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Intro to Rappelling

Section 26

As there are numerous "descender devices" out on the market, please read the manual on yours before you do your first rappel.  It is CRITICAL to know how to operate yours.

The flow of the rope will be universal as it will take it from the the top of the device to the bottom.  But the one that you use will depend on what type of friction levels you can start off with or add on the fly.

Before you begin rappelling, first, as a pre-check, make sure that your rope is touching the bottom of the ground.  If it's not, readjust the rope length.

Next, realize how high the rappel is and your body weight (which can include a heavy backpack).  

After you know how to use your descender device correctly from the manual, use the correct amount of friction for your weight and length of the rappel.

Are you unsure of what friction levels you should be using?  Find a local cliff in your neck of the woods and bring at least one experienced person who has rappelled before and let them show you and belay you as you go over the edge for the first time! It's exciting.

Your first canyon trip should not be the first time you have ever rappelled! You will BE a liability for your whole team once they find out that you haven't rappelled before.

Here are some things you can remember for when you first rappel:

  • Trust your guide and their knowledge.  If something doesn't seem right, say something.

  • It's perfectly natural to feel scared or awkward as  you lean over the edge.  And lean, you must!

  • You want to rappel perpendicular to the wall, not parallel or try to climb it.  (SHOW PICTURE)

  • Keep your brake hand either by either side of your waist and let the rope feed through.

  • You can use a leather glove to absorb some of the friction heat that is given off while you rappel.

    • But it is not mandatory.  In fact, the community argues that you should know how to      rappel without the aid of a glove as it can create a false-sense of security.

  • When you are attached to the anchor, remove the extra slack from the rope. (SHOW PIC)

  • Slowly walk backwards with the rope feeding through your brake hand.

  • When you get to the transition from horizontal ground to vertical wall, this is where you need to lean back, and get perpendicular to the wall.

NEVER, EVER, LET GO OF YOUR BRAKING HAND! Even if you feel like your face is going to smash into the wall, don't let go of your hand to protect your face.  It's better to have your face smashed-in a bit versus you letting go and essentially free-falling to your death.

Here is a video of a rappeller, for some unclear reason let go of his braking hand from the rappel!  Thankfully he was "alright" after slipping 30 ft (the entire rappel is 60 ft and he slid down 1/2 of it).  You can see him in the video around the 30 second mark slip, and instictively, he let go of the rope so that he could protect his face from hitting the ground.  But, as he DID let go of the rope...guess what happened... 

Again, this is why you don't ever let go of your rope, even if your face is going to smash against the rock.  THIS concept has to be understood by EVERY rappeller!


 There are other ways to prevent something like this, such as an auto-block, or something even easier such as a "firemans belay", but unfortunately neither were used in this setting.

When you are in learning how to rappel (while under the supervision of another rappeller), here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don't "bounce" or jump on the rope.

  • Don't go side to side, like a pendulum.

  • Practice at your comfort level and speed while rappelling.

  • Practice adding friction while on rappel with your specific descender device.

  • Practice stopping while on rappel and locking-off.

Learning these steps can significantly improve your rappelling skills and turn it into an enjoyable experience.

It's been said that rappelling while canyoneering isn't the reason why we do it and I tend to agree. However, rappelling is a very fun part of the experience but it shouldn't be the primary purpose. A secondary reason, sure. 


We are to see and enjoy the canyon, explore its secrets, but also preserve and protect it!

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