April 14, 2022

How Do Alpinists and Rock Climbers Get Down?

by Roger

We’ve decided to cover one specific question we get asked regularly on Twitter – how do alpinists and rock climbers get down?

The question makes sense for the everyday reader, as there are at least six ways for a rock climber to get down after a successful climb to the top of the climbing route.

Table of Contents

After Free Soloing a Cliff, How Do Climbers Get Back Down?

You’re probably asking how free solo hikers descend. Climbing without ropes is known as free solo climbing. Climbing without using ropes and tugging on the wall’s gear is known as free climbing.

Free solo climbers commonly descend the mountain by walking down the easiest side. On El Cap, that’s what happened to Alex Honnold.

Shorter climbs are occasionally down climbed by free solo climbers, but this is usually done as part of performing laps for training. To rappel, they’ll at times use anchored ropes from the top.

How Do Rock Climbers Get Down?

Depending on the gear at the top and the size of the wall, there are several options for the alpinists and rock climbers to get down.

Climbers typically descend a wall by simply rappelling or dropping off the top using a set anchor. A permanent anchor comprises several bolts bored into the surface and connected by descending chains or rings.

This is a list of the several ways alpinists and climbers get down from the top of a mountain or a cliff.

  1. Hiking/Walking Off
  2. Down Climbing
  3. Lowering
  4. Rappelling/Abseiling
  5. Down Climbing
  6. Base Jump

Related Article: What is the Relationship between Rappelling and Mountaineering?

1. Hiking/Walking Off

A typical climbing day entails hiking to the top, establishing an anchor, and then walking back or rappelling to the base to complete the climb (in case there isn’t an anchor already set).

There is usually a route to walk down a much less steep section of the rock formation based on the locality. A little visible way to go down is usually present in high-traffic areas.

One of rock climbing’s biggest draws is a long day of ascending followed by a beautiful walk-off as the sunsets.

2. Down Climbing

Down climbing is an extremely uncommon method of descending. It could be quite hazardous on tricky rock ascents since you can’t see footholds like you can while climbing up! It was just a matter of descending.

People usually climb down for free, soloing, training, or even when there has been an incident or a fallen rope. In mountaineering and alpine climbing, you walk back down the route.

Hikers and mountaineers will sometimes use the opposite path as rock climbers and trek up the easy side before rappelling down a cliff face.

3. Lowering

With most routes, just at the summit of the pitch, there will be a system of metal lowering rings screwed into the rock.

When climbers arrive, they use a customized anchor system to attach themselves to the summit. They then lower themselves by threading the rope via the metal rappelling rings.

The climber is tethered to one side, while the belayer is on the ground – or, in some cases, further down on the rock (on a belay station in multi-pitch climbing routes).

The belayer, after that lowers the hiker by using a belay device to control the rope. It’s also how rock climbers get down in climbing gyms, and it’s the most apparent response to the question “how do rock climbers get down?”

You could do so many rappels or lowers if there are numerous pitches. Your buddy lowers you to the next anchor, and then you lower your partner, repeating that process till you hit the ground.

4. Rappelling/Abseiling

Most climbers will abseil or rappel rather than climbing multi-pitches or in trad climbing. Both words refer to the very same thing. You descend yourself using the rope rather than having your companion lower you.

Rappelling is a basic activity but hard and somehow dangerous if not done correctly. The climber ties the rope via the anchor, ensuring the endpoints are of equal length – that is, the rope’s midpoint is at the pillar.

They then can link themselves to the rope with a rappelling device such as a figure-eight rappel device, an ATC rappel device, or even simply an extra carabiner for rappelling.

The climber creates friction with the rappel device by manually letting sufficient rope pass through so that they can be lowered securely and slowly.

You could even descend on one end of the rope to go even further, although this is much more difficult to control and bring the rope down.

How Do Alpinists Get Down

Related Article: Which are the Hardest Mountains to Climb in the World?

Lowering vs. Rappelling

There’s a lot of disagreement about whether climbers must lower or rappel for ordinary climbing in the climbing world. Since the anchors are large metal rods that show minimal wear, their companions often drop hikers.

Heavy ropes can start to wear down the anchors with everyday use at major crags, so it’s advisable to include your carabiners on quickdraws to the anchor and have the final person descend from the set gear.

Because many climbing incidents occur while rappelling or lowering, also, safety is a consideration. Before leaving the ground, ensure your companion knows if you plan to rappel or descend and verify it before starting.

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5. Down Climbing

Here, the downclimb isn’t just another way of saying “climb down.” It is a technique used when descending from the slopes.

