Rappelling is the single most important self-rescue technique to master. Getting out of a jam is often just a matter of rappelling down, and the safer and faster you can do it, the better.
However, rappelling is also one of the most dangerous activities of all if the proper tools and techniques are not applied. In belayed climbing, the rope, the protection, the anchor, and the belayer all serve as a backup – if no one falls, then the entire system was superfluous. Rappelling, on the other hand, relies on the rope, anchor, and self-belay at all times. There is no room for error.
Phrases like “rappel anchor pulled out,” “climber rappelled off the end of the rope,” and “climber lost control of the rappel” arc all too frequently written in the American Alpine Club’s annual publication Accidents in North American Mountaineering. Master the skills in this chapter and apply them correctly, and you lessen your chances of your name appearing in that book.
The equipment for rappelling can be as simple as a locking carabiner and a rappel device. Figure eights or tube-style belay/rappel devices work best, though plates, carabiners alone, or even the Munter hitch can be used in a pinch. The three critical elements to safe rappelling are:
- The rappel anchor must be solid and secure.
- The rappeller must use proper technique to maintain control during the descent.
- There should be a system backup.