Remember the anchor is the only thing that holds you up while rappelling. Don’t be thoughtless and rush the task, but take your time and double check that you have a sturdy and trustworthy anchor to hold you and your friends. This post will go over how to choose an anchor and different types of anchors to tie including:
Rigging a Rappel Anchor
- Quick rigging with a water knot
- Retrievable anchors
- Other options
How to Tie a Rappel Anchor
First you have to determine the best solid object to tie off from, whether there is a natural anchor or some sort of manmade anchor.
Next, use standard tubular webbing and a rap ring or quick link to create a loop with a water knot.
Thread the rope through the anchor and rappel!
What to tie off from:
You are the one in charge of rigging the system and in charge of your rappel. Be careful! Here’s a list of the most common anchors you’ll use and how to decide what is best:
Tree– This is often the best choice. Make sure it is alive, sturdy, well-rooted, and big enough to hold your weight before tying your anchor around it. Adjust the webbing before applying weight so as to not damage the tree’s bark.
Boulder– Again, check that it is big enough to hold your weight, shaped in a way that your anchor won’t slip, and check for any movement when you push and bang against it. Check for cracks, hollow parts and weak rock. Be careful of sharp edges that could slice your webbing.
Chockstones– This is a rock that is wedged in a crack so it can’t descend any farther (think: Aron Ralston). Don’t trust it if it can wiggle. Make sure the rock is totally solid and not made out of sandstone etc.
Other natural objects– sometimes you can get creative with the shape of rock features on the cliff, bushes, fallen logs. Use your judgment if these objects are safe or could possibly move.
Bolts/Pitons– When choosing where to tie your anchor, look for existing rappel anchors such as a two-bolt anchor with rappel rings attached or slings and webbing. Check them out first- make sure they are sturdy, not too old, or too rusted. Are there more than one? Two is best for redundancy. Give them a good pull and make sure they aren’t loose or spin when you pull on them.
Other gear or knots– Again, check pre-existing anchors carefully. Is there a better option? Is it solid? Make sure there isn’t too much extra webbing and not a big wad of slings. Just because someone else used it, doesn’t necessarily mean you should too. Don’t always trust pre-existing anchors. There are also several options used by canyoneers such as a dead man’s anchor (bury a light object), or a water anchor (basically a giant bag that can be collapsed from the bottom).
Now to tie your anchor….
Making your own anchors may require you to leave behind some of your own gear, unless you build a retrievable anchor. Many climbers and rappellers are cheap and don’t like to do this as gear can be expensive and leaving behind pieces everywhere adds up. Just think of this as a public service by making a safe anchor- leave enough gear for proper and safe rappels to help those after you!
Don’t skimp on the anchors by making a rappel unsafe! Do not get cheap! Saving a few extra dollars is never worth it if someone gets hurt. Always use rappel rings or quick links for the rope to run through. These are cheap. Replace brittle, faded, and worn webbing that you come across, especially in harsh climates. Be smart and always bring extra gear. You never know when you’ll come across a compromised anchor.
Keep in mind, two of the most important rules about creating anchors are redundancy and equalizing the anchor! For redundancy– consider anchoring trees or big boulders together to double the security. To create equalized anchors- make your anchor around a natural feature such as a tree or boulder and whenever possible, equal load the rappels using a second anchor at a 45 degree angle. Equalize it with slings or webbing so all of the weight will be directed downward toward the rappel.
Here are 3 options for tying a good anchor:
1. Quick Rigging with a Water Knot-
Let’s say you choose a good, sturdy tree for your anchor. Now you need some webbing to create the perfect anchor. Webbing is something that you can leave behind for a sturdy anchor. Canyoneers tend to use earth tones so they camouflage into the surroundings and don’t look like litter. Don’t worry about being able to untie the knots at the end- it’s better to worry about the knots staying tied! Bring a little bit of extra webbing with you whenever you go rappelling.
Webbing is different from rope- it lies flat, but it is still strong. With webbing, you will want to use overhand knots so the webbing lies flat and then you’ll attach your rappelling rope through quick links or locking carabiners on your webbing. To build a webbing anchor wrapped around a tree, post, boulder etc. the best type of knot to tie with webbing in this situation is called a water knot.
How to tie a water knot AKA ring bend or overhand bend
When completed, a water knot ties 2 ends of webbing together. Water knots are common, very useful, and they are bomber! Here are the basic steps:
- Tie an overhand knot on one of the ends, leaving about a 3-4 inch tail
- Turn it over
- Now take the other end of the webbing, follow it around the same path of the first overhand knot from the outside. Push it under the loop, around, and tuck it in, pulling out the tail.
- Make sure the tails are at least 3-4 inches long and pull tight!
Basic rigging of an anchor with a water knot:
So find a good anchor, loop your webbing around the object, slip on the quick link or metal ring, and tie the water knot to connect the ends. If you need to control the position of the webbing (such as on a tree), wrap the webbing around the tree twice before tying the water knot. This keeps the webbing in place so it won’t slide as much (also it won’t damage the tree as much). This can keep the webbing at the base of the tree. You can also do more than 2 wraps around the anchor. Next, add your rope through the quick links and get ready to rappel!
2. How to rig a Retrievable Anchor
You might not always want to leave your gear on the rappel. It is smart to decrease visual impact when you are out on the cliffs and not leave anything behind. This is what is called “ghosting” because you leave no trace.
This is fairly simple to set up. Tie a sling with a ring on each end. You will make your rope into a loop. Put on the quick links/rappel rings, tie the ends together, then fold and double up the rope as you put it around the anchor bringing the quick links together for your rope to go through.
Put the sling around the chosen anchor and bring the ends together with the metal rings. Load your rappelling rope through both rings and set the rope length. Tie a pull cord coming from one side of the sling, away from the metal rings and the rappel rope (keep this out of the way while rappelling, possibly don’t throw it down until the last person is harnessed into the correct rope or make sure it is very indistinguishable from your rappel rope by using a cord). Rappel down. Pull your rappel rope. Pull the sling down by pulling on the end of the pull cord.
There are a few other options of tying a retrievable anchor, including using a fiddlestick, but the most common methods include a pull cord.
3. Other ways to tie anchors
Girth Hitch- Take a loop of webbing (ends tied with a water knot), place it around the object you are using for the anchor, feed the left side loop through the right side loop (or vice versa) and pull to tighten. Clip your rappel rope to the loop.
Bowline- if you only have a rope and no webbing, you can loop the end of your rope around your object for the anchor and tie a bowline knot. This is strong, easy to remove, and will create a single rope rappel.
Tensionless hitch- wrap your webbing a few times around the object and test if the webbing slides or holds by pulling on it. Tie half hitches to keep it in place. The friction will hold it.
Rap 3 Pull 2- Wrap your webbing 3 times around the anchor (with the water knot in the back). Keep one of the loops tight around the anchor, and pull the other 2 to clip your rope from with a carabiner. This is very strong, puts little pressure on the knot, and is used often by trained teams for rescues.
If you remember anything after reading this post, remember to carefully pick your anchors, test all pre-existing anchors, use redundancy and equalize anchors, try to tie retrievable anchors when possible but carry extra gear in case you need to leave an anchor. I’ve been rappelling in familiar places and I notice the usual anchors are gone- making me wonder if I used a poorly constructed anchor before. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of sketchy, old anchors or anchors with a wad of webbing, yikes!