Once you get comfortable with your gear and you’ve trained yourself to double check with backups in place, time to take the next step, On rappel! The more pitches you plan on descending, the more difficult rappelling gets. If you are looking to optimize your routes, you need to always ask the question ” What is it that I need to do, to speed things up?”
Be certain everyone is clipped in properly to the rappel anchors, especially while rappelling. Make sure the ropes are through the rappel point as you would then tie them together. After you tie them, you are ready to rappel. Scream “Rope!,” and you would then toss the ropes down. In the event you are rappelling with just a single rope, you would knot one end onto the anchor then fling the rope down.
As the first rappeler in the group, you would rig the device onto each line, you would include an autoblock for backup purposes, and as usual double and triple check the rig setup and preps to rappel. It is actually great etiquette to hold the first rappellers rope while they rig, and vice versa. The reason for this is that the rope may be uncomfortable and heavy to deal with while rigging. The less battles the better and more pleasant rappelling will be!
Rappelling Basics- Process to use
We start with the most important rule of all- Never ever let go of your rope on the break hand side! However, the only time there is an exception is if you have guaranteed that the autoblock is correctly rigged on the line. Your other hand which is utilized as your guide, should be gently holding the rope right above the belay in order to pull of the correct amount of balance. You can also use your guide hand to hold the backup just above the brake hand. That way you are essentially using both hands to brake.
Many rappellers utilize a glove for better grip on the brake hands. Petzl makes wonderful leather gloves especially for rappellers. We especially recommend using one on your brake hand if you are not planning on using an autoblock and if you want to avoid tearing up your hands overtime.
Right before you begin your rappel, scream out “On Rappel!” when there is a rappeller in your group then went before you or if there were other rappellers that came before you not in your group. The idea is you want everyone out of your way when you reach the ground or next station. Also, you may inadvertently kick rocks down on your descent and so you want everyone cognisant of what is happening above their heads in order to dodge anything that may cause injury.
Rappel Down a Cliff
Let’s suppose you are rappelling with a group down a cliff. You want to focus on allowing the device to leverage your weight while you walk onto the edge. This is much harder than it sounds because of the natural fear of trusting your device as you lean back on the rappel rope. It will feel unnatural and will scare the bageesies out of you! However, the more you practice this technique the less scary it will become. That is why it is so important to have someone in your group that can reinforce good posture/technique. It will save you tons of time and paranoia in the long run.
Keeping a little fear of what could happen if you don’t prepare with a proper checklist is actually best because complacency can cost you your life. While at the edge, making sure to keep your feet plated and butt lowered is essential before beginning your descent. Make sure your legs are as perpendicular to the cliff, keeping your knees in a slightly bent sports pose and keep your feet at about shoulder-width. Keep your torso inclined at the waist, so that it is in the upright position. If you are bent to the point where you can see between your legs, you are not doing it correctly.
When in doubt, keep leaned back and push your feet against the cliff’s wall. Too much in an upright position and your feet will lose their grip on the wall, slipping in the process and going head first into the wall. Rock does not taste good so trust us when we say try to avoid this, always.
Once you are locked into the proper form and your ledge is not too big then go ahead and start rappelling down and keep your focus on putting the weight onto the rope, keeping your form throughout the rappel. Make sure you avoid pulling on the anchors.
Go ahead and allow for the rope to funnel through your rappel device and continue to walk down the wall with your feet positioned on the wall. Avoid bouncing around so that your anchors don’t experience stress. If you have to go as slow as a slug then it is better you do that then jumping down in a race. You will yield plenty more controlled dare-devil fun if you are careful and so bouncing is not necessary and can become dangerous.
Small Note: Make sure that if you have fabio length hair or clothes that can get tangled, to keep this kind of excess tucked in while rappelling. The last thing you want is to have your long hair tangled and ripped off your head (Not a great feeling) and even worse, jamming your rappel and causing serious issues.
Inevitably, you may run into this. It is important that when you do, to unweight your rappel device if you can. That is why having an autoblock in position is extremely helpful, since unforeseen problems can and will arise when you least expect them to.
DO NOT under any circumstance try to cut the hair free using a knife, anywhere near or around any line while rappelling down! You can guess why! Having an autoblock in place would allow you to use both hands to free yourself. You may even want to rig a secondary knot on the rope above your rappel device, with a sling clipped on. That way you would stand in the sling to make it much easier to unweight yourself from the device.
While rappelling, if you do in fact, knock over a stone, train yourself to yell out “Rock!” Even when there is nobody else below you. This habit may save injuries to your team or others in the long-term. Good habit is constant communication! Also, any kind of gear that you are aware has come loose and has dropped, yell the same “Rock!”
Any type of object that drops can be harmful to those below so just use it universally when you can. There have been instances where people have been killed by falling debris, rock, etc. so do not use this term lightly, even when you are certain nobody is below you. Many times you will be mistaken.
On the flipside, if you are rappelling and rocks start to come down on you, get as close to the rocks wall as you can, especially if there is no other escape route. The idea is to find some kind of overhang to shield you from direct contact of falling objects. Objects fall quickly and sometimes accidently with no time to react. That is why we recommend using a helmet. We like Heemtle for the versatility and lightness of their helmets with the added cushion for security.
