How do Rock Climbers Get Back Down? (Solo & Groups)


One of my goals is to climb to the Everest base camp, one day. I know the way to the top is quite harsh and that acclimatization is necessary. I’ve read that one has to stop for a day or two before climbing further so that the body gets used to a lower oxygen pressure. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure how am I supposed to go down from that mountain. The more general question which I found necessary was how do rock climbers get back down.

For that, I did in-depth research, which took almost half a day. 

I will today share with you five such techniques that you can utilize. You can pick between them depending on whether you’re a solo climber or whether you’re working along with a team. I will go into the details of these techniques to make it easy for you to descend correctly without getting hurt.

Here are five ways by which rock climbers get back down:

  • Walking down the same trail, you’ve climbed, using the right technique.
  • Rappelling your way down by using ropes, carabiners, anchors, descenders, etc.
  • Down climbing technique: holding edges or smears and descending gradually.
  • Base jumping: parachuting down to the ground.
  • Assisted climb down: using your team and belay devices.

1. Walk Down

Are you looking for a simple way to descend?

If yes, walking off is the best option for you. You have to look for a proper trail after reaching the summit and follow it. However, even though it might seem simple, you need to have an appropriate balance when you’re walking down. A few tips which you can follow during this type of descent include:

  • You should walk on bouts and rest in between. It will ensure that the pressure on your knees and bone joints is not consistent. It will help you avoid injury or body ache.
  • If you’re not careful during downhill walking, the pressure on your bone joints will be much more than uphill walking. In such a case, knee injury becomes unavoidable. You have to ensure that you apply proper braking force before your feet hit the ground. When that is the case, you can cushion the impact on your bone joints. As a result, you can avoid injury. A simple way to do that would be using trekking poles.
  • Even though you’re not likely to sweat much, it is always a good idea to keep your body adequately hydrated when you’re walking down. It will ensure that you can avoid cramps (source).
  • You need to ensure that you do not lean back while walking downhill (source). It will help you get a proper grip with each step.
  • You have to keep your knees slightly bent at all times to ensure that the pressure on the knee joint is on the lower side.
  • The chances of slipping while walking downhill are immense, especially when dealing with loose terrain. That is why you have to be extra careful.
  • You should always use trekking poles not just for stability but to provide proper support to your body when using this descent technique.

Once you follow these seven tips, walking off is an effortless descent technique that you can accomplish. Thus, it might seem like a simple descent technique, but only when you can follow these seven steps, you can walk off the mountain with ease.

2. Rappel

Have you heard about this descent technique before?

If the mountain or the rock which you have eclipsed has near-vertical sites, rappel is the only technique that you can use. You might be wondering, what rappelling exactly is?

Rappelling is the process of descending the vertical rock face. You have to use a double rope along with carabiners and essential gear to descent downwards. You will be fixing the equipment at a higher point to climb down safely.

Now that you are familiar with the descent method, you might be thinking of what exactly you would need for rappelling. I will go into the details of the gear required below.

Things which you will require for rappelling (source):

  • Ropes
  • Carabiners
  • Anchors
  • Descenders
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Harness
  • Back up knot

Once you have this gear, you can easily use this descend technique. Rappelling is not as easy as it sounds. I will share with you a few tips below, which will help you utilize this technique safely and efficiently.

  • You have to ensure that the rope is correctly attached to the anchor (source).
  • You have to ensure that it is threaded to the rappel device.
  • You have to ensure that the carabiner is firmly attached to your harness.
  • Before you start your descent, you have to make sure that the rope reaches the next rappel station.
  • Before you begin your session, it is essential to survey the surroundings around. You should look out for rock protrusions or any other obstacles in your path. You have to plan the descend accordingly.

If you follow these five tips, it will become easy for you to rappel down the mountainside.

Even though it is more complicated than some of the other descend techniques, many climbers prefer rappel because it is one of the fastest ways to get down a mountain. It ensures that you get down vertically rather than traveling a considerable distance to reach the bottom.

Nonetheless, if you’re well-versed with the technique, there is nothing to worry about.

3. Down Climbing

The downclimb, which I am referring to, is not just another word for climbing down. It is a method followed when you want to descend from the mountains.

The technique involves leveraging the edges or smears which were not significant on your way up. You have to take small steps forward by using smears and edges as gripping points.

With the help of small steps, you have to head on from one gripping point to another. Before you know it, you will be in the swing and will be able to move consistently between 1 holding point to another.

Before you start with this climbing down method, it is essential to find your neutral balance point. It will help you understand in which position you should rest if you need to stop the momentum intermittently. Only once you are sure about that, it will become easy for you to use this technique.

While moving forward by leveraging the edges or the smears might seem easy, but it is not always so. There are a few tips which you need to follow for the same.

  • The practice is everything when it comes to this down climbing technique. That is why it is essential to practice the method before going into full swing. At first, you have to stick to traversing small distances consistently. You have to take frequent breaks in between and in the neutral balance position. Only once you get the hang of it, you can move safely.
  • Many people think that downclimb will not consume a lot of energy. However, it is wrong to assume so. It can also cost you a lot of strength. You have to stick to the lock off and lockout method (source). These methods require the lowest energy on your part.
  • It is always a good idea to have a partner connected with you using a belay during this technique. It will ensure that you can downclimb with ease. In such a case, you will not experience a fall, as well.

