The SandTrap Rappelling Technique for Sandstone Canyons


The SandTrap is an anchoring system created by Steve Woodford of Springdale, Utah. It allows for a solid, reliable and retrievable anchor in many sandstone canyons. The premise is simple—if you have sand, and a little bit of favorable geometry to work with, you can get an anchor.

As an Advanced anchor system, similar to the deadman anchor, the SandTrap requires careful judgment and execution to use safely. Practicing this technic before you enter a canyon is a wise course of action. to get a feel for how much sand is required, and how much favorable geometry is required to produce a safe anchor. You will need to back up the SandTrap for every rappel until it has proven itself secure in the given circumstance. For this reason, it is suggested that the SandTrap will work better with sufficient people available to allow thorough testing of the Trap’s security before the final, ‘last man’ rappels from it without backup.

Using the SandTrap

  1. Use a carabiner or rapid link to connect the rope to the SandTrap – both for the rappel rope and for the retrieval rope. Rope-on-webbing action will quickly wear out the tie-in points, so use metal for this vital link.
  2. Inspect the tie-in points and the retrieval strap on a regular basis, perhaps after every rappel. If either of these critical components are damaged, carefully evaluate the severity of the damage and whether continued use is safe.

SandTrap parts
The inside of the SandTrap is smooth – this is where the sand goes. The outside of the SandTrap has several straps and belt loops on it – where all the action takes place.

The top edge of the SandTrap has the “Imlay Canyon Gear” label, and the retrieval strap sliding through a belt loop; the bottom edge of the SandTrap has the retrieval strap sewn to the tarp near its center.

Four tie in points are found at the corners of the tarp. Use a locking carabiner to clip all four of these to the rappel rope.

One retrieval strap runs up the center of the SandTrap through 4 belt loops and out the top. Use a locking carabiner to attach this to a retrieval rope.

A backup retrieval tie-in point is sewn at the center of the bottom edge, allowing attachment of a retrieval strap should the primary retrieval strap fail.

Preparing the SandTrap

Placement could potentially lead to retrieval issues. Photo Dan Ransom

Placement could potentially lead to retrieval issues. Photo Dan Ransom

Place the SandTrap on the ground, with the outside of SandTrap facing down, the smooth inside facing up. Orient the SandTrap with the bottom edge facing toward the drop. Pile sand on the center of the SandTrap. Pull the top edge over the sand and toward the drop to roughly line up with the bottom edge.

Clip the four (4) tie in points to the rappel rope using a locking carabiner.

Place the SandTrap into a pothole, depression or dug pit close to the edge of the drop. Make sure that the “runout” is clear of objects and constrictions that could snag the SandTrap, or behind which the SandTrap could become jammed. If the surface is flat, build a berm or fence in front of the SandTrap out of available sand, to place the SandTrap behind, so that it has to ‘climb a hill’ to pull.

Clip the retrieval strap to the retrieval rope using a locking carabiner.

Set up a backup system to allow safe testing of the SandTrap as rigged without risk to the rappellers.

Rappelling from the SandTrap and retrieval
Rappel using minimum-force rappelling techniques. Examine the SandTrap as canyoneers rappel and add more sand or reposition the SandTrap if it appears sketchy. If concerned about retrieval, do a test pull to make sure the people below can successfully retrieve the SandTrap.

After everyone has rappelled, retrieve the SandTrap by pulling hard on the retrieval cord. The cord bunches the center of the SandTrap and pushes the sand out the sides, at which point the empty SandTrap is pulled down to the waiting canyoneers. It may require a lot of pulling from below to get the retrieval process started, but generally once it starts, the retrieval proceeds with less force.

Both the rappelling rope and the retrieval rope get very beat up in this process, especially the part near the SandTrap. Inspect these ropes often and change them out to spread the wear and tear around.

Original article from Imlay Canyon Gear


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