STEP - A Checklist for the Last Rappeller


The last person on rappel has a difficult job to do - even under the easiest of circumstances. They have to do everything the previous canyoneers have done – go through CHECK, safely rappel down to the bottom, and manage a bulky backpack they are bringing down with them. In addition, they also have to remember to remove any extra gear attached to the anchor, manage the pull cord, set the ropes to ensure an easy pull, and check that no equipment is accidentally left behind. And they have to do all of this without any other human checking their work for mistakes.

Real-life problems

On the third rappel in Behunin the last rappeller came down, started to pull the rope and realized it was stuck tight. What happened? He quickly realized he had forgotten to take the safety off and now had to ascend back up to fix it. That added an hour to our descent that day.
At the first rap up Elephant Butte I was the last rappeller and was about to rig into the rap line when another group came over the fin right behind me. It startled me enough that I forgot to clip into the rope before starting my rappel. Luckily it was a shallow start and I caught myself before needing to fully weight it. Yikes!
My first trip through Medieval Chamber someone left their bag at the top of the Morning Glory Arch rappel. He hadn’t pulled the rope yet and we joked for a while about tying him back into the rappel line and the other eight canyoneers would all pull on the other end to get him back up.
In East Leprechaun at the first optional rappel right at the beginning of the canyon the rope has to travel down a tight and winding flute before reaching the ledge where the rope is actually needed. In ignorance I had rigged a biner block. Yep, it got stuck in the flute. I was able to batman up, remove the block, and hand line down so we could retrieve the rope. A little forethought would have prevented this from happening.

What does one do when there are so many things to remember in order to stay alive and successfully complete a rappel? Make an acronym, of course!

STEP Acronym

This should be the last step before taking that first step off the edge. This means run through CHECK and be ready to go down, then run through STEP.

  • Safety – If I have a safety, such as a canyon quickdraw clipped into a figure 8 on a bight on the pull side of the rope, it’s time to remove it.
  • Tug – Tug on the rope with your clipped-in rappel device to make sure you are on the rappel side of the rope and that the block is staying with the rigging.
  • Equipment – Look around to make sure your group didn’t accidentally leave anything behind.
  • Pull – Start the rappel and make sure the pull and rappel ropes are separated and positioned for an easy pull. More on this in The Pull article.


STEP as defined now does not work well with marginal anchors, though I still say it to myself on all rappels anyway.

If you screw up on E - Equipment, you'll likely have to unrig yourself, go get the item, and go through the entire process of CHECK and STEP again. Ideally one should check for equipment lying around before going through CHECK. It's very uncommon to leave stuff behind so it's never been a problem for me, but it is an imperfection with the acronym.

Since this is my own acronym, I want to know your thoughts on how to improve it. It has gone through several iterations and this is what I have settled on.

Is there anything that is missing?

Is there a set of words that create a better acronym and still includes all of these steps in a good order?

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