101 Reasons to obey your Rappel Master

101 Reasons to obey your Rappel Master


Why you should stay current in your rappel training

Rappelling (AKA Abseiling) may seem easy.  This ease of action is largely due to the expertise provided by the Rappel Master.  After all, the rappel master is responsible for rappeller safety, the serviceability of all equipment, and the personal supervision of rappelling operations.  The rappel master has much experience and diverse training. Rappel Masters remain current in the art and science of rappel operations.  Without a properly experienced Rappel Master there are so many ways to make a mistake and most mistakes are fatal. Understand the logic behind each suggestion below, so that you can make informed decisions.

As a rappeller, here are a few safeguards you should be aware of and implement.

1.      Always pad all edges or abrasive materials that could come in contact with the ropes.

2.      Once the rappel tower or cliff-side is setup, test the rappel system before unclipping from the retention strap or personal anchor.

3.      The easiest way to test the system is to “dead hang” from the bottom of the rope with three people.

4.      When setting up a rural rappel, trees can be used as anchors.  Hardwoods should be 12 inches in diameter or larger.  Softwoods should be 18 inches in diameter or larger.

5.      The trees used as anchors should be at least six feet from the rappel edge.

6.      Some scenarios may require the first rappeller to go over the edge with no belay on the ground.  In this case, send your most experienced rappeller.  Set up the rappel rig with an auto belay device.  A prusik knot works well here.

7.      Once the first person is down, he or she should give a fireman’s belay to the others in the team.

8.      Never assume all is well.  Test, check and recheck the system.  The lives of God’s most precious creation, human beings, are on the line.  This also provides confidence for the rappeller.

9.      Tie knots into the ends of the rope.  This technique prevents the rappeller from continuing off the ends of the rope.  This may seem unusual.  This is a great habit to form especially when dealing with high rappels or multiple rope rappels.

10.  When doing multiple rappels, periodically dress and re-tighten the knot at each rappel station.  The absence of this step can lead to the knot loosening and coming apart.

11.  Use the same routine to tie knots into the ends of the rope when both traditional and sport rappelling.  Consistency is the key.  Practice does not make perfect.  Practice make permanent.  A good set up routine, once established should not be deviated from.  Even at the sport crag, always use the same routine to setup your rappel.

12.  Double back your harness.  This ensures the harness attachments stay connected.

13.  Ensure the rope is anchored at two unique locations with two dedicated knots.  This provides redundancy in the system.  A proper rappelling system is full of back-ups and safeties.

14.  Once you have ascended to the rappel site, clip into an anchor point.  Do this before setting up the rappel.  This safety feature prevents you and all others from falling from the height.

15.  Tie a proper double fisherman's knot when using two ropes.  Properly tighten the fisherman's knot.  Tie safety knots on your double fisherman knot.  Failure to do this and you risk the ropes coming apart.  The safety knot provides redundancy in the system.

16.  Allow at least 6-8" of tails on the end of rope knot.  A shorter tail may allow the ropes to come apart.

17.  Never use an overhand knot to tie two ropes together that have different diameters.  The ropes will come apart. (AKA: The European Death Knot).  Use a Double Figure-8 Fisherman’s Knot.  This knot, the usual way to tie rappel ropes together, when properly tied, will not come undone.  It’s also easy to visually check to make sure it is properly tied. It’s usually not difficult to untie after being weighted. This is the best knot to tie ropes of unequal diameters. The knot’s biggest disadvantage is its bulk, so the chances that it might jam in a crack while you’re pulling the rappel ropes are increased.

18.  Tie a backup knot when using an overhand knot.  Without this step the knot will come undone.  Remember when rappelling no knot is complete without a back-up knot.

19.  Never let go with your brake hand or belay hand            .  You will lose control and fall.

20.  Never rappel too fast.       You may lose control.

21.  Use locking carabineers.   Never accept the possibility that the gate can come open.  I prefer the screw gate type of lock over the automatic locking type.

22.  Double check that your locking carabineer is locked.  Remember there is safety in redundancy.

23.  Confirm your ropes are long enough for the rappel before leaving the ground.  You may rappel off the ends of the rope.  It is possible to ascend the rope but the difficulty far outweighs the trouble it takes to confirm the height and length of rope to begin with.

24.  Reduce clutter around your belay device.  You must be able to clearly verify your rope is threaded properly through your belay device.

25.  Mark the center point on your rope.  The center of the rope is important for many aspects of rope work. 

26.  Wear a helmet.  Your head requires protection from falling rocks and objects.  Your head requires protection from the terrain if you lose control during descent.

27.  Avoid kicking loose rocks which will endanger the people below you. 

28.  Yell "ROCK" if you do dislodge any debris.  "ROCK" is the standard command yelled. Rappellers, belays, other folks below you will instinctively take cover when they hear "ROCK" (it happens a lot).

29.  Stay in a protected area when people are rappelling above you.  Falling rocks and objects may hit you.

30.  Carry headlamps, glow sticks, or luminous tape for rappelling in the dark.  Otherwise, you may not be able to see what you are doing and where you are going.

