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Tech Tip: Answered Why do we bottom belay?

Discussion in 'Tech Tips and Gear' started by ratagonia, Apr 3, 2014.

  1. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    The quantification of that was that they waited 2 full seconds before calling for the belay.

    2 seconds is a LONG time in this kind of event. That is 20 meters (60 feet) of drop before the belayer is cued. Yeah, that's too late.

    Tom
  2. MikeDallin

    MikeDallin

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    Edited to remove my sincere apology, since it was ignored anyway.


    M
  3. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    Putting the Prusik below the device is OK, but if you don't get your distance right it can jam or even not lock in some cases. "long ways from the device" is key as you state.

    However, there are better methods to learn and practice. If you are going to use a self-belay on rappel, I highly recommend considering using the VT (Valdotain Tresse) friction hitch, and placing it above your rappel device.
    Deerchaser likes this.
  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    There are many problems with placing the rap backup ABOVE the device, that are solved by placing the rappel backup BELOW the device. I realize that using the valdotain knot solves one of these problems, but not the other.

    The main reason to place the backup below the device is to take advantage of the leverage of the device. Above the device the tension on the rope is 100% of bodyweight; below the tension is 5-10% of bodyweight. If your knot activates above the device, you are left hanging from your prusik; and considerable effort is required to get back moving again. Essentially, a transfer from ascending back to rappelling. If your knot activates below the device, then it only has 5-10% of your bodyweight on it, and, after regaining composure and grip on the brake line, the prusik can be 'broken' without much effort. (I use 'prusik' in the general sense meaning whatever rope-grab knot you are using). (The Valdotain knot can probably be released when you have your full weight on it).

    To me, the main problem with a high backup is that in most emergency situations you will not let go of it. The human tendency is to grab high and hold on - the exact opposite action required for the backup to work. If you don't let go of it, it will not work.

    Here is Gary Storrick's great post on the matter, circa an age ago aka 1995, REQUIRED READING ;) for anyone ever even touching a ROPE!!!

    http://storrick.cnc.net/VerticalDevicesPage/Misc/RappelSafetyPost.html

    Tom
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  5. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    Great article, and point very well taken. When the VT is above you, and most of us have a natural reaction to grab the rope above you to hold on, then yes, the VT (and you) would slide down.

    However, if you don't get the lengths right with the Prusik below you, it can jam.

    Perhaps some reasons self-belay and auto-blocks are not emphasized in canyoneering training?
  6. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    There are many techniques that if not done correctly don't work. What I was pointing out is that the technique of "above the device" does not work even when done correctly.


    The Autoblock is difficult to get right. When I see (non-ZAC-associated) people using autoblock rappel backup in the field, more than half the time they are doing something that most likely will not work. It also does not work if you turn upside down, which is definitely possible if you lose control on a rappel.

    When I teach courses, we do our first couple rappels with the autobloc, and then we ween people off it. Some people resist being weened off it, because it gives them a great (somewhat false) sense of control. I don't think these people are well-suited to canyoneering in general.

    My main objection to it as a general technique is that it takes time and effort to do and get right; and that time and effort is perhaps better spent focusing on the rappel and rappel technique, rather than on the 'backup' technique. People also develop the habit of letting go, physically letting go of the rope, and this is a very bad habit to get into.

    Conclusion: it is a tool of limited usefulness, difficult to get right, not fully effective, can result in bad habits.

    I think the time and effort is much more effectively put into learning to rappel well, and learning and using the bottom belay.

    Tom
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  7. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    I've stated on this forum before, and it's no secret to those who know me, that I'm not an advocate of rappel backups, i.e, auto block; but I do not discourage others that want and know how to use them. I am, however, genuinely interested in real-life experiences when they have been used and have potentially prevented a mishap.
    Josh, given that it is a prusik and not a auto block/french wrap, do you have any experiences when it has actually engaged preventing an out of control situation. If so, I would be very interested in the details.

    The video that Deagol posted has been more typical of mishap related stories that I'm aware of with rappel backups. It either didn't engage because it wasn't tied or being used correctly. And as for his well-meaning partner, had he been providing a bottom belay instead of shooting FB fodder... we would have one less bad example to criticize.

