Yes, to majority of the population rappelling might seem like it should be one of the safest activities you can do while out in the mountains but it is not safe as it may look. Rappelling has some really serious consequences as a result it should not be taken lightly.
So, the main question is that whether rappelling is dangerous or not? Yes rappelling can actually be deadly dangerous . It is considered to be the fourth most common cause of climbing accidents and the few things that make rappelling dangerous are listed below:
The problem of rappelling is that it is an activity of extremities and very few people are injured while rappelling and they get those either from the bottom fine, or they fall and gets a deadly injury and because of this reason rappelling is considered to be a disproportionate amount of the fatalities in climbing, compared to the simplicity of the activity. So in this article today we are going to discuss about these above mentioned dangers and also gives some ideas on how to stay safe while rappelling.
Why Is Rappelling Dangerous?
As we have already mentioned earlier that rappelling is a disproportionately dangerous activity and by its looks it should be incredibly safe but then also we hear so many accidents while rappelling, so why is it so?
Well the answer to this would be that rappelling has very little to do with the difficulty of the activity but trust me it has everything to do with the mental state of the person who is rappelling. Mostly climbers uses rappelling to get down from the route for example a canyoner uses it to get down from a steep section and a caver uses it to explore and only a handful number od people leave the house with only rappelling in mind.
And solely for that reason people tend to take their rappelling for granted and not see it as the dangerous activity it is because they give all their concentration to the main activity that their engaged in, and it can be a particularly exciting cave or a difficult pitch of climbing .
The Descent Effect, which refers to the fact that 75% of hiking injuries happen while descending rather than climbing and the reason behind is that on the way down people are physically tired from all the climbing jobs therefore they are more prone to a mistake. It often happens that they are not in proper mental state like they are either too elated from the summit and not paying attention, or they are really unhappy because they could not reach their objective and this in turn causes falls, and lapses in judgement which leads to deadly accidents.
So if we sum up everything, we get two points which tells how people falls in to danger while rappelling:
- Rappelling is often overlooked by people because they view it as an accessory compared to their main objective such as a climb
- Due to fatigue and an incorrect mental state, people overlook the descent
For these two reason we have seen that climbers forget to tie a knot, miss a sturdy anchor spot, or tie into a bolt that looks a little too rusty, all these happens because they are too eager to get down and they think the danger is already over and there is the biggest mistake.
Causes of Rappelling Accidents
So now as we have discussed the point that why and how dangerous can rappelling be so we think that it is the high time that we talk about the causes of the rappelling accidents. As we have already mentioned earlier the cause of rappelling accidents are as follows:
- Risks from natural disasters
- Dependence on equipment
- Human error is common
Now let’s talk about each point in details and how exactly can they be harmful.
Risks from natural disasters
Well to make things simple, every mother gets angry on their child , so same goes with our mother nature. She has a tendency to get angry a lot.
The most common and famous causes of climbing accidents are the dangers presented by the natural environment . It can be anything such as rock fall, wild animals, or the weather, and trust me these are actually very hard to mitigate, and the best you can do to prevent them is to come with proper preparation.
The biggest natural problem that you are going to face while rappelling is rockfall, ice or snowfall can also be included in this category of rock fall. While you are halfway down your rappel, a chunk of granite comes loose from the wall and starts tumbling towards you, there is completely nothing you could do in that situation. Therefore in the same way it can be difficult to predict the weather in mountains so there is high chances that you will find yourself stuck up halfway down a multi pitch route with thunder storm all around.
So, to stay safe in these situations all you can do is properly prepare for these situations before rappelling. To do that we have to start with bring a helmet to protect against rock fall and a jacket to prevent yourself before getting wet and most importantly read the weather report in the morning and most importantly you need to use the safety equipment you had.
Dependence on equipment
You might hear people saying that rappelling is such a simple activity because all it need is a belay device, rope and an anchor. But trust me these three can also be a deadly nightmare for rappelling, this is because the belay device which you are using, the rope with which you are tied, and the anchor with help of which you are lowering yourself can be deadly dangerous once they stop working.
Yes we do know that there is a little chance that your belay device will randomly break on you mid-rappel but still you need to make sure you are not completely complacent. So what you have to do is check the belay device at the start of every season to see if there is any small rocks or cracks you need to be aware of and remember something that you should always double check that whether you have properly clipped the device into your harness and locked the carabiner and finally, tie a backup knot so that if the device fails still you can be safe.
Rope is one of the most crucial part of rappelling. All you have to do is check your rope every time you use it so that there is no structural damage and thorough checks should be performed at the start and end of each and every season to see if there are any points of weakness or core shots .
Another important thing to consider is where your rope is going to be hanging always keep them away from areas of drag, sharp rocks, or lines where it might have rocks fall on it.
