If there is one thing I dead good at it’s descents, having rapped off more routes than almost anyone else I know, in fact you could say I’m an expert in going down.
There are lots of tricks and tips for safe descents, many here on this site, but I thought I’d share one that although looking like a ‘trick’ technique (i.e. good for showing off, but nothing else), really is worth learning due its multiple applications.
The Stone Knot
The stone knot is a canyoning knot, designed to allow you to quickly tie off both strands of your abseil rope, so that both can be used simultaneously - the idea to speed things up. In climbing the knot has many other benefits, and I would recommend people practice and learn this knot for future adventures.
Tying the knot
Before I describe the knot, first try and understand how and why it works.
Imagine you want to secure both your rap lines (tied together with an overhand) with an overhand on a bite. You would pull up two strands close to the anchor, tie and overhand and clip this into the anchor with a locker. Pretty simple, but once everyone’s rapped on the knot you may find it hard to untie, especially if heavily loaded.
Instead with the Stone knot we do the following:
- Begin by taking both strands and begin to tie an overhand knot as close to the anchor as you can (with the joining knot just above it).
- Where you would usually pull the two bites of rope through the centre of the overhand (and so create two bites to clip in), instead pull the ropes through a little way and clip a large locking carabiner into these instead.
- Now clip the locking carabiner into one strand of the rope loop you have formed above the Stone knot (the loop with the overhand joining knot).
- Dress the knot well, making the Stone knot tidy and tight
- NOTE: The locker must be clipped back into main loop, otherwise there is a chance that the krab could be pulled through the knot and cause the knot to undo.
As you can see the locking carabiner is acting as a block, with the overhand locking it down tight. To release the last person down simply unclips the locking carabiner and the knot is released.
In most abseils keeping it simple and following normal protocol is the way to go, as introducing anything new can lead to dangerous errors, yet there are times when locking the rope like this makes sense. Here are a few:
- On an unfamiliar descent, especially one undertaken in the mountains or at night, it’s advisable (and good black dog insurance) to secure the ropes for the first man down. This will allow them to climb back up the ropes more safely (hand over hand, jumars, prusiks etc) if need be. I have had to do this several times and doing it on two ropes that are only held their by your weight balanced on each strand is not enjoyable or safe).
- On very loose ground both strands are secured, so that if one was to be damaged (or even chopped), while the other one was not, this would save your life, as usually if one rope goes you’re out there.
- If you’re in a big rush, and have bomber anchor, two climbers can rap down at the same time with infinitely more security then a traditional simul-abseil (not something I’d ever recommend).
- If you want to rap on a Grigri style device (say you don’t have a normal belay device, or want to be able to climb back up again), then this technique allows you to do a single rope rap (make sure you’re single rope is thick enough for your device). This technique is especially valuable when down climbing (well down rappelling) very steep routes, as you rap on a Grigir, swing in, clip gear, rap again, etc.
- Even if you don’t do a simultaneous abseil (often not a good idea on loose ground), one person can be rigging up to go on one rope while the other is going down.
With the Stone knot, obviously the last person down unclips the karabiner and raps down on both strands.
So there you go - a trick knot for some, something worth knowing for others.
Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram