RCI Set Ups: Personal Abseil

There are two main set ups we can use to rig a personal abseil. Both work, both are safe and its sometimes the crag we are at that determines which system we use.

Remember this is an abseil intended for instructor use only, at RCI level, these types of abseil are not for use by a client.

Set Up A

Set Up B

Below are basic step by step instructions that RCI trainees might find useful. This blog is designed to jog your memory rather than teach this set up from scratch, so if you are not experienced in the skills required to build this set up, please don’t attempt it without additional guidance.


How many anchors should you put in any set up? As many as it takes for the set up to be safe.

That said, in general a good system can be set up with 2 or 3 gear placed anchors. Just make sure they are 100% bomber.

Set up A

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In this set up, we bring our rope strands together to form an equalised master point away from the cliff edge, much like our top rope system. We then measure out exactly how much rope we need to abseil to the bottom of the cliff and connect this rope to the master point with a locking carabiner.

The benefits of this system are that we dont have a lot of rope lying around the bottom of the crag, getting walked on or dirtied. Its also less bouncy (the more strands in a set up, the less movement).

The downside is that it uses more rope in the system, especially if the anchors are far away from the cliff edge. It also uses more gear than set up B and is a little slower to set up.

If I was working at a short crag like Ballyryan or the lower end of Ailladie, and I had a 50m abseil rope with me, then I would use this system.

Always remember to put a knot in the end of the abseil line, its a good habit to get into, especially if you cant fully see the end of rope touch the ground. For example, near the Ghost slab in Dalkey is a common area for instructors to set up abseils and the last metre or so is out of sight from the top.

Set Up B

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By tying an overhand knot on a large bight of rope, we can connect the anchors quickly and simply, to set up a personal abseil.

This also uses up less gear. In fact, if you have good quality threads at the top of the crag, like in Ballyryan, this set up can be made entirely from the rope, using no slings, nuts or carabiners. If you haven’t practiced this already, its worth doing so for development, just dont try it for the first time on your assessment!

The main disadvantage is that we throw all our static cable over the edge. This could lead to our slack rope on the bottom of the crag getting damaged, dirtied or in the way of other crag users.

We could prevent this by building our system “backwards”, finishing our system somewhere in the middle of the rope, but this would possibly be more time consuming and frustrating as it would be trickier to adjust when finished.

I would be more inclined to use set up B at a crag like The Prow at Fairhead, where I’ll need every inch of my abseil rope to get to the bottom of the crag.

Cows-tail or lanyard?

How we connect ourselves to the abseil rope is worth a separate blog entry in itself, please click here to learn more.

Remember to always dress and stress your knots, put a knot in the end of your abseil rope and tie a stopper knot on anchor tie ins.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this video or other skills.