(BluuGnome version of the Fiddlestick)
retrievable rappel anchor
Smooth Operator! What's that?
The Smooth Operator is a variation of the retrievable anchor system
also known as a Fiddlestick. The Smooth Operator was developed
along a similar time line as the Fiddlestick with many of the same
players involved in the development process.
When rappelling while canyoneering something is normally
left behind at the top of the rappel after the ropes are pulled down. What is left behind may be webbing, rapids, bolted anchors,
cams or other materials.
A retrievable anchor allows the canyoneer to pull everything down
leaving nothing behind at the top of the rappel. A Smooth
one of the retrievable anchor systems in use. The basic concept is
simple, tie a rope around an anchor using a knot that is held
together with a stick. After everyone has rappelled to the
bottom, the stick is pulled from the knot using a pull cord.
After the stick is removed the knot falls
apart then the rappel rope and pull
line fall down
The Smooth Operator
does not have a permanent cord attached to the stick and has a
safety carabiner hole on each end. So the Smooth Operator is
basically a polycarbonate stick with an elongated hole at each end. The Fiddlestick has a
permanently attached cord and does not incorporate the holes at the
end of the stick. So a Fiddlestick is basically a stick with a
string attached to it. Other than that they are pretty much the same
tool, with each having a slightly different procedure.
Some of the benefits of the Smooth Operator:
- You can set your anchor
20, 30 or more feet back from the top of the rappel if you need to.
Only a short section of rope is used for the knot which results in
very little friction during the pull. An anchor set way back from
the rappel is still very easy to pull. This greatly adds to the
possible anchors at some drops. Anchors for the Smooth
can also be placed around corners in some cases.
- Using the Smooth Operator reduces the amount of webbing and rap rings
used during canyoneering. In many cases using the
Smooth Operator requires no webbing or rap ring to be left behind. This can add up to a cost savings over time for the canyoneer who gets out a lot.
- Using the Smooth Operator in many cases makes the pull much
easier. With a standard rappel set up, the pull line is tied to
the rappel rope. The pull line is pulled which pulls the rappel
rope from the bottom of the rappel all the way up and through
the rap ring at the top. With the Smooth Operator the pull line is
pulled only a few inches then it falls as a separate piece from
the rappel rope. The rappel rope has only a few feet of rope to
be pulled around the anchor then it falls as well. The reduced
work of pulling the rappel ropes is much more noticeable on
- Using a Smooth Operator can also reduce rope grooves. The
pull line is pulled only a few inches before the Smooth Operator
pops free of the stone knot then falls. The rappel rope is
pulled only a few feet around the anchor then also falls free.
This reduced work load also translates to little or no rope
grooving, even when used with softer sandstone. If you
have visited Spry Canyon in Zion you know how bad rope grooves
- In some cases Going Smooth on a rappel (setting up a Smooth
Operator anchor) can be faster
then setting up a standard rappel anchor. This especially
true on first descents where no previous anchors exist or when a
new anchor needs to be made.
- Another possible benefit of the Smooth Operator is rope
retrieval when your ropes are not long enough for the drop and
ropes need to be tied together to finish the rappel. Those
rappelling will still need to pass the knot but after 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 can be more complex.
- Those who enjoy the challenge of ghosting a canyon (leaving
nothing behind) will also benefit from the use of a Smooth
Thank you to everyone who has put time and effort into helping with
the evolution of the Smooth Operator! Those with notable
influence on the BluuGnome version are Brendan Busch, Tom Jones, Matt Williams, John Diener
and Mike Schasch. Feedback from various others has also
Smooth Operator History
As with any new concept or tool there are both function and safety
aspects that continue to evolve toward a more refined
version. This section is an attempt to give a brief history of
the origins of the Smooth Operator.
Steve Fisk made a post on the Yahoo Canyoneering Group asking if
anyone had played with using a pin in a stein knot (aka stone knot) instead of a carabiner. The title of the thread was Stein Knot Rigged for
Remote Release. A handful of people contributed to the thread
discussing things like stick size, stick material, effects of how
the stein knot was tied, adding pull cords and various placements
for safety pins. Several people were involved in the thread
but only a few had comments showing real thought on the subject; Steve Fisk,
Tom Jones, Mark Smith, John Harlin, Clint Poole and
Bill Aho. Activity in that thread died by the end of the
Between spring 2011 and spring 2012 a few people had made various
versions of the concept using various things for the stick like
screwdrivers, wooden dowels, tent poles, PVC pipe, aluminum rods and
other things. One of these versions was made by
Brendan Busch after Tom Jones introduced Brendan to the concept and
called it a Fiddlestick. Tom credits the name of the
Fiddlestick to Drue Kehl.
In a Yahoo Canyons Group post titled Fiddlestix Anchors, it is
Brendan Busch had made a prototype of the Fiddlestick from used
sailing battons and used it in over a dozen canyons with 100 percent success.
After finding Brendan's version worked well, he made some and
got them out to a few people in the canyoneering community through
Tom Jones. Brendan's Fiddlestick was made of retired fiberglass
sailing batons and had a safety slot at the tip where the pull line
could be placed keeping the stick from falling out. When the
pull line was pulled, it first pulled out of the safety slot then
pulled the stick from the knot. The Fiddlesticks that Brendan
and Tom distributed were tested in the field by those who had them.
Over time most people came to the consensus that the safety slot
only helped with specific situations and had mostly stopped using
the safety slot. The overall feeling was everyone loved
Brendan's Fiddlestick and the name stuck!