The method entails leveraging the smears or edges that were not noticeable on your way up. It would help to make modest moves forward using streaks and edges as grasping points.

You must progress from one grasping point to another by taking little increments. You’ll be in the swing and be in a position to move regularly from one holding place to the next before you realize it.

It’s critical to identify your neutral balancing point before you begin this way of going down. It will assist you in determining where you should relax if you require to break the momentum regularly.

While it may appear that exploiting the smears or edges is simple in the future, this is not necessarily the case.

While down climbing is among the most effective ways to climb down a mountain, it takes a lot of training to master. As a result, now is the time if you haven’t attempted it before. 

6. Base Jump

Base jumping is not a technique that you can practice regularly. It’s almost a sport in and of itself. It entails jumping from the peak’s summit to a flat surface or base camp.

It’s frequently appropriate for lesser rocks or mountains. It also necessitates substantial training.

As you’ve seen, base jumping is reserved for the most experienced jumpers. It’s not suitable for the average mountaineer. As a result, you could only consider base hopping if you’ve followed these rules.

What Equipment Do You Need to Get Down From Climbing?

Various methods of descent require different equipment, but nothing you wouldn’t already have as a climber and rappeller. Because each descending technique requires a somewhat different set of skills, it’s critical to choose the equipment you will need to get down from climbing in advance.

Personal Anchor 

When you’re gearing up to rappel or lower, you’ll need a mechanism to attach yourself to a set anchor. To avoid risk and confusion, you want the anchor-attachment method to be secure, simple, and controlled. Here are some possibilities for establishing your personal anchor.

  • PAS: A personal anchor system is an equipment piece designed expressly for this function. It includes interlocking material loops that attach to the fixed anchor gear at varied lengths. You can do both rappelling and lower with a PAS. Daisy chains were once popular, but they are no longer recommended for security purposes.
Metolius Rock Climbing Equalizer Anchor Sling with Pocket-15ft
  • Made of 16 mm Monster webbing
  • Made with reinforced end-loops to provide additional, full-strength clip-in points
  • Strength: 22kn when used as a looped sling or a two/three point anchor or 18kn when used end to end

Last update on 2023-09-26 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

  • Slings: Slings are more multi-purpose compared to a normal PAS and come in double or single lengths. They may be lengthened or shortened by making knots, and when not used, you could drape them over the hiker’s shoulder to save room on the harness. You can use slings for lowering as well as rappelling. Here is a guide on how to choose climbing slings.
Black Diamond Equipment 10 mm Dynex Runner 60 cm
98 Reviews
Black Diamond Equipment 10 mm Dynex Runner 60 cm
  • Dynex is highly abrasion resistant, strong and lightweight
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Last update on 2023-09-26 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

  • Quickdraws: They are the most common piece of sports climbing equipment, although you can also use them as a private anchor if necessary. Quickdraws are primarily important when lowering. Attaching oneself to the permanent anchors of sport climb with quickdraws avoids the urge to bring any extra gear up the route. And here you can access more information on how many quickdraws you will need for sport climbing.
Black Diamond Hotwire Quickpack 12Cm, One Size
  • Hot-forged HotWire carabiners on the top and bottom
  • Colored bottom HotWire carabiner for visual target while climbing
  • Dual wiregates eliminate gate flutter

Last update on 2023-09-26 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Belay Device/Rappelling Device/Rappelling Descender

Rappelling devices allow you to keep control of the rope. The belayer may have the device while lowering you. You don’t require one to go down when climbing. The only situation when you will need a rappelling device is when you are rappelling alone. In this case, you will need a rappelling descender.

Rappelling is the only type of climbing-related activity where each climber must get their rappelling equipment. There are two kinds of rappel devices that are commonly used are:

  • Assisted braking system (ABS): The famous Petzl GriGri that most newer climbers get acquainted with while at the gym falls into this category. If you’re rappelling with an assisted braking device like the Gri-Gri, be sure the rope is fixed so you can rappel one side without dragging it via the anchor. Simul-rappelling is a technique in which two hikers rappel off different sides from the exact rope.
PETZL GRIGRI Belay Device - Belay Device with Cam-Assisted Blocking for Sport, Trad, and Top-Rope Climbing - Blue
  • PROGRESSIVE DESCENT CONTROL: 3:1 mechanical advantage of the camming mechanism helps smoothly control the rope and reduce lowering efforts regardless of rope diameter.
  • CAM-ASSISTED BLOCKING: Cam-assisted blocking ensures a comfortable belay—when the climber falls or weights the rope—the cam in the device automatically cinches down to arrest the rope.
  • COMFORTABLE and CONVENIENT: Simple to use for belaying both lead and top rope climbers. Rope installation diagram engraved on the inside and outside of the device serves as a friendly reminder to novices and experts alike.

