Improvised Rappel Anchors
A solid anchor with two nuts and a sling
Getting off a cliff with no fixed anchors or big trees is a skill that every climber should have in his bag of tricks. It’s especially useful to do it with minimal loss of expensive hardware. Here’s one method.
Warning: Never compromise safety on rappel anchors. If you need to leave your entire rack to get down in one piece, that’s cheaper than the alternative of hospitalization—and not even comparable with the value of walking or living.
Nuts are the most economical anchors to leave. If they’re well placed in constrictions and equalized, they're more than adequate.
Trick: Hammer nuts into the crack with a nut tool and a small rock to increase holding power.
Common mistakes: Placing pro between loose blocks, putting nuts in parallel-sided cracks, and slinging loose blocks, horns, or small trees. A solid placement depends on solid rock.
Depending on the distance between gear placements, a 48-inch sewn sling or a longer cordelette (a 6-meter by 7mm cord) can be used to equalize a solid anchor. If two nuts are placed closely in a solid crack, equalize them with a single 24-inch sewn runner.
Trick: Girth-hitch sewn slings to eliminate carabiners or weaker knots. The strop bend, a modified girth hitch, is recommended.
Common mistakes: Placing multiple pieces in the same loose crack system. When in doubt, spread it out.
Once you’ve located a bomber nut placement, use a strop bend to connect a sling to the nut by threading the sling through the clip-in point and then over the head of the nut (A). Re-place the nut, and repeat with a second nut.
Trick: To equalize, gather the strands and pull them down to the lowest point. Now remove the bottom nut and tie a loose overhand knot in the sling (B). Re-place the nut and adjust the knot so it lies at the bottom of the sling, with equal tension coming off both nuts. Tighten the knot. If you have enough room in the sling, tie the overhand with a bight and clip the rope to this. Otherwise, simply clip a carabiner or quick link through both loops of the overhand knot (C)—make sure both strands are clipped.
Common mistakes: Girth-hitching and tying slings to the steel cables of nuts is not appropriate in lead systems; it’s only recommended when rappelling.
To create low-cost, effective master points on improvised rap anchors, carry a few 5/16-inch quick links purchased from the hardware store. These are strong and easy to screw onto slings. Also, carry nuts and rescue gear on a few older carabiners that you don’t mind leaving behind.
Trick: To make non-lockers more secure for rappel, leave two biners with opposed gates, and/or tape the gates shut.
Common mistakes: Attaching the rope to a nylon anchor without a metal link. This creates dangerous heat from friction on the anchor, and makes the pull from below difficult or impossible.
Place a solid cam or two beside your improvised anchor and attach these with a quickdraw or sling to the rappel rope, with no more than one inch of slack. The final rappeller can remove this backup after the system has been tested and he is ready to descend.
Trick: Rappel gently without bouncing to reduce force on the anchor.
Common mistakes: Pulling outward on nuts that are intended for a downward pull, or leaning back off the ledge to start a rappel, thus putting more outward force on the anchor. It’s better to stay low and “slither” over the edge.
An internationally certified mountain guide since 1991 and an AMGA instructor/examiner since 1999, Eli Helmuth is based in Estes Park, Colorado, and leads expeditions to South America, Alaska, and Asia with his company Climbing Life Guides. For tips and videos of many climbing systems and techniques, visit climbinglife.com/tech-tips/blog.html.