Have you ever reached the top of a climb and been confused as to what you find there? Maybe you’ve seen a variety of different metal things attached to bolts at the top of climbs and have been wondering what the differences are between the rings, the link, the carabiners, and any other thing you’ve found. Maybe you’re just starting out climbing and are confused when people throw around random jargon. If any of these sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place.
Although the set up at the top of a sport climb can vary a lot based on location and climate, rappel rings are one of the most common things to find at the end of chains. Rappel rings are welded steel, aluminum, or titanium rings attached to the end of the chains off of bolts. They have a variety of uses that we’ll break down for you in this article.
What are Rappel Rings Used For?
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Rappel rings, also known as descender rings, are used for a multitude of things, depending on your situation. If you find rappel rings on a piece of webbing tied around a tree, you’re going to be doing something very different from if you find rappel rings attached to the bottom of chains at the top of a sport climbing route. Although the physical rings themselves are the same, the uses can vary greatly.
One of the most common uses of rappel rings is to rappel. This can be done off of rappel rings on webbing around a tree or rappel rings attached to chains off of a bolt.
The purpose of the rings is to provide a smooth surface for your rope to sit on and then be pulled through after you are finished rappelling that won’t damage your rope and harm you.
Rappelling off of rappel rings is frequently used to clean the anchor off of a sport climbing route. In order to do this safely, there are a few things you need to do before you even start to think about rappelling.
First, you need to attach yourself to the bolts with a personal anchor system, or PAS for short. This allows you to go off belay and to pull up an amount of your rope and attach it to your harness with a carabiner and an overhand knot on a bite of rope. That way, you’ll make sure that you won’t drop your rope as you get your rappel set up.
Generally, rappelling is done by feeding one end of your rope through the rappel ring, tying a stopper knot in both ends of your rope so it can’t go back through the ring in either direction and then lowering both rope ends to the ground. This is the general set-up for rappel. Now you have two strands that you can rappel off of and lower safely down to the ground. Once you reach the ground, all you have to do is untie the knots on the end of the rope and pull the rope through the rappel rings.
When Can You Use Rappel Rings?
You can use rappel rings to safely get off of a route without having to leave any of your own personal gear behind. They make getting off of long routes easier and off of short routes faster. Being able to understand how to check a rappel ring to make sure it’s safe and then use them to get off a route are both valuable skills. Not only can these skills help keep you safe while climbing, but they can also save you money on the amount of gear you lose and have to replace.
How to Use Rappel Rings and Set Rappel Anchors
Setting rappel anchors can be done if you reach the top of a climb, and it doesn’t have an established rappel location.
In order to save your gear, it is a good idea to carry some extra webbing and rappel rings with you. It’s always better to be safe than end up having to leave behind a large amount of expensive gear. Webbing and rappel rings are a safe and affordable way to leave gear behind and to get off of a route.
To set up a good rappel anchor, first string one or two rappel rings on a length of webbing, then wrap the webbing around a large tree. Since this will be similar to a monolithic anchor, it is important to select a good, solid, alive tree with an extensive root system. This means that you should not pick a tree that is growing out of a tiny crack in the rock and feels wiggly if you push on it. The tree you pick is likely to see a good amount of use, so make sure you choose a tree that can stand up to the repeated use.
Once you’ve selected your tree and made sure that it is large enough, at least thigh size in diameter, and healthy enough, you can now attach your webbing with rappel rings threaded on around the tree.
The safest way to attach two webbing ends together is with a well-dressed water knot with a good length of tail. The generally accepted tail length in climbing is at least six inches, but if you’re worried, ere on the side of too long as opposed to too short.
How to Tell a Rappel Ring is Safe
It’s always a good practice to get into to check all permanent gear that is mounted onto a climbing cliff before using it and rappel rings are no exception. You want to make sure you check both the ring or rings and how they are attached to the wall. This could mean checking webbing and trees or chains and bolts. In either case, you’ll want to check all parts involved.
On the ring itself, you’ll want to check for any obvious deformities. If the ring is oval-shaped and is no longer round, the structural integrity has been compromised, and you should not use it.
Next, you should feel the inside of the ring to check for any potential wear. Not only can wear weaken the ring, but it can also act as a saw and cut your rope or the webbing that the ring may be attached to.
You should also check that any webbing is tied with good knots, generally a water knot, and has a long enough tail. You should also make sure that the webbing doesn’t have any large signs of wear, such as excessive fraying or any rips. The next thing you want to check is the tree. You’ll want to make sure that it is attached to a large, solidly rooted, alive tree that isn’t being suffocated by the webbing tied around it.
