Rig a big canyon pitch

Rig a big canyon pitch

Over the past few years, we have been descending some bigger canyon pitches. By this I mean the pitch is longer than half the length of your rope where you need to join another. You may get away with doubling your rope until the day you need to do a rescue, and then you’ve created yourself a very large headache. You know the type of headache I mean. The ‘I never thought that would happen to me’ headache. With some preplanning, strategies and techniques you can reduce your headache to half an aspirin.

This article talks about some options when setting up a single rope on a big pitch. With a single rope, you are able to have a releasable system for all but the last canyoner. If a canyoner gets stuck on the rope you can release making rescue relatively easy. In addition, having a releasable system helps you:

  • manage sharp edges by bleeding the rope (lowering a person as they are abseiling) so no one point is in contact.
  • set the length of the rope at the water so you can abseil off the end.

Setting up

KEY POINT – Get yourselves organised and have a really clear plan plus backup options before anyone heads over. Communication becomes much more difficult on a big pitch.

First, thread the abseil rope through the anchor as you would on a normal abseil. Set up your anchor with a Munter Mule ready to release. You may not be able to see the bottom to know if you have set the rope at the height of the water so a common practice is to set the abseil rope short and use hand or whistle signals to set the length once the first abseiler can see the bottom and they are well before the end of the rope.


To set up your pack you will need a second rope that is also an abseil rope (not a pull cord). This pack will need to be big enough to hold the rope (often 60m), plus have enough room for the leftover rope from the abseil line. You may need to reallocate gear between packs for the pitch.

Tie the ropes together with a suitable flat bend (Which bends for joining ropes?). Stack the leftover abseil rope on top of the second rope. Now you are ready; you have your plan in place, allocated the job of pitch leader, and your first canyoner is ready to descend.

Rescue lowering

The main consideration is if you have enough rope before the bend to lower the person to the bottom. For example, if the stuck canyoner is within 20m of the bottom and you have 20m of rope before the bend then simply lower.

If the person is stuck on the rope in the top part of the abseil and needs to be lowered, then you will need to pass the bend through the threaded anchor, and re-tie the Munter mule above the bend in some way, so you can continue to lower the abseiler.

Options for passing the bend

There are a couple of options to think about. If there is a need to pass a bend quickly either method can be pre-set. If this is not so much of a concern the method used can be set up when needed.

1. Rope Grab method

This method is to use a rope grab, e.g. Shunt on the second rope, to capture the load so the bend can be passed and removed from the anchor ring. The second rope is set up with a releasable system (e.g. Munter Mule) and is lowered with the rope grab staying attached to the rope.

  • It is faster than the VT method especially if you don’t tie the ropes together, don’t thread the rope through an anchor ring and pre-set the system.
  • You loose equipment down the pitch (which you may need).
  • This equipment may get caught if lowering over an edge under load.
  • You decrease the strength of the rope by introducing a Shunt or other rope grab as a bend.
  • You need to block the rope grab with a stopper so it can’t disengage from the rope when being lowered.


2. VT method

This method uses your VT (Voldatain Tresse) hitch on the loaded rope to capture the load. One of the features of the VT hitch is that it can be released under load to lower short distances.

The bend can be passed and removed from the anchor ring and re-tied. The second rope is set up with a releasable system tied off (e.g. Munter Mule) just on the top side of the bend. The VT is released until the releasable system takes the load.

  • This method keeps all your equipment at the top.
  • Lowers a flat bend over any edges (rather than a rope grab) which is less likely to get caught.
  • It is slower than the rope grab as you need to retie the bend.
  • There are a couple more steps than the rope grab method.



I have field tested pre-setting passing bends. I found this is pretty messy at the anchor and uses lots of gear. The way I think about passing bends is like a pulley system; make sure the gear is on my harness and I am well practised.

Both methods of passing bends have got merit and consideration for both should be given. They are both quite simple and use equipment you should have with you.

In the updated version the Canyoning Technical Manual, I have gone with the VT method.

Rig a big canyon pitch

Download 3 pages from the Canyoning Technical Manual on rigging a big canyon pitch and passing bends using the VT method.

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