    I would like to start cataloging some good examples when it did work successfully.
  8. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Thank you for starting this thread, Tom.
    With the launch of a new rappel device, the CRITR, we are very concerned that people have a safety 'back-up' when ever possible and especially while they are learning to use the CRITR.
    In our experience, a bottom belay given by an alert, experienced belayor (ratagonia!) is a superior method, and we encourage everyone to practise it!
  9. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    On a recent outing with a few novices, as each successive rappeller was on their way down, I'd encourage each person to experiment with the technique. They'd each take turns tugging the rope and stopping the unsuspecting person on rap. It was fun to see them learn this principle in a fun way. By the end of the trip, there was at least one attentive person at the bottom of every rappel. Someone was always taking it upon themselves to watch out for the next man down and would dutifully grip the rope. Hopefully, as this was a principle they learned on their first trip, it will stick and become a permanent tool in their kit.
  10. Blake Merrell

    Blake Merrell Lovin' Utah's Backcountry

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    I had a bottom belay last weekend. the guy belaying thought it was funny to stop me as I was jumping over a little ledge. Yes I was dropping fast over the ledge, but I wanted to clear it so I didn't smash my head. When I was about 10 off of the ground and stopped abruptly and suddenly, because the belayer stopped me, I was NOT a happy rappeller. DO NOT DO THAT! Let the rappeller be in control of their own rappel.
  11. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    I suppose it matters if he thought you had lost control, or was it buffoonery? Either case, both would be a teaching moment.
  12. Blake Merrell

    Blake Merrell Lovin' Utah's Backcountry

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    oh yeah, it was a teaching moment alright. A little more blunt than I wanted it to be (since it happened in front of our wives and other first timers), but still. I was not happy.
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  13. 2065toyota

    2065toyota

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    So what you're saying it was funny for everybody else except for you
  14. Blake Merrell

    Blake Merrell Lovin' Utah's Backcountry

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    The belayer might have thought it was funny, but when he saw how mad i was after, he wasn't so thrilled. when he stopped me so abruptly, not only did it shock me, it shocked the anchor and put more pressure on my rope that was already placed on relatively sharp edge.

    I guess my point is, if you are a belayer, THINK about what you are going to do. He knew i was a experienced rappeller and was in control of my own drop. I gave no hint at being in trouble. When dealing with ropes and rappelling/climbing it is best not to be messing around or trying to be funny. just my 2 cents.
    ratagonia likes this.
  15. 2065toyota

    2065toyota

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    If it created a dangerous situation, thats one thing. If it's just being uptight or embarrased, well then deal with it
  16. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    I think Blake's point is that while it didn't cause problems in this case screwing around is never a good idea especially when you're a newbie since you don't have all the info and there could be many factors you didn't account for.
  17. 2065toyota

    2065toyota

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    If It was a newbie, then let him know what you want him to do. Don't ask him to belay you, then get mad if he stops you when he thinks you're out of control.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  18. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    Blake, can you tell us more about the incident? Was the belayer a beginner? What instruction did you give him before rappelling, what was your relationship with him, etc?
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  19. 2065toyota

    2065toyota

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    Blake, don't get me wrong. I do also agree with you. I'm just bored today :)
    Deagol likes this.
  20. Blake Merrell

    Blake Merrell Lovin' Utah's Backcountry

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    Hey all,

    He has been on a few canyons with me before, and he is a good friend. SO our relationship is a good friendly one...

    To put things in context, this was the first real rappel in Birch Hollow. (the one with the overhanging cliff). It was the first time for a few of the ladies in my group, and they were all a bit nervous. My friend (Jake) was the first one down so he could be the belayer for the rest of the group while I managed things from the top.

    Most everyone was down, except for one last girl. It was her first time rappelling, and to start off with a rap like this was kinda difficult. as this girl slipped over the edge, she managed to get her hand stuck under the rope thus smashing it against the cliff. she was pinned. The belayer stopped her, and I was able to hop down on a small ledge and quickly free her hand. SO with that having just happened, I really just wanted to get down, make sure everyone was safe and that we didn't have a broken hand. Luckily no serious harm was done and the girl that just got stuck was willing to press on.

    Anyway, with all that had gone on, things were pretty somber. so when the belayer was being "funny" i wasn't in the mood for it ( i guess I should have expressed that to him.) and when he stopped me so abruptly i got pretty snappy. I did apologize later, he claims he was worried I was coming down to fast (a legitimate worry i guess) but if he would have stopped me a second sooner, i would have smashed my head in a overhanging rock!

    All of your points are well received though. communication is important and in this case i definitely needed to do a better job of explaining what i was going to do.
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