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101 Ways to Stay Alive
Rappelling / Abseiling


Rappelling may seem easy, but there are so many ways to make
a mistake and most mistakes are fatal. You may not agree with
the methods described below; but you need to understand the logic
behind each suggestion, so that you can make informed decisions.

Safeguards you should know...

What Can Happen...

  1. Test the rappel system before unclipping from the anchor.

There may be something wrong with the
system and you don't know it
#1 Always test
#2 Always test
#3 Always test !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  1. Tie knots into the ends of the rope.

You rappel off the ends of the rope.

  1. Use the same routine to tie knots into the ends of the rope when both trad and sport climbing.

You thread the rope through the anchor, but forget to center the rope. As you begin your descent, the short end of the rope without a knot pulls through your belay device and you crash and burn. Testing the system at the anchor won't help if you make this mistake! Even at the sport crag, always use the same routine to setup your rappel.

  1. Double back your harness

You are not attached to your harness.

  1. Thread two ropes through your belay device

As soon as you weight one rope, the rope not secured to your belay device will pull through the anchor and you will hit the deck.

  1. Thread the rope through the anchor

You are not attached to the anchor.

  1. Thread the rope through two anchors

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Center the rope at the mid point on the anchors

When the longer side of the rope is weighted, the short rope may pull through the anchor. See: Accident Report.

  1. Clip into the anchor before setting up the rappel

You are not attached to the anchor.

  1. Clip into two anchor points before setting up the rappel

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Tie a proper double fisherman's knot when using two ropes

The ropes will come apart.

  1. Properly tighten the fisherman's knot

The ropes come apart.

  1. Tie safety knots on your double fisherman knot

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Tie a proper overhand when using two ropes

The ropes will come apart.

  1. Leave at least 18" of tails on the overhand knot

A short tail may cause the ropes to come apart

  1. Properly tighten the overhand knot

The ropes will come apart.

  1. When doing multiple rappels, always re-tighten the overhand knot at each rappel station

The knot can loosen and come apart

  1. Never use an overhand knot to tie two ropes together that have different diameters

The ropes will come apart. Also known as the European Death Knot.

  1. Tie a backup knot when using an overhand knot

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Never let go with your belay hand

You will fall

  1. Use two hands on the brake rope.

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Never rappel too fast

You may loose control.

  1. Use two carabiners to increase rope friction

There is not enough friction and you loose control during the descent.

  1. Use a locking carabiner

The gate can come open.

  1. Double check that your locking carabiner is locked

The gate can come open.

  1. Confirm your ropes are long enough for the rappel before leaving the ground

You may rappel off the ends of the rope or you die while trying to ascend the rope to regroup.

  1. Reduce clutter around your belay device

You can't clearly see to verify your rope is threaded properly through your belay device. This is an even bigger problem for most beginners, because they usually use an "El Cap" rack at all times. It is hard to thread your belay device when you have four #4s hanging off your rack.

  1. Mark the center point on your rope

You may make a mistake in identifying the rope center point.

  1. Wear a helmet

Your head is not protected from falling rocks and objects, and your head is not protected if you slip

  1. Avoid kicking loose rocks off on people below you

Brain damage

  1. Yell "ROCK" if you do dislodge a rock.

"ROCK" is the standard climbing command yelled. Climbers below you will instinctively take cover when they hear "ROCK" (it happens a lot).

  1. Stay in a protected area when people are rappelling above you

Falling rocks and objects may hit you.

  1. Avoid rappelling in the dark.

You can't see your rappel system or the route.

  1. Carry headlamps for rappelling in the dark

You may not be able to see what you are doing and where you are going without headlamps.

  1. Backup your belay device with a prusik knot

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Practice rappelling in a safe place before trying in out the first time at the cliff

You don't know what you are doing.

  1. Learn to rappel from a professional instructor

You don't know what you are doing.

  1. Never anchor to old and tattered webbing

The webbing fails

  1. Never attach your rope directly to webbing

Your rappel rope creates friction and melts through the webbing.

