The Joker is a friction rigging that allows canyoneers to rappel on either strand while also allowing either strand to be released so the person on rappel can be lowered. It has many of the advantages of the Stone knot for speeding up big groups, but is also releasable like the Figure 8 block.
The best use for a Joker is a large group with beginners. Isolating both strands allows one person to rig on one strand at the same time another person is rappelling on the other strand. Similar to the Stone knot, doing this allows large parties to drastically reduce delays due to rigging for rappel. In addition to the benefits of the Stone knot, the Joker also makes both strands releasable in the event that someone gets something stuck in their rappel device on the way down as may happen with beginners.
How to rig
- Pass the rope through an anchor ring and ensure that both ends touch the ground at the bottom of the rappel
- Clip a carabiner to the big holes of two figure 8 descent devices
- Clip the carabiner to the webbing to which the anchor ring is attached, and also around the rope passing through anchor ring
- Rotate the small holes of the figure 8 devices out to opposite sides forming mouse ears
- Take a bight of one of the sides of the rope and poke it through the big holes of the figure 8's
- Repeat with the other side of the rope, keeping each side of the rope on its respective side of the carabiner
- Pass each of the bights around the small ends of the figure 8's as if rigging the figure 8's for rappel
- The system is now ready for rappel. For a safety, attach a quick draw or chain of carabiners to both little holes of the figure 8's
- After everyone else has descended, LAPAR removes all rigging materials and rappels double stranded (or adds a block and rappels on a single strand)
How to release
As long as only one strand of rope is being used for rappel at a time, the Joker can be quickly converted to lower the person on rappel. This is useful if the rappeller gets something caught in their rappel device (such as hair or their shirt), or if they freeze on rappel. To lower a rappeller on the right side of the Joker:
- Remove the safety from the left side of the Joker
- Push some extra rope from the left strand below the Joker into the big hole of the Joker
- With the extra slack, remove the left strand from the small hole of the figure 8 and hold onto it
- Slowly feed rope from the left strand into the quick link and the rappeller on the right strand will be lowered. It should only take hand strength to keep the rappeller from falling, just as when rappelling with a figure 8.
Instead of attaching the carabiner to the webbing holding the quick link, a single carabiner may be attached to the quick link instead. When attaching in this way, make sure that the carabiner is inserted in the quick link below the rope and that the rope rests on top of the carabiner instead of underneath. If the rope is underneath the carabiner, the carabiner will squeeze the rope against the quick link and make lowering difficult or impossible.
Capturing the rope
It is not necessary to capture the rope with the carabiner that attaches the figure 8's to the anchor webbing; this merely makes the rigging easier to dress.
Using a longer tether between the anchor and the figure 8's often makes the Joker easier to rig, especially with stiff rope. This can be accomplished by using a quick draw or multiple carabiners to connect the webbing of the anchor to the figure 8's.
Figure 8 entry side
It is not necessary for both bights to enter the big holes of the figure 8's from the same side. Entering from different sides will adjust the amount of friction delivered by the Joker with longer paths (and therefore sharper bends) generally providing more friction. Removing the symmetry from the Joker makes it much more difficult to verify that it is rigged correctly, however, so using opposite entry sides should be done with caution.
While this page uses two opposed figure 8 descent/belay devices, the Joker can also be constructed with a double figure 8 (less common) or a Totem.
Failing to secure figure 8's to anchor
While the Joker is similar to a Stone knot in many respects, it is different to rig because it must be secured directly to the anchor whereas the Stone knot does not. If the figure 8's are not secured to the anchor in the first step, the resulting rigging can be very unstable and dangerous.
Pinching the rope
If attaching the figure 8's to the quick link rather than webbing on the anchor, ensure that the rope passes over the carabiner rather than being trapped below it or else lowering will be difficult or impossible.
The Joker rigging is not locked -- that is, a high-tension strand of rope never passes over a lower tension strand. This means that a sufficient amount of tension will cause this rigging to slip. As with all new riggings, ensure that the combination of technique, rope, and figure 8's that you use provides sufficient friction for canyoneers to rappel without causing appreciable slippage in the rigging. See this Bogley thread for a discussion involving a similar rigging (Jester) that failed primarily due to insufficient friction.
The Joker is a relatively gear-intensive rigging. Be sure that the equipment you need to conduct self-rescues is not trapped in this rigging when you need to use it.
- The Single-sided Joker uses less gear, but has the potential to be more difficult to release.
- The Stone knot and Stone 8 use much less gear, are much quicker to rig, and can be any distance from the anchor. They are not releasable, however.
- Figure 8 blocks could be rigged on both sides of the quick link. This would make the system less likely to slip under load and possibly easier to remember, but one of the figure 8's would be lowered along with the canyoneer and may snag on the descent.