Rappelling is one of the most dangerous parts of hiking and it can be very frightening, especially when you don’t have the right equipment. When you rappel, you have to rely on the system you built and the rappel device and carabiner, so your life depends on the gear and whether you installed it correctly. No matter how good of a climber you are, you can’t ever take rappelling for granted. Even experienced climbers die every year because they made a few rappelling mistakes they could have avoided. Before buying equipment or rappelling, make sure you understand everything there is to put together a good rappelling system.
Rappelling uses a system of pulley devices that control the friction of the ropes and helps you control the descent. the easiest way to rappel is to thread the rope through a belay attached to your harness. This belay should have a good, locking carabiner.
Of course, you’ll need a good harness otherwise you can’t lock the rope on. I find that one of the most comfortable climbing harnesses is the Black Diamond Alpine Harness. The extra girth in the belt offers additional back support and the leg harnesses offer extra safety features, especially when rappelling.
Setting up the Rappel Station
Before you can rappel down that mountain you have to make sure your rope is anchored at the top of the cliff or overhang you plan to descend. You should always have more than enough rappelling rope to get down to your destination. You don’t want to use any other type of rope either, as rappel rope is resistant to heat and is braided in such a way that it is extremely durable.
Make sure you also use a good anchor and preferably more than one, as this is one of those dumb mistakes that can cause serious injury.
You’ll also need a rig descender that lets you control the speed of your descent.
There are actually two types of rappelling systems: the single and double rope rappels. A single-rope rappel is when you descend down on a single rope. This is appropriate if you leave the rope fixed on the cliff and need to re-climb the rope later to reach that point again.
A double-rope descent is when you use two strands of rope. This allows you to pull on one side causing it to snake back through the anchor allowing you to retrieve the rope and go on and this is the most common type of rappelling. When you have a rappel distance of about half the length of your rope, you can double your rope through the anchor for added safety. You want the middle of the rope to center through the anchor so both ends reach the ground. To prevent slippage from the ends of the ropes, you’ll need to tie a figure-eight loop at both rope ends. This will stop you from rappelling further. When the distance is longer than half the rope length, use two ropes to go down. Do this by tying the ropes together in a double fisherman’s knot.
Follow all the instructions that come with your rappelling kit or descender. You can also follow rappelling guides that show you how to rappel down.
As an added measure, attach a stop descender to the rope with the rappel device. This will lock and stop the rappel in an emergency.
Check and Recheck
Once you have the rappel set up, you want to double check everything. Make sure the rope is properly threaded through the anchor and through the rappel device. Check to make sure the locking carabiner is clipped to your harness and that your harness is safely attached to your body. Make sure the rope reaches the ground and that you remember which side of the rope to pull in order to retrieve it.
Take a breath and put yourself on the rappel. Use your stronger hand to operate the belay and place the other on the rope above the rappel device holding you in a sitting position. Keep your clothing away from the rappel system and carefully rappel down. Stay hooked into the rappel until you are safely on the ground.
When rappelling, you don’t want to use cheap gear. Use at least two anchors and buy good gear. Your rappel equipment is responsible for your safety.