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The Red Helmet
The Red Helmet

How to Climb Safe: Knot Passing 101


Rappelling past a knot that links two ropes end-to-end,  need not puzzle you, nor must you learn this seemingly complicated yet vital bit of ropework the hard way. The following five-step method for passing a knot is easy to master, safe and efficient. It does assume that you have two ascenders and are using one on the rope above your rappel device, as a back-up, held with the cam thumbed open by your “guide” hand. (For more on rappel back-ups, see Rock and Ice No. 136.) Though prusiks can substitute for ascenders, they are much harder to operate. Since you are most likely to pass knots in a big-wall situation, where ascenders are necessary and standard gear, we’ve used ascenders to demonstrate the five steps. Regardless of whether you use ascenders or prusiks, connect them to your harness by girth-hitching a sling or daisy chain through your belay/rappel loop before you begin the rappel. Clip the sling or daisy to each ascender or prusik with a locking carabiner, or two standard biners with their gates opposed and reversed.

Transfer weight. Rappel until your brake hand almost touches the knot. Shove your ascender up the rope, letting it engage and take all of your weight. Stopping with your rap device at least a foot above the knot is critical. If you let the knot jam into your device, you will, once you clamp your second ascender on the rope, have to jug up a few strokes to free the device—a hassle.  























 Double Up. Attach your second ascender on the rope above your first (and now fully weighted) ascender. Keep the slings connecting each ascender to your harness short, so you can easily reach them. A 12-inch sling (or daisy) works well for the bottom ascender; clip a 24-inch sling to the top ascender. If the top sling is too long, the ascender can shoot out of reach—another hassle.


REMOVE/REINSTALL RAPPEL DEVICE. The rope running through your rappel device should be slack, with all your weight on the bottom ascender, which is backed up by the top ascender. Remove your rappel device from the rope and reinstall it on the rope immediately below the knot. 

REMOVE, REINSTALL and RAPPEL. Once your rappel device is weighted and locked off, and both ascenders are unweighted, remove the bottom ascender from the rope and reinstall it on the rope below the knot and above your rappel device. You may need to rappel a foot or so to give the ascender enough “breathing room” for this maneuver. Remove the top ascender, untie the back-up figure-eight, and rappel. 

TRANSFER WEIGHT. This is the trickiest bit. Weight the top ascender by pushing it up the rope, then down-jug a move or two until your bottom ascender nearly reaches the knot you are trying to pass. To more easily weight and unweight the ascenders, clip a long sling(s) or aider to each ascender and alternate standing in these as you weight/unweight each ascender. (For clarity, we have omitted the runner/aider in these photos.) At this point, you should be able to suck any excess slack through your rappel device and, as you down-jug, to transfer your weight onto the rappel device. If there’s enough slack in the lower rope, tie a back-up figure-8-on-a-bight in the rope about a foot below where you will reattach your rappel device. This “stopper” knot will safeguard against you losing control and plummeting down the rope. 



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