Last update on 2023-09-26 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

  • A tube-style gear: It includes the traditional Black Diamond ATC that enables the ascender to feed two halves of the rope via the device while rappelling, allowing them to rappel by themselves easily. Whereas a tube-style device does not offer aided braking, descending on both rope ends adds a lot of friction.
Black Diamond ATC-Guide, Black, One Size
300 Reviews
Black Diamond ATC-Guide, Black, One Size
  • Excellent protection without hindering activity
  • Purpose designed and built
  • Cutting-edge climbing equipment is designed and built for the send across the full spectrum of climbing pursuits

Last update on 2023-09-26 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Related Article: GriGri vs. ATC

Approach Shoes

If you’re rappelling or descending a route, you generally won’t be required to bring an extra pair of shoes because you’ll not be putting much pressure on your feet.

If you’re trekking down, though, buying a pair of lightweight yet durable approach shoes is a wise option. Here we have guides for the best men’s and women’s approach shoes.

Arc'teryx Arakys Approach Shoe Women's | Ultralight Approach Shoe | Desert Salt/Desert Salt, 9
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Arc'teryx Arakys Approach Shoe Women's | Ultralight Approach Shoe | Desert Salt/Desert Salt, 9
  • ALPINE AND ROCK CLIMBING - Climbing equipment designed for efficient movement and protection in alpine environments.
  • SYNTHETIC FIBRE - Engineered materials that offer enhanced properties or performance.
La Sportiva TX4 Approach Shoe - Men's Carbon/Flame 46
214 Reviews
La Sportiva TX4 Approach Shoe - Men's Carbon/Flame 46
  • Uber-sticky Vibram Mega-Grip traverse outsole with enhanced stability area and Trial Bite Heel Braking Platform
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Last update on 2023-09-26 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

How Do Climbers Get Their Ropes Back?

When the hiker reaches the ground and retrieves their rope, they start pulling one side down. Climbers grasp onto the other side or tether it to an anchor to avoid dropping the whole thing.

The other end will tumble to the ground after slipping via the anchor at the summit. Some clever rope twisting will lower the rope much of the time – preferably without lowering any loose debris.

The rappelling rope may become snagged in the middle of a route with many protruding rocks, foliage, or trees. Climbers reclaim their ropes in such a situation by using either a portion of the rope or asking for assistance.

Thankfully, we have a dedicated article on how to get your rope back after rappelling.

How Do Climbers Get Down From El Capitan?

On El Capitan, many climbers return to campsite four by walking down one of the main trails. Before a multi-day ascent, the crew will most likely have ascended to the summit to store food and water, as well as on ledges along the path to keep things simpler.

On El Cap, Alex Honnold slowly walked down after his free solo of the Nose route, as well as Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell on the Dawn Wall.

They’d all left some water, food, or gear on the route, so they either enlisted the support of the cameraman and crew or went back the following day and jugged up the fixed lines to get it.

Important Climbing Terms and Gear for Climbers when They Get Down

This is a list of the most important climbing terms. In this article, we have listed 63 of the most important climbing terms.

  • Belay. Belay (belaying) is a French term that means “to stop.” A belayer is in charge of one side of the rope, ensuring that the climber has enough rope to move up, holding the rope if the climber falls or rests, and lowering the climber on the way down. A belay device is a small metal device connects the belayer’s harness and the rope. It enables the belayer to employ friction to stop or slow a climber’s descent.
  • Rappel Device. It’s a metal gear used for rappelling or abseiling. In ascending, a belay device is often used as rappel equipment. Rappel devices offer you smooth control over the rope when rappelling.
  • Figure 8. Common and basic rappel equipment is used for canyoneering, military rappels, waterfall rappelling, and cave rappelling. You can use it for belaying and for almost all types of rappelling.
  • Anchor. Anchors and bolts are fixed to the summit of a climb or pitch and used to lower or rappel.
  • Chains. In rock climbing, two bolts driven into the wall are frequently connected by chains. Lowering straight through chain links, rappelling rings, or hefty carabiners. Many climbers call any fastened anchor “the chains.”
  • Carabiner. A carabiner is a metal oval with one end that unlocks. In rock climbing, you can use it in a variety of ways. The opening gate is usually lockable, and you could use it to secure yourself to anchor points or attach a rappel or belay device to your harness.

How Do Climbers Get Their Gear Back?

Climbers usually reclaim the gear they’ve left behind by gathering it as they descend. They lower themselves by looping rope around the rock or a tree rappel or using a permanent anchor at the summit.

