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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. trackrunner

    trackrunner

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    Tom then why teach it to beginners? I agree with you that time could be better spent mastering other techniques with beginners. Seams more appropriate for an advance rigging class given all the considerations and scenarios a person has to consider before using.

    I'm curious of your opinion on why you do teach it.

    Thanks in advance!
    hank moon likes this.
  2. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    (talking about using an Autobloc rappel-backup below the device)


    We use it as a guiding tool, as an effective and dignified way for people to belay themselves, even on their very first rappel. Since we are there with them supervising, most of these problematic attributes are handled. When we start out with people, we want to get them on rappel right away, moving down a rope, getting comfortable with the idea of rappelling. This is how we have chosen to do it, and my experience is that it works brilliantly. But again, WE control all the variables, so it is easy to get it right.

    Tom
  3. Craig

    Craig Feeling My Way

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    So it seems that the Autobloc rappel-backup and the fireman's belay are effective in some situations. Can there be a checklist of requirements that must be met to make them always effective? Or, a checklist of factors that could be used to know when they are not to be depended upon?

    I'm just a novice, but all my reading and training constantly stresses the importance of backups in all aspects of any dangerous activity. In keeping with a climber's desire for backups to everything, how can I self-belay my rappels effectively every time? There must be a technique for every situation.

    Yet it seems that most people treat rappelling differently and do not feel that backups are necessary. I get the feeling that egos are involved and that somehow the culture of rappelling has gotten a little bent into the direction of high-style instead of practical safety.

    I guess it is human nature. Wearing helmets, seatbelts, PFDs, and rappel-backups are not very fashionable and maybe seem the stuff of the inexperienced; but, I think statistics suggest they work.
  4. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Interesting POV. As primarily a climber, I see very very few folks ever back up a rappel, or, do a fireman's belay. Very few.

    And, in the European Rendezvous I've attended, the norm is to rappel down a waterfall....so...there's no way folks are either going to back up their rappel with an autoblock (for fear of getting stuck on the rope) and its not that practical to be in the water providing a fireman's back up. Its done for beginners, perhaps, sometimes.

    Risk aversion versus experience and talent, maybe.

    There's many climbers who don't wear helmets...and...on most climbing routes, either sport or trad, there's many times where your one piece of protection away from gettin' flattened. You never see redundency with regard to bolted sport routes especially lead bolts (fixed pro). The saavy trad climber will often double up on pro especially near the bottom of a route or off a ledge...

    Didn't a gal drown in Italy or Switzerland last summer when she got pinned in the watercourse while wearing a PFD?

    Anyhoo...I think it bears asking why a back up is reallly needed. Is the start awkward enough that there's a chance the brake hand isn't fully engaged? Or, are you worried about being hit by something from above? Or, do you need a back up because you're not sure your friction is dialed on the rope/device you're using? Single strand on a skinny slick rope with a device like an ATS or Pirana? Scary.

    I dunno. If you really think you need to back up your rappel, it makes me wonder, deep down, why? Lack of skill? Lack of experience? Adding a rappel back up makes something very simple more complicated. It can take the attention off what's really important, which is, minding your rappel. Takes time, energy, and focus away from that primary, and, reallly, fairly simple operation. Its a distraction. I know folks who've rigged their back up autoblock, and, forgot to finishing feeding the rope through their rappel device!

    Have a good solid protocol for your rappel sequence, and, with enough experience and skill, minding that primary rappel activity will be enough that no back up is really needed. Or, in dry canyons, get super good at autoblocks or mind the rope at the bottom with a fireman's for hard starts. Its all good. Mileage!

    Anyhoo...random thoughts...
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  5. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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  6. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Yeah, what he said.

    Past the beginner stage, what people use is skill and attention, rather than backup systems. I suggest we should bottom belay more often than we do; but really what keeps people safe is NOT screwing up. I think people learn to not screw up faster when they don't think a backup system is part of the normal game. It is a part of developing good skills.