  1. Never use a single piece of webbing as your rappel anchor

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Have your partner below do a fireman's backup while you are rappelling down

There is no redundancy in the system.

  1. Avoid rappelling when you are tired

You make a mistake.

  1. Keep well fed

You are thinking more about food than rappelling

  1. Don't be in a hurry

You make a mistake.

  1. Stay hydrated

You make a mistake.

  1. Don't be complacent

You make a mistake.

  1. Don't be cocky

You make a mistake.

  1. Don't freak out on exposure

The rappel you are doing is more exposed than you are comfortable with, you freak and make a mistake.

  1. Don't think that only beginners make stupid mistakes

Even the best can make a mistake. Lynn Hill forgot to finish tying into her harness. See Accident Report.

  1. Don't be hung over

You make a mistake.

  1. Don't be hung over and have the shakes

You loose coordination and make a mistake

  1. Use caution when you are injured

You get distracted, you are in so much pain you can't think straight, you make a mistake.

  1. Use caution when your partner is injured

You get distracted and make a mistake.

  1. Don't talk to people when you setup the rappel.

You get distracted and make a mistake.

  1. Use caution when you have a hot date tonight.

You get distracted and make a mistake.

  1. Use caution when you had a hot date last night.

You get distracted and make a mistake.

  1. Use caution when you are angry at your partner.

You get distracted and make a mistake.

  1. Don't use a figure-8 rappel device

Very little friction.

  1. Know your rappel route

You get lost and die. Accident report.

  1. Double check that your harness is doubled back

You make a mistake.

  1. Double check that your partner's harness is doubled back

Your partner makes a mistake.

  1. Know what color of webbing is on top when your harness is doubled back

You make a mistake.

  1. Use a standard checklist to check all systems before rappelling

You make a mistake.

  1. Use a standard acronym to check all systems before rappelling

You make a mistake.

  1. Anchor to a solid object

You are not attached to the rock

  1. Inspect an anchor that someone else has built

The anchor fails

  1. Never attach your rappel device to a non-rated gear loop on your harness.

The rope is not attached to your harness

  1. Never attach your prussik backup to a non-rated gear loop on your harness.

Your backup system is not attached to your harness

  1. Know how to pass a knot.

You make a mistake.

  1. Avoid getting your ropes stuck.

You fall while retrieving the ropes.

  1. Make sure there is NO slack between you and the anchors when setting up the rappel

You think your rope is attached to the anchors, but slack in the rope is caught around a hidden feature. When the line is weighted, the slack releases from the hidden feature and you fall. Don't rush! Make sure there is no slack between you and the anchors.

  1. Use caution when rapping off an overhang because you can pin your guide hand between the rock and the rope. In the case of a beginner, this could be quite serious.

You fall while trying to get your hand un-stuck.

  1. Avoid getting hair or loose clothing caught in your rappel device.

You fall while trying to clear the device.

  1. Don't get benighted because of a rappelling mistake (e.g. dropping your rappel device and not knowing how to improvise).

You die of exposure.

  1. Never drop your rappel device on your partner.

Brain damage

  1. Avoid using anchors that someone else setup.

The anchor fails

  1. Never attach yourself to the tails of the knot used to attach two ropes. Weighting the rope may not let you know you've done this. Thanks, slcliffdiver.

You think the tails are the main rope and you fall as soon as you clear the tails.

  1. Never rap off a new piece of webbing that some varmint has chewed. Thanks, okieterry.

Assuming the webbing is ok, just because it is bright, new, and shinny.

  1. Never rap with a rope recently damaged by rock fall. Thanks, wlderdude.

The rope fails.

  1. Use extreme caution when simul-rappelling

Simul-rappelling significantly compounds the risks of rappelling, and any mistakes made by one or both of the partners can result in two people hitting the deck. Be careful !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  1. Ensure both people are NOT attach to the same side of the rope when simul-rapping. Thanks, rych

As soon as you weight one rope, the rope not secured to your belay device will pull through the anchor and you will hit the deck.

