Ascender Safety 101

       Ascending Rappel Ropes 101

       Autoblock Misuse (ATC-Guide)

       Avalanche Safety

       Belay School - Why Dynamic Matters

       Can A Hot Belay Device Melt My Slings?

       Carabiner Off-Axis and Tri/Quad-Axial Loading

       Choosing the Right Carabiner

       Common Belay Screw-ups

       Connecting Two Slings Together

       Daisy Chain Dangers

       Dangers of Rope Worn Carabiners

       Dangers of Worn Lowering Anchors

       Do Ropes Need to Rest Between Falls

       Draws in a Gym

       Extending a Cam Sling

       Fall Factors Explained

       Full Strength Haul Loops

       Gear Doesn't Last Forever—Crampons

       Gear Doesn't Last Forever—Ice Tool Picks

       Gear Doesn't Last Forever—Slings & Draws

       Girth Hitching a Stopper

       How Sketchy Is a Sharp-Edged Carabiner?

       How Strong are Himalayan Fixed Lines?

       How Strong is the Spinner Leash?

       How To Belay, Part 1

       How To Extend a Rappel Device

       Knot Passing 101

       Rappelling - Climbing's Diciest Business

       Re-Slinging Cams

       Rethinking the Double-Loop Bowline

       Retiring Old Ropes

       Sharpie for Marking the Middle of a Rope?

       Sling Strength In Three Anchor Configurations

       Spectra versus Nylon

       Spotting for Bouldering

       Surviving Bad Weather on El Cap

       The Dangers of Modifying Your Gear

       The Dangers of Short Static Falls

       The Electric Harness Acid Test

       The Skinny on Super Light Ropes

       Top Roping is Not So Safe

       To Screamer Or Not To Screamer

       Via Ferrata

       Weakness of Nose-hooked Carabiners

       What is the Safest Rappel Knot?

       Worn Belay Loops and Retiring a Harness

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Climb Safe: How to Extend a Rappel Device

By Ben Markhart

A rappel extension using Sterling Rope’s Chain Reactor as an extension/tether. The tail of the tether is clipped to a gear loop but could be clipped back to the belay loop to provide redundancy. Photo: Ben Markhart.

Every year, without fail, someone is injured or dies in a rappelling accident. This July it was the easily prevented mistake of rapping off the end of the line. At this point, it seems a little useless to keep reminding people to tie some knots in the end of their ropes.

So what else can we do to make rappelling a little safer? Besides tying knots and ‘closing the system’ around ourselves there are things we can do to make rapping safer and more relaxed. This can be a literal lifesaver in stressful multi-pitch situations, unknown rap routes or after a long tiring day.


A Good Time to Extend

The rappel extension is the standard method for rappelling in most guiding circles and a technique that would benefit many climbers on the recreational side. While an extension isn’t always necessary for rapping off a single-pitch at the crag, in nearly all tricky multi-pitch rappels it can mean the difference between fun and stress or even danger.

There are two main advantages to the extended rappel. It allows the auto-block (or Prusik) knot to be centered underneath the rappel device instead of being rigged off the leg loop. Even if there is really nothing unsafe about using the leg-loop, it has a tendency to pull one leg closer and closer to the rappel device if you spend any amount of time hanging on the auto-block. This can be a real pain if you have a lot of tricky gear to remove, ice-screws or have a long traverse to gain the next rappel station with already frayed nerves.

The other advantage to extending your device is it allows you to transition from rappelling to ascending quickly and safely when using a belay device with an auto-locking mode like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso. This is lifesaver if you find yourself rappelling a tricky decent for the first time or in stressful conditions that could cause you to miss a rappel station.


Using a Klemheist knot and a cord to create a foot loop makes it easy to step up and clip the guide mode attachment to the belay loop causing the device to function as an ascender. Photo: Ben Markhart.
Rigging an Extension

There are a number of ways to rig a rappel extension and all seem to work equally well in my experience. While it is possible to use a Spectra/Dyneema sling I would suggest using a double length nylon sling or other ‘personal anchor system’ like Sterling Rope’s Chain Reactor due to the more durable nature of the material and the lack of redundancy in a tether. If you use a spectra sling creating redundancy is recommended.

Girth-hitch your preferred tether to your hard points just as you would a daisy chain. Then by tying overhand knots you can adjust the height of your rappel device and length of your tether. I prefer to have my device as low as possible while making sure that my auto-block cannot jam. The auto-block is then rigged off the belay loop with a locking biner. You now have an extended rappel combined with your anchor tether.


Transition to Ascending

To transition to ascending grab a cord from you harness and tie a Klemheist knot around both rappel lines above your ATC. You can tie an overhand in the cord to create a comfortable length for your foot loop.

Now attach a locking biner to the auto-lock attachment on your ATC. When you step into your foot loop attach the locker to your belay loop. You now have an auto-locking ratchet that can easily capture your progress as you ascend using your Klemheist.

Note: You must rig your rappel with the break strand in the same alignment when using the device to belay off an anchor for this to work.


The author using a rappel extension during a ski decent of a direct line on the south west face of Grand Traverse Peak in Colorado’s Gore Range, March 2015. Photo: Ben Markhart.About the Author

Ben Markhart works as writer and photographer when he’s not guiding for the Apex Mountain School in Vail, Colorado. You can find more of his work on his website or on Facebook: Ben Markhart Photography.

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