Tech Tip - Alpine - Don’t spit in the wind

By Tony Jewell ,

Figure 1. Keeping the cord stacked in your sack will prevent it from flying high in the sky.

Don’t spit in the wind — rappelling in gusty conditions

You and your partner have just knocked off an ascent of the classic south face of Prusik Peak, in Washington’s central Cascades, but now it’s late, you’re tired, you’ve got four double-rope rappels to make down the north face ... and the wind is howling at gale force. As you toss the rope for the first rap, the air currents catch the strands and twist them into a thick, spaghetti-like mass. Untangling the ropes as you descend is going to be a miserable and time-consuming affair — a veritable nightmare. The solution, then? Don’t throw them at all. Instead, connect one end of one rope to the rappel anchor with a figure-8-on-a-bight, tie a nice big stopper knot in the other end of that rope, then stack it into your pack (Figure 1). If you don’t have a pack, cradle butterfly coils in a shoulder sling clipped to your harness or gear sling (Figure 2). Now tie the one end of the second rope to your harness and have your partner belay you on that strand while you rappel on the anchored rope stacked in your pack. You may feel that you don’t need a belay, but this technique provides a reliable back-up and gets your second rope down without any throwing. As you rappel, feed the rope out of your pack or coil — though it can be a bit of a hassle, it sure beats getting your rope stuck in no-man’s land. Once at the next belay, anchor yourself, then clip both rope strands into the anchor to keep them from being blown out of your reach. At this point, your partner rigs the ropes in normal rappel fashion and raps down. When your partner is ready to rappel, keep the strands anchored, or, if there is not enough slack in the system, remove the rope ends from the anchor and grasp them firmly in your hands. Not only does this keep the wind from whirling your ropes into the stratosphere, it enables you to back up your partner’s rappel (a “fireman’s” belay). When both of you are safely at the belay anchor, be sure to re-anchor the ropes with a clove hitch until you’re ready to pull them, so they don’t get blown away. Then comes the most treacherous task: pulling the ropes, the most likely time they’ll get stuck. Be patient and wait for a lull in the wind before pulling. I used to give the rope a quick, hard yank when I felt it about to slide through the anchor, but I’ve stopped after twice having the rope knot itself at the anchor. Now I just hope the mountain gods are smiling on me as I let the weight of the rope pull the end through the anchor.

Figure 2. In the event you don’t have a pack, use a shoulder sling to cradle a flaked rope

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