Tech Tip- Flipping A Plaquette (And Giveaway!)

Climb long enough and eventually you will rappel past the next anchor and need to climb back up to it. Or you will rappel past a tangle in your ropes assuming it will untangle itself from those bushes when you are below (it didn’t). You might also end up needing to ascend the belay side of a top-rope to assist a nervous (or stuck) climber or rescue an injured lead climber. For these occasions you’ll be glad you know how to “flip a plaquette” from belay/rappel mode into “guide” mode. In this configuration your belay device functions as a reliable improvised ascender.


The first thing you’ll obviously need is a plaquette style belay device. There are many out there to chose from but these are my current favorites:

Petzl Reverso 4 Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC Guide Belay Device

DMM Pivot Belay Device

These and quite a few other suitable models can be found on HERE.

The above short demonstration video shows the steps of flipping a plaquette while rappelling on an extension which happens to be the simplest situation. Let’s go over the more complex method first.

Flipping a plaquette when it is directly off your belay loop

There are a few scenarios where this might be a good solution. First, you are rappelling directly off your belay loop and realize you’ve passed your anchor. Second, you are belaying a climber on a top-rope system and they need assistance. Third, you’ve caught a leader fall but the leader is injured and needs assistance. So let’s break down the steps.

  1. While maintaining a brake-hand tie an over-hand bight a couple of feet below the device and clip this to your belay loop. This step is important because step 3 carries with it some risk if one is not careful.
  2. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  3. Carefully open the belay carabiner in a manner that traps the rope in the narrow side of the belay carabiner while removing the belay carabiner from the belay loop. This is best accomplished by rotating the belay carabiner so the narrower side is pointing away from you.
  4. On moderate low angle terrain you may be able to start walking/climbing back up while pulling the slack through your device which is essentially in “guide” mode now directly off your belay loop. If the terrain is steep you can add a friction hitch above your device and extend it to a foot loop.

Flipping a plaquette when it is extended off your belay loop

Since extending your rappel device away from you has lots of advantages more and more climbers are defaulting to this option. Yet one more advantage to extended rappel systems is the fact there is literally just one step to flipping the plaquette and you do not need to open the rappel carabiner at all!

  1. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  2. Ascend as in step 3 above.

So that’s it! You now know how to flip a plaquette and get yourself out of quite a few possible situations that undoubtedly will pop up over your long adventurous climbing career! Thanks for reading!


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References/More Info

The Mountain Guide Manual– pages 11-12

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10 thoughts on “Tech Tip- Flipping A Plaquette (And Giveaway!)

    • That’s right Scott! Good to know the steps when not extended through for situations like top-rope and leader rescue as I mention above! Thanks for commenting!


  1. Extensions are definitely the way to go. I’ll usually opt for the friction hitch above the rap device in order to take the weight off it and make things easier to work with.


    • Thanks for the comment Nathaniel… how do you measure your friction hitch and extension? I would imagine a friction hitch above a typical 2 foot sling extension could perhaps get out of reach? Also keep in mind a friction hitch installed below the rappel device need to only hold “brake hand strength” vs full body weight if installed above the device, which I think in practice actually makes it easier to tend the hitch as it does not need to be a three wrap prussik to function.


  2. This is an important rescue skill to have as a belayer, and one of the reasons why my wife loves her Mammut Smart Alpine so much: this process is unnecessary. She just has to throw a foot prussic on the rope and work her way up.

    Question for you though. Is there a reason to clip an overhand on a bight off to your belay loop rather than tying off the belay device? It seems like in a weighted-rope scenario like a rescue from below it would be advantageous to have both hands free to grab whatever you may need for the rescue out of a backpack or whatnot and not have to lower the climber until your overhand knot engages.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gavin thanks for the comment! The idea here is to convert the device from normal belay/rappel mode to its auto-locking guide mode without ever un-weighting it. You certainly would not want to lower the climber until the “catastrophy” knot engages as that could create other issues. Tying off the belay device could be considered an extra unnecessary step assuming you should have whatever you need for rope ascension already on your harness (really just a prussik loop and something to extend it to a foot loop). The real purpose of that back-up knot is if you screw up Step #3 in the first scenario (when not using an extended device)… There is a chance there of completely dismantling the security provided to both climber and belayer during that step and the back-up knot to your belay loop functions as a fail-safe… if you have an extended device (rappelling) you do not need to open the belay carabiner at any point so this back-up knot is not needed. I hope this explanation is clear. Let me know if I can elaborate further!


  3. If you’re on steep terrain where you need to unweight the belay device in order to put it into guide mode, can this be done without a spare prussik? Is there a way to back up the ATC and move the prussik above the belay device in order to use it for a leg loop?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great question Ryan! The answer is a definite yes, however it does involve removing the “third-hand” to transfer it above the device so you can extend it to a foot loop. So the safest steps would be to;

      1) Let the third-hand friction hitch engage so you can relax your brake hand…

      2) Tie a “catastrophe” knot a few feet below the third-hand friction hitch and clip that to your belay loop with a locker (be sure to give yourself plenty of slack between the device and the catastrophe knot)

      3) Remove the third-hand friction hitch and stow it temporarily while maintaining your brake strand (I would bite it with my mouth during this step, or shove it in an easy to reach pocket)…

      4) “Mule off” your rappel device

      5) Take prussik and install it on rope above rappel device, extending if need be to form a foot loop.

      6) Now, convert rappel device to guide mode like covered in post… you could do this while standing in the foot loop, then break down the mule knot, pull the slack up, and sit back… you are ready to start ascending.

      Now that I’ve covered how I would do it if I would only have one prussik with me (and in use), I’ll add that I STRIVE to always have a cordelette on that back of my harness that is not being used for anything, as it is such a great tool when it comes to solving self-rescue scenarios. A spare cordelette can easily be the new hitch above the device and easily extended to an optimum length for rope-ascension… I’ll add I usually still only carry one cordelette but I use other methods in a multi-pitch environment for building anchors so it’s almost always available for this use.

      Liked by 1 person

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