Rappelling is quite a known term to all-mountain climbers, but many of them don’t know about it properly. So today in this article we are going to make you understand what is rappelling and How to do it?
Now we come to the very first question what exactly is rappelling? Rappelling involves lowering yourself down a rope in a controlled way and in order to rappel, you need to connect yourself to the rope using some mechanism that creates friction to slow you down and by doing so it allows you to lower yourself to the ground in a controlled manner and ensures your safety while descending.
The rappelling device you use for the above-mentioned process is something you attach to the rope and it creates varying levels of friction based on the setting it is in, which can be controlled by the user and this rappelling device also allows you to hold yourself in place on the rope with lots of friction and lowers yourself slowly through technical terrain with medium friction, or speed up your descent by the low amount of friction.
In the following guide, we would talk about what rappelling is, how should you do it, what gear you will be needing when you will rappel, and how you can learn to rappel.
What is Rappelling?
As we have already said earlier , Rappelling involves lowering yourself down a rope in a controlled way and in order to rappel, you need to connect yourself to the rope using some mechanism that creates friction to slow you down and by doing so it allows you to lower yourself to the ground in a controlled manner and ensures your safety while descending. On top of that rappelling is really useful for activities like canyoneering, rock climbing, alpinism, and many others.
The main advantage of rappelling is that the climber can lower himself/herself safely down pieces of terrain but in other techniques, you may get you down the same terrain, but they all have some drawbacks like either they are more dangerous than rappelling, or they require a climbing partner and trust me with rappelling, you can do it independently and safely.
As mountaineering became more popular in the 1800s, rappelling became popular as well. At first, rappelling was a technique used by alpinists to lower themselves sections they didn’t want to climb down due to inherent dangers, so to find a safer and faster alternative, mountain climbers discovered rappelling.
Here is a video of Rappelling:
What do you need to rappel?
Now before going for “How to Rappel”, we would be telling you first that ” What are the things you need to rappel”. So, let’s get started!
Before going out for rappelling you need a proper gear for rappelling, and that gear includes the following:
- A rope
- A harness
- A belay or rappel device
The rope which you require for rappelling mostly depends upon what activity you are trying to do. Generally, any rope which are designed for climbing is going to work for rappelling as those ropes will be strong enough to support your weight and most likely will also be the right size to fit into your rappelling device as we have seen that most devices work with ropes that are between 8 to 11mm wide).
But we would like to make you aware of certain specifications, which are that for rappelling activities, static ropes will suit better than dynamic ones will as they don’t stretch as much as dynamic ropes, and they also make it quite easier to control your speed on the descent. Static ropes are decently cheaper than dynamic ropes.
There will be times when you will need to use a dynamic rope for rappelling and because it will probably be necessary to belay your partner with a dynamic rope and then use it for your descent, it can be helpful to practice rappelling with a dynamic rope beforehand.
Now most of the people ask that whether or not the rope will be getting wet. Well, to answer this question we would say that while caving or canyoneering, there is a good amount of chance that you are going to run into a situation where it is quite impossible to keep your rope dry. This is a serious issue while rappelling but for rappels it is not a big deal, but it is better to bring a dry rope if you are going to be exposed to water for a hell lot of time.
While choosing a rappel harness, the two things which you should keep in mind are your safety and comfort. You can tell whether an outing will be enjoyable or a horrific blister-ridden nightmare by picking a good harness.
The most comfortable harness will vary from person to person, but here are some suggestions that we would like to give you for choosing a harness for rappelling:
- Spend a little more money: Intro harnesses tend to be less comfortable than more luxurious models.
- Don’t go too lightweight: In mountaineering and alpinist pursuits, lightweight harnesses are typically intended to be worn over layers of clothing, so comfort isn’t a major consideration when designing them.
- Dress appropriately: What you wear on your legs has a huge effect on how well the harness fits on your body. For example, if you go climbing in shorts after trying it out in jeans, you might not find the harness as comfortable.
Rappelling is usually done with waist-and-leg climbing harnesses, and for those who would like a little more security or if they are traveling with children, you can purchase a chest harness which makes long rappels more comfortable.
