The Art of Descending
Rappelling is the art of descending a rope safely. It is a sport often associated with rock climbing because climbers need to return safely back to "terra firma" once they have topped out of their climb. If there is no walk off or they are not being lowered by a “belayer” then climbers must rappel.
Rappelling is also a required skill for rescue personnel, spelunkers, the military, arborists and literally any type of job or recreational activity where a person works at height.
Great Fun is Just a Step Away!
Rappelling is not always as physically demanding as rock climbing can be. It is always easier to descend. Rappelling is fun and it is also very rewarding, once you get past the “first step”. This first step is the point where you lean back on your rope and are required to trust the anchor system that has been employed. This can be unnerving for a beginner and it is the crux of the beginner rappelling experience. A lot of coaching and a good guide can help to make this transition easier!
Once you sit back in your harness, the fun begins. Nothing beats being in the great outdoors and rappelling for a day, and the view is fantastic! You can go slow or speed up your decent by applying friction to the braking device. Braking devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different applications. For general use a Figure 8 is acceptable but for long rappels of a few hundred feet or more a device such as a rappel rack or brake bar would be employed due to the weight of the rope.
Ready to Learn?
To learn to rappel it is best to secure the expertise of a certified guide. A guide should provide the needed equipment, explain the dynamics of rappelling, describing slowly the progression of events that lead up to your first rappel. By all means a guide will employ a backup system for your rappels while you are under his or her supervision for the day.
Chances are you will enjoy rappelling and might wish to eventually purchase your own equipment. Make sure the first thing you buy is lessons on how to build rappel anchors. The rope must be anchored safely and only an experienced guide can provide you with that education. Too often, people try to take a short cut and learn from a “friend." That is not advised.
Rappelling equipment can be extensive or minimal depending upon your goals. You will need a harness, locking carabiners, rappel device, a helmet, static rope, and anchor building material. The rope used for rappelling is specially designed to limit elongation (stretch) and abrasion. Rappelling rope also has a specific minimal requirement for breaking strength and diameter. Hardware store rope is not acceptable. Also, you need to get your equipment NEW, not used, from a reputable climbing or rescue equipment manufacturer.
As with any sport, rappelling is great fun as long as you play by the rules!