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VIDEO: How to Abseil

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 UKC Articles 16 Jan 2023

In this video, Matt Cooper from The Mountaineering Company runs through a simple and effective way of abseiling that can be used in a variety of locations. He explains the current thinking around best practice and some specific tips for abseiling on sea cliffs.

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4
 olddirtydoggy 16 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

Alright, I'll stick my neck out. Good vid from somebody with much more experience than me. Only personal point of disagreement would be knots in the end of the rope. We always knot it regardless of what we think we can see, to drive into our imperfect brains the importance of doing so, this way we never forget when it really matters. Not too sure about the excess sling stuff stuck out the end of the system but OK. Credit to the making of the vid, these things are always going to be discussed by keyboard warriors who think they know better.

16
In reply to olddirtydoggy:

But he quite clearly explains in the video when and why he might skip the knot. And also specifies that he'd want to clearly see that the rope has reached the destination.

Knotted ends being more likely to get caught under the sea isn't an abstract consideration, I've seen it happen multiple times.

I'd see your point if he'd just carelessly thrown in that he doesn't bother knotting the rope on sea cliffs, but with the context and caveats he gave I don't think it's a fair criticism.

 magma 16 Jan 2023
In reply to olddirtydoggy:

yeah, why not tie a knot at the end regardless?

youtube.com/watch?v=w9nJuQ2tF7w&

Bear doesn't even mention a knot at the end but reasonable advice otherwise?

youtube.com/watch?v=HFzGrc0hJhk&

In reply to UKC Articles:

Without discussing the technique/content...

Matt seems to be very clear at explaining things, and the filming and sound quality is good.

1
 olddirtydoggy 16 Jan 2023
In reply to Luke90:

He does explain his reasoning and I did understand his point. I'm not dogmatically disagreeing with him, I just don't operate that way myself. I've never seen stuck knots on sea cliffs but then again my sea cliff climbing has been maybe only 20 days in total. What I think we'd probably all agree on is that nothing he's doing could put someone at risk.

Got to love these threads, I'm happy to put my head on the block to kick a discussion off, feel free to pile on, have a like

Post edited at 16:09
11
In reply to olddirtydoggy:

Regarding knots, Matt recommended using a "Double Fisherman's knot" in the end of the rope?

Presumably he means a double overhand?

1
 Andy Hardy 16 Jan 2023
In reply to Ron Rees Davies:

https://www.101knots.com/barrel-knot.html

^^ I thought he meant one of these ^^

In reply to Andy Hardy:

Yes - the Barrel Knot is the same thing as a double overhand (but is only half of a double fisherman's)

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_overhand_knot

 David Coley 17 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great video. Great sound quality 

One thing I always like in teaching material is when people not only say, do this, but also say why. Here we are told, it is really important to check if the manufacturer says whether to attach the sling to the belay loop or the hard points. I'm trying to understand how on a harness that has both, it could ever matter. Let alone be, really important. Anyone understand this point? On his harness, I can't see it would matter one bit

 Simon Pelly 17 Jan 2023
In reply to David Coley:

I had the same question in my mind also. Would be interesting to know why.

 Mark Eddy 17 Jan 2023
In reply to David Coley:

Different manufacturers offer different advice on this, which isn't helpful. I've been mostly using Black Diamond harnesses for a long time now and their recommendation (at least for the harnesses I use) is to go through the tie-in points.

There will be pros and cons with both methods and ultimately it comes down to personal choice, but shouldn't make a difference under normal circumstances.

Something I have noticed amongst some climbing friends is: Those that use the belay loop method tend to leave the sling in-situ on their harnesses for weeks/months/years at a time. Those using the tie-in loops usually tidy the sling away at the end of the day.

Read into that what you will. Although probs not very useful, sorry.

2
 Ian Parsons 17 Jan 2023
In reply to Mark Eddy:

> Those that use the belay loop method tend to leave the sling in-situ on their harnesses for weeks/months/years at a time.

As I'm sure many people will be thinking, this brings to mind a red flag with 'Todd Skinner' written on it.

1
 simoninger 17 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

I'm actually amazed how short this thread is, considering the opinions people must have. An indicator of the quality of the video, probably.

As Andy Kirkpatrick explains at great length in "Down," there are dozens of ways to do these things, so understand the whys and wherefores and use the right method for you in the circumstances you're in.  Most of us can only remember a couple, of course, so we go with the ones we know are safe and effective and we can do under stress!

 Holdtickler 17 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

A good vid but I'd probably extend the belay device a bit more to make sure there's no chance that the French prussic can touch it. Might just be a perspective thing on the vid but they seemed very close together to me. You really don't want the two elements to interfere and compromise the system.

1
 Mark Eddy 17 Jan 2023
In reply to Ian Parsons:

Agreed. I've had the debate about it with said people 

1
 d508934 18 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC Articles:

So is the idea of tying the prussick to your leg loop now out of favour? I remember an instructor advising once that it kept the prussick knot reliably further away from belay device. 

 GrahamD 18 Jan 2023
In reply to d508934:

The video makes it pretty clear that there are many ways of doing this.  Leg loop prussic is just a different way.

 john arran 18 Jan 2023
In reply to d508934:

> So is the idea of tying the prussick to your leg loop now out of favour? I remember an instructor advising once that it kept the prussick knot reliably further away from belay device. 

It may well be out of favour with instructor-types. I suspect it will be common for a long time yet among climbers.

 Mark Eddy 18 Jan 2023
In reply to d508934:

Been common for years to use a 'Rap lanyard' when abseiling and especially so on multi-pitch descents. There are plenty of advantages to this method and some downsides. One advantage is as you mention, it helps keep the prussic away from the belay device. Also allows for easier control. Another plus point being it's easier to check all is connected correctly, especially so when wearing loads of bulky clothing as may be the case in winter.

There's also a lot to be said for doing what you're used to and well practised at, assuming it works well and you're happy with it.

The tech book 'Down' by Andy K explains all this and lots more in great detail. Well worth a read and as a reference tool. 

 Holdtickler 18 Jan 2023
In reply to d508934:

I think there is a reason why its going out of favour. I saw a vid where they demonstrated that if you raised the leg, on the side you attached to the leg loop, that is was possible to get the system to fail. I can't remember the details why though but I'm guessing this was in a situation where the belay device wasn't extended and they managed to get the prussic to touch it and so not engage. Can't remember where I saw that but maybe someone else can. Or maybe it was to do with ziplock buckles slipping? Curse my sieve memory!

In reply to Holdtickler:

There were a few instances of buckles getting knocked open. There were also some fatal accidents where the prusik slipped with that set up. You also see people attaching to loops on the leg loop which aren't rated too.

With an extended set up its less likely to get knocked open and has the lanyard use advantage too.

 David Coley 19 Jan 2023
In reply to Holdtickler:

> I think there is a reason why its going out of favour. I saw a vid where they demonstrated that if you raised the leg, on the side you attached to the leg loop, that is was possible to get the system to fail. I can't remember the details why though but I'm guessing this was in a situation where the belay device wasn't extended and they managed to get the prussic to touch it and so not engage. 

Indeed. The prussik is there mainly in case you let go. This might well include ending up upside down, or raising your thigh high. In these cases it is critical that the prussik cannot reach the plate. Hence the plate must be extended, and extended well. And yes, a few harnesses are weak in the leg buckle area in various ways.

In reply to Holdtickler:

> I think there is a reason why its going out of favour. I saw a vid where they demonstrated that if you raised the leg, on the side you attached to the leg loop, that is was possible to get the system to fail. I ....

jez made a video on it. 

youtube jb mountain sport's 

In reply to Holdtickler:

>  I saw a vid where they demonstrated that if you raised the leg, on the side you attached to the leg loop, that is was possible to get the system to fail. 

I think this guy has a prusik on his leg loop (hard to tell) but clearly demonstrates what can happen

youtube.com/watch?v=3T4FT2SHFLo&

You can see the prusik setup here

youtube.com/watch?v=3T4FT2SHFLo&t=84


 john arran 22 Jan 2023
In reply to timparkin:

Interesting video.

