Rappelling/Abseiling is accomplished by descending a vertical surface using a rope and device to provide friction to control the descent. Prior to rappelling, a climber must carefully and methodically inspect, take time, set up the rappelling knots, harness, rappelling rope and equipment. Establish protection as a back up before beginning the abseil, like setting up a belay or placing a Prusik knot above the descender on the rappelling rope. For this reason it is very important to get qualified individualized instruction, before rappelling.
The Rope Descender creates friction on a rappelling rope to slow a climber down as he descends from an anchor. The rope descender is operated by the climber during the abseil. Descending devices, abseiling and rappelling equipment all work approximately the same. By controlling the tension on the rope as it flows through the equipment, friction is incrementally increased or decreased, thus changing the speed of the abseil.
About Rappelling Gear
- Rappelling Rope. Ropes with about 2% stretch perform best for rappelling. These ropes are multi-strand, low-stretching rope. This type of rope reduces the bouncing and adds control to the rappel. See Climbing Ropes.
- Harness. A harness is used around the waist to secure the descender. There are many types and styles of harnesses to suite individual needs.
- Locking Carabiner. There are many types, styles. A popular rappelling carabineer is the asymmetrical D which provides plenty of room for even a thick 12mm rappelling rope. See Carabiners.
- Rope Descender. This key piece of rappelling gear connects directly to the locking carabiner then to the harness.
Rappel Safety Backups
There are several critical points that "abseilers" commonly back up. Each situation is different and needs to be evaluated with safety precautions taken based on the conditions. The following should not be considered a check list.
- The Rappelling Anchor. A separate independent anchor is established through the rappelling rope to another tie down point.
- Tie in for rappelling harness and descender. An easy back up for rappelling can be done with a simple knot called the Prusik Knot. It limits the speed of descent. While rappelling, when the rope slips through the Prusik too fast it tightens and grips. By placing the Prusik above the rope descender, it will "catch" if the descent is out of control for any reason.
- Back up Rappel. A top belay is the best safety backup for a rappel. It places a second person in the chain.
- Length of Rappelling Rope. Ensure your rappelling rope extends all the way to the ground. A good safety back up is to tie a knot near the end of the rappelling rope.
Personal Protective Rappelling Equipment
- Rappelling Gloves. - protect your hands from the rock wall and rope during descent. The rappelling descender device can get very hot from friction. Gloves that allow dexterity, and protect from abrasion are worth the investment.
- A Climbing Helmet. is an important item of rappelling equipment for personal protection. See Climbing Helmets
- Boots. Depending on the type of rock and situation a set of boots may be good for protection. Not every situation will allow it. Hiking boots can also be used very effectively for abseiling.
Safety devices and backups are not always possible. Sometimes the nature of the situation precludes using one or more backups. Whenever possible back up the abseil with independent protection.