RCI Set Ups: The Personal Abseil

There are two main setups we can use to rig a personal abseil. Both work, both are safe and it’s 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.

Setting up a Personal Abseil

Setup 1 for personal abseil
Set Up A


Setup 2 for personal abseil
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 setup, please don’t attempt it without additional guidance.

Anchors for Personal Abseil

How many anchors should you put in any setup? 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

Setup 1 for personal abseil

In this setup, 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 don’t 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 setup, 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 at the end of the abseil line, it’s a good habit to get into, especially if you can’t 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

Setup 2 for personal abseil

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 practised this already, it’s worth doing so for development, just don’t 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, and luckily for you, I’ve already written it.

Remember to always dress and stress your knots, put a knot at 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.

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