How to Avoid Rappelling Problems
Updated: Jan 20
Every climber should understand the basics of rappelling and be familiar with the common mistakes or complications that can make rappelling unsafe/difficult. If you’re familiar with the complications that surround rappelling, then you can prepare for the obstacles you might encounter while out climbing.
Remember, it’s vital to be diligent about safety precautions while you’re out climbing. If you’re not sure that you know how to rappel correctly, this article is not an instruction manual, check out the classes offered at Sportrock or your local climbing gym to receive proper instruction.
Things to Keep in Mind While on Your Next Rappel
If you accidentally let go of your braking ropes, “rappel backups” prevent you from falling to the ground. It might seem unlikely that you’re randomly going to let go of the rope, but it’s always better to play things safe. Things can unexpectedly startle or injure climbers, and having redundancy in your safety system is never a bad idea. Additionally, having a backup can allow you to let go of the rope if you experience a tangled line or jammed belaying device.
It’s imperative that all climbers have a rappel backup while they descend. In general, climbers either have someone provide a fireman’s belay, or tie a prusik knot below their brake hand to serve as a “third hand.”
Benjamin Franklin once said, “when you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” Believe it or not (pun intended), a similar logic does exist when we discuss rappelling.
It’s necessary that climbers tie knots into both ends of their rope before rappelling. If a rappel is longer than you’re expecting, those knots will prevent you from falling off the ends of your rope. If you don’t tie knots at the end of your rope, they can slip right through your rappelling device – causing you to fall.
This is something that you’ll commonly encounter while descending routes. While lowering over an overhang, it can be very easy to hit your face or crash into the wall below you. If you encounter one don’t be concerned, there are a few methods for safely descending around an overhang. We recommend placing your feet at the “lip” or edge of the overhang, and slowly lower your body/hips until you’re below the rim. Below an overhang, you’re probably going to be dangling freely on the rope – trust in your rappel system and lower yourself to the ground.
When ropes become tangled, it can become impossible to rappel. Untangling lines is a common occurrence while descending, but if you let
ropes become too tangled, they can become tough to manipulate. Be proactive about spotting ropes that might tangle. Do your best to keep ropes out of cracks that might “swallow” them or get them stuck. If necessary, you might have to stop at a ledge and pull tangled ropes up to you.
Just about anything with a long or loose end can become trapped in your rappelling device. A little object in your device can quickly get sucked into your braking system, which will cause you to get stuck during your rappel. The best way to avoid this problem is to be aware of long hair, clothing, or gear straps that can become tangled in your device. If an object does become stuck in your rappel device, you’ll have to unweight your ropes to work that object free.
As you descend, loose rocks can be knocked free by you or the rope. Falling rock can be extremely hazardous for you and your climbing team. Be thoughtful about what you’re rappelling over, and make sure that every member of the team keeps their helmets on until the entire party is done climbing. If someone does knock a rock free, be prepared to shout “rock!”
All is Well When You Know How to Rappel
Rappelling is a necessary part of many climbing adventures. Whether you’re trying to clean sport anchors or descend from a long multi-pitch route, climbing is an essential skill for climbers to develop. Some seemingly small problems can complicate your rappels, so it’s best to proactive about keeping yourself safe. Always have a backup while you rappel (either a prusik or a belayer), tie knots into the ends of your rope, and be wary of getting objects stuck in your rappelling device. Be aware of your surroundings and be cautious of potential hazards – such as falling rocks or overhangs.