Looks to me like he was a completely inexperienced abseiler, judging by the way he completely let go of the brake rope. But nevertheless the prusik should have stopped him falling.

There are 2 likely possible causes for that. The first is that the prusik on the leg loop may have been too long, and therefore hadn't fully tightened before being stopped from doing so by contact with the belay plate. This almost certainly explains the initial fall, which happened when his leg was particularly high.

But it doesn't explain why, when he dropped his leg again, the prusik then failed to bite - unless the prusik was actually way too long, which didn't look to be the case.

I suspect the failure for it to work once the fall had started was due to a combination of the prusik cord being too fat for the rather skinny single rope he was abseiling on, and the fact that everything was dripping wet, with consequent reduced friction.

If this latter explanation was the whole story (which is possible), then presumably it wouldn't have mattered whether he was on a leg-loop prusik or an extended plate, it still wouldn't have had enough bite to grip. It then comes down to what the novice would have done with his hands in terms of grabbing at ropes above (as in the video) or below (more likely with extended plate) the belay plate. 

It's a good reminder that if you are using a leg-loop prusik, to make sure it's very short indeed, but possibly a better lesson to all of us that fat prusiks won't easily work on thin, single, wet ropes.

Post edited at 14:26
In reply to john arran:

> Interesting video.

> Looks to me like he was a completely inexperienced abseiler, judging by the way he completely let go of the brake rope. But nevertheless the prusik should have stopped him falling.

> There are 2 likely possible causes for that. The first is that the prusik on the leg loop may have been too long, and therefore hadn't fully tightened before being stopped from doing so by contact with the belay plate. This almost certainly explains the initial fall, which happened when his leg was particularly high.

> But it doesn't explain why, when he dropped his leg again, the prusik then failed to bite - unless the prusik was actually way too long, which didn't look to be the case.

I've scanned backward and forward and it looks like the prusik just wasn't biting. Too fat, wet and not enough wraps. Comments on a post accident analysis say roughly the same, add a bit of extra friction to ensure it's grabbing even if it gets a little 'undressed'...   (or keep it dressed by having it have a tension throughout the abseil)... 

In reply to timparkin:

It's worth mentioning that french/autobloc prusik knots can slip without warning when loaded anyway, so it should always be treated with a good dose of caution.

We can improve the chances of it locking in an abseil emergency by; extending so the knot can't interact with the belay plate, making sure there are enough wraps and that the prusik is the right diameter for the rope and tying the knot neatly.

When I teach using an improvised lanyard I tie the knot about 1/3rd of the way away from the tie in point using a 129cm sling. Personally I'm not a fan of the way Matt does it in the video, I don't like how it affects the drop or distance between the leg loops and the waist loot, but it's personal preference for how and where the lanyard is attached (within the manufacturers recommendations). 

​​​​

2
 Holdtickler 22 Jan 2023
In reply to Alex Riley:

A "fireman's belay" in this situation would also have made it a lot safer. By this I mean that someone at the bottom of the pitch could keep a hold of the rope and pull it tight in an emergency which would cause the plate to lock and stop the fall. 

He's lucky he was on a slab and landed well! A sobering watch.

 Sean Kelly 23 Jan 2023
In reply to john arran:

At least he was wearing g gloves. Not really sure why he let go. Always a good idea to test the friction on the prusik  but as you state John, most likely caused by wet ropes. The same applies to icy ropes so an extra twist of the prusik should give more grip.

In reply to UKC Articles:

Matt trod on the rope! 5:27. I was sorry he didn't put more emphasis on the anchor, which interestingly we never saw. The other placements we make for fixed or running belays are nine times out of ten not put to the test and if one runner failed, well... Not so with abseiling!

I learnt lots here, Matt. Thank you.

 GrahamD 10:12 Fri
In reply to Rob Tresidder:

It's a useful mantra (at least I think it is):

Climbing at least two things have to go wrong; you fall off AND your protection fails.

Abseiling only one thing has to go wrong.


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