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Ask the Master: The Pros and Cons of Simul-Rappelling

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The accident analysis in the most recent issue of Rock and Ice [Simul-Rappel Goes Tragically Wrong – Reed’s Pinnacle, Yosemite] got me thinking about the pros and cons of simul-rappelling. I’d love to see your list of pros and cons / when it makes sense and when it’s probably a bad idea.

I was also surprised that the accident analysis advocated the leg-loop method of rigging a prusik backup. I’ve been climbing since the mid-1980s, and many years ago … I experimented with rigging a prusik off my leg loop as described in the article. It felt very awkward on my brake hand, twisted my body in a weird way, pulled on my leg and prevented it from moving naturally as I moved down the face.

Then one day, a young high-school-aged partner who had been taught by professional guides here in Bozeman showed me how to rig an extended rappel with a prusik back-up, using a long runner. This was one of the greatest revelations of my climbing career.


Jeff Ward.
Jeff Ward.

In my opinion the rewards of simul-rappelling rarely outweigh the risks. Oftentimes when I see people simul-rappelling they are rappelling so slow and carefully (which is a good idea) that they really aren’t saving themselves that much time.

As far as teaching new/younger climbers to rappel, I think a belayed rappel is more appropriate. This gives added security and allows them to rappel on their own. Once they have demonstrated some proficiency they can move onto a backed-up rappel, either via a “fireman’s belay” from below or an extended rappel backup (I fully agree that the rappel should be extended and the backup should be clipped to the belay loop instead of the leg loop).

If you are using the extended rappel this allows both people to be rigged on rappel and double checked each other before anyone leaves the station (pre-rigged rappel). Sure, you have more motivation to check your partner when your life is also involved but you shouldn’t need more motivation for this important step.

—Jeff Ward

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