Learning How to Lower

Lowering is one of the simplest descent techniques. It is something most climbers have done a lot, especially in the gym or at sport climbing areas, and uses standard climbing equipment and belay techniques. The belayer controls the descent of his or her partner by feeding rope out in a controlled manner through the belay system.

Lowers occur with either the belayer positioned below the climber, as in the sport lower, or above the climber, when lowering down to top-rope from above, for example. Though the anchoring and belay systems may vary, no lower should be done without being sure that:

  • the belay device is properly attached to the climber’s harness (or the anchor) and is threaded correctly there is no loose clothing or equipment that might get caught in the belay device
  • the belayer has chosen a method, anchor, and position that ensure he or she will maintain control of the descent
  • a backup has been established if deemed necessary
  • if lowering through an anchor, the anchor is appropriate-never lower through webbing or dangerously worn fixed anchors (chains, lap links, and even bolt hangers designed for lowering can get dangerously worn – always back up a suspect anchor)
  • the rope is long enough so that the climber can reach the ground or the next belay-if the belayer reaches the end of the rope before the climber is in a secure position, a real emergency situation may develop
  • the belayer is tied into the end of the rope-this closes the system and guarantees that the belayer will never let the end of the rope slip through the belay device (failing to take this simple precaution has caused many accidents)
  • communication is clear-both the climber and belayer must be clear on when and how the lowering is going to occur and what is going to happen after the climber is down (at least one accident occurred when a climber leaned back on the rope expecting to be lowered and fell to the ground because the belayer-thinking the climber would rappel-had taken him or her off belay)
  • the belayer and climber have a backup plan in case of emergency (imagine what would happen if a climber is lowered off the top of a big cliff, cannot climb back up, and neither the climber nor the belayer has sufficient knowledge or equipment to improvise a rescue?)