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      Understanding the IRATA L1 Syllabus: Descending with a descender and ascender

      Being able to control your speed and stop as required while descending the ropes is a core technique you’ll use nearly every day as a rope tech. All levels are required to demonstrate competence while completing this rope maneuver. We know that wording is a little vague, so let’s get into what ‘demonstrating competence’ actually means.

      On your IRATA assessment day, while performing this rope maneuver your assessor will be watching that you:

      1. Check the anchor points before descending on the ropes. 
      2. Safely access the ropes from various positions such as from a safe platform or the ground, from fall restraint or work positioning, or from an aid climb.
      3. Attach and correctly thread your descending device. FYI, at PacRopes, we use the Petzl I'D. This descender has a safety feature that will lock you in place if you thread it backwards. So, in training, if you are confused as to why your I'D isn't working, most likely you've threaded it backwards.
      4. Make sure the connector you are using (the carabiner attached to the descender) is secured. At PacRopes, the carabiners you'll be using will automatically lock when you let go. However, there are many carabiners out there that require you to screw them tight. So, get into the habit of checking to make sure your connector is locked and loaded correctly before you start to descend. 
      5. Attach your back-up correctly and check the position and function of your backups. Make sure your back up isn't sitting too low before you descend. At PacRopes, we train on the ASAP Lock. Before you descend, make sure the ASAP lock is not on the locked function otherwise you'll be stuck.
      6. Check for any obstructions below you before beginning to descend (this is your pre-descent safety check).
      7. Safely control your descent. No fast drops!
      8. Practice safe control of the ‘tail’ rope (the rope that is exiting the descending device) as you’re descending. You’ll want to avoid creating tangles in the ropes, as well as in the lanyard.
      9. Demonstrate how to stop and lock off the device. Locking off your device seems like a simple thing to do but it is easy to forget, especially when you're the middle of some complicated maneuvers.

      Something else to keep in mind, is the weather. Rain and other harsh weather conditions could have an impact on your descent by affecting the properties of the ropes in your system. We’ll go into further detail on this during your training week.

      In summary, the main things your assessor will be watching for are that you correctly attach the descending device and back up to the rope system, that your descent is controlled, and that your backup is correctly managed.

      Demonstrating Competence of Descending Using an Ascending Device

      It is also possible to descend the rope system on an ascending device while in suspension. This maneuver uses a very specific re-positioning technique that is only used for very short descents (generally no more than a few meters), and is done without ever removing the ascending device from the rope system.  

      To demonstrate competence with this maneuver, follow through on all of the points listed above, and also make sure that the ascending device is never removed from the ropes during the entirety of the maneuver. That’s it for this one.

      Additional resources to check out

      ICOP Part 3, Annex K – Typical method of descending and ascending using IRATA International rope access.

      TACS 6.6.3 and 6.6.6. for the source material for this blog.

      This is part of an ongoing series, where we’re breaking down IRATA’s syllabus and clarifying exactly what ‘demonstrating competence’ and ‘demonstrating awareness’ means, and what will be expected of you on assessment day. To learn more about the rest of the IRATA L1 Syllabus, click below: 

      Succeed your IRATA L1