When abseiling, anchor materials such as slings / tape, quicklinks / maillons, bolts, or other items are usually left behind. Without these sacrificial items, most natural anchors are too high friction to allow a traditional rope retrieval. A fiddlestick-style retrievable anchor system allows canyoners to leave nothing behind while making the pull down much easier.
The basic concept is simple: the abseiling rope is tied around an anchor using a stein (stone) knot, which is held together with the Smooth Operator fiddlestick. After everyone has has abseiled down, the fiddlestick is pulled from the knot using a thin pull cord. Once released, the knot falls apart, with the abseil rope and pull cord falling down separately.
The main benefit of the Smooth Operator over the original design is the addition of two safety holes on each end. These allow the system to be closed using two carabiners or a quickdraw, preventing any possibility of accidental release for all but the last person.
- anchors can be set well back from an edge, or even around a corner
- allows abseils to be completed with half as much rope as traditional techniques
- natural formations like arches and chockstones can be used as abseil anchors
- anchor building materials like slings and maillons do not need to be left behind
- rope wear is almost entirely removed, preventing damage to rocks, trees, and other natural anchors
- quicker to set up than a traditional anchor
- less time and effort to retrieve, as the abseil rope doesn’t need to be pulled through the anchor
- allows you to leave no trace in wilderness canyons
- Weight: 54 grams
- Material: Polycarbonate
- Dimensions: 195mm long, 30mm wide, 8mm thick
- Made in: United States
Using the Smooth Operator
WARNING: As with any ropework, incorrect rigging can result in catastrophic failure, leading to injury or death. The Smooth Operator requires advanced skills, judgement, and attention to detail with every use. Prior to use in a canyon environment ensure you carefully read the instruction manual and practice using the Smooth Operator in a safe environment.
Using the Smooth Operator in many cases makes the pull down much easier. With a standard abseil, the abseil rope needs to be pulled up from the bottom of the drop all the way through the anchor at the top. With the Smooth Operator, as little as a metre of rope is pulled around the anchor, reducing the work of retrieving the abseil rope. This reduced work load also translates to little or no rope grooving, even when used with softer sandstone.
In some cases, setting up a Smooth Operator anchor can be faster than setting up a standard abseil anchor. This is particularly true on first descents or in remote wilderness canyons where no anchors exist or where anchor need to be replaced.
Another benefit of the Smooth Operator is rope retrieval when your ropes are not long enough for a drop and they need to be tied together to reach the bottom of a drop. Those abseiling will still need to pass the knot, but once everyone is down all the ropes can be retrieved by pulling the Smooth Operator down. Other methods of retrieving all the ropes in this situation are much more complex.
Those who enjoy the challenge of ghosting a canyon (leaving nothing behind) will also benefit from the use of a Smooth Operator.
Notes on using the Smooth Operator:
It is important to cinch the stein (stone) knot very well. Don’t just tighten it until it looks good, cinch it down hard and put some force into it. This will increase the force needed to remove the Smooth Operator from the stone knot and will reduce the risk of it accidentally pulling outs.
Tying the stone knot so it will release with no twists in the rope is counter intuitive. Tying a nice neat knot will leave one full twist in the rope after the stone knot is released. Click here for information on how to tie the stein knot so it releases twist free.
Keep chemicals away from the Smooth Operator. If you want to clean your Smooth Operator, mild soap and water are all that is required.
While the Smooth Operator will likely last much longer, the manufacturer recommends it be retired and replaced after 3 to 4 years of use.
The Smooth Operator is not designed for shock loads. Avoid situations where the Smooth Operator can experience a shock load from a fall. Do not ascend on a Smooth Operator.