How to rappel with an ATC device

The experience of rappelling down a cliff can provide an exhilarating rush! However, it is always important to keep safe. A combination of experience and equipment is needed for the best and safest rappelling experience. One common piece of equipment used for rappelling is known as an ATC device. This device can make rappelling more convenient. However, there are some caveats to consider when using this piece of equipment, and also many interesting things to learn about it. Many people often wonder how to rappel with an ATC device.

Getting an understanding of the specific techniques allows even a novice to rappel successfully with an ATC device. The devices make rappelling simple and easy, however there are many key considerations to take into account. In this article, we will explain the purpose of this device, and explain the best ways to use it.

This Article Will Cover:

What is an ATC?
How Does an ATC Work?
What Does ATC Stand for in Rock Climbing?
How to Prepare Your ATC Device for Your Descent
Steps to Setting up Your ATC Device
Performing Checks on Your ATC Device
The Steps You Need to Follow to Rappel With an ATC Device
What Not to Do While Using an ATC Device
What if My ATC Device is not Available
How to Rappel Without an ATC Device
What is Guide Mode?
Closing Thoughts

What is an ATC?

An ATC (Air Traffic Controller) is a type of belaying device used for rappelling. Belay simply means to control a rope. Originally, the ATC was created by Black Diamond as a tubular belay device to control descent while rappelling. The term ATC has since become synonymous with these devices. The ATC made use of innovative technology to make the belay as efficient as possible. These changes have continued and thus there have been new features added in subsequent years. The modern ATC devices are incredibly safe and make rappelling far easier. They are also fairly simple to use which makes it is easy to learn how to rappel with an ATC device.

Rock climbing with an ATC device
Rock climbing with an ATC device.

How Does an ATC Work?

The mechanics of an ATC are actually fairly simple but ingenious at the same time. When looking at how to rappel with an ATC device, it can also be useful to have a basic understanding of the underlying technology which allows for a controlled rappelling descent. It is important to note that an ATC device usually has two slots, but you only need to thread your rope through one slot. The other slot is only to be used when there are two ropes in use.

An ATC device works by controlling your descent and controlling the friction. They have a variety of modes such as ‘guide mode’ which gives you extra flexibility. The device reduces the physical exertion required by taking the force. The rope ‘rubs’ against the device to provide a smoother descent. The friction created by the device makes rappelling much easier. Below, we will go into more detail about how to rappel with an ATC device.

What Does ATC Stand for in Rock Climbing?

But first, it is important to have an understanding of the definition. The first question that most people have when they ask how to rappel with an ATC device is what it actually stands for. The abbreviation stands for “Air Traffic Controller”. Now, this may sound unusually since it is a phrase you tend to hear more in the context of aeroplanes. However, the origins of the term actually makes a fair bit of sense.

When you consider how to rappel with an ATC device, the definition can begin to seem more clear. You can consider the climber to be the ‘traffic’ in the ‘air’, and the ‘controller’ is managing their safety. This imagery makes it easier to understand the key mechanics of an ATC device and the way in which it relates to rock climbing. There have been other abbreviations used by different companies, however, ATC has managed to stick. You may be curious to know that ATC was originally just a company name for a specific device. The success of the device led to the name sticking in the widespread rock climbing community. It is now very common to hear the word ATC used to refer to any type of tubular belay device. However, when purchasing a tubular belay device, it is crucial to look at the specifications to ensure that it meets your needs for rappelling. There can be slight variations in some devices, and regional differences can also apply.

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How to Prepare Your ATC Device for Your Descent

Setting up an ATC device properly for your descent is crucial to ensure maximum safety There have been a number of accidents when ATC devices have been incorrectly used for descent. Many of these accidents were entirely avoidable, with the major cause being mistakes caused by inattention. When setting up any device, the most important concern should always be safety. There is a tendency to forgo some precautions because they may be time consuming or inconvenient. But, by following these steps you can ensure that you understand how to rappel with an ATC device through the correct preparation techniques.

Steps to Setting up Your ATC Device

Firstly, you must set-up your equipment. To begin with, you should run one end of the rope through the rings/chains until you see some hang. Then, you can tie stopper knots of the ends of your ropes. The exact type of knot you choose to use will depend on your preferences, however, a strong knot is essential when considering how to rappel with an ATC device. Both ends of the rope should be flaked, and once these steps are complete you can begin to attach yourself to the ATC device. This is attached through your belay loop on the harness which is connected to a locking carabiner. The rope is fed through one side and should come out the other.

Rappelling with an ATC device
Rappelling with an ATC device.

Performing Checks on Your ATC Device

Before beginning your descent, you must perform the proper checks. Even if you are experienced, it is essential to double-check every single point. When learning how to rappel with an ATC device, the checks are just as important as the descent itself. The first item to check is the anchor. You must ensure that it is solid and has been set up correctly. The second aspects to check are the locking carabiners. You must ensure that they have been properly locked, as loose lock mechanisms can lead to falls. Additionally, you must check that the rope is being properly fed to the ATC device and that it is working in the correct manner. You must also test your backup and double-check that it is in order.

The Steps You Need to Follow to Rappel With an ATC Device

The next step is the descent itself. After the preparation is complete, you can begin to descend using your ATC device. When learning how to rappel with an ATC device, you must become familiar with the specific steps that need to be followed. It should be noted that the main purpose of an ATC device is, in fact, belaying, but it is also just as effective for rappelling. One of the most important things to do while rappelling with an ATC device is to always have control.