    I would say most canyoneers do not use a backup system on a regular basis. Same with most climbers.

    My derriere has been saved by a bottom belay on a few occasions. Long rappels where I did not set my friction right. That time in Heaps, the radios were very helpful, as I was able to have Chris vary the weight he was applying as I proceeded downward. Generally, our group provides a bottom belay on long raps fairly consistently (>150'). I like to provide them for people when the start of the rappel is very awkward, at least until they are settled into rappel position.

    Tom
    Kuenn likes this.
  7. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    This is interesting to me since I usually do canyons with only 1 partner and they usually go down first. Obviously they wouldn't have a fireman's in that situation. I pretty much never ask for one either on most "short" rappels. When we have done anything big (over 250'), we have fortunately been with a little larger group and I have gone down first for the whole group, again obviously without a fireman's belay. I rely on being able to add friction with my rappel device and it works (with practice beforehand). On those big raps, we have also always used radios, which is a huge help. I have had to lock-off on occasion to get tangles or twisting out of the rope. I then end up giving people coming after a fireman's belay. So it's kind of funny: when just 2 of us, I am last, on big raps with a group >2, I am usually first and give a belay.
    ratagonia likes this.
  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Some good thoughts there, Mr. D. Yes, on long raps, the choice of first rapper is to be made with intention. When going first, I make very-very sure I have my friction set conservatively, and have options on how to add more.

    Tom
  9. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    I respect your opinion and support your desire to do it the way you feel most safe.

    Brian in SLC's post explained it very well, if I may echo some of the same sentiment; the reason I, and others I partner with, decline rappel backups has nothing to do with high-style or ego. It's all about believing in your rappelling skills/method/device, confident in how it works, knowing when you have too much or too little friction, and having a simple – execution ready – corrective action plan. This should be your primary point of focus, as Brian pointed out.

    Backups are important and should be used whenever (and this is the crux for me), whenever they are truly a backup and do not undermine the primary device/objective…poorly stated but I hope you understand my point. In other words, if the backup either requires more attention than the primary device or is of greater concern to the individual than is the primary device – it is a poor excuse for a backup. If the backup is second nature and you're very comfortable and competent with it, by all means employ it – because it is a backup.
    Deagol and ratagonia like this.
  10. Craig

    Craig Feeling My Way

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    I think you stated it well. Maybe Kuenn's thought is what is bothering me. For my safety and the safety of my team, wouldn't it be nice to have a backup that doesn't distract from the primary purpose. I'm sure that that backup would be different for every situation but why go without it? Maybe it is impossible to come up with a backup for the practically infinite situations that could be encountered.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Interesting to ponder, Mr. Craig.

    Kinda sorta what I was getting at in the original post. But I am with Kuenn - the question is can I make a plausible argument why this is overall a safer system?

    All of these rope sports ARE dangerous. As such, what prevents us from getting hurt or killed is COMPETENCE. Maybe it is my nature as a guy and as an engineer-type, but one of the joys for me is in the demonstration and exercise of competence. Rappelling safely requires competence. There is an emotional/intellectual difference between using a backup on occasion (where appropriate), and having that 'backup' be an essential part of the normal system. My claim is that if you use a backup system as a PART of your system, then your requirement for competence and your practice of competence goes down, to your detriment. There are plenty of circumstances in canyoneering where a bottom belay AND a top belay AND an Autobloc are not possible to provide/use - or where they require substantial effort or time to use and are counter-indicated. In those cases, your competence better be up to snuff.

    My suggestion is to make the "on occasion (where appropriate)" show up more often, for instance when the cost of doing so is very small. But not really to make it happen on every nuisance rappel of every canyon.

