Recently the FFME (Fédération française de la montagne et de l’escalade) posted a video as an invitation to work on an effort to explore options to add security during Release & Lower operations

During Pro Guide assessments, and Pro practice you will come across scenarios where you need to release a system to lower a person to set rope length, or as part of a rescue maneuver.

Lowering to set rope length, or emergency release & lower benefit from a “Hands Free Backup”.

When lowering is in progress, a life is in the hands of the person performing the lowering. If that person lets go of the rope, the rappeler will free-fall.

A friction-hitch / prusik from rope to harness ventral point is a good hands-free-backup. It is time consuming to install, and it requires extra care to manage twists with some lowering systems. When swift water is present, not the best choice.

A second set of hands make for a faster and hassle free backup, but it is not always possible to have 2 persons close to the rappel station, or not if you are the last person at the station.

A system that offers a built-in hands free backup is the Totem rigged in Jester mode. Skinny ropes may benefit from double carabiners at the stitch plate. Jester is a -suspended system- therefore it requires a conversion for the last person so the rope can be recovered.

Totem Jester

Enter the Totem Block Hands Free Backup.

The benefit of hands free backup with the immediate retrieval of releasable block systems.

Just like rappelling, adjust the initial friction depending on the rope thickness. The hands-free-system can be installed in the stitch-plate, or the rigging points at both ends of the Totem to achieve different friction levels. When the “hands free fuse carabiner” bumps into the Totem it acts like a stopper. When you pull on it, it starts to feed rope into the friction system. If you let go of it, it bumps and stops the lowering.

Just like any other lowering system, a smooth operation requires “good hands” (one hand takes, one hand gives). Test and practice in a controlled environment.

Auto locked position
Releasing and lowering

Releasable systems have 3 components: Friction, Stopper & Lock. Use your judgment and see if you think that you need a Lock behind the “hands free fuse carabiner”

Statement by the FFME

Reflections on releasable systems. Self-locking?

“This video reminds us that the historical releasable systems (MMO knot and eight block) used in canyons present significant risks in their operation.

Thus, as in climbing, we show the dangers inherent in the release of rope and we offer avenues for reflection with solutions to improve the safety of practitioners.

This document should be considered as a prelude, an invitation to work on harmonization that we will be proposing in the near future, with federations, training organizations, professional unions and inventors.”

Video and research done by the FFME

As Pro Guides we need to stay up to date with the current state of development of practices, gear and techniques of our sport.

Know, practice, and be safe.

Adolfo Isassi