Partner Capture

Partner Capture
An efficient way to get down short drops as an alternative to rappelling. One or two canyoneers help to lower another canyoneer by pressing him/her against the cliff to provide friction and slowly lower the canyoneer to the ground.

Most canyoneers do partner captures wrong. The correct way doesn't necessarily feel natural and requires strict discipline from both the capturers and capturee. After getting over that initial awkwardness and it starts to make sense partner captures go from guesswork, jumping, and occasional falls to a consistently safe and repeatable set of steps for efficiently moving down the canyon.

In order to become proficient in partner captures practice outside of canyons is paramount. It took me years, many practice sessions, and several sets of instruction from the greatest down climb guide before it finally clicked. I hope it doesn't take as long for you.


The capturee is the canyoneer who is being lowered. The capturee actually does very little and must trust and rely on the capturers to get them down safely. This is the awkward part because the capturee has to completely surrender themselves to their capturer.

The capturer or capturers are the canyoneers who are lowering the capturee.

Simple capture

  1. Capturer is down below with arms up ready to capture.
  2. Capturee gets into position:
    • Their legs must be straight - bending them or trying to actively down climb is the biggest mistake a capturee can make
    • Leans back against the rock to maximize friction
    • Uses their arms to add friction as well by weighting hand holds or simply splay them out and press against the rock
    • It's easier without packs but if it's a relatively straightforward capture then no need to take them off
  3. Capturer holds the capturee's feet up while slowly lowering them, transitioning from holding their body weight to pressing their shins against the rock
  4. Capturer carefully lowers the capturee by leaning and pressing them against the rock, walking their hands up the capturee's legs
  5. Once the capturee is low enough...

  6. Capturee leans forward and places their hands the capturer's shoulders
  7. Capturer lowers them the rest of the way

Multiple capturers

  1. If there are two capturers, each capturer takes a leg of the capturee. The capturee puts one hand on each inside shoulder of the capturer
  2. If there are three or four capturers, they should stand behind and stabilize the first two capturers
  3. If there are more than four they should have already gone ahead to the next obstacle

Pyramid capture

There are two types of pyramid captures. One of them, common in Utah County, is also known as MLM recruiting. The canyoneering pyramid capture builds on a standard partner capture. This time there are three levels of canyoneers: the top-level-capturee, middle-level-capturer, and bottom-level-capturers.

The top-level-capturee's job is the same as the capturee in a partner capture. The only difference is that they will be captured from a much higher distance.

The middle-level-capturer's job is to hold up the top-level-capturee while they are captured with their belly toward the rock. Their body will be captured completely. Once they are down they assist capturing the top-level-capturee.

The bottom-level-capturers have a similar job to the capturer on a standard partner capture. The only difference is that instead of slowly lowering one person they will be slowly lowering two people stacked on top of each other.

Why is the pyramid capturing in this order with the middle-level-capturer being lowered with the top level? Why not capture just the top level to the ground and then the middle level? The main reason is that the middle-level-capturer does not have the ability to push the top-level-capturee against the rock and therefore cannot preform an effective capture. And how do I know that? I was in a group that tried it this way once and the top and middle levels both came crashing down. I made that mistake for you and me so you don't have to.

Overhanging Partner Captures

Partner captures rely on pressing the capturee against the rock to provide friction for easier lowering. Consequently partner captures using this technique do not work when the drop is overhanging.

It is possible to generalize this technique to allow for overhanging captures, but I have no experience with it and can only refer you to a Canyon Collective forum thread where Ram describes a technique called The Circle of Love:

The geometry of each drop varies, so one size does NOT fit all. But here are some guidelines.

  • Captures involving overhangs have their limits a few feet lower than vertical or low angle captures
  • The same support that creates the feeling that the capturers are standing on flat ground applies. Support of the capturers is perhaps even more critical.
  • If the overhang goes more than 7 feet up from the ground, the exercise becomes much more difficult
  • Strength of capturers and lightness of capturee needs a bit more safety margin
  • pack drags to help "over the lips" that are difficult, is a good additional tool

The capture method most used for overhangs is called The Circle of Love.

One of the capturers creates a round circle with both arms, up as high as they can, with balance and strength. Others supporting this person must make him (usually tall strong males) as stable as possible. The person being captured slips over the edge, facing in (most common), on their side (often) or facing out (least used), aims their legs into the arm circle, created by the capturer. Critical that the capturee have their legs together and mostly straight. As the legs slide into and below the arm circle, the capturer, closes the circle, but still maintains the circle shape. As the legs get lower, the circle closes to around the thighs and squeezes the legs of the capturee. This must not be done too high off the ground or too low on the capturee's body. At least the highs, not lower.

That is the basic mechanical part, but there is more needed. A second capturer is needed every time in the "Circle" maneuver. They guide the legs down in and stabilize the the other capturer. Others can help each of the capturers be strong and stable, holding feet, pushing into backs and in many ways depending on the circumstances. They can also slow the descent and control the capturee, once they et low enough.

The capturee often will bend at the waist just enough to use the shoulders of the capturer, supporting the other capturer doing the circle. The capturer doing the circle, can bend their knees when the circle is squeezed around the thighs of the capturee, and with the help of others bring the capturee to the ground. When done correctly, the circle capturerer will have their cheek, plush against the hip of the person being captured. That is where the origin of the name comes from.


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