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Next Level: Survive an Emergency Rappel

Learn the Dülfersitz rappel and safely lower yourself off of a steep pitch with only a rope.
Backpacker_Magazine_emergency_rappelPhoto by Rob Saunders

A 30-foot drop-off lies between you and the route onward. You packed a coil of rope, but no climbing gear. To continue safely, you need to know the Dülfersitz rappel, an early 20th-century technique that enables you to descend steep pitches with only a rope. Here’s how to go over the edge.

Choose a Rope
Select a static rope at least 30 meters long and 8mm in diameter. Dynamic, or elastic, rope isn’t needed for rappelling. A coil of Beal Rando’s Dry Twin Rope (8mm x 30m) weighs only 2.5 pounds ($60, bdel.com). Thicker rope is easier to handle and more comfortable for rappelling, but heavier than 8mm varieties.

Shed Your Gear
Ditch bulky clothing and gear to do this rappel safely and correctly. To lower your pack, thread the rope through both shoulder straps until it’s centered. Holding both ends, lower the pack over the cliff until it touches bottom. Retrieve the rope by pulling on one end.

Set an Anchor
Trees should be healthy, deeply rooted, and at least six inches in diameter. For rock horns and large boulders, make sure they’re solid and the rope can’t slip under or over them. In hard snow or ice, dig a bollard (a teardrop-shaped trench). To set the rope, loop the middle around the anchor. Then coil both ends and toss them over the cliff, making sure they reach the bottom without tangling.

Wrap the Rope
Stand facing uphill and straddle the two rope lengths coming around the anchor. Hold both ropes together, and pull them through your legs, around your hip, over your nondominant shoulder, around the back of your neck, and down your dominant arm. Hold the rope firmly with your dominant hand. The friction of the rope against your body will brake your descent.

Start Your Descent
Walk backward off the edge; you should be in an athletic stance with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent. Grip the rope firmly–your dominant hand on the downhill side of the rope, and your free hand on the uphill side for balance–and let gravity pull you down. Wear gloves for protection. Slowly feed rope as you go. Control your rate of descent by regulating how quickly the rope passes through your dominant hand. If you let go, you will fall. When you’re down, retrieve the rope by pulling on one end.

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