When a Prusik goes seriously wrong in a Canyon

Just wanted to share my experience when my Prusik jammed on a 20m overhang.  The video died in the end, but eventually, my mates had to lower me a knife using a miraculous old sling they found and I had to cut both Prusiks off.  I would caution against anyone using a Prusik on a descent.  It’s important to know it for an ascend, but definitely dangerous otherwise.  If there was flowing water, I would have been dead.

Also, I escaped the harness shock syndrome, partly because I was horizontal most of the time.  In the video, you can see me jam my hand between the ropes to stop from flipping over, as I lost strength surprisingly fast.  After i dropped my pack, I used my mate’s cord to create a makeshift seat with my feet on my safety sling, so that I did not remain vertical.

No matter what I did, I just could not loosen the top Prusik even though it was unweighted.  The Moral of the story: back up with the French (not sure about this in flowing water), go with mates, keep the spare rope up the top, keep a knife on your person, don’t stay vertical and always, always, Always, Keep the Stoke. It is a beautiful Canyon, an incredible day and one I definitely look forward to rocking on again.

13 Responses to When a Prusik goes seriously wrong in a Canyon

  1. Colin Mar 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    Number one lesson to be learn’t here is: Receive proper instruction before heading out and know how to solve any problems yourself that may arise. Generally it is a better idea to abseil with a Prussik below your device, but there is nothing wrong with tying the Prussik above. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. You were clearly way out of your comfort zone here. This problem could have easily been solved when the Prussik jammed, there’s a number of ways to do this, one way is to take up all slack between your device and Prussik, tie a loop in the rope below your device, stand up in the loop, this creates just enough slack between your Prussik and device In order for you to pull the Prussik down, hold the rope tight as you sit back in your harness and untie the loop of rope with one hand, then continue abseiling.

  2. HenkG Mar 10, 2014 at 3:53 pm #


    That sounds like an elegant solution. I have been in similar situation with a Prussik, with darkness falling, a wet rope and a tired body. Trust me a knife is part and parcel of my gear going forward. It is surprising how quickly one lose energy in that situation.

  3. Chris F Mar 10, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    Isn’t a klemheist (sp?) also recommended in these situations as it’s easier to release than a french prussik?

  4. Nic Le Maitre Mar 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Klemheists are harder to release than French prussiks

  5. Arno Mar 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    Had a similar situation before purely due to my prusik being above my device. Lesson learnt.

  6. HenkG Mar 10, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    Come to think of it, my problem was a klemheist and above the device.

  7. Mokganjetsi (Willem B) Mar 11, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    jip prussic below the ab device. and extend the belay loop with two 30cm slings so that the belay device is at chest height; much better balance and ability to move your body.

    • jacques Mar 11, 2014 at 10:19 am #


  8. Justin Lawson Mar 11, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    @Willem – Agreed, But why two slings?

  9. Nic Le Maitre Mar 11, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Anyone who doesn’t carry a knife when kloofing is asking for trouble

  10. Hendrik Mar 11, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    How about in this case just taking up as much rope as you can to get slack on the prussik, unclip the prussik and continue?

  11. Justin Lawson Mar 11, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    @Hendrik – That could work (depending on the abseil device that you are using) but at the end of a long day or for someone not strong enough it might not (granted that she did have an extra prussik on which to stand up!)

    she mentions being tired around 11:00 min’s into the film and spends an entire 34:00 min’s + hanging on the rope. I got tired just watching/listening to it!!

  12. HenkG Mar 11, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    @Hendrik: not feasible when you are hanging free, considering rope stretch and the short distance between the device and the Prussik (if it is above the device). I had to drag myself up on moss and grass to get some weight off the rope. But Colin’s solution may work.

    Still the least energy intensive is a knife. Honestly I will not go tradding/kloofing/abseiling again without this.

    The setup you guys propose with slings is not really feasible on a kloof involving say 15 abseils and many souls. Its just too slow. Better go without the Prussik all together. I only needed the thing to enable me freeing a stuck rope. Experienced people can do without it.

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