Do you free solo? Most people would say no way, not ever. But wait a minute, what exactly is free soloing?
Free soloing is climbing with no safety net. It’s a place where your life literally is in your hands and accidents are verboten. While free soloing you only have one means of connection to the rock and if that fails you splat, end of story.
Now with that definition of free soloing I’d beg to differ with those people who think they never free solo. Let’s think about what happens when you rappel. You run your rope through a hopefully bomber anchor, toss it over the edge, attach your device and then you’re on your way down. But while you’re rappelling you only have one method of connection to the rock and that is your brake hand on the rope. In essence you’re free soloing because there is no safety net, there is no back up and the only thing between you and the infinite nap is your brake hand.
Now that may sound like a bit of a stretch but if you have ever read Accidents in North American Mountaineering you know that it seems like there are more rappelling accidents than any other type. Now that is absurd to me because in a lot of cases those accidents are preventable by simply backing up your rappel.
I propose that next time you rappel you back it up just to see how easy it is. The key to making it quick and easy is to use a very short cordolette as an autoblock attached to your leg loop with a locker. You have to keep it short to prevent it from jamming your device should you have a gnarly accident. This is crucially important so I’ll repeat it, the autoblock will not work if it jams your device so make sure it is short enough when everything is fully weighted and when you lift the leg that your autoblock is attached to. I have an especially short cordolette that I have marked that I use to back up all of my rappels.
(Update 2012: I have started extending my belay device. I started doing this because extending the device as shown in the diagram adds redundancy to the system. This method allows me to remove a single point of failure and doesn’t use any gear that I don’t already have on my harness. This method also has the benefit of keeping my autoblock even further from my device. The picture is from “Self-Rescue” the book, which is highly recommended.)
A word on cordolettes. Not all cordolettes work as friction knots. Anything that is dyneema or dynex will not only slip but it will also melt and weaken to the point of failure. This is the job for some good old fashioned 6mm accessory cord with a double fisherman’s knot.
Give this a try next time you’re out. You’ll find that it takes almost no time and it makes life tremendously easier. Just the other day I was rappelling down a slightly overhanging face and found the rope was tangled up into a big ball of nastiness. I guess I could have done the “wrap the rope around your leg three times” trick but instead I engaged the autoblock, worked on the tangle and then finished the rappel. Piece of cake.
So next time you’re out, try backing up your rappel. It takes 30 seconds and it makes climbing just a bit safer which will make your Mom happy.
If you want more great info on rappelling check out this article by Climbing Life Five Rappelling Techniques You Should Know