For bolts and chains, you should check that the bolts and chains aren’t rusted out or wearing thin. You should also look to make sure that the bolts aren’t spinning or placed in loose rock. Generally, climbing areas will have a policy about bolts at their cliffs. Some areas regularly change out bolts, while others discourage the placement of bolts altogether. You’ll have to check your local crag to find out their rules on bolts.
If you find that the rappel rings, bolts, chains, or webbing is wearing through, it is best to contact your local climbing agency or park agency to see about replacing the gear.
If you have the ability and gear to replace it, some places want you to go ahead and replace it. Other climbing areas would rather have their staff go out and change out all gear so they can keep track of it. Just make sure you know the rules in your area before changing out any mounted gear.
It also might be helpful to look on a climbing forum, such as mountain project, to find out any up-to-date information about the route you are looking to climb. Many climbers post on Mountain Project if a rappel ring or bolt is rusted out or spinning on a route. It also can be a useful resource for finding out who to contact for a given area if you do find a rusted, bent, or otherwise compromised rappel ring.
Rappel Rings vs. Quick Links
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So far we’ve talked about what happens when you find rappel rings at the top of a climb, but there are a variety of other things that you might find at the top of a sport climb. Most sport climbs have bolts at the top with chains coming off of them. At the bottom of the chains, you may find rappel rings, quick links, or carabiners, it all depends on where you are.
Quick links are common to many climbing areas, as they’re easy to replace when they wear out. Quick links are chain links with a gate that you can spin open and closed to take the link off of things or put it onto things. They serve the same general purpose of rappel rings, but both come with their own sets of pros and cons.
While rappel rings around round, quick links are oval, like chain links. This means that it is more common to see quick links wear down in one spot where it is more common to see rappel rings wear more evenly all around. Another major con of the quick link is the spinning action of the gate.
If you aren’t careful, you can accidentally unscrew the gate when you pull your rope through after your rappel.
One major pro of quick links over rappel rings is how easy they are to replace. Because quick links are able to be opened, they are easier to remove when they get worn and to be replaced with new ones. They are also easy to keep on your harness to bail off of a route at any point. It isn’t uncommon to see “bail biners” or quick links attached to bolts along a sport route. It just means that someone wasn’t going to complete the route, but didn’t want to lose too much gear in the process.
Another common type of gear to find at the top of sport routes is carabiners.
Oval steel or aluminum carabiners are sometimes found at the top of climbs or used as “bail biners” partway up routes but can carry some risks with them. They are a cost-effective way to bail off of a route, but you do have to be very careful since they don’t lock. The shape does give them more surface area than a quick link, so they won’t wear down quite as fast.
When to Not Use Rappel Rings
We’ve talked about checking your gear, but we haven’t talked about general times that you should stay away from using rappel rings. If you find any problems with the gear on your initial check of it, you should not use the rappel rings in question. It is significantly safer and cheaper to suck it and lose some of your own gear building a new rappel anchor than it is to have to go to the hospital because you got hurt.
Rappelling, in general, should not be done unless you have the proper training. A large amount of rock climbing accidents happens on the way down, so taking a little bit of extra time and energy to check all your gear and systems is a good practice to get into.
You also have no idea what the rappel rings and any other permanent or semi-permanent gear has seen in terms of weather and general conditions, so it’s always a good practice to check your gear.
It also is not a good idea to top-rope directly off the rappel rings. If you just feed your rope through the rappel rings and have the rings act as your anchor for a top-rope set up, you are putting a large amount of wear and pressure on the rings in a small spot for a long time. The rappel rings that are mounted on climbs are there for everyone to use, and by using them as a top-rope anchor, you are shortening their lifespan dramatically. It is common practice to use your own draws to make an anchor to top-rope off of.
Wrapping Things: Everything to Know About Rappel Rings
Overall, rappel rings can be an incredibly useful tool when used correctly, but it is important to make sure that the rings you are going to use are in good condition before you use them.
As with many things in climbing, there is a certain feeling of community and preserving things and areas for the good of the community that holds true with rappel rings. Do your part to help minimize your impact on the rings by not top-roping off of them.
Make sure you let the appropriate person or agency know if gear needs to be maintained. These things don’t happen by magic, so please take care of them, use them well, and have fun.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like our other climbing tips here.