Simul-Rappelling: Is it Worth it?

Simul-Rappelling: Is it Worth it?

May 18, 2021 fmg-adminGuides' Tech Tips Guiding Rock Climbing

Simul-rappelling is a technique that is touted as being a faster method of rappelling as a team of two. However, it comes with far more risk than the traditional rappel setup and requires several extra steps in order to mitigate that risk. A quick google search on simul-rappelling accidents will reveal several incidents that have occurred over the years including the more recent accident resulting in the tragic death of Brad Gobright. Read the accident report for Brad Gobright here. There is a way to simul-rappel safely which involves tying stopper knots into both ends of rope, using an autoblock backup below each climbers device, tethering each other together, and knowing without a doubt that both strands reach the next rappel station. So, is simul-rappelling worth doing for the sake of expediency?

After all the safety measures are in place, it can be argued that simul-rappelling is not any faster than a standard rappel and likely takes more time. Additionally, we’ve found that there are other methods of descent that are quicker and safer than simul-rappelling. One such method is the pre-rigged rappel, a method where everyone in the team rigs their rappel simultaneously. In the pre-rig, once the first person is off rappel at the next anchor, the second can immediately start rappelling. With this method, the team can get to the ground safely and fairly quickly if needed.

You may be wondering “what are the risks of simul-rappelling?” Well, there are few big ones. First, if both climbers don’t have a friction hitch backup in place below their device the rope will begin sliding through the anchor if one of the climbers were to lose control of their brake strand. Second, if one climber suddenly unweights their rappel, such as standing up on a small ledge, then they will introduce slack in the system which will also cause the rope to slide through the anchor and drop the other climber. Finally, if the ropes are uneven and there are no stopper knots in the ends, the chances of catastrophic failure are high. 

The risks of simul-rappelling not only endanger you, but also your partner. If something goes wrong, the security of the entire team is at risk.  Here’s a scenario: A couple climbers have chosen to simul-rappel due to an approaching thunderstorm. They hastily thread the rope through the rappel rings and put their belay devices on the separate strands, ignoring putting third-hand backups on below their devices. In their hurry, the two climbers forget to put knots in the ends of the rope. They begin rappelling as the wind starts to pick up and the sky darkens. One of the climbers is much less experienced than the other and is going slowly because they’re not used to rappelling on a single strand with less friction. The more experienced climber is not paying attention to their partner and begins rappelling a bit faster, which positions them below their partner. The less experienced climber freaks out a bit and momentarily stands up on a small ledge causing the rope to offset through the anchor, simultaneously dropping their partner some. The sudden drop causes the lower climber to lose control of their brake strand. The upper climber leans back on the rope again but as they do so the rope begins running through the lower climbers rappel device rapidly while the less experienced climbers weight is now pulling the rope through the anchor towards themselves. The more experienced climber can’t react quickly enough to regain control of their brake strand and suddenly the end of the rope runs through their rappel device. Now the more experienced climber begins free falling while the other climber also begins falling because the other side of the rope is now free to run quickly through the anchor. 

In this scenario it is highly likely that both climbers will be severely injured or worse. So, you can see now that simul-rappelling without the appropriate backups in place puts both team members lives at risk. Furthermore, taking the time to add all the necessary backups negates the reason to simul-rappel in the first place. While speed and efficiency are important, especially when bailing from an approaching storm, it’s important that we don’t sacrifice our security for the sake of speed. As I’ve learned from guides much more experienced than myself, if we dial in our basic skills and become very proficient with them, we don’t need to hurry. It’s more important that we make continuous forward progress rather than rush, make mistakes, and then spend time correcting those mistakes. An old saying from the military that I’m reminded of is “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

Check out these resources for further information on simul-rappelling:

4 Reasons Not to Simul-Rappel

Simul-Rappel Failure – No Backups

How to Set Up a Simul-Rappel– AMGA Video

Please reach out with any questions or comments!

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, Ice Instructor, WEMT-B

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