  1. Make sure your partner knows if you are rappelling or being lowered before you leave the ground.

Your partner thinks you are rappelling, when in fact you are planning for them to lower you. Your partner detaches the rope from their belay device, you lean back and fall.

  1. Tell your partner if you are rappelling or being lowered before you start climbing.

Your partner can't hear you when you are on top and you mis-communicate.

  1. Never use a worn out harness.

Todd Skinner, we will miss your energy and friendship.

  1. Don't spill sulphuric acid on your rope, webbing, or harness.

I heard that sulphuric acid is the most common chemical in the world. If any amount of sulphuric acid comes into contact with your nylon equipment, it will significantly weaken the nylon and it will break.

  1. Don't set your rope, webbing, or harness directly on driveways or roads.

There may be sulphuric acid on the pavement.

  1. Don't store headlamp or flashlight batteries near your rope, webbing, or harness.

Sulphuric acid may leak onto your equipment.

  1. Always make an independent measurement of your rope.

Your rope may be mis-labeled or you think it is 60 meters when it is actually 50 meters. You rappel off the end of the rope or you get stranded on the cliff before reaching your belay station.

  1. Know how long your rope is in feet.

Ropes are measured in meters, routes are measured in feet. You may come up short.

  1. Don't blindly trust topo rappel measurements.

There may be a typo in your topo.

  1. Always tie your rope to your harness or a carabiner that is clipped to the anchor when you are threading the rope through the rappel anchor.

You drop the heavy end of the rope, or the heavy end of the rope falls down the cliff; which pulls the short end of rope through the anchor and the rope falls to the ground. You are left stranded at the anchors without a rope. A big storm rolls in and you die of exposure.

  1. Be careful when you are cleaning extra gear from the anchor when you are setting up for the rappel (e.g. removing excess quick draws and runners). If you do not have tension on the quick draws and runners that secure you to the anchor, you can easily unclip yourself from the anchor.

You unclip yourself from the anchor lean back a little and fall backwards from your perch.

  1. Don't rappel too fast.

The rope may burn your hands causing you to let go of the rope and fall.

  1. When you are with a beginner, have them clip in to the rappel first. Then, you can clip in below them and rappel first. When you are off rappel, they are ready to go.

The beginner is left alone and makes a mistake setting up their rappel system.

  1. When you are with a beginner, use a fireman's belay on the ropes to stop their belay in case they loose control during their descent.

The beginner lets go during the descent and falls out of control.

  1. Be careful when rappelling from buildings.

September 14, 2004 NY NY - Teen trying to rappel into his apartment dies after rope breaks A Chelsea high school student, died yesterday morning after a rope he was suspended from broke, sending him about five stories to the ground. He had apparently forgotten his keys, and was rappelling down to his window from the roof so he could enter his apartment through the window.

  1. Rappel-cleaning has a track record of accidents proving it to be even more dangerous than just simple rappeling.

While cleaning your draws, you lose your grip on the ropes, you get tangled in ropes/draws, you get distracted, or an awkward stance causes you to lose balance. Thanks, Ken Trout.

  1. Tie knots into BOTH tails of your rope.

You are in a hurry and think that just one knot in one tail is enough, but then you also make a second mistake and under estimate the length of the rappel. As soon as you rappel to the end of the rope, the tail without the knot will slide through your rappel device and you will fall to your death.

  1. Don't mistake your rope end marker for the middle marker.

Your rope has both middle and end marks. You center the rope on the end mark and doen't tie knots in the ends of the rope. You rappel 15 feet and fly off the rope. See: Accident Report.

  1. Don't rappel.

Thanks "ec" from "ca" haha

  1. Don't double rope rappel around a corner or anywhere where excess friction is an issue.

Excess friction can prevent pulling the ropes, causing you to have to climb the ropes. Thanks skierbrian



Links

Great information on the European Death Knot

Great pictures and information about rappeling

Mistakes

1938 Classic Three Men on a Rope

Lynn Hill's accident write up.

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