Reminder: If you are using a helmet, abstain from putting your hands over your helmet. It is really easy to cut your fingers this way. Naturally you will want to put your hands over your head but remind yourself not to. You have a helmet on so let the helmet do the work!
Rappel Friction Device
With a typical rappel device, you should always rig an autoblock for backup in order to make way for loads of friction. It is common to see rappellers skip this part. If you want to forget the autoblock then it is very important to link the rope to a biner on the leg loop side. That way you retain a great amount of friction. You can also loop the line around your back for even more friction.
An autoblock should always be your first option, but if you insist on not using one these are two other methods that can be used. You can either link the rope using a carabiner to a leg loop or take the rope and wind it around your back four or 4 times. This will create a good amount of friction. However, using the autoblock would be our recommendation.
Rappelling off a Roof
If you are set on a roof looking to rappel off of it, chances are you are either a stunt double or simply a daredevil thrill seeker. The stance is the same except for one step in the process. You would hold your feet shoulder width apart like normal but you would lower your butt until your whole body (besides your feet) is guaranteed to clear the roof’s lip. Finally, push off with your feet and swing your body under the roof.
Stopping with a Munter Mule Hitch
There will be times where stopping on a dime while rappelling will come in handy. Whether you are trying to determine the best route to take, undoing a rope snag, taking surreal pictures for your social media or even for your personal feat album! If you utilize an autoblock, stopping can be super easy to do, locking the rope in the process and allowing both hands to roam freely to grab your phone or fix the snag.
If you do not want to take the time to make an autoblock (not recommended) you can always coil the ropes around one of your legs about 6 times for an immediate stop. However, you run the risk of creating even more tangles and it is not nearly as secure as an autoblock. Enter the Mule knot.
The Mule creates a very easy way to fasten your device as securely as an autoblock. We use it a lot because of how easy it is to undo the Mule once it is weighted. Be certain your break hand is ready willing and able to take on the weight once the mule is untied. So..
Mule Knot steps:
- Feed a bight (off the rope) right along your break hand , into the biner. If you are using two ropes then you would feed two bights.
- Wind a coil (off the rope) that was fed through the biner and then feed a loop winding around the strand carrying the weight and back through the initial coil. You have just created a slip knot.
- Add more security to the mule by adding an overhand knot to the slip. slip + overhand = mule
Jobs for the First Rappeler
If you are the first rappeler in your group, you have majority of the tasks to guarantee a safe and secure journey for your team. Here is a list in no specific order to help you as rappel lead.
- Make sure that all snags and jams are undone as you rappel. If you see a tangle below you , make sure to fix before you continue rappelling. If you make it to the next station or ground level and they are still jammed up, you will have a difficult time fixing the jams from your position. You also run the risk of having loose sediment drop on you while attempting so avoid trying at the ground level and fix as you close in on the snags.
- Make sure to move the ropes away from edges that may cut into them. Do this at all times
- Keep a close eye on loose objects that may fall, and avoid them at all costs
- Make sure to always figure out what your next steps will be in your route and always plan/optimize to your next station.
- Make sure that the ends of the ropes have stopper knots so you never slip off the rope and plunge to your death! This is absolutely critical.
- Once you reach the next station, triple-check to make sure the anchors are bomb-proof and secure. Then reinspect.
- If the anchors are not up to par, replace them
- If the anchor rigging looks jammed, clean it up
- Make sure you are linked into the anchors. Triple-check the connection
- Make sure the ropes are linked correctly to the anchors when the overhead rappel was an overhang or diagonal one.
- Take apart your device, detaching the ropes in the process
- Once you land to your next station, scream out “Off Rappel!” to convey to your group that the rope accessible.
- Pass the rope that will be used by your group into the next rappel links while the next rappeler is descending down towards you. Make sure to affix a stopper to the end of the rope for added security
- Pass a fireman’s belay to the next rappeler, especially if he is a newbie.
- Beware of your surroundings at all times and have tons of fun. This checklist should be used over and over again until you reach your final destination as the first rappeler.
Jobs for the last Rappeler
As the last rappeler in your group, you will need to take on the following:
- As with the first rappeler, make sure to untangle any ropes that have turned messy above you so once you reach the bottom, they will easily be able to be pulled down
- Avoid getting the ropes stuck in crevices or other impediments that make for an easy tangle or tear.
- Make sure you pick the least rocky route down the face of the cliff so that you have a clean unencumbered journey with minimal obstacles to avoid.
- Avoid kicking loose sediment or objects down over your partner/group. If you do, make sure to bellow out “Rock!” if you feel or see anything dropping over you or under you.
This list is not quite as extensive as the first rappel list but the checklist is just as important so always be mindful!
Rappel Route Instructions
Typically, the rappeler who leads should be the one that scopes the route for the group. If you have stations in place on your route, you would typically just use them in order to make things easier on everybody. Let’s say your team climbed up initially and now need to rappel down. In this case you have already mapped out the route, your team would just follow the reverse route it ascended upon, following the tracks.
If you are fortunate to have a topographic map of the area then use that. If you are retreating and utilizing your own gear, then make each rappel as long as possible. The less stops the better. Just make sure never to rappel beyond and below the final anchor. The lead rappeler should be able to realize if the last anchors and end of the ropes cannot link together, implementing a backup plan in the process.