Mistakes to avoid when abseiling

Several months ago I did a couple of articles on abseiling, and imparted the little known fact (to me at the time) that most climbing accidents occur when abseiling.

Don't rap off the end of your ropes!

Having shinned up a few faces myself, it’s the abseiling bit that I’ve always loved and probably treated rather cavalierly as a result. Fortunately for me, I have always climbed with people who know what they’re doing, and it’s probably entirely due to them that I am still here happily tapping keys, and not crumbled up in a heap at the bottom of some face!

I love that feeling of almost floating down the face, bouncing off the wall with your feet and descending in whoops and swings. Actually, I can’t sufficiently describe it – better get back out there for another go and come back and describe it accurately! I can imagine that lovely sensation – but can’t put it in words…

There, you see, I take abseiling too lightly. Having begun this Blog, and learnt so many things I didn’t know before, I thought it would be an idea to highlight some of the mistakes you can avoid when abseiling.

A certain amount of abseil paranoia is healthy as it leads to a methodical and thorough checking process, which leaves nothing to chance. This is what keeps you alive in dangerous situations.

  • And the obvious one is to make sure your rope is long enough! Sounds utterly stupid that doesn’t it, but it is such an elementary error that has been known to happen again and again and again…
  • Avoid distractions when you are setting up the abseil. Check, check and check again: anchor, rope through anchor, knot, rope in device, device attached to harness, krab screwgate done up, harness done up…
  • Rapping off the end of your rope. Tie stopper knots in each end. Check they make the ground or next anchors if possible. This avoidable mistake still manages to take the lives of even experienced climbers.
  • Rapping off a single piece, only to have it pull. Never, never rap off a single piece, unless it’s a huge tree or bollard, and even then think carefully. Don’t be cheap with bail gear.
  • Taking a ground fall because the rope you abseiled off was not fixed directly to the anchors, but had slack caught around a hidden feature, which subsequently released when the line was weighted. Don’t rush! Make sure there is no slack between you and the anchors.
  • Getting hair or loose clothing caught in your abseil device. Tie hair back and tuck clothing in.
  • With in-situ abseils, check the anchors (look, feel, push-pull, twist etc). Check all parts of the system that link the anchors.
  • Don’t assume that just because everyone else uses the in-situ abseil or someone used it recently that it’s still OK. Make your own judgement on the reliability of the set-up each and every time you use it.
  • Back-up the anchors you’re going to abseil from by placing a separate bomber piece that’s linked to the abseil rope. This back-up should not be taking any of the load, when your weight comes on the ab rope, so you can check the in situ anchor is reliable. If you’re not returning to the same spot the last person down can remove the back-up if all looks good with the original anchors.

Don’t cut corners and don’t rush your decision-making.

And this is worth watching to clarify a few grey areas, with thanks to mikebarter387 for the video:

Please bear in mind that this is by no means a definitive list. Know what you’re doing before you do it and climb with others who know more than you. You can never be too careful. Remember, this is an extreme sport and has the inherent dangers that go with it.

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