    Tom
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  12. Craig

    Craig Feeling My Way

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    Thank you all for being patient with me. I have read through many forums but this one seems to have the most eloquent members. It is such a joy to be able to ask questions and get thoughtful answers.
  13. gajslk

    gajslk

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    Couldn't agree more. And an error-prone, non-foolproof backup method adds a false sense of security that can be dangerous. Thinking "If I eff this up, I'm going to die" is a good thing. Two different people thinking "Hey, there's a backup, so there's nothing to worry about" at the same time is not.

    Gordon
    Kuenn and ratagonia like this.
  14. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    That's pretty much my MO. "If I screw up, I'm dead." It keeps you focused.


    LNT
  15. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Enter Petzl Stop, and other supplier's auto-braking bobbin solutions…more pros and cons, though. There are a lot of good solutions/information in this area. We are obviously not the first to examine it, nor will be the last searching for the elusive panacea device or method.

    Just so you don't get the wrong impression; a friend of mine, same age but has tracked probably twice as many miles on rope as I, uses a French wrap auto block on many of his descents – not all, but many. He is, what you might label, a pioneer in the method. On more than one occasion he has harassed me for not using a block. "Kuenn, one day a BFR (big rock) is going to knock you unconscious, you'll lose control and fall to your death!" And I counter with, "TinY, one day you're going to be beaned by an even bigger rock and you will be stuck up there... and we may just leave you up there for a while!" (light-hearted banter) At least in my case, body retrieval is easier. :)

    Craig, you've received excellent advice from many perspectives. Try to process it all, put it to practice and you will settle in on a happy medium – one that you can live and feel safe with, and call your own. To reach that point, expose yourself to as many rappelling devices and backup methods (et al) as you can, under competent leadership. There is a lot of learning and fun in that journey.

    Good luck.

    Some additional reading, you may find enlightening:
    http://www.forums.caves.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=213
    http://www.cavediggers.com/wrap.pdf
    http://www.cavediggers.com/magazine/9th.pdf
    3 people like this.
  16. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    bump
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  17. Cameron

    Cameron The canyons are my playground

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    I give AND take a bottom belay. I am just that promiscuous.

    10 foot, 50 foot, 75 foot, 300 foot...I will take any size belay anywhere...

    and I do it...well why....I say why the hell not.

    For those that say they don't need a belay when you ask them....PRUDES. Take that belay with some dignity.
    Lane, Anna, hank moon and 1 other person like this.
  18. townsend

    townsend

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    Well stated, Mike, and an timely reminder of good technique. I think we often over analyze photos that are posted. While it bears repeating that it is a more efficient method of arresting a fall by holding the rope over the head, this particular belayer is -- to his credit -- attentively carefully watching the descent of the rappeler. In fact, he appears focused and shows no evidence of being distracted by conversation, be it with a hottie or a hobo. There is no one in the frame to even distract him from his task. Yes, his method could be improved (point made and accepted), but his method is not that similar to a distracted belayer chatting with a hottie.

    Postscript: I wrote this after reading Mike's post on p. 1, and I still have to wade through every post in the thread, though there is much of value to read and consider. My apology if this post shows me to be a member of the department of redundancy department.:cool:
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015
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  19. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    A great thread...
    While Desiree and I have been hucking ourselves off cliffs on rappel device prototypes (exciting!)
    we have used several of the most common methods for auto-belay and discovered that they
    ALL will fail if not rigged PERFECTLY.
    While I prefer the VT Prussic over all other methods, it can still fail if not tied super tight on a skinny new/slick rope.
    We have found that bottom belays are pretty easy to execute if the Rappelor has enough friction set on their device-
    And pretty hard to control (you may need your full body weight) if the friction is too low.
    We body belay as a matter of course, whenever practical.
    Kuenn likes this.
  20. AW~

    AW~

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    Just a bizarro thread that shows no one can explain what a bottom belay in canyoneering is anymore....and ventures on to the point of trolling. Or people are serious about saying no one should look out for anyone else?

    Edit: Looks like just months after this thread was another thread...
    http://canyoncollective.com/threads/the-coverup.20020/
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015
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