Your worry by stating that a healthy rope is meant to withstand tremendous amounts of force.
But as always, knowledge is power, and understanding more about the ropes that will be holding you up can give you a greater sense of security when you’re leaning in to the harness.
Is there a weight limit for abseiling?
Individual rock climbing gyms or rappelling excursion companies, will have their own regulations when it comes to weight limits, so be sure to inquire at your specific gym for information. In general rock climbing gyms limit the weight of a climber to around 250 – 300 pounds (113 – 136 kg). Otherwise if your gym doesn’t have a weight restriction, a climber is only limited by the size of climbing harnesses available, or perhaps the skill of your fellow climbers; belaying a heavier climber requires some knowledge of technique.
When you’re a heavier climber wishing to start rock climbing or rappelling, it’s handy to know as much as you can about the equipment you’ll be working with.
Understanding the strength of a typical climbing rope and the safest ways of setting everything up will do you well when you’re up on the wall.
Determining size and strength of rope you need
You would use the same rope rappelling as you would for climbing in a gym or up a rock face, but there are a few types of climbing rope to choose from.
The first and most important note to consider here is that it must be dynamic climbing rope, which means that it is designed to stretch a bit when put under stress.
This gives the climber a bit of give when being caught by the rope, lessening the force on not only the climber but also the climbing gear.
There exists another type of climbing rope called static rope which doesn’t stretch and will wear more quickly than its dynamic counterpart.
There are specific instances when you would want a static rope over a dynamic one, if you’re doing some sort of rescue mission and need the rope to be steady as you lower down an injured hiker for example.
Now that we’ve narrowed the wide selection of climbing ropes down, there are a few more decisions to make. I.e. the size and strength of the rope in question.
In general, a rope’s strength is directly proportional to the thickness of the rope. This makes sense, the thicker the rope, the more weight it will hold.
The only documented failures of a climbing rope are in situations when the rope was frayed, damaged or cut. In reality these ropes are meant to hold vast amounts of weight without flinching, and more often the choice of rope is based on which one will be most comfortable during a fall, rather than the most durable.
Climbing ropes range in thickness from 7mm to over 10mm over several different types.
The smaller ropes, called half ropes (labeled with a 1/2 at the end) or twin ropes (labeled with an infinity symbol at the end) would of course be able to hold less weight on a single strand than the thicker ropes, but are often doubled up for different types of climbing.
Thicker ropes, nearer the 9 – 10 mm range, are what you’d find standard at the local rock climbing gym, or slung over the shoulder of a professional daredevil heading out for some rappelling.
The thicker ropes are generally more resistant to the strains and stresses and are able to handle greater impacts.
If you’re at all concerned about your rope’s weight limits, don’t be. A thicker rope can withstand upwards of 30 kilonewtons of force before it begins to wear. And still, even then it will continue to be useful for many more falls.
How long does a rappelling rope last?
Most climbing rope manufacturers suggest that your rope should last 10 years of sitting around, but it’s impossible to say with any accuracy how long an individual rope will last.
There are so many factors to consider when estimating the life of the rope. Not least of which is the appearance of the rope.
Climbing ropes are designed to wear down over time.
Inside a climbing rope is a bunch of nylon strands. Having all these strands supporting the weight together means that there is enough stretch to make a fall more comfortable, but it also means that if something is going to break, it’s more likely to be a few of these individual strands, rather than the whole rope.
So if your rope is looking thinner in one section than the rest of it, it may be time to retire the rope. Visually inspecting the rope can give you warning signs for a weakened rope.
Look for any sun bleached sections, or spots where the rope is frayed or worn in any way; if the protective outer layers are damaged in any way, this can lead to a catastrophic failure while you’re climbing.
There are a few things you can do to lengthen a climbing ropes lifespan. Climbing rope failures don’t happen very often at all, good climbers inspect all of their equipment before stepping foot up or down the wall.
But when they do, it’s likely that the rope was rubbed laterally across something sharp.
Imagine it this way, you’re swinging from your rope after a fall or perhaps you’re rappelling down the side of a cliff face, and your rope is up at the top.
If it is laid out over a sharp edge, any side to side movement will be abrasive to the rope. when there’s a lot of weight on the rope, that’s when small cuts and scrapes to the rope’s exterior can be most dangerous.
You can prevent this kind of danger by clearly inspecting your rope’s placement before you climb or before you begin rappelling. Ensuring that there are no dangerous edges the rope is pressed up against.
If there are any dangerous looking areas that you’d rather avoid you can wrap your rope in a shroud, a bit of gear that sits on top of the sharp edge and wraps around the rope keeping it protected.
You can set up beforehand a system that holds the rope away from the dangerous area, using the rest of the environment around you to tie in a suspended pulley that would guide the rope safely down the cliff face.
Some climbers will even tape semi-sharp areas dulling them down, or put carpets in between the rope and the sharp edge.
How to rappel an overweight person safely?
Unless you are rappelling yourself down the side of a cliff, or you have an auto-belay system installed at your local rock climbing gym, you’ll need to partner up.
And unless you partner up with someone who weighs exactly as much as you do, you’d think it would be impossible for them to stop your descent, right?
Wrong. In fact there are several things you can do to belay or rappel someone more than twice your size.
The first thing to consider is technique. For the person on the ground, when the heavier climber falls it’s likely that you’re going to be pulled up.
There are several things you can do to help with this problem, seeing as how it becomes much more difficult to help someone up after you’re hanging yourself.
Firstly, a lot of climbing gyms have anchors that you can clip your harness into, firmly securing yourself to the ground.
Very often you’ll secure yourself to this anchor using an elasticated connector, clipped into your harness as well as the anchor. This means that if you’re pulled upwards it will be a less violent affair.
If you don’t have the luxury of clipping into an anchor of some sort, you can lessen the impact of your climber’s fall by employing a few techniques.
Stand close to the wall
If you’re too far away from the wall and the climber falls, you’re going to be pulled towards the wall.
This can mean a longer descent for the climber and a scarier journey toward the wall for yourself.
Stepping closer to the wall, 4-5 feet away maybe, will ensure that you have the proper control of their descent.
Pay attention, and lean back
When you’re belaying a climber that is heavier than you, you have to pay attention to what’s happening above you.
Most of the time, you’ll be able to predict when a climber is about to fall, this awareness will give you the opportunity to take the slack out of the line by leaning back or sitting down in your harness.
By doing this, you shorten the distance the climber has to fall, this can make their stopping time less and can make the fall less comfortable for the climber, so use this technique sparingly.
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