Tips on Abseiling

The advice on this page is meant as a reminder for people that have received qualified instruction on one of my rock climbing courses, or as pre-reading for those that are keen to learn as much as they can from one of Mountain-Trips rock climbing courses.

Under no circumstances should the advice on these pages be used without supervision from a suitably experienced person.

Please note that abseiling is not allowed on the Sandstone cliffs of Kent and Sussex.

Abseiling is the cause of many climbing accidents, but there is no reason for this. Abseiling should not cause any accidents as it is one of the safest aspects of climbing. There are a few simple things that all climbers should do when abseiling but many don't.

This page aims to explain some of the techniques you should be using when abseiling.

Setting up a fixed line

There are not many times when you would want to set up a fixed line for abseiling but this can be used to fetch stuck gear or help out a rock climber in trouble. It is worth noting that this photo shows a fixed line set up of bolts, if you are using natural protection make sure you know what you are doing and check your anchors. If you would like to learn how to place protection please look at one of my climbing courses.

The photo explains this set up more that I will be able to explain in this text. Make sure to apply the same principles you would use when building a belay setup. All the anchors should be equalized, directional and independent of each other. If these terms are new to you I would suggest booking on a rock climbing course and learn how to build anchors.

Tie the rope onto your anchor (you may need to use a krab here) and then tie an overhand knot and clip the loop into the second anchor. Spend some time adjusting the ropes so that the ropes are tight when they are pulled in the right direction. I have used two anchors but you may need to use more. Using three or more anchors is not explained here.

Abseiling - keep it safe

Here is a normal retrievable abseiling setup using fixed bolts. If you are placing you own protection make use you know what you are doing before you trust your weight to the gear. I have heard of a couple of incidents where climbers have been killed as they did not want to leave there climbing kit. This resulted in them setting up poor anchors that did not hold!

The photos show how to use a french prussic to keep you safe when abseiling. The french prussic should be wrapped around the abseil line and clipped into a krab attached into the leg loop of the harness. The idea is that if you were to let go of the abseil rope the prussic would hold you. Note that the krab has been clipped on the inside of the leg loop as clipping the krab to the outside can cause the buckle to come undone as the krabs hits the buckle and can hold the buckle open!

The photo on the right shows the climber using a overhand underneath the prussic knot. This should be done if you choose to let go of the rope with both hands as you should never trust a single prussic knot. You may want to do this if you are removing stuck gear or having to sort out a tangle in the climbing rope.

It is important to note that this system (nor any) is 100% safe. If the abseiler was to lift the leg that has the prussic loop the loop could raise upwards and hit the belay plate. This would cause the prussic loop to release and the abseiler would fall. This could possibly happen if the abseiler was knocked unconscious. An unconscious person would naturally fall backwards and the legs would rise upwards and cause the prussic loop to release. One way around this would be to use a sling and extend the belay plate about 15cm upwards. This is shown on the opposite photo. A girth hitch has been used to connect the sling to the abseil loop of the harness and a series of overhand knots used so the belay plate can be clipped in the correct place. If you are to use this system make sure that the sling is always tight on your anchors as a girth hitch is not a strong knot. It is all so possible for the prussic loop to touch the stitching of the sling and cause the prussic loop to release. It is therefore important to make sure the stitching is not between the belay plate and the harness.

The final thing you should do is make sure you tie a knot in the ends of the climbing rope. This will stop you from abseiling of the end of the rope should they not reach the ground.

I fully endorse the British Mountaineering Council's participation statement.....
"The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions."


Rock climbing courses Peak District climbing courses North Wales rock climbing courses South East climbing courses Kent and Sussex climbing courses
© Mountain Trips 2020