All About Smooth Operators For Canyoneering


Smooth Operator Canyoneering

If you have been canyoneering for long enough to be called an enthusiast, instead of a casual hobbyist, this article is the perfect place for you to advance your skills and acute judgment when it comes to developing a new repelling technique.

What Is A Smooth Operator?

Although it may sound like something you would say to someone good at getting what they want, a smooth operator is actually a tool that will make your next trip to the canyons much less of a hassle.

A smooth operator is an anchoring system that is removable and enables us to be imaginative in our choice of anchors by effectively using objects like trees, rocks, arches, existing anchors, etc. to rappel down. When rappelling while canyoneering something is normally left behind at the top of the rappel after the ropes are pulled down. Things that are left behind may include webbing, rapids, bolted anchors, cams, or other materials.

So, what is a smooth operator? It’s a small, metal bar with two elongated indentures on each side to allow other equipment to be attached to it, making it safer for the repeller. Its intended use is to facilitate in securing the knot made at the end of a rope anchor so that it is safe to lower yourself. This kind of contraption falls under the category of a toggle-type device and has a multitude of advantages like the ability to take all of your gear with you after repelling and allowing anchors to be set up both quickly and further away from the cliff end than one would normally consider.

The use of retrievable devices such as the smooth operator does, however, involve a considerably higher risk due to the knot being purposely left weaker to make it easy to dismantle once it is not required. This also makes it more prone to snapping or other anchoring system failures that can cause injury or be fatal.

The smooth operator was invented when a group of canyoneers began an online discussion about the use of a pin inside a side knot as an effective anchor. People began to testify to the merits of this method and more and more people started to experiment with different materials such as wooden dowels, tent poles, PVC pipes, aluminum rods, and other things as safety pins in the knot. As a result, a less modern version of the smooth operator made from fiberglass, called the fiddlestick, was born which became a success in the canyoneering community. As it became popular, people began to ask for a sturdier model so it could withstand multiple falls and had a hole to add a carabiner for safety, and thus the smooth operator was born.

What Equipment Do You Need To Use A Smooth Operator?

The smooth operator is not a stand-alone device, but rather it requires other equipment to be attached to it to form a complete anchoring system that is secure enough to support the repeller.

You’ll need a few items when using a smooth operator. The equipment needed includes:

  • Rope for Repelling
  • A Safety Carabiner
  • Pull Line or Retrieval Rope

To better understand what equipment we need to use a smooth operator, we need to first understand how the anchor is formed so that we know the role each piece plays.

First, the rope we use to rappel needs to be wound tightly around an object, such as a tree or pole.

Next, tie a stone knot and insert a smooth operator into the knot to prevent the rope from unwinding when weight is applied.

A safety carabiner is a metal, D-shaped object designed to withstand extreme pressures. Essentially, it acts as a chain to ensure that the smooth operator does not slide out of the knot in case there is any stress on the anchor. A carabiner has a spring-loaded gate to allow for interlocking. It passes through the holes on either side of the smooth operator and attaches to the rappel rope. You now have a completely secured knot that cannot be opened.

Next, you need to attach a pull line or retrieval rope which is a thin, lightweight rope that runs parallel to the rappel rope.

The pull line is used to disengage the knot once everyone is on the ground. This is done by tying the pull line to one of the end holes in the smooth operator. When the last repeller is about to descend, they will remove the carabiners and repel down.

At their final destination, they can pull the retrieval rope. Without anything to prevent it from sliding sideways, the smooth operator will slip out and the knot will come undone, and both the ropes can then be pulled down.

While deciding what kind of pull line to use, it is recommended to go for a 1/8 inch as it can reduce the weight of the line and is much less bulky to pack. It is important to know that the pull line cannot be used as a rappel rope as the friction associated with lowering is too great and will cause the rope to melt.

The carabiners used with smooth operators are usually larger- almost 4 inches at the center- this is to ensure that you have enough space in the carbine to secure both the repel rope and the smooth operator.

It is also important to keep the smooth operator away from harsh chemicals as it can erode the layers of polycarbonate and reduce its strength carrying capacity.

Benefits Of Using A Smooth Operator For Canyoneering

Now that you have more experience in climbing and are better able to read your surroundings, you don’t need all the extra padding that beginners are required to put up before they can repel.

There are many benefits to using a smooth operator for canyoneering. The benefits include using less equipment, quicker set-up, and a further anchor distance.

Save Money By Using Less Equipment

The primary benefit of using the smooth operator is that the amount of webbing and wraps required to rappel is reduced significantly and, in most cases, is not required as all the equipment used to form the anchor is retrieved once you are lowered.

This can be a great cost-saver in the long run, especially if you tend to get out a lot. Being a lover of the great outdoors, we can now make sure that our canyoneering experience does not cause any negative effects on the natural formation of the canyons. By using retractable anchors such as the smooth operator, we can completely avoid leaving behind unnecessary anchors or forming rope grooves, allowing us to leave nature just as we found it so that the beauty of the canyons is not diminished for the next repeller.

Quicker to Set Up

Using the smooth operator also translates into a significantly reduced workload, as all the hassle that comes with establishing a fixed anchor before rappelling can be replaced by a simple knot that goes around a heavy object, making you ready to go in minutes. Smooth operators also come in handy during particularly long drops where two ropes may need to be tied together to finish the rappel. This would still not cause a problem in retrieving the rope as the pull rope would still undo the knot for the anchor, which is far less tricky than other methods that would otherwise be required.

Further Anchor Distance

But perhaps the greatest benefit is that the anchor can also be set 20 to 30 feet away from the top of the rappel if needed. Only a short section is used for the actual knot which causes negligible amounts of friction during the pull. An anchor set further away from the rappel is still easy to pull, which greatly adds to the possible choices for an anchor. This greatly adds to the feasibility of some drops as they can require the anchor to set around corners.

Final Thoughts

Canyoneering is a fun and challenging way to give yourself a workout, while intimately exploring the forgotten crevices of mother earth. It perfectly combines the experience of bonding with friends, camping outdoors, and learning a new skill, all while marveling at some of the most enticing formations of rocks. But, to enjoy yourself fully, we must be mindful of our surroundings and take the necessary precautions to create the safety net required to have a safe experience.

The smooth operator is an advanced technique that has proven reliable over time. As with any anchoring system, there is a potential for failure that may result in fatality. This can be easily avoided if used properly with care and attention to detail. It would be wise to educate yourself thoroughly about the proper use of this method and take special care to avoid shock loads, which the smooth operator is not designed to handle. If used with caution this form of a retrievable anchor can be an important and useful tool in your arsenal of canyoneering techniques that will serve you for years to come.

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