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All About Rappelling

Learn How to Rappel

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All About Rappelling

Climbers rappelling in tandem off Wilson Arch near Moab, Utah.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green All About Rappelling

Pete Thexton rappels into Taylor Canyon in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green All About Rappelling

Logan Berndt rappels off Pizza Rock at the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Rappelling is a specialized climbing technique that is used to descend from mountains and cliffs by making a controlled slide down a fixed rope. The climbing rope is anchored to a cliff with artificial anchors like cams, pitons, and bolts or natural anchors like trees and boulders. Usually the rope is either doubled with the midpoint at the anchors or tied to another climbing rope. The climber then uses a rappel device which utilizes the friction of the rope through the device to control his descent as he literally slides down the fixed rope to a ledge or the cliff-base.

Meaning of Rappel

After the climber slides to the bottom of the rope, he then retrieves the rope by pulling it through the anchor. The French word rappel, meaning “to recall,” comes from this retrieval. In Europe the technique is usually called abseiling, which comes from the German word abseilen, meaning “to rope down.” In England this is usually shortened to “ab,” as in “We’re going to ab off now.” In the United States, climbers shorten the words rappel and rappelling to “rap” and “rapping;” for example, “How long is the rap?”

Rappelling is Skill-Based

Rappelling, while one of the most dangerous techniques used in climbing and the cause of many climbing accidents, is skill-based. Most rappelling accidents occur as a result of climber error rather than as an act of God. If you learn all the essential skills of rappelling, then you’ll be safe on all your rappels. You mess up though—Splat! you’re dead meat.

Read More About Rappelling

What Can Go Wrong Rappelling

Essential Rappelling Equipment

Build Safe Rappel Anchors

How to Toss Rappel Ropes

How to Use Your Brake Hand

4 Knots for Rappelling

Why You Should Use Stopper Knots when Rappelling

Watch for Loose Rock When Rappelling

A Rappelling Near-Death Experience

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