A Rappel Device
Before you head out into the mountains, you will want to get your rappel device selected as most belay devices will work fine, but you’ll want a more specialist device for technical scenarios.
As with the rope, in certain scenarios you’re just going to have to make do with what you have got but if you climb a 13-pitch sport route with a rappel device, you can either haul up a secondary device with you or just use the gri-gri, which is a rappel device to rappel. But it is probably not worth it to purchase a fancy rappel device if you are only going to use rappelling as a secondary activity.
If you are opting for a more heavy rappelling activity such as canyoneering, then it is better to spend the time and find a rappelling device that really works for you. There are some rappelling devices out there which have automatic braking features, while others allow you to add additional friction mid-rappel and investing in a good device can make your rappels both safer and very enjoyable.
How to Rappel
Now that we know that what we have in a rappelling gear, so it is the high time to discuss how to rappel. Let’s see how these things which are in your backpack helps you to do rappelling.
First thing that comes up is the rope. The rappel rope is attached to an anchor at the top of the cliff in the rappel rings drilled into the rock, and it hangs down the entire length of the cliff, and it is this rope that you will be rappelling from.
Next comes out of the back pack is the harness. The rappelling harness goes around your waist and legs and holds you in place when you are suspended in mid-air.
Finally, comes out the most important thing in rappelling and that is the rappel device. The rappel device, mostly Gri-gri, straps to your harness and creates friction against the rope.
So if we sum up all these the points which comes out are:
- The rope creates a pathway to the bottom of the cliff
- By attaching it to the rope, you can control how fast the rope passes through the rappel device
- There is a rappel device attached to your harness
- After strapping into the harness, you can lower yourself down the rope.
So, now as we know the mechanism, it’s time to know how to execute rappelling.
We have to use the following steps to rappel:
- Ropes are attached to anchors
- Make sure your harness is securely fastened
- The rappel device should be attached to the rope
- By using your harness, attach yourself to the rappel device
- Make the rope as frictional as possible by grabbing hold of it. It should not be possible to pass the rope through the device at this stage
- Re-adjust the rope gradually to reduce friction on the device.
- It is now time to start moving
- Set the friction to your preferred speed and descend the rope until you reach your destination
Yeah we know that by reading these points you feel that it is too easy and you can do it any time, sorry to break it but it is not at all easy as it might look. So we have decided to give you a step by step process.
Step-by-step rappelling process:
- Using a PAS or daisy chain, secure yourself to the anchors
- Connect the rope to your harness with a carabiner after tying an overhand knot
- Rope ends should be threaded through the rappel rings
- Make sure that the middle point of the rope is centered between the two rappel rings attached to the cliff
- On each end of the rope, tie a stopper knot
- Attach the rope to your belay device
- Using a locking carabiner, attach the belay device to your harness
- Remove an overhand knot by unclipping and untying it
- The rope should be thrown down
- Make sure that the two ends of the rope are touching the ground
- Secure your harness with a back-up knot
- Weight the rope while the PAS is still attached to the anchors
- When the rope is weighted, make sure:
- Rope is centered
- Those carabiners are locked
- You have secured your backup knot to your harness
- The rope ends are both on the ground
- The stopper knots were tied by you
- You need to unclip yourself from the anchors
- Let out friction in the device until you start moving
- You should lower yourself to the ground
- Remove the rappel device from the rope
- Disconnect the backup knot
- Untie the two stopper knots
- Remove the rope from the anchors.
So, what do you think now? Is it that easy as it seemed?
Please note: The preceding steps are for a two-strand, single-pitch rappel—the most common and simplest rappel to perform, though there may be slight modifications needed depending on the circumstance.
Here is a short video that will give us a glimpse of how to rappel:
When do you use rappelling?
You now know how to perform a rappel, so let’s take a look at when you would want to do it:
Climbers rappel all the time, this is because once you get to the top of a route, you have only three options which are as follows: rappel down, get lowered, or walk off and it has been seen that a lot of the time, walking down from the top of the route is not an option, so you are left with no other choice than rappelling or lowering.