31.  Backup your belay device with a prusik knot.  This provides redundancy in the system.

32.  Practice rappelling in a safe controlled environment before trying it out the first time at the cliff or other natural terrain feature.  There are many variables associated with rural rappelling.  Using a rappel tower of platform help eliminate these variables and focus on the training at hand.

33.  Learn to rappel from a professional instructor.  A certified rappel master has training in both rope skills and teaching skills.  The training received from this person provides for a more solid training foundation.

34.  Never anchor to old and tattered webbing.  A pre-inspection of all rappel gear should force a decision about the integrity of the gear.  “When in doubt throw it out”.

35.  Never attach your rope directly to webbing.  Your rappel rope may create friction as it rubs on the webbing.  This friction produces heat.  The heat melts the fibers and wears through the webbing.  The result is not a pleasant experience for the rappeller, the belayer, the rappel master, or any folks in the vicinity.  (Notice how quickly the event of rappelling becomes a team activity.  The rappel is seldom about you.  Many folks are impacted by your activities so be aware of the impact you have on others.)

36.  Have your partner below do a fireman's backup while you are rappelling down.  This provides redundancy in the system.

37.  Avoid rappelling when you are tired.  You may make a mistake.  Take brakes throughout the day.

38.  Always remain hydrated.  A healthy body and mind make better choices.  There is little room for mistakes in rappelling.

39.  Don't be in a hurry.  Taking your time and do things correctly.  The first time is more satisfying and less stressful than retracing steps.  “Haste makes waste”. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, slow is fast”.

40.  Always remain well nourished.  A healthy body and mind make better choices.  There is little room for mistakes in rappelling.

41.  Don't be complacent.  Do be mentally engaged, physically strong, emotionally engaged, and spiritually fierce.      Remember complacency has its root in self-satisfaction.  Rappelling is not about self.  Contentment causes mistakes.  Mistake will get others hurt.

42.  Don't be cocky      Being over confident or presuming will equally be detrimental to those around you.  Avoid mistakes by remaining emotionally engaged and mentally aware of the activity around you.

43.  Don't freak out on exposure.  The term exposure refers to the amount of time you are actually on rappel.  In oreder to control the emotions during rappel it is important to grow slow.  Initial rappel experience should be low and slow.  Gradually build to speed, heights, and open faced rappels.  Avoid scenarios where the rappel you are doing is more exposed than you are comfortable with.  Your inability to control emotions will result in mistakes.

44.  If you get injured, allow others to assit you.  Use caution when you are injured.  Your distracted state or pain will impede your mental abilities.  Avoid mistakes by relying on your rappel master and others.  The act of rappelling is a team event.

45.  Focus.  Don't talk to people when you setup the rappel.  You get distracted and make a mistake.

46.  For novice rappellers use a safety-eight rappel device.  This device provides for  more control, more friction.  This slower rappel allows for a smoother rappel experience.

47.  Know your rappel route.  This focus will help avoid complacency.

48.  Double check that your harness is doubled back.  Redundancy is your friend.

49.  Double check that your partner's harness is doubled back.  Redundancy is your partners friend.

50.  Know what color of webbing is on top of your buckle when your harness is doubled back.  Mental awareness is key.

51.  Use a standard checklist to check all systems before rappelling.  This helps avoid missing an important item.

52.  Use a standard acronym to check all systems before rappelling.  This redundancy helps avoid a critical mistake.

53.  Anchor to an immovable object.  I have heard of vehicles used as anchor points.  This did not have the desired results.

54.  Inspect an anchor that someone else has built.  This redundancy saves lives.  Respect is built on trust.  Trust is built when we prove our devotion to one another.  Devotion is grown from accountability.  All ropes, knots, gear, emotions are open to inspection by anyone at any time.  Do not hide anything.  Accountability is key.

55.  Never attach your rappel device to a non-rated gear loop on your harness.  Better yet wear a harness with only gear rated loops.  Improper attachments lead to improper performance of gear and humans.

56.  Never attach your prussik backup to a non-rated gear loop on your harness.      Your backup system must be attached to your harness.  Improper attachments lead to improper performance of gear and humans.

57.  Know how to pass a knot.              This is an advanced technique and not for the novice.  Mistakes here are brutal.

58.  Avoid getting your ropes stuck.   Improperly using techniques while getting ropes unstuck lead to falls.

59.  Make sure there is NO slack between you and the anchors when setting up the rappel.  Slack in the rope can get caught around a feature or a person. When the line is weighted, the slack moves the hidden feature or person. Don't rush! Make sure there is no slack between you and the anchors.

60.  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.       The techniques for recovery from this situation are advanced.  Folks have fallen while trying to get the hand un-stuck.  The belay is crucial here.

61.  Avoid getting hair or loose clothing caught in your rappel device.  The pre-inspection should prevent this.  Folks have fallen while trying to clear the device.  The belay is crucial here.

62.  Rappel mistakes will happen.  Don't get benighted (a state of intellectual, moral, or social darkness).  Rely on others to overcome a rappelling mistake (e.g. dropping your rappel device and not knowing how to improvise).  Your rappel master has the advise.  Ask for it.  Accept it.  Improvise, adapt, overcome.  You are more than a congurer through Christ Jesus.  Turning down this opportunity to invest in your team will open an opportunity to die from exposure.