Climbers may obtain their equipment back if they belay their companion up the wall after them.

Sport climbers bring quickdraws and then clip them into pre-drilled bolts into the wall. They unfasten those and connect them to the harness once they lower.

In traditional climbing, the belayer follows the first climber or rather the leader and removes the safety as they ascend. The two then descend one after the other from the peak, going down.

How Do Climbers Get Their Anchors Back?

You’re presumably referring to climbers’ equipment to attach themselves to the wall. It’s addressed in the previous response.

Climbers may have to set an anchor built of pricey gear to descend if one is not already present. The anchor is usually fixed at the top and does not need to be removed.

It’s usually impossible to get it again in that instance. You could go up some other time, build a fresh anchor out of less expensive fabric or cord – or even drive in bolts if drilling is permitted in the location – and rescue the valuables.

Normally, you give up the gear so that others can benefit from it in the future.

NAXEN 26kN Bolt Hanger Stainless Steel Climbing Hanger Climbing Anchor for 10 mm / 3/8" Bolt Pack of 6
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EXCELFU 12 Pack Tie Down Anchors, 2' Diameter Steel V-Ring Bolt On D-Rings for Cargo on Trucks Pickups Trailers
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EXCELFU 12 Pack Tie Down Anchors, 2" Diameter Steel V-Ring Bolt On D-Rings for Cargo on Trucks Pickups Trailers
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ISOP Climbing Anchor Bolt 2 Set - Expansion Bolt and Hanger FIXE 1 Rock Climbing - Usable for Fire Escape Rope Ladders
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Last update on 2023-09-26 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

How Do Climbers Get Down From Everest?

Climbers descend Mount Everest in the same order that they ascended. There’s no simple way down since the journey up follows the path of low resistance.

There are numerous difficulties in descending, and most climbers who die on Everest do so shortly after reaching the top.

The fundamental issue is that individuals invest all they have to reach the top. It’s a little simpler to go down, though it’s still really difficult.

People who are fatigued often pause to relax and never resume their activities. It is fatal to be caught in terrible weather as this occurs. Here is more information on when is the Everest climbing season.

Do Climbers Have to Leave Gear to Get Down?

Climbers may have to make their permanent anchors descend in an emergency. On the other hand, individuals do not need to leave their gear in a regular lowering, hiking, or rappelling scenario.

A competent climber will understand how to handle their ropes so you can use them for descent while still being retrievable after they are securely down.

Do Free Climbers Climb Back Down?

Down climbing is exceedingly difficult; many free solo climbers stroll off the summit of their routes. Since the ascender’s body obfuscates their grip’s view, descending is often more difficult. They will descend easier ways if a hike off the peak is impossible.

Is Getting Down Dangerous?

Climbers are frequently harmed when descending because of a breakdown in communication with their climbing partners or belayer.

Before you begin climbing, make sure you know the right climbing instructions and talk about how you’re planning to go down. Before performing any of the procedures listed above, always get advice from a professional partner or acquaintance.

Can You Get Down From a Mountain Alone?

Yes, you could climb down the cliff on your own. You could climb solo using a variety of tactics, including:

  • Free solo
  • Roped solo

One of the safest methods of solo climbing is the roped solo approach. It entails both climbing and descending a rock. Free solo is a risky method used by only daredevils. As a result, you can ascend alone if you employ the necessary technique and equipment.

Can You Self Belay to Get Down a Mountain?

It is possible to self-belay. You can prevent yourself from sliding down by using equipment such as an ice ax for most circumstances. When you’re not ascending a slope in icy terrain, you can handle the rope in position with another piece of equipment.

What General Climbing Down Rules Should I Follow?

  • Using a proper force of gravity when getting down from the top is essential. It must be just above your knees. It would help if you guaranteed that you don’t lean backward or forward throughout the descent.
  • When descending, your knees must always be slightly bent. The muscles will indeed absorb the effect. It’ll ensure to minimize the joint’s impact.
  • When you’re dropping, you have to concentrate. An accident or climbing injury can result from a single blunder.
  • You must take shorter steps at all times. It will guarantee that you maintain your pull of gravity.
  • It’s a great idea to fasten the hip strap throughout the downhill if you’re on uneven surfaces. It ensures that you’re able to retain your equilibrium.
  • When lowering, you must always flow with the terrain. It ensures that the body pressure is kept to a minimum.

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Last Updated on January 16, 2023 by Roger

About the author


Roger was born into a family of climbers. As the youngest of his siblings, he was also the most ardent climber of them. Small and agile, he practiced climbing all day. Today, Roger teaches children how to climb the large rock walls safely.

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