Two-Rope Rappels With One Chopped Cord
Improvising with a single strand
Rockfall happens, and sometimes ropes get chopped. If you’re 1,000 feet up a route with one rope that’s badly damaged, there’s a trick you can use to keep doing full-length, double-rope rappels. It’s sometimes called the Reepschnur rappel—I have no idea what that means, but I know from experience that it works.
You’ll be treating the damaged rope as a tag line—a skinny trail rope used only for rappels. (This same technique works well for rappelling with an intact tag line, or for full-rope-length rappels with an assisted-braking belay device, such as a Grigri, that only works on one strand.) If necessary, tie the damaged rope sections together.
You’ll be rappelling on the good rope, treating it as a single strand. Thread the good rope’s end through the anchor, and tie it to the end of the damaged rope. This knot should be bulky so it can’t pull through the rappel rings, carabiners, or webbing at the anchor. In effect, you’re rappelling off the knot, so it has to be big enough that it won’t pop through the anchor or jam into it.
If the knot popped through the anchor point, you’d be deader than fried chicken. So, just in case, clip a locking biner from the skinny rope onto the good strand. This creates a closed loop around the anchor point—even if the knot pops through, you’re still safe. The securest way to do this is to tie a figure-8 on a bight in the bad rope and clip the biner from this to the good rope. (See illustration.) You can also tie a second overhand knot with the two cords and clip the back-up biner between the two knots—this may be preferable if the damaged rope has already been shortened significantly. Clipping the ropes together this way also helps keep them in line as you pull them in high winds.
For extra friction on the single strand, run the rappel rope through two biners connecting your rappel device to your belay loop and/or rap with an extension. Remember to keep the pull rope within reach—it’s a good idea to clip it to yourself. Because you’ll pull the damaged rope every time, you’ll have to re-feed the good rope through the anchor for each rappel, but it’s a lot quicker—and uses a lot less gear—than doing singlerope rappels.
Based in Estes Park, Colorado, Kelly Cordes has done major first ascents in Pakistan and Patagonia, and he has more good margarita recipes than a hound has fleas.