You are mid-slab and it starts pouring -- time to bail! You look down and there is nothing on your harness. You have is a sewn runner over your shoulder. How do you get down? We've got a clever solution for you, the Texas Rope Trick! It is a great technique that can save you, but it's unforgiving if you get it wrong.
This situation should never happen. Keep a few carabiners on your harness whenever you are climbing. Leaving a carabiner and lowering or rappelling from it is a safer and better option than the Texas Rope Trick.
How It Works
Inspect the bolt. Is it solid? Are the edges of the bolt burred or sharp?
Go in direct, get your weight on the bolt.
Pass a sling through the bolt in a Basket Hitch.
Untie from tie-in on harness.
Pass the untied end through one loop of basket hitch and tie it to the other loop. It's a good idea to back this so if you drop it you don't lose the rope.
Pull the rope strand coming up from belayer through BOTH loops of basket hitch. This creates a bight that lowers down to your belayer as you pull the rope.
When the bight reaches the belayer set up your rappel. You MUST get right. **See the Getting it Wrong section to find out why a mistake could be deadly.**
Set up ATC for rappel or Munter using the two stands passing through the Basket Hitch. ***Do NOT use the strand tied to one loop of the basket hitch***.
When you reach the ground (or belayer on multi-pitch) identify the bight you sent down.
Pull the side of the bight heading up to the sling. You can confirm you are pulling the right strand, in the right direction, if an untied rope end goes up the wall as you pull. You have it wrong if you cannot pull the rope or the bight begins going up the wall.
Rope comes down with the sling. Voila!
Now you have all of your gear back and have left nothing on the wall, pretty slick!
You can only rappel 1/3rd the length of your rope using this trick.
Soft goods (slings, webbing, cord, rope, or anything that isn't metal) tied directly to bolts is not a great idea. The sharp edges and small radius of the bolt can cut or damage the soft good, potentially causing them to fail. See our tests below.
Bring a few extra carabiners and you will never have to do this. Don't leave the ground, or belay, unprepared.
The Texas Rope trick requires focus and understanding. Practice it on the ground first.
If you had no hard goods you could use a Dulfersitz to rappel. If you have don't have an ATC but you have a carabiner you can rappel using a Munter Hitch.
Never lower with the rope running directly through soft good. This generates friction that can melt and break soft goods. Rappel instead, so the friction happens when your weight is off of the rope and if the soft goods fail you don't fall with them.
Should You Do This?
Well? Not unless you have to. It is safer to leave a carabiner and lower or rappel off of it. Another safer solution is to fix the rope and rappel. Return to get the rope during better conditions or with the gear you need. A small financial loss is better than gambling with your life.
When would the Texas Rope Trick Shine? If you are higher than half of your rope-length and you only have one carabiner and an ATC. You'll have to do it twice, potentially three times, and make no mistakes. We still recommend more conventional options. However, this is a scenario, especially high on a multi-pitch, where the Texas rope trick could save your life.
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Getting it Wrong
There are two main failure modes with the Texas Rope Trick.
The most critical is rappelling on the wrong strands. Three strands will run down the wall. Two pass through the Basket Hitch. A third strand is tied to one side the basket hitch. ***If the strand tied to the basket hitch is included in the rappel the anchor can fail catastrophically*** This is the biggest risk when using the Texas Rope Trick. Only use the two strands that directly pass through the basket hitch.
The second failure is pulling the wrong strand or in the wrong direction after rappelling. Getting this wrong will cause the rope to not pull or fix itself to the wall. If you have more rappels to make this could be a big problem.
Testing Slings on Bolts
We pulled a basket hitch in an 8mm dyneema sling connected to a bolt. It broke at 18.86kn. Theoretically, basket hitches are twice as strong the MBS. In practice, we get an additional 50-80% over MBS. In this test we used an older, used dyneema sling. These generally break around 50-75% of MBS. We used the sharpest bolt hanger we could find. 18kn is in line with what we would expected and a reassuring result. The sling was strong enough to deform the bolt hanger but it broke where it ran over the bolt's edge. We are pretty happy with 18kn, it's probably super good enough if it is your only option, but be aware that connecting soft good directly to bolt hanger is always risky.
We also rub-tested it since a rope can cut through the sling via friction. I used a 9mm rope and leaned back and rubbed back and forth about 18" at a time. It took quite a lot of effort to get it to cut but if I had all my weight on it, it would be a lot quicker. This was. a good demo of the fact this happens, it's up to you to risk how much you want to do this when your life depends on it.
If you like niche rappel tricks, we test a product Beal made to retrieve a rope after rappelling single strand.