Luke Galyan reports loving Brendan's Fiddlestick but the Fiddlestick
he owned began to split down the middle from repeated falls.
After researching various materials Luke made
Fiddlesticks from polycarbonate (Lexan). Luke distributed the
polycarbonate versions to Brendan Busch, Tom Jones, and to others
who had been using Brendan's fiberglass versions.
Those with the polycarbonate version reported liking them and
several more were given to various people in the canyoneering
Tom Jones announces a polycarbonate version of the Smooth Operator is
available for purchase from Imlay Canyon Gear.
While discussing ways to improve the Smooth Operator further Matt
Williams suggested to Luke a hole in the end to add a safety carabiner for
all but the last man down. This idea addressed a few safety
concerns of current Fiddlestick design.
Luke Galyan decides to discontinue using a permanently attached cord. The
new version with no permanent cord attached
also uses identical holes on each end that can be used for safety carabiners
and pull line. Luke adopts the name coined by Mike Schasch,
calling the newly modified version the Smooth Operator.
Tom Jones expresses concern on the
Collective web site that the Safety hole in the end of the
Smooth Operator prevents accidental pull in only one direction.
Since the holes are only large enough for a rope OR a carabiner, a safety can not be
clipped into both sides when the pull line is also attached. Luke Galyan rethinks
the design and elongates the holes on the ends to accommodate the
pull line safety carabiners in both ends of the stick for
all but the last man. The Smooth Operator is now protected from
accidental pull in all directions for all but the last man down.
Luke Galyan opens the BG-Gear.com webstore and offer the Smooth
Operator for sale.
Want Some Details?
Smooth Operator Caution / Warning / Disclaimer
Using a Smooth Operator is an advanced technique. Before using a
Smooth Operator educate yourself on the proper use and possible
pitfalls. It is important to practice and gain an
understanding of the Smooth Operator in a safe setting BEFORE use in
the real world. As with
any anchoring system there is potential for failure where injury or
death may occur. The Smooth Operator is an advanced techniques
that has proven reliable if used properly but should be used with
attention to detail. 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.
Click here for a very basic outline of the
Smooth Operator concept.
This will help if you are unfamiliar with what a Smooth Operator does.
This page does not constitute instructions. For instructions
on how to properly use the Smooth Operator please read and fully
understand the information on the detailed outline on how to use the
Click here for a much more detailed outline of the
If you already understand what a Smooth Operator does and how to use it;
this section may provide additional details or helpful practices.
Click here for a detailed look at tying the
stone knot for use with a
This section covers details of the using the stone knot with the
Smooth Operator and helps explain why the UP version is preferred and
how to tie the stone knot so no twists are left in the rope after
the stone knot is released. Even those experienced with use of
the Smooth Operator or the Fiddlestick may learn a couple things
from this section.
Click here for care and cleaning of
your Smooth Operator.
Click here if you are considering
making your own Smooth Operator.
A Few Takeaways
Those who already feel comfortable with the Smooth Operator may not take
the time to read everything here. I would like to point out a
couple key points to keep in mind when using the Smooth Operator.
More detail on all this can be found in the various pages. If
any of these points catch your eye take the time to look at the
It is important to cinch the stone knot very well. Don't just
tighten it until it looks good; cinch it down very well and put some
force into it. This will
increase the force needed to remove the Smooth Operator from the stone
knot and will help reduce any accidental pull outs. This is
very important for those using the Smooth Operator solo where previous
rappellers will not be going ahead of you to cinch the stone knot
with body weight.
In most cases a single twist in the rope will not be much of an issue
when using the Smooth Operator. In a few cases a single twist can
cause a difficult pull or maybe lock a pull up. 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. For information on
how to tie the stone knot so it releases twist free can be found at
the bottom of the how to tie a stone knot page. The video will
be most useful in showing this. Take the time to learn this
and get in the habit of tying it properly to help avoid twist
Always cinch a bowline knot well. Don't get lazy and forget to
cinch it down tight. If the bowline knot is left loosely tied
in stiff rope it can act as a slip knot if it catches in a crack
just right and cinch down on the Smooth Operator.
The pull line should never weigh more than 8 pounds.
In a lot of case it takes a significant amount of force to pull the
Smooth Operator from the stone knot. However on some rappels (free
hanging from the anchor) it can take only 12 pounds to pull the
Smooth Operator from the stone knot and that is if it was cinched well.
The force required to remove it is much lower if you do not cinch the
stone knot well, even after loading then unloading. The 8 pound
limit on pull cord is planning for worst case
scenario. If you don't know how much your 200 foot rope or
pull line weighs put it on a scale. Keep in mind wet and sandy
ropes will add weight to the rope so it may weigh more than what it
did at home!
If you choose 1/8 inch Dyneema as a pull line it can reduce the pull
line weight (and bulk when packed) and be used on much taller
rappels. However Dyneema is slick and some knots have
been shown to slip out of it. The recommended knot is the
bowline with a couple half hitches as a back up. Dyneema can
NEVER be used as an emergency rappel or lower rope. The
friction associated with rappelling or lowering can melt Dyneema
causing a catastrophic failure.
Keep all harsh chemicals away from the Smooth Operator. If you
enjoy cleaning your Smooth Operator use only mild soap and water.
Check out the video about how acetone (commonly used as nail polish
remover) effects the Smooth Operator; located on the care and
A Smooth Operator will likely last much longer but it is recommended
that a Smooth Operator be retired and replaced after 3 to 4 years.
They are not expensive so its not a big deal to play on the safe