Avoid losing your rope

· Education

One of the biggest concerns for canyoneers is losing a rope in a canyon. If you lose your rope you may not be able to finish the canyon and you will be exposing your team to the elements until someone else can rescue you. There are plenty of ways to lose your rope in a canyon. Today we will focus on four common ways to lose your rope and ways to avoid them.

  1. Dropping your rope over an edge. -> Make sure it's tied off.
  2. Forgetting a rope. -> Keep rope assignments throughout the canyon.
  3. Sinking your rope in a pool or pothole. -> Make sure there is floatation in your rope bag.
  4. Sticking your rope when it is time to pull. -> Get the twists out and keep the pull side on top.

As canyoneers, we sometimes get into that habit of chucking our rope bags around. Remember to approach edges with caution and maintain control of the rope. Some people clip the rope bag to the anchor before they throw the tail over, but remember that if someone has forgotten (or didn’t know) to tie the tail to the bottom of the bag, it could just come sailing out and leave you at the top with no rope. We like to get a second team member to monitor the rope bag before we start throwing the rope down. If we don’t have a team member to help, we often tie a Figure-8 on a bite or clove hitch a piece of the rope to ourselves or to the anchor.

Forgetting the rope is a pretty embarrassing way to lose a rope, but it can be incredibly easy to do when you are working in a big group with lots of leapfrogging. We like utilizing an anchor manager at each rappel who is in charge of the rigging and retrieval of the rope. No other ropes should be lying around. Remind people that if they are carrying a rope, they are responsible for making sure it stays with the group.

In wet canyons, ropes that started the day dry and buoyant may become saturated by the end of the of a canyon. Make sure to buy a rope bag that has floatation in it and add additional flotation when needed. Floatation can be a canyon keg or a dry bag or an empty Nalgene bottle. The team at CanyoneeringGear.com prefers hard kegs and bottles because dry bags tend to get jostled around in waterfalls and after being tossed into a bunch of pools they can often end up taking on water.

Sticking the rope when it is time to retrieve it from the rappel is probably the most common way to lose a rope. This can happen when a double-stranded rappel gets rolled over itself creating a lot of friction when it comes time to pull the rope. You can also stick the pull if a carabiner or other block gets caught in a crack and even the little glued cap at the end of the rope has been known to get lodged in a crack like a climbing nut. Lastly, twists in the rope can accumulate at the top of the rappel while pulling the rope. The bunched-up twists can create a knot that cannot pass through the quick link at the anchor.

Proper rope management can help you mitigate these problems of sticking the pull. Keeping your two strands separate when the last person comes down is key. Do everything you can to keep the strands from laying on top of each other. Single-strand rappelling can really help with this because someone can hold the pull rope out of the way. If there is no way to avoid the ropes overlapping, place the pull slide of the rope on top. When it comes time to pull the rope, step all the way back down the canyon until you can see the rappel anchor. This will give you the cleanest pull possible. Also, consider having the last person rappel down on a stitch plate device like a Rock Exotica Totem or Sterling ATS to clean out the twists in the rope. Lastly, and most simply, when it is time to pull the rope, if one person can do the pulling and another person can put their hand on the other strand of rope, then they can push all the twists out to the end of the rope and you will have far fewer problems at the top.

With all the best intentions and good technique we sometimes still lose a rope. The best practice is to bring at least three times the length of the longest rappel among your team. This may sound like a lot of rope, but remember that at a minimum to do the canyon you must have enough rope to do the rappel and pull your rope down which is two times the length of the longest rappel. Having three times the length of the longest rappel is a small added buffer.