q&As for a whole day now. It's time to stop asking questions; it's time for you to try it out in your back yard. :lol:
Buford Pruitt
Frequent Poster
 
Posts: 67
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 7:33 am
Location: Gainesville, FL USA
  

Next

Return to On Rope!

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users

cron