63.  Never drop your rappel device on your partner.   Dropping anything from a height will cause serious personal damage; even if helmets are worn.  Maintain positive control of all positions.

64.  Remember the techniques for tails of ropes.  If the tails are too long there is room for error in attaching yourself to the tails of the knot used to attach two ropes. Weighting the rope may not let you know you've done this.  You think the tails are the main rope and you fall as soon as you clear the tails.

65.  Never rappel off a new piece of webbing that some varmint has chewed.  The inspection should catch this.

66.  Never assuming the webbing is ok, just because it is bright, new, and shiny.

67.  Never rappel with a rope recently damaged by rock fall.  The rope inspection is created for this event.  Rappel ropes are to be pre-inspected, inspected during rappel events and post-inspected.  When in doubt through it out.  Damaged ropes fail.  This is a part of the experience.

68.  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 !!!!!!!!!!!!!

69.  Ensure both rappellers are attach to OPPOSITE side of the rope when simul-rappelling. This technique ensures the weighted rope does not pull through the anchor and one rappeller hits the deck.

70.  Comunication is key.  Make sure your belayer knows if you are rappelling or being lowered before you start climbing.  Your belayer can't hear you when you are on top and you mis-communicate.  Your belay may think you are rappelling, when in fact you are planning for them to lower you. Your belayer allows you slack for rappel control.  When you lean back, you have a significant emotional event.  Communicate loud and clear.

71.  Never use a worn out harness.  The pre-inspection will catch this.

72.  Don't spill chemicals on your rope, webbing, or harness.  Chemicals are common in our modern world. If any amount of chemicals comes into contact with your nylon equipment, it will significantly weaken the nylon and it will break.

73.  Don't store headlamp or flashlight batteries near your rope, webbing, or harness.  Sulphuric acid may leak onto your equipment.

74.  Always make an independent measurement of your rope.  Your rope may be mislabeled 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.

75.  Know how long your rope is in feet.  Ropes are measured in meters, routes are measured in feet. You may come up short.

76.  Don't blindly trust topographical rappel measurements.  There may be a typo in your topo.

77.  Always secure your rope to the anchor or rappel site when you are threading the rope through the rappel anchor.      Without this procedure, it is common for the heavy end of the rope to be dropped or fall 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.

78.  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.

79.  Don't rappel too fast.  The rope may burn your hands causing you to let go of the rope and fall.  The belay is crucial in this event.  The friction of the rope through the rappel device may also shorten the life span of the rope.

80.  Never leave a novice alone at the top of the rappel.  However, if this is a must, 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. 

81.  When you are with a beginner, use a fireman's belay on the ropes to stop their belay in case they lose control during their descent.  Without this technique, if  the beginner lets go during the descent , they fall out of control.

82.  Some great tips for the belay person: Control and assist the rappel during descent.

83.  Some great tips for the belay person: Keep both hands on the rope.

84.  Some great tips for the belay person: You are responsible for the rappellers safety.

85.  Some great tips for the belay person: Watch the rappellers brake hand.

86.  Some great tips for the belay person: When in doubt, BELAY.

87.  Items to inspect harnesses for: Stitching, wear marks, buckles, hook-up points.

88.  A good helmet to wear during rappelling should meet ANSI standards and have a multi-point harness.

89.  Did you know that carabineers are strongest down the long axis?

90.  Did you know that carabineers are weakest at the gate.

91.  The carabineers that are able to handle the most load are the steel “D-style” with screw locking gate.

92.  Did you know that a figure eight with ears will prevent a girth hitch from developing?

93.  Any hardware dropped from a height of three feet or more must be removed from service.

94.        When travelling to and from the rappel site, ropes should be bagged to protect them from UV rays and dirt.

95.        If ropes need to be washed, use mild solution of soap and water.  Hang them in a warm location out of the sun.

96.        When inspecting ropes, pass each foot of rope through your hands. Feel for: irregularities such as indentions, bulges, and flat places.  Look for:  Excessive fraying or fuzz, Excessive wear on sheath, Cuts or permanent kinks, Burn marks

97.        Remove the rope from service and cut up if:  The rope is subjected to excessive shock loading, The rope is exposed to chemicals or petroleum products, Excessive fraying is present, Cuts or damage to the sheath or mantle, Weakness caused by friction burns, Any doubt exists as to the integrity of the rope­­­­.

98.        For rappelling purposes, the thicker the rope's diameter, the better. Thicker ropes, those from 10mm to 11mm in diameter, have more friction when they feed through your rappel device and are less likely to be cut than skinny ropes (7mm to 9mm).

99.        Gloves protect your hands both from the terrain or wall and the rope. The descending device and the rope can get very hot from friction. Gloves that allow dexterity are your best bet.

100.    Keep your upper body upright. If you lean forward, you make it much harder to see where you're going, not to mention risk getting clothing or hair stuck in the belay device.

101.    When choosing ropes for rappelling remember that the kernmantle type rope is easier to untie after operations than the laid braid type rope.