Descender advice for heavier canyoners

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T2
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Descender advice for heavier canyoners

Post by T2 » 07 Oct 2020, 21:12

I received the following email from someone the other day and thought my response might be useful to other people. I'd also be interested to hear what other heavier canyoners think.
Hi, just wondering what descender you recommend for a heavy guy (130kg) on long abseils? And do you recommend a backup prusik?
I'm currently using a Black Diamond ATC with an auto block and would like something better to feel more in control.
As someone who sits just over 110kgs, I feel your pain!

I'd definitely advise against an ATC. Like most climbing belay devices, it makes sense for climbers to abseil with it, because it's what they have with them, but really doesn't make sense for canyoning. You end up with too much friction at the top of the rope, and far too little as you get to the bottom. A number of serious canyon accidents around the world have been caused by people using tube style devices.

Good canyoning descenders allow a range of friction settings that can be easily changed when on rope. This is useful for longer drops, but also allows you to switch easily between double and single rope abseils, or different rope diametres. Some also allow you to rig them to provide a higher level of friction, which can help people like us who are carrying a few more kilos!

Personally, I almost never use gloves because I use descenders that do the hard work for me. By changing friction on the fly I can control my descent with a couple fingers (rather than clinging desperately to the rope!)

The SQWUREL is a really good descender, and one I've used a lot over the years. The tail allows really easy changes to friction. The CRITR2 and Hoodoo are also both good. The arms allow a range of friction settings that can again be easily shifted while on rope.

Personally, I very rarely use an auto block. They can be dangerous when in flowing water, but also often fail when needed (people who are losing control often grab onto the auto block, which stops it gripping the rope). I'd rather use a descender that stops me from losing control in the first place. If I do feel the need to use an auto block (usually when I think there's a risk I may have to pass a knot or deal with challenges while descending) my preference is for a VT Prusik. Unlike a normal prusik knot, which can be very hard to release once weighted, a VT knot is easy to move, even when loaded.

I hope some of that helps.

T2

trishm26
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Re: Descender advice for heavier canyoners

Post by trishm26 » 08 Oct 2020, 00:19

I'm a heavier gal and lurve my sqwrel.
I use a top prussick and also like the VT as it doesn't get stuck.
A trick I learnt with a rack is to use the left hand for extra control by squeezing the rope where the rack attaches to the biner. Slows you down a fair bit.

Skinner
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Re: Descender advice for heavier canyoners

Post by Skinner » 13 Jan 2021, 17:30

I have usually used a rap rack as that is what I have had for years. I know it has limitations but I still love it. Usually I find that I can add friction around my backside or pack or add a crab to my leg loop to create extra friction. Long abseils are the biggest issue with too much friction at the top and less at the bottom.
However with these new Imlay ropes they run a fair bit hotter through the hand that my other ropes so I have been considering upgrading (maybe even using a glove). There are just too many options to consider. I would prefer something smaller. Has anyone used the NoMad or Sterling ATS? Most of the time I use double ropes, sometimes isolated for single strands with the last person double, so most of the time I abseil double strands, so it would need to work for either.

Also, T2, you mention the VT prusik. I like the idea as it seems easy to release under load. This could be especially beneficial if you didn't know if the ropes reached the bottom and you need to change over to ascend. A lot easier if it is already above the descender rather than below for changing over, not so good on overhangs if it gets caught.
Has anyone tried using them to ascend a rope? They are just a bit pricey and I want to know that they are worth it.
If used as a lanyard do they have any shock absorption or or are they purely static if connected end to end?
I hate prusiking up a rope and although my ascenders are much easier they are one extra thing to carry in. Also the ropes need to be isolated or single to work.

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Re: Descender advice for heavier canyoners

Post by T2 » 14 Jan 2021, 12:04

I think the Sterling ATS is really under-rated. Like most modern canyon descenders, it's primarily aimed at use single rope (Australia is the only place on earth where double rope abseiling is still the norm among canyoners) but it works well with double ropes. The horns provide easy friction adjustment. It's also a useful tool for setting up releasable anchors, so has additional uses.

Re the VT, no, it doesn't have any shock absorption. It's very static. Personally, this doesn't bother me. It is very rare that your safety tether would be clipped below you.

Knot passing / situations where ropes may not reach is absolutely a perfect use for the VT. The ability to slide down the rope on it (which would melt normal Nylon prusiks) is amazing. I agree about awkward overhangs. Any prusik can have issues on those nasty lips, but having it above the descender means you have to work it over the edge while the rope is weighted, which is tough.

They work well as progress captures / when ascending in an emergency. They grip reliably and are easier to release. Still much slower / more work than using ascenders, but less to carry. I usually have a couple VTs with me as they can be used in so many ways.

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