The adventures in the great outdoors where climbers climb those magnificient peaks involve more than just the aspect of going up. Once you make it all the way to the top of that cliff face you have traversed, you also need to come down.
How do you do that? You get down through rappelling or abseiling, a method where you use ropes to help you descend down from the structure you have scaled. While walking or lowering off might be a safe approach to getting down to land, sometimes rappelling is the only option you have.
Knowing how to use rappelling equipment is one of the most important skills that a climber should have. While rappelling may sometimes be the only method to get down, it is also one of the most dangerous activities that climbers can take on.
Human error is a major reason why climbers are most likely to injure themselves (or worse). Most of the time, this happens during rappelling.
If you are new to the sport of climbing or even if you have been doing it for a while, you need to learn how to use rappelling equipment to ensure your safety. This introductory guide will teach you what you need to know.
When You Will Need to Set Up a Rappel?
The most common situation where you will find yourself rappelling down is when there is no other way for you to go down. When you are out and about on your adventures, there is always the possibility that the route you want to take cannot start from the base and you have to approach it from above.
Rappelling might be the only way to get down to the starting point for that route. Of course, one thing to note is that if you are going to start a route from above, you need to know exactly where the route climbs.
Knowing how to use rappelling equipment, even though you might not be going on a route where you will need to use it, is an important safety measure. There’s always the odd chance you might need to bail off the route if you’re climbing a multi-pitch. Rappelling is your only way down then.
The ideas we have covered here are offered based on the premise that you have basic knowledge of building anchors or you are rappelling off bolts in a fixed anchor.
How to Use Rappelling Equipment Fundamentals
You need the right tool for rappelling. Since you are learning how to use rappelling equipment as an added measure, you need to have the option to belay when you don’t need to rappel.
This is why you need to use a belay tool, which can function as a rappel device as well. Other than that, you need a personal anchor system and backup to help you set up your rappel once you reach the anchor.
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Before you set up the rappel, examine the anchor and make sure you’re completely secure with the personal anchor system. If the condition of the anchor is alright, use a couple of locking carabiners to connect your anchor system to secure both the points.
Now you need to weight your personal anchor system. Be very careful. If everything seems to be in order, you need to yell SECURE to your belayer so they know you’re properly attached to the anchor and you’re ready to set up the rappel.
After that, you can tell your belayer to let you OFF BELAY because you are ready to go. Never say OFF BELAY unless you’re absolutely certain that you’re safely tied on to the anchor.
If you want to, this is as good a time as any to clear any and all gear off the anchor except for your personal anchor system.
Prepping the Rope
You’ve secured yourself into both anchor points with the personal anchor system. The next thing you need to know about how to use rappelling equipment is prepping the rope.
Pull up a loop of rope, use an overhand knot or a clove hitch (if you have it) to attach it to a carabiner on the harness. This way, you won’t lose the rope even if you drop it by mistake.
Untie the rope from the harness, thread it through the anchor. Now read the instructions carefully.
- Tie an overhand knot or a clove hitch in the end you’ve threaded and attach it to one more carabiner on the harness;
- Untie the first knot you tied and pull the rope through till you get to the halfway point;
- Cool the rope carefully as you pull it through;
- Tie a stopper knot into each end of the rope;
- Toss the coiled half closest to the anchor and then both ends of the tope while shouting ROPE.
Make sure you toss the ropes away from the cliff so they’re less likely to tangle. Ask the belayer to check if both ends have made it to the ground.
The Belay and the Backup
Next up on how to use rappelling equipment is setting up the belay device and your backup. Once you’re sure your rope has reached the ground, you need to:
- Make a bight in both of the ropes and then pass them through the parallel openings in the belay tube.
- Pass a locking carabiner through the cable on your device and rope strands.
- Attach the carabiner to the belay loop on the harness.
Possibly, one of the best ways to backup the rappel is with a prusik knot. You need a 6mm cordelette to tie the prusik knot. Tied properly, the knot slides down when you’re holding it and locks automatically when you let go of the brake hand for whatever reason you do.
Your system is all set up properly. Go over everything once more and examine each aspect of it. Once you’re completely confident in the whole setup, it is time to learn the last thing about how to use rappelling equipment: rappelling down.
- Take up the slack through the rappel device, weigh the rope carefully and then remove the personal anchor system from the anchor.
- Ease backwards into the harness while making sure at least one hand is holding the rope in a brake position below the device.
- Feed the ropes through the device as you slowly get back down to the ground.
- Start coming down to the ground.
Important Things to Remember
Here are a few safety tips that you should know when you’re going rappelling:
- Make sure your body’s constantly in the “L” position while rappelling down.
- Walk your feet down the wall right ahead of you for the best control.
- Ask the belayer for a fireman’s backup just to ensure even more security in case you are still new to learning how to use rappelling equipment.
- Double check your buckles.
- Make sure the anchor is safe.
- Check that the rope is threaded through both anchor points.
- Double check all the knots.
- Make sure you tie both ends of the rope.
- Use auto-blocking mechanisms like the prusik knot to backup your rappelling device.
Make sure that you go rappelling with experts, especially the first time you are out rappelling. If it is possible, never go rappelling alone even when you feel like you have a good command over it.
After all, human error only happens by mistake (duh). You need someone to back you up in case something goes wrong. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right? Best of luck!
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