On single pitch sport climbs, it is often just as easy to have your belayer lower you down once you have reached the top but on a multi-pitch climbs, setting this up might not seem to be practical, therefore rappelling is often the only option you have left with you. Therefore, in these circumstances, there will either be pre-set rappel stations or you will have to place your own protection.
As is the case with rock climbing, with mountaineering or alpinism, rappelling occurs on the descent, once you have either ascended the mountain or determined that it is time to turn back.
The major difference here is that, on most alpine routes, there aren’t going to be defined anchor points where you can tie in and this makes the process much more complex and on top of that, you may need to contend with snow and ice along the way.
Rappelling while canyoneering is one of the main activities that you are going to perform because while descending a canyon, we assure you that you will find yourself in a scenario where the ground is too steep to walk or climb down. You need to rappel past the trickiest sections of the cave to make sure you get to the bottom, and sometimes there are bolts on the wall that you can use for anchoring, but mostly you will need to make your own anchors.
Canyoneering rappels tend to be more difficult than normal rappels because you need to contend with natural hazards such as waterfalls, wet rock, and rapids, along with Terrain variations and inclement weather. You should ensure you have experience with different types of rappels before going canyoneering, as well as bring the right gear, from a dry-treated rope to a canyoneering-specific rappel device.
Rappelling while caving is quite simple while canyoneering because you are going to be rappelling down sections of the cave that are way too steep to walk down and your ropes will be secured either to natural features, pre-existing anchors, or temporary protection.
Because most of the caves have running water, you are less likely to encounter waterfalls, but caving rappels present their own unique challenges. At the beginning it is going to be really dark, so it is really hard to see everything and the rock will probably be wet and slippery from condensation. There is going to be mud everywhere that gets on your rope and makes it harder to control your rappel, so we would recommend you to use a specialized gear.
Rappelling as a Stand-Alone Activity
Rappelling can be a great way to get outdoors for those not interested in engaging with the other stuff. Numerous tourist destinations, including Maui, Cancun, and Florida, offer rappelling tours with experienced operators at pre-established locations. In addition to providing all the equipment you’ll need for your rappel, and all these companies will also provide instructors who will guide you through all of the steps.
Often times you’ll actually perform several rappels in one trip and these companies may also incorporate swimming, hikes, and picnics in scenic locations to enhance the experience for you. We recommend you to go with these touring companies because going with a tour company will provide you with a safer, easier experience that allows you to enjoy some beautiful locations in a pretty unique way.
Different Rappel Techniques
As we discussed how to rappel and different situations in which you might want to do so, now let’s talk about the different rappel techniques that you will use.
Double Strand Rappels
Double-strand rappelling is the easiest form of rappel because in this technique, you have two parallel ropes that you need to pass through your belay device. When you lower yourself downward with your chest and face pointed upward, you have to hold both ropes simultaneously.
Double strand rappels have several advantages. First of all, they are easy to pull down, because both strands of rope will be threaded through the anchors and there are no knots or blocking mechanisms, which also make rappels safer, and finally they are often easier to hold onto, so rappelling can be quite effortless.
Some rappel devices, such as the Petzl Gri Gri, can only accommodate one strand of rope, so a double strand rappel may not be possible and doubling the rope halves the distance you can rappel, so on longer stretches this may not be an option.
Single Strand Rappels
As the name implies, single strand rappels are very similar to double strand rappels, except there is only one rope threaded through the belay device, which can cause less friction within the system, making the rappel harder to manage.
The advantage of a single strand rappel is that you can use it with just about any rappel or belay device out there, so you are never going to find yourself stranded without a way to get down and on top of that it allows you to extend the length of your rappel by twofold, because you don’t have to double your own rope through the rappel anchors. In order to avoid this, you need to perform what is known as a blocking technique or a tagline rappel – which make your rappel slightly more challenging since you cannot attach your rope to the anchor in a way that allows you to retrieve it.