Choosing a proper anchor is the most important step that you have to do while rappelling. You don’t have to worry when you have got a nice set of new rappel rings that you can lower from but if you don’t have so then you are going to have to get a little bit more creative with your lowering technique.
Picking a safe anchor is a must and there are some things that you need to avoid while using as anchors:
- Trees with a diameter less than 6 inches
- The weight of any boulder below 400 pounds or any boulder that appears unstable
- Webbing that has been sun-bleached or is frayed.
If you’re unsure about your anchor, you can always run a backup system and a backup is a secondary anchor that is secured to a different point in the wall, designed to catch you should your primary anchor fail and we would highly recommend you to do that.
Now we move on to the mistakes done by the humans. Human has tendency to do a hell lot of mistakes. But it is highly recommended that you try to avoid mistakes while rappelling.
As we have already discussed earlier in this article is that the fact that 75% of hiking injuries happen while descending rather than climbing and the reason behind is that on the way down people are physically tired from all the climbing jobs therefore they are more prone to a mistake. It often happens that they are not in proper mental state like they are either too elated from the summit and not paying attention, or they are really unhappy because they could not reach their objective and this in turn causes falls, and lapses in judgement which leads to deadly accidents.
So, lets discuss few very common mistakes of human while rappelling.
- Not backing up your rappel
- Not tying a stopper knot
- Setting up your anchor incorrectly
Avoiding these common mistakes can really very beneficial and is a simple matter of building some sort of rappelling checklist and sticking to it no matter what. The first thing you need to do is when you begin learning to rappel is that every time you set yourself up for a lower, follow the exact same steps and continue it till you reach the bottom.
This next part is incredibly important because by doing these steps in the same order turns your rappel into a routine and once you have everything in a sequence, it becomes way easier to notice if you ever make a mistake.
How To Stay Safe Rappelling
So, we’ve now talked about some of the most common mistakes that people make rappelling, so now is the part where we are going to give you some really useful tips so that you can keep yourself safe while rappelling.
Skip the Rappel
Yes, skip the rappel, it might sound dumb, but it is actually the best thing you can do to avoid getting injured while rappelling.
If you are at the top of the route, have your partner lower you instead of choosing to rappel and if you just climbed a multi-pitch route, see if there is any option to hike out rather than rappelling, to avoid all types of dangers.
If you ever get a chance to skip rappel, just go for it.
Learn to Rappel (before you do it)
We highly recommend you that before go for rappelling, always make sure that you have done enough research to know all the necessary steps so that you can stay safe and always find a proper guide although you need to be careful about who you choose. An experienced climbers can be a great source of knowledge, but they can also be a good source of bad habits and skipping steps and keep one thing in mind that do your own learning so you know if you’re being taught bad information.
Never trust on online websites or blogs, go for practical experience and knowlege.
Rappelling can seem like a lame and most easiest thing to you, but you have to practice a hell lot of time, but we promise that it is completely worth it. Practise so many time that it becomes automatic to you, if you ever make a mistake you will know it and it will also keep you really safe.
Back Up Your Rappels
I have already said it earlier and let me repeat it again always tie a back up knot
Backup knots are the like seatbelts or life savers of rappelling because they take literally twenty seconds to apply and can save your life in so many ways that it’s absolutely ridiculous some people skip this step. Whenever you’re rappelling, make sure to back yourself with a back up know, no matter what.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Is it safe to rappel alone?
Rappelling is a quite safe activity compared to the other activities and you can rappel alone but we highly recommend you to rappel with others.
What happens if you let go while rappelling?
If you let go of the rope while rappelling there are high chances you will die if you don’t have a back up knot.
How do rappelling accidents happen?
The rappelling accidents happens due to the following reasons:
To know more about the rappelling accidents, check out this article!
How difficult is rappelling?
Rappelling is not a difficult activity as such beacuse when you rappel,all you need is enough strength to hold yourself up on the rope. Majority of the people who hike, can do rappelling easily.
What can go wrong rappelling?
Common Mistakes While Rappelling That Can Cause a Rappeling Accident are as follows.
Not backing up the rope
Carabiner fails to lock
Not using an auto block knot
Incorrect use of a rappel device
getting stuck in a rappel device such as t-shirt, or loose gear.
How do you reverse rappel?
To know how to reverse rappel, check out this video.
How do you rappel over an edge?
To know how how to rappel over an edge, you need to check this video right now.
Why do we need to learn rappelling?
We need to learn rappelling to know how to descend down a cliff properly and safely.
Why is abseiling so dangerous?
Abseiling can be really dangerous for these following reasons failed anchors, abseil ropes cut through, detached carabiners, and abseil devices that somehow did not control the speed of descent. All these can make abseiling deadly dangerous.
Why do people die rappelling?
People die while rappelling because they think rappelling is safe and easy but they are not so. The main causes are: