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Gear Guy

Should You Lower Or Rap Through Anchors?

When should you be lowering and when should you be rappelling from the top of a route? Gear Guy is sure to push some buttons with this one.

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Does lowering through rap rings or chains cause significant wear? I live in an area with established crags, but not many locals. When anchors need replacing, there’s a small group of folks around who have the knowledge, equipment and desire to do so. It seems to me that encouraging folks to lower would cause the anchors to wear out sooner. Is it best to double rope rappel if you are the last climber and cleaning the climb?

—Anonymous

When I was a child, such a long, long, long time ago, two
to four times a year at grade school they’d blast the siren and all us kids would hop under our desks and put our heads between our knees. Supposedly
the exercise was to prep us for the imminent launch of Russian nukes (or were they Chinese?), but really it was to instill a deep groinal fear of what
could happen to us if we didn’t all go along with the doctrine of the day (DOD). As the French philosopher Denis Diderot said, Man will never be free
until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

The DOD that’s got everybody by the grapes today is this absurd fear of wearing out the anchors. Where did this come from? Of course lowering through a
station will wear it out. Soooo? When the links or biners or hooks or whatever it is that’s up there get worn replace them! This little chore doesn’t
take any skillful skills or cost much. The problem arises when people are too lazy, too cheap or too ignorant to do the work. In that case, they should
quit climbing and take up bass fishing, where you can just sit on your tub and excel.

Since you asked about lowering versus rappelling, I assume you are sport climbing, and using the anchors to lower to the ground. Typically, sport anchors
are rigged with either steel, threadable chain, steel hooks or fixed carabiners, which are probably aluminum but should be steel because steel lasts
just about forever. I also imagine that you are talking about lowering after working a route, since everyone knows that you don’t work a route with
the rope threaded through the anchor, which does cause unnecessary wear and tear. (To work or TR a route, clip the anchor with your draws, and let
them take the abuse. Replace your quickdraws when they become grooved.)

On a steep climb, lowering, rather than rapping, is preferred because it frees both of your hands for cleaning the draws on the way down, and lets you tram into the rope.

You do need to recognize the rare stations that are rigged for rappelling only. These you’ll mostly find at trad areas or atop sport routes put up by Luddites
who insist on weaving web tat through the gear and capping it with a flimsy aluminum descending ring, or using a tiny chain through which the rope
will barely fit. In those situations, lowering just isn’t prudent. Next!

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