March 24, 2022

A Basic Guide to Rappelling Rigging (Pre-Rigged Rappel)

by Bernice

Rappelling rigging (rigging to rappel, pre-rigged rappel) is a skill that’s often greatly undervalued. However, it’s a necessary part of rappelling and should be finessed, allowing climbers to rig quickly and effortlessly to move on to more fun stuff. Doing this helps prevent any accidents when your system isn’t rigged correctly.

The chances are that you want to complete your system and get to rappelling as quickly as possible. Some quick rigging setups could add value to your system and make it better.

They can also improve your skillset and make you a better technician in vertical environments. Before you proceed, get to know what does rappelling mean.


Table of Contents

What are the Three Types of Rigging?

Understand that various scenarios provide varying obstacles and options; however, these types of rigging cover all bases, ensuring that your system is properly rigged.

There are three types of rigging rappelling listed below.

  • Hasty
  • Retrievable
  • Contingency
A Basic Guide to Pre Rigged Rappel

Hasty Rigging

Hasty rigging is named so because climbers tend to do dirty and quick rigging and get to rappelling quickly. Usually, there are two options used in for hasty rigging listed below.

Option 1

This option involves building a simple webbing anchor and attaching the rope’s end to the anchor with a locking carabiner and a single-loop figure-8.

It’s often used in search and rescue since it allows rescuers to get over walls as fast as possible, reach the subject, and start the rescue process.

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Option 2

This option is referred to by most climbers as “toss and go.” It involves reeving the rope through a rap ring or ropes at the top of a rappel/climb.

Next, climbers feed the rope until they reach the middle, then rappel down with both sides of their rope through the descending mechanism.

Both options (and even many more) help get the job done quicker. They also require minimal effort gear and are efficient.

However, the first option has one major drawback; climbers can’t retrieve their rope once they finish their descent.

Thus if you want to use your static rappelling rope for multiple rappels, you’ll have to consider the “toss and go” option or other options in retrievable rigging.

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Retrievable Rigging

Retrievable rigging allows climbers to retrieve their ropes when they finish their descent. The toss and go option from hasty rigging also falls into this category, which is why most climbers use it.

Toss and go allows climbers to descend quickly, efficiently and get their gear back.

Climbers pull one side of the rope through the rap ring or bolts at the top once they get to the ground.

This type of rigging is essential in canyoneering, where climbers perform multiple rappels to get down dry or wet from waterfalls through a slot canyon rappel.

Canyoneers (pressed by necessity) have put a lot of time and thought into retrievable rigging and developed additional options that rappellers could use, including the knot block.

The knot block involves reeving your rope through the rap ring to bolt.

However, there is a risk that comes with this setup. Measure your rope, ensuring it doesn’t extend so far as to lie on the ground. Next, tie a knot (a single-loop figure-8 tie) that can not pass through the rap ring.

Climbers must rappel using the proper side of their rope. One side of the rope is fixed for rappelling, while the other side is used for pulling your rope from the bottom and won’t work if used for rappelling.

Rigging to the wrong side of your rope could cause fatal injuries. Thus, you should allow an experienced individual to check your system if you don’t have the proper experience.

What are the Other Ways of Rigging to Rappel?

Most people don’t consider that there are times when they may be rappelling with inexperienced partners. Thus, the question is, what can climbers rig to help inexperienced rappellers while they learn to rappel?

Other important questions include: what can a new rappeller do if they get stuck? How do you plan on rescuing them?

You may have a clue on how to rescue yourself if something gets snagged by your defending mechanism; however, does your inexperienced partner know how to fix it themselves?

Or, what if your climbing partner is using a prusik, which gets stuck on the way down because they forgot to tend it? What if they become unconscious, panic, and can’t unstick the prusik? How do you plan on rescuing them?

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There are a few options for those carrying extra gear. For instance, you could use an additional rope and do a pick-off.

You can keep rappelling to the bottom once they are transferred to your line. You could also build an MA (mechanical advantage) system and use it to haul their system to the top of the rappel.

These two options work great; however, they require time, equipment, and personnel. They are perfect for search and rescue, where trained rescuers have lots of rappelling equipment.

However, they can be problematic when you and your crew have no idea what’s going on. Here is another way you could go about it called contingency rigging.

Contingency Rigging

Contingency rigging is an alternative that provides climbers with the chance to lower the whole system in case of an emergency rappel or problem. This alternative doesn’t require an extra rope or an MA system.

Plus, it’s pretty quick since you get to do it right away instead of waiting for five to ten minutes for the MA system. For instance, what would you do if your glove gets stuck in the descending mechanism?

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Wait five minutes for rescuers to set up an MA system (or search for an extra rope) or get rescued immediately.

Many types of contingency rigging are available; however, this article focuses on two quick, minimalistic, and versatile systems.

As with retrievable systems, you must ensure that your rope is double your drop when rappelling. There is a chance that your partner can get stuck right as they begin to rappel, and you’d have to help them down.

Tensionless

Tensionless rigging is fast and needs nothing other than a rope. Search and rescue teams often use it for first rescuers if there’s a strong tree that you can use as an anchor.

The system is so good that the only problem may be the lack of a strong pole or tree for rappelling that you can use to anchor the rappeller. Note that it’s not designed for any other artificial protection (or rocks).

One bonus with the system could be that it isn’t loaded with knots. Often, knots weaken your rope; however, the tensionless setup allows you to tap the rope’s full strength.

The tensionless system is similar to what’s shown in cowboy movies, where cowboys wrap their reins a few times around a post.

