Alternative Rappel Set-up
By Jeff Cody, NSS#23961 (Indianapolis, IN)
One problem that I have encountered while on rappel has always been that I tend to lean back in an uncomfortable position. I had never heard any of my vertical caving friends complain of the same situation. On longer rappels I would waste arm strength trying to keep myself parallel to the rope. It was my opinion that this was due to either the nature of the rack attachment to the seat harness or my build of being large in the chest area, therefore being top heavy. This article explains my remedy to this situation.
In the past I would past I would hook my rappel device directly to my seat harness via a triangle quicklink on the sear, then a locking carabiner to the rappel device. In my opinion, this does two bad things: 1) it gives a low attachment point and makes top heavy people lean back while on rapped, and 2) it does not provide a good angle to grasp the rope with your braking hand. For me, this made my muscles hurt in my braking hand and forearm, even on short rappels.
To remedy this I did the following: I Attached a pre-sewn webbing piece about 12" to 18" long to the rappel device, attaching the other end to the seat harness, this way my weight pulls me closer to the rope and provides a much more comfortable rappel. This puts my rappel device higher than normal, enabling me pull down with the braking hand instead of out and away from my body. This gives me much greater control with my braking hand.
One thing to look out for is that you don't want to get your rack too high where you can't properly reach the bars while on rappel. Work with different lengths of webbing to have the proper reach on the rack. If using a Figure 8 for smaller drops (I still do), it can be higher than a rack due to the fact that the Figure 8 isn't touched while on rope. Be careful not to get either device too high which could make it difficult to maneuver around rock projections on rappel.
I resolved this problem by using a standard B&B chest harness off my Frog system on shorter drops. With this harness attached together by a screwlink, I run the webbing thorough the link. For longer drops I use a Simmons chest box off my Rope walker system. I run the webbing through the roller, either way works fine. I have two similar length pieces of webbing for safety.
As with any new piece of equipment, I advise using it in a controlled setting above ground to get the right webbing length and feel for the new set up. You will notice a lot more control with your braking hand when using this alternative rappel set-up. I have used this method for a long time and feel safe and more comfortable doing so.
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