The new Beal Escaper is unique, innovative a little terrifying until you get used to it. Designed to be a rappel release device it allows you to rappel on a single strand but still retrieve the rope from the bottom. Needless to say, I had a lot of questions when I first saw the device: How does the Escaper perform with different anchor set-ups and on different rock types? Where and when is it best used? What are the limitations? Etc. This review will explore these questions and the practical limitations of this really cool and crazy device from Beal.
- Weight (with bag): 100g (125g)
- Strength: 18kN
- Dry treated nylon rope
- 120cm Dyneema sling
- Bungee cord
- Anchor Requirements: Single Point, less than 2cm diameter
How it Works:
The Beal Escaper works like a Chinese finger trap. It’s made up of a short section of rope that’s fed through the master point of an anchor and then through a Dyneema webbing braid (the finger trap). The climbing rope is attached to a loop at the end of the webbing braid so that when it’s loaded the webbing cinches on the rope and holds fast. When the tension is released a small bungee cord loosens the webbing braid. This means that with numerous cycles of loading and unloading the rope creeps through the device allowing it to be retrieved from below. A simple concept but it sure feels a little committing at first.
Real World Testing:
We tested the Escaper in a variety of applications from the crag to the alpine. Of course we started small at the crag with a back-up, just to be safe, and worked up from there. An effort was made to use the device in a variety of different terrain types (steep, low angle, benchy, clean, etc.) to get a feel for how it would operate in these different areas. Unfortunately we haven’t yet tested it out on any ice climbs or in wet & snowy conditions.
Observations & Thoughts:
So how did the Escaper perform? To keep things simple we’ve broken our comments into three different categories based on the stage of use: Setting up a Rappel, Rappelling and then Pulling the Rope. Each is described below.
Part 1: Setting Up a Rappel
Climbing Rope Requirements – The climbing rope doesn’t make up any part of the Escaper except as a means of pulling on it. The rope is simply tied to the master point of the device at the start of a rappel and left there. So as long as the rope is substantial enough to go through the pull-release cycle with enough energy to release it you’re good to go. Well almost! The rope also has to be substantial enough for a single strand rap but of course that goes without saying. Beal is suggesting a minimum rope diameter of 7.3mm on their website though not on the technical info supplied with the device. Of course 7.3mm just happens to be the diameter of their superlight Gully Half/Twin ropes… coincidence? In testing we found that the 6mm RAD line worked for a 30m rappel (we didn’t test a 45m or 60m line) but of course are not suggesting you ignore Beal.
Anchor Layout – The Escaper requires an anchor with a single metal master point to work properly. Two horizontally separated rap rings won’t work and unfortunately are fairly common. It’s nothing a little webbing or cordalette won’t fix though. As for a soft master point, it creates quite a bit more friction than a carabiner, mallion or ring and so can make retrieval a lot harder.
Anchor Height – Because the Beal Escaper extends the master point of the anchor down about 60cm it can make getting on belay a bit more challenging, depending on the situation. To address this issue we tied an overhand knot in the blue Escaper rope to lock it while making the transition over from the anchor. Once on the Escaper we would untie the knot and rap. Definitely remember to untie the knot!
Anchor Location – Anchors that are located on a large bench or any other situation that creates a lot of friction can stop the Escaper’s release cycle from working. It’s a good idea to get the first person down to do a few test pulls to make sure it’s actually going to work before committing.
Set-Up Time & Effort – Feeding the end of the Escaper’s rope back through the weave can be a little tedious so doesn’t really save time over setting up a normal rappel. Of course with full length rap’s there are fewer set-ups.
Part 2: Rappelling
Unintentional Movement – Of course my biggest fear when I first started testing the Beal Escaper was some unintentional slippage while rappelling. However, the device only needs about 10Kg or 22 Lbs for the weave to maintain its grip on the rope. As a result there’s very little movement even on benchy terrain. It also has about 45cm of tail that it has to slowly work through before it can release. Unweighted the rope a time or two isn’t the end of the world as it takes quite a few cycles to work through all that tail though it’s fairly easy to just keep a little weight on the rope. The system also gets less touchy the farther from the anchor you are as there’s more rope and so more stretch to dampen subtle unloading cycles.
Part 3: Pulling the Rope
Releasing the Rope – Once you’ve rappelled down and you want to retrieve the rope the idea is to pull down hard on it and then let go to so that it springs back up the cliff. Beal indicates in their literature that it’ll take 8 such pulls. In testing we found this to be an optimistic number. With 50+ meters of rope out it would generally take a little over 10 quality pulls and releases. Any poor pulls or gradual releases really slow the process down but it would eventually work.
Getting the Rope Stuck – The Escaper definitely increases the chances of getting a rope stuck when rappelling. Instead of pulling a clean rope through the anchor and having it fall the pitch you have the rappel rope tie-in knot along with a woven sling and bungee assembly that’s just begging to catch on a horn or chicken-head.
Talk about a huge weight savings! The Escaper weighs in at 123g, basically the same as a few locking carabiners. A super light rappel rope like Beal’s 5mm tagline on the other hand weights 1260g for 60 meters.
Rappelling can be dangerous at the best of times so learning a new system like the Beal Escaper is best done ahead of time in a safe environment. It’s also a bit more technical in its use and proper application and so only recommended for experienced climbers. Some more functional limitations include:
- Requires an anchor with a single metal masterpoint
- It can easily get stuck on a horn, flake, etc. when pulling the rope down
- Too much friction in the system will make it hard/impossible to retrieve the rope
- It can pull more rocks down than a clean, knot-less rope
There are a ton occasions where the Beal Escaper would be a beneficial device to break out. I touch on a few below to provide a bit of feel for where I found it useful (or expect to at least):
- Rappelling a very clean face with 1 rope.
- Rappelling in alpine terrain where:
- Getting the rope stuck is fixable and/or unlikely.
- On a fast-and-light mission.
- Lengthening rappels though terrain where it’s difficult to build an anchor, etc.
- An emergency back-up in-case of:
- Rope damaged on a route.
- Missing or damaged anchor.
- Off route, etc.
- A just-in-case device for anything from winter ski mountaineering use where a shorter rope is typically carried to alpine climbing.
Pros: Very Light, Inexpensive, Works well in the right circumstances
Cons: Rope more prone to getting stuck, pulling rocks, etc. Needs a single point anchor
Overall: The very unique and innovative Escaper is a fantastic device that provides a very lightweight back-up when heading out climbing or ski mountaineering. It’s so small and light that it’s easy to just throw in the bottom of a pack before heading out. It also serves as a good go-to rappel length extender in the right circumstances. The Escaper is however a bit technical in its application and so only recommended for experienced users.
Black Sheep Adventure Sports was provided with a review sample but of course this didn’t influence us in any way.