You may think that it’s the cowboys getting lazy; however, it does hold. When rigging this system, all you have to do is wrap your rope around the anchor about four times, and you are done.

The system doesn’t require carabiners, webbing, or anchor building mechanisms. The wraps will depend on your rope’s slickness and your anchor’s size.

Slicker and smaller anchors require more wraps than thicker rougher anchors. The rig is thought of as an open system after doing this.

There is a probability that your system will hold, considering you’ve done the correct amount of wraps on the right tree.

However, you could still close off the system using a knot placed on the rope’s standing end that’s clipped to the rigging’s loaded side.

The knot should not be loaded when placed in a correctly rigged system. You’ll need to untie the knot then feed your rope through your rigged system if you have to do a rescue lower.

You’ll need to create some slack when doing the first few wraps to easily lower your system.

Note: Rappelling from a tree will damage the tree’s bark, which could affect its health. The tree bark is also quite rough and could damage your rope.

Thus, you should avoid using this technique unless it’s an emergency. You could also wrap a tarp around the tree when doing multiple rescues. 

Munter Mule

Munter mule isn’t as minimalistic as its tensionless counterpart. You’ll need another carabiner and anchor building materials. Read our step-by-step guide to how to rappel with a carabiner.

A Munter hitch is a good backup when climbers drop their descending mechanism down a cliff. The munter hitch provides friction used to do a lower or be rappelled with.

When static rigging, your munter hitch is tied off by the mule knot, preventing it from slipping.

It’s suitable for contingency rigging since you can effortlessly untie your mule knot under load, allowing climbers to lower the system using your munter hitch. However, you must place or build an anchor before using the munter mule rigging.

You could sling a webbing on a rock, use a rap ring (even bolts), ice, or artificial rock. Measure your rope and clip your locking carabiner on the anchor.

Then tie the munter mule rigging to your locking carabiner. Climbers that don’t consider a half-hitch or overhand backup as part of a munter mule knot should tie a protective backup knot.

You can close this system for additional safety by clipping your carabiner from the leftover bight from your backup knot onto the line you’ll use for rappelling. Lowering the system includes the following steps listed below.

  • Unclipping the carabiner
  • Untying your backup knot
  • Pulling the standing section
  • Untying the knot’s mule portion

Then, you can lower the whole system and the rescued individual to the ground.

What are the Things to Consider when Rigging any Rappel?

Remember that you should have sufficient rope when rigging for contingency. The rope should be double the length you plan to rappel and some more.

However, when you have a couple of ropes and plan to do a long rappel, you could try attaching the ropes and placing a knot in-between the rappeller and rigging.

Doing this helps you avoid passing the tied knot through the rigging. You should protect your rope from abrasive edges.

This is essential when doing a lower. Switch to contingency rigging and change the rope’s abrasion point in-between rappels if you can’t protect your edge.

It isn’t necessary for every person in your team to use contingency rigging. You could all use this type of rigging for every team member except the final rappeller in your group.

Your last rappeller should be good enough in rappelling that they are capable of rappelling on retrievable systems allowing you to get your ropes and move to your next rappel.

You’ll have to put some extra effort to switch your contingency rig to retrievable rigs; however, it’s worth it when rappelling with less experienced teammates.

What’s a Pre-Rigged Rappel?

A pre-rigged rappel is a rappel where every person (as can fit) on the climbing team gets attached to the same rope simultaneously using a rappel extension.

How to Setup a Pre-Rigged (or “stacked”) Rappel?

Rappellers stay in line and are attached to the rope using carabiners awaiting their turn.

The system’s extended sling helps rappellers waiting to rappel to stay connected and not get swung about by the rope’s tension resulting from the rappellers on the rappel.

Even with the extension, it can be uncomfortable for the second climber to stay in place. You could prevent this by tying an overhand to a bight in the two rope strands between the first and second rappellers.

Then, it would help if you clipped the bight to your masterpoint, putting all your weight to the first rappeller. The second rappeller then unties the knot and goes down typically when the initial rappeller is off the rappel.

Why Should We Use a Pre-Rigged Rappel?

A pre-rigged rappel reduces the risk

It’s common practice to give climbing partners a safety inspection when climbing. It’s also important to give your partner a similar safety inspection when rappelling.

The system is great for inexperienced individuals since it allows guides or experienced partners to go first, declutter the ropes, then find and rig your next anchor.

Also, it only needs a single safety knot. The first rappeler to go down makes a stopper knot to either strand. They may also connect it to the belay loop, preventing rappellers from going off the rope’s end.

Additionally, the technique reduces risk when performing several dual-rope rappels. Finally, the system is great for two individuals (with one headlamp) rappelling at night since it allows them to configure the system using one headlamp.

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A pre-rigged rappel improves speed

This system allows rappellers to rig up the system simultaneously, which improves the speeds than if climbers had to do it one at a time. It allows two people (in a three-person team) to rappel, with minimal risk simultaneously.

What are the Potential Downsides of Using a Pre-Rigged Rappel?

This is a list of two potential downsides of using a pre-rigged rappel.

  • Ensure that the rope pulls through smoothly since the individual above you locks the rope and secures it in place. Pulling your rope through smoothly is more crucial than any amount of speed or reduced risk.
  • You may end up short if your rope’s exact middle isn’t on the anchor, which could lead to a fall or get you stuck (if you use a stopper knot). You can avoid this by placing your rope correctly and using a good technique.

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About the author 

Bernice

Bernice often jokes that she is better at climbing than walking. With avid parents of climbing, her first encounter with the high vertical rock walls was at the age of one. Her favorite style of climbing is bouldering.

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