How to Rappel With an ATC

How to Rappel With an ATC
While to some rappelling is a sport in its own right, for climbers it is often the most expeditious way of descending from a climb. A climber's rappel is often much slower and thus both safer and less exciting than the rope-whizzing descent of someone who's rappelling just for fun. This guide will address how to rappel down from a single-pitch sport climb. Note that the belay device shown in the images is an ATC-XP, set on the low friction side.

Instructions

Difficulty: Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Established, secure climbing anchor with carabiner master point ATC belay device Belay carabiner Climbing harness
  • Established, secure climbing anchor with carabiner master point
  • ATC belay device
  • Belay carabiner
  • Climbing harness
Step 1
Verify that the anchor you're about the rappel from is secure. Secure yourself to the anchor using a personal anchor system or a webbing sling clipped to a load-bearing part of your harness.
Step 2
Locate the middle point in the rope. Thread one end of the rope through the carabiner at the master point of the anchor, and keep threading until you reach the middle point. Half the rope should hang down on one side of the carabiner and half the rope on the other side. Make sure that the carabiner is screwed closed to prevent the rope from becoming accidentally unclipped.
Step 3
Tie a safety knot in the ends of the rope to prevent you from accidentally rappelling off the ends. There are several ways of doing this, but one of the most common is tying both ends of the rope together with an overhand knot as shown in the image.
Step 4
Toss both ends of the rope down in the direction you're rappelling. You should be able to see both ends hit the ground--this way you know you can make it down safely, too. If you can't see the ends of the rope, have someone on the ground check for you to make sure both rope ends are down.
Step 5
Grasp both strands of rope--remember, one hangs down on each side of the anchor master point carabiner--near the master point of the anchor. Pinch the strands together to form a loop and push this loop through the ATC, with one strand in each slot. See the picture for reference.
Step 6
Clip your belay carabiner through both strands of rope and the wire loop on the ATC. Then clip the same carabiner through the belay loop on the harness you're wearing. Screw the locking gate of the carabiner shut to ensure it won't accidentally come unclipped.
Step 7
Grasp both strands of rope on the nonanchor side of your ATC. These should lead directly to the ground and are your only means of braking on rappel. Make absolutely sure that you're holding on to the ends of the rope that lead straight down to the ground, not the rope between your ATC and the anchor.
Step 8
Double-check everything you just did, including a check to make sure that your harness is on correctly and securely. Once you're sure everything is correct, take up the slack between you and the anchor by pulling rope through your ATC. Then hold both strands of the rappel rope in brake position, as seen in the image, and weight it. This is a way of testing to make sure the system, including your rope brake, works before you unclip your other connection to the anchor. That other connection, the personal anchor or sling that's still attaching you to the anchor, should be long enough that you can weight and test the rappel rope without having to unclip from the anchor.
Step 9
Keep the rappel system weighted and, once you're sure it's safe, unclip your personal anchor system backup--nothing else, just that--from the anchor. Then slowly rappel down by letting the rope slide carefully through your hand. Take care not to get going too fast as this makes it hard to brake and may even melt the rope or burn your hands. When you want to slow down, pull down and to the side on both ends of the rope, sharpening the angle at which the rope passes through the ATC. The friction created by this sharp bend is what slows you down, not the tightness of your grip.

Tips & Warnings

 
There are a few situations where having a safety knot in the end of your rappel rope might actually present a hazard. These generally occur when there's a high risk of getting the rope stuck because of the knots, which might maroon you or necessitate a difficult and dangerous retrieval. Always evaluate each step of the rappel process in the context of the current situation.
 
Climbing and rappelling are inherently dangerous activities. Always seek expert instruction, use redundant systems whenever possible, and double-check everything before committing to the rappel. Seriously consider using an autoblock knot as a safety backup on your rappel.
 
Climbing and rappelling are inherently dangerous activities. Always seek expert instruction, use redundant systems whenever possible, and double-check everything before committing to the rappel.
 
Seriously consider using an autoblock knot as a safety backup on your rappel.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

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