You should gently lean back on to the rope, and allow the rope to slowly slide through your hands. If you need to stop, you can pull on the brake hand behind your back. Additionally, you can swing it away from your body in case you need to descend faster. This motion reduces the friction of the ATC device. In many ways, the use of this device is fairly simple to understand. However, there are still some common errors which are made. When you learn how to rappel with an ATC device, the steps to avoid are just as important to take in.

What Not to Do While Using an ATC Device

 Many beginners tend to make certain mistakes whilst using an ATC Device. There is a small learning curve involved, which is why it is essential to always have a professional with you. When you get the gist of how to rappel with an ATC device, there are also some things that you should remember not to do. There have been a few stories of climbers being dropped because of improper ATC usage. Therefore, it is essential to know which steps to take in order to prevent this from occurring. You should not be overly confident just because the device makes things simple. It is common for beginners to overlook things simply because they trust the device.

Carabiner Threading

When learning how to rappel with an ATC device, the biggest mistake that you can possibly make is not getting the carabiner threaded through the loop. Although this seems like a very obvious error to avoid, it can happen due to a number of factors. These can include simply not paying attention, extreme weather conditions, or certain clothing blocking the loop. Therefore, you should make sure that you stay focused while using an ATC device and wear appropriate climbing clothing. These are basic things to remember, but even the most experienced climbers can sometimes overlook them. All of these things must be taken into account when you consider how to rappel with an ATC device. The device is not able to make these checks for you.

Twisting

Another common mistake that can occur when looking at how to rappel with an ATC device happens when a twist is found somewhere in the setup. With the multiple amounts of equipment setup, it is fairly common for one of these to have a twist. Additionally, most twists are not harmless, however, they can increase the risk of failure. To avoid this, the slots in the ATC device must be kept parallel to the ground. The rope must not be facing upwards when it comes out of the ATC otherwise the strength of the entire system is weaker. By setting up the ATC device in the correct manner, it will apply friction in the most effective way and prevent any failures. It is easy to avoid twists in the setup when learning how to rappel with an ATC device.

What if My ATC Device is not Available

An ATC device is not always essential for rappelling. Although, how to rappel with an ATC device is a common question, the question of how to effectively rappel without one is just as important. You should note that it can be more difficult to rappel without any belay device, but it is not impossible. You may lose your ATC device or may simply feel as though it is not required. It is common to see belay devices dropped and for them to be unretrievable. In either case, there are a number of steps to follow if you want to rappel without a belay device of any kind.

How to Rappel Without an ATC Device

When you are learning how to rappel with an ATC device, you should always be prepared to descend without it. You cannot simply be reliant on the device since there can be situations where it is not available. Even if you belay or ATC device is unretrievable, you can still rappel down safely. There are three main methods which you can rely on. You can either do a single rope rappel using a single belay device with your partner. Alternatively, you can use a munter hitch which can be done with the locking of a single carabiner with the climbing rope. Finally, you can utilize a double carabiner brake rappel with the addition of four carabiners.

The single rope method of sharing presents the most risk, and we only recommend it even both partners are experienced. It also doubles the load on the anchor which can present other issues. The munter hitch method is preferred, however, it does carry the risk of twists and it does have to be used on a single fixed-line.

The Double Carabiner Brake Rappel Method

Therefore, the safest and most reliable method of rappelling without an ATC device involves the double carabiner brake rappel. This is a tried and trusted method that prevents risks and does not require a kinking rope. It also requires minimal equipment to pull off. You and your partner simply need to carry four separate carabiners and one locking carabiner. With the equipment, you can clip your locking carabiner to the belay loop which will be on your harness. The next step involves clipping two non-locking carabiners opposed to your belay loop. Finally, you must clip the other two non-locking carabiners around the sides. It is important to ensure that the rope runs smoothly over the spine of the carabiners. The carabiners provide the necessary friction to ensure a smooth descent without requiring an ATC device.

How to rappel with an ATC device braking
Braking using an ATC device.
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What is Guide Mode?

When you start to consider how to rappel with an ATC device, you will be intrigued by the features available. One of the most significant and newest functions of an ATC device is the guide mode and is also known as ‘autoblock mode’. Earlier in the article, we mentioned that the ATC had been undergoing developments due to new technological advances. One of the most important additions has been guide mode which is now seen as the better method of belaying.

The guide mode function is an auto-locking belay technique that can be highly convenient when discovering how to rappel with an ATC device. However, it should never be used for lead belaying. When the guide mode function is set up, it will automatically lock should the climber fall. However, even with the auto-lock, the leader should always maintain the grip of the brake rope.

How to Set Up Guide Mode on ATC

A guide rope can be set up with either one rope or two ropes. You will need to properly set up the main anchor point alongside the belayers tie-in point. This will be connected to the ropes of the climbers. You must ensure that every single point is connected and checking every point is an integral aspect when considering how to rappel with an ATC device. Once everything has been set up, the guide mode starts working and you can begin to pull the climber up from their brake strands. The advantage of the guide mode is that it will automatically lock within seconds if the climber falls. However, this does not mean that you should let go of the rope at any time. It is merely a precaution to consider when looking at how to rappel with an ATC device.

Closing Thoughts

You should now be fully aware on how to rappel with an ATC device. By following through with these steps, you can be sure to have a fantastic rappelling experience. It is interesting to track down the history of the ATC device, and the impact it has made on climbing as a whole. We look forward to seeing how equipment use evolves in the future for climbing. There are always new developments which lead to new techniques in the art of knowing how to rappel with an ATC device.

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