An Australian Rappel system is the one where you descend face-first against the ground with the rope tying you to the wall while your feet are against the surface you are driving from, and this method can allow you to have much more speed than a standard rappel as you can run down the surface of the wall.
In an Australian rappel, you have two options. Either attach the belay device as you would normally, and then rotate your body, using your core and your feet to keep you in place, or else wear your harness backward. By doing so you will put yourself at a greater risk of a back injury, and it can put unnecessary strain on your equipment.
These drawbacks mean that Australian rappelling is looked down upon by many members of the climbing community and in a safety-focused sport, where people tends to mitigate as much risk as possible, Australian rappels don’t have a whole lot of popularity in that. Nevertheless, if you’re fairly confident in your skills and looking for some excitement, Australian rappels can be a lot of fun. They can also prove useful when you need to get down quickly.
It is a technique used by the world’s best climbers to reduce the time required to descend multi-pitch routes. These rappels are technical, risky, and difficult to execute.
A simul rappel involves setting up the rope as a standard double-strand rappel, except that the rappel device is connected to one strand and your partner is connected to the other. You both descend simultaneously, with each person working to counterweight the other so that the system remains balanced.
Thus, both parties descend at the same time, saving time and decreasing the time spent in anchors. These advantages, however, come with a handful number of risk like if one climber messes up, the consequences can have a massive negative effect on their partner and this was highlighted very recently in the death of Brad Gobright, who fell from a simul-rappel after his partner forgot to tie a stopper knot and accidentally abseiled right off the end of the rope.
Simul-rappels are faster and easier to set up than blocking, but you should always make sure that both you and your partner know what you’re doing before getting started.
Rappelling without a device
It may be necessary for you to rappel without a proper device if you are stuck in 1800 or get into a very, very critical situation.
Mountaineers used this method when climbing was just being discovered and people were trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Instead of a device and a harness, they wound rope around themselves in ways that created friction and allowed them to stay attached to the ground.
Now, obviously, this strategy has significant disadvantages. It is potentially dangerous, hard to control, leaves you with rope burn, and is almost never a good idea. Therefore we suggest that carrying some paracord and a lightweight device on you is going to be a lot better of a backup plan than trying to learn to perform friction rappels.
Learning how to rappel
So now we are at the very end of this article, we have given each and every detail about rappelling, but we have not completed it yet! As we have already promised that we would be talking about how to learn to rappel, so here it is.
Let us make something very clear that you should not be using it as the only educational source you consult before you head out rappelling. Because if you do so could there can be really serious consequences towards your health and safety
If you want to learn how to rappel properly, there are two main things you need to do:
- practice in a safe environment
- go with someone more experienced than you.
To set up a safe environment to practice rappelling, you need to design a system that minimizes the consequences of any mistakes you make. This could mean getting a few laps in at the gym or setting up a backup system to catch you if you make a mistake.
When you work with someone more experienced than you are, you get hands-on instruction in a way that is far more comprehensive than what you would receive from an online guide. If you’re learning the ropes, having someone who is more experienced can be extremely valuable, whether it’s your friend who has a lot of climbing experience or an instructor who can assist you every step of the way up and down.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you properly rappel?
To rappel properly you need a proper gear of the following equipment, which are as follows:
A rappelling device.
To know more about how to rappel properly, you need to have a quick glimpse at this article, and also have a look at this video.
How do you rappel with a tag line?
To know in details how to rappel with a tag line check out this video, check out quickly to know about it in details.
How do you rappel ATC guide?
To know how to rappel from ATC guide, then you have to quickly check out this video.
How do you rappel ATC guide?
To know how to rappel from ATC guide, then you have to quickly check out this video.
Can you rappel on a grigri?
Yes, you can single rope rappel with a GriGri and yes, you will see that there are a lot of people who would advice you not to try it and think it is unsafe, but take our suggestion and try it once before letting it go.
How dangerous is rappelling?
Since rappelling accidents make up many climbing fatalities and injuries, it is statistically one of the most dangerous climbing activities. You put your life in the hands of an anchor, so it must be secure for you to be safe.