Kinks Be Gone! How to Rappel and Lower Without Twisting the Rope

When I toprope belay (with an ATC), the rope ends up totally kinked. Why is this happening?

By Gear Guy | October 23rd, 2017

QUESTION

I’ve gym climbed for years, but recently began toproping outdoors. When I toprope belay (with an ATC), the rope ends up totally kinked, and I have to shake out kink after kink when I lower my partner. Yet, when my partner belays and lowers me, she does not introduce kinks into the rope. Why is this happening, and how can I belay without creating kinks?

—Alen Dalley

 

It is a false assumption that your belay technique is kinking the rope. Ropes usually only kink to the extreme when they are weighted, either during rappelling or lowering.

It is telling that your partner doesn’t share the same kink. My hunch is that you aren’t properly using the ATC, while she is.

What’s the problem?

 

USING AN ATC

In the top photo the brake hand is held so it bends the rope across the side of the ATC, creating kinks. To lower someone kink-free, orient the rope so it runs straight into the device, as shown in the bottom image.
In the top photo the brake hand is held so it bends the rope across the side of the ATC, creating kinks. To lower someone kink-free, orient the rope so it runs straight into the device, as shown in the bottom image.

 

You are holding your brake hand to the side of the device (photo 1.), causing the rope to bend and twist as it enters the ATC. This kinks the rope. Hold your hand so the rope enters the ATC in a straight line (photo 2.), and the rope won’t kink.

BOOM, problem solved.

Now, since you are a newbie in the wild outdoors, you should also learn how an anchor can kink the rope. You may not be having this problem now, but it also could explain why the kinks only appeared outside, when you had to rig the anchor, and not indoors, where the anchor had been set up for you by a pro.

To avoid kinking the rope, your anchor carabiners should be close together and free to swivel. Ideally, these carabiners will touch one another, each on a quickdraw’s length of chain, webbing or cord extending from the two anchor points (photo 3). The slings or chains will let the carabiners swivel to orient themselves when the rope is loaded, minimizing kinking.

When the carabiners are trapped and can’t pivot, which happens when you use only one carabiner on a bolt and clip the rope through it (photo 4), or thread the rope through quicklinks fixed directly to the bolts, the rope will twist so badly it can make coulrophilia seem normal.

 

KINK-FREE RIGGING

The rigging shown in the top example minimizes rope kinks because the flexibility of the chain links lets the carabiners swivel with rope movement (ideally, the anchor biners would be touching). The anchor in the lower image traps the carabiners, preventing them from swiveling, kinking the rope.
The rigging shown in the top example minimizes rope kinks because the chain links lets the carabiners swivel with rope movement (ideally, the anchor biners would be touching). The anchor in the lower image traps the carabiners, preventing them from swiveling, kinking the rope.

 

Kinking won’t be an issue for toproping if you use a cordalette or its variation “The Quad.” Systems such as these let the rope behave as it wishes, and equalize the anchor, but require some experience to get just right.

Bottom line, you need a lesson from an instructor or mentor. A silverback with decades of experience can line you out on your belaying and lowering technique, and illustrate proper toprope-anchor constructions. A lesson is worth its weight in titanium glue-ins. Next!

 

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 245 (October 2017).


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