These three tips will ensure that you can use the down climbing technique to descend from the mountain.

While down climbing might be one of the most efficient ways to descend a mountain, but it requires extensive practice. That is why, if you haven’t tried it before on shorter trails, it might not be the perfect option for you.

4. Base Jump

Base jump is not a descending technique that you can practice regularly. It is more of a sport in itself. It involves parachuting from the top of the peak to a base camp or a flat surface. It is often suitable for smaller mountains or rocks. It requires extensive training, as well.

Before I go into the details of this technique, it is essential to understand the gear which you will need for the same.

Things which you will require for the base jumping:

  • Body armor
  • Canopy
  • Bridles
  • Gear bag
  • Antenna
  • Safety gear like trekking boots, knee pads, safety helmet
  • Tools like clamps pull up cords
  • A right parachute

There are a few requirements that you need to look into if you’re thinking of using base jump as a descent method. These include:

  • Base jumping requires an ample open space around the mountain or the rock.
  • Base jump is suitable only if the mountain is near vertical and does not expand downwards.
  • For base jumping, ideally, the altitude should be about 3000 to 4000 feet.
  • Base jumping is only suitable for individuals who have extensive practice, and have skydived at least 100 times before.

As you can see, base jumping is only for individuals who are professionals at it. It is not for the average mountain climber. That is why, only once you abide by these guidelines, can you even think about the base jumping.

5. Assisted Climb Down

Looking for an easy and convenient way to climb down a mountain?

If yes, the assisted climb down is the best option for you. Nevertheless, it requires a team (source). If you’re not a solo climber, you should probably go with this descend method. It will make the descent easier for you.

The assisted climb down means that you will be attached to the rest of your team with the help of belay devices. It will ensure that you can follow your teammates and descend onwards. Also, the weight will be distributed all along the line as well, which will make it very easy for you to descent in a completely safe manner.

While assisted climb down is undoubtedly one of the most secure and safest ways to descend a mountain, nevertheless, there are a few tips which you need to abide by. These include:

  • You should always abide by the instructions of the team leader.
  • You have to move in sync with the other teammates. It will ensure that there is no imbalance, and no one slows down.
  • You should always stay attached to the line and never disconnect from it.
  • In case you need any help or want others to slow down, you should explicitly mention that.

Once you follow these steps, it will become easy for you to descend the mountain or the rock in an assisted fashion. It will require less input on your part. You have to stick to the instructions of the team leader.

Thus, if you’re in a team, the assisted climb down is the best way to descend.

If you have any doubts regarding the best way to descend a mountain or a rock, you can follow my guide above. It will make a choice easier for you. It will also ensure that you can get back down safely, as well.

Can You Get Down From a Mountain Alone?

Yes, you can climb down the rock on a solo basis. Usually, if the mountain or the cliff consists of high walls, the climbing solo is a viable method. In fact, in recent times, climbing solo has become quite popular. There are several techniques that you can use to climb solo like:

  • Roped solo
  • Free solo

The roped solo technique is one of the safest forms of solo climbing. It includes both going up and down a rock. Free solo is a dangerous technique practiced only by daredevils. Thus, you can climb on a solo basis as long as you use the right method and proper gear to do so.

If you wish to hike uphill and down by yourself, that is also okay. I have done so in New Hampshire before.

Still, if you have no one to assist you, I suggest you read an article I’ve written on how to climb a mountain without getting tired. In there, I’ve elaborated on different techniques to help you climb properly (with embedded videos).

Also, for the downhill, make sure you read another article by me on why do my hiking boots hurt my toes. I described there what is the right way to walk down without toe pains nor black nails.

Can You Self Belay to Get Down a Mountain?

Self-belay is possible. In most cases, you can use equipment like ice-axe to ensure that you do not slide down. If you’re not climbing a mountain in snowy conditions, you can easily use some other piece of gear to hold the rope in place.

So, even if you’re climbing the mountain on a solo basis but need some additional security, you can use the self-belay technique.

What General Climbing Down Rules Should I Follow?

Above, I have spoken about the various climb down techniques which you can use. However, there are a few general tips to follow, as well. When you do so, irrespective of the method which you use, it will become easy to descend in a completely safe manner downwards.

  • You should maintain a proper center of gravity. It should ideally be just over your legs. During the descent, you have to ensure that you do not lean forward or backward.
  • Your knees should always be a bit bent when descending downwards (source). It will ensure that you can reduce the impact on the joints. The muscles will undoubtedly absorb the impact.
  • You have to focus when you’re descending. One mistake can lead to an injury or accident.
  • You have to always stick to shorter steps. It will ensure that you can maintain the center of gravity.
  • If you’re on uneven terrain, it is a good idea to tighten the hip belt during the descent. It will ensure that you can maintain your balance.
  • You have to always move with the terrain when descending. It will ensure that the pressure on your body is on the lower side.

These six tips will ensure that the descent becomes much easier for you. It will also ensure that you can use any of the above techniques quite effectively.

Conclusions

So, are you still wondering how you can climb down the mountain?

Whether you’re going for rock climbing or mountain climbing, these are the five techniques that you can use. With my guide above, you can pick the right method easily.

Once you do so, it will become relatively easy for you to descend as well. Many people focus on ascend and conquering the peak, but the real test is in the descent. That is why I recommend you plan it by using my guide above.

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