Tips for Rappelling

Tips for Rappelling
Rappelling is used to safely descend a rope using friction to control the speed. Proper rappelling technique is vital to climbing and your safety in the mountains. Rappelling may be used for convenience, but often it may be the only way to get out of a situation or down a rock face. Learn how to safely rappel using mechanical rappel devices, and discover the elements of rappelling, including the anchor, rope, the rappel method and the rappeller, which are all equally important in preventing calamity.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Climbing rope Runners or 1-inch webbing Carabiners Rappel rings
  • Climbing rope
  • Runners or 1-inch webbing
  • Carabiners
  • Rappel rings
Step 1
Check that your anchor is secure before using it. In many cases natural anchors may be made, attaching the rappel system to a tree, rock or ice. Well-rooted, living trees make great anchors. A runner goes around the base of the tree (webbing can be used to make runners) and the rope goes through the runner so the rope does not abrade directly against the tree. Do not attach the anchor to a branch; this can create too much leverage on the tree. Runners can also be slung on rock horns if the angle of the horn is not going to cause the runner to ride up over the horn.
When using artificial anchors, always use more than one anchor if possible and equalize them. The most common artificial anchors are bolts and pitons, sometimes left by previous climbers. These must always be evaluated for safety, and always inspect old slings left by previous climbers. Making your own sling is always the safest.
Step 2
Inspect your rope prior to rappelling for any abrasions, cuts or flat areas. Attach the ropes midpoint to the sling on the anchor by putting one end through and pulling until you reach the middle. Both ends of your rope should be at equal lengths below. Instead of putting the rope right through the sling, you can use a rappel ring to attach the rope to the sling. This way the rope will not heat up against the sling and create abrasion. Only use continuous, nonwelded rappel rings. Never put the rope right around a rock or through the eye of a piton or bolt hanger. Keep the point of connection between the rappel anchor and the rope away from the cliff edge or ice on the route so that it has slim chance of abrasion.
Step 3
Choose a method of rappel that you are most comfortable with, but be familiar with more than one in case you get in a situation where you aren't able to use your preferred method. Many climbers use their harness and belay device such as an ATC to bring them down. The two free ends of the rope are inserted into the rappel device and then clipped with a locking carabiner to the harness. The person holds the ends of the rope in her braking hand, down by her side to control how fast she descends and when she stops.
Step 4
Learn methods such as the carabiner brake, figure eight and Munter hitch methods. Climbers should also become familiar with nonmechanical rappel methods such as the arm or Dulfersitz methods that only use the rope and the climber in case a harness is not available. These methods are all discussed in "Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (7th Ed.)."
Step 5
Lean back into your harness like it is a comfortable seat, even though it may be a bit scary. Legs should be perpendicular to the slope or wall, and feet should be shoulder width apart. Grip tightly with the braking hand; if you should lean too far back and tip backward or lose your footing you must hold your brake hand steady as you can fly down the rope out of control quite fast if you let go. If you need to stop during your rappel, wrap the rope from your brake hand around your leg several times to give you extra friction. Make sure you have hold of the ropes in your brake hand again before releasing the leg wrap.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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