The famous line against peer pressure, “if everyone jumped off a cliff would you?” points to the ridiculousness of following the crowd. This summer however lots of people will be jumping off the cliff.
Rappelling is a popular summer activity for the adventurous in Utah’s national parks. Stewart Green, a blogger on rappelling described it in the following way: “You’ve climbed to the top of a cliff and now you have to get back down. Sometimes you can walk off the back side, which is usually the safest way to descend. But sometimes you have to rappel because it’s easier, safer, and faster to get back to flat earth. Rappelling is, on the surface, a relatively simple climbing skill but in that simplicity lie its dangers.”
Before taking part in this summer fun make sure that you know how to do the following skills:
- Rigging of the rappel system; there are many different devices. Make sure the one you use is in working order.
- Anchor knot tying: at least three anchors are needed to ensure security
- Rope management: ropes can become easily tangled or caught on the rocks
- Proper communication calls for other hikers/climbers
Be sure to consistently check your equipment for security. The St. George area alone has already investigated several major falls this year. The majority of the falls seen in Utah are due to equipment malfunctions through human error, all of which could have been eliminated through frequent and careful safety inspections.
Go Climb 511 says that rules number one, two, and three are Test, Test, Test. Be dead sure your equipment is working or you will be dead.
This dangerous sport is plagued with human error. Green is known to say “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”. Through this grotesque imagery he makes it clear that rappelling is by nature unforgiving of mistakes. One mistake often life and death, not life and a paper cut. The stakes in rappelling are high and so is the enjoyment. Make sure that you are constantly in control of your decent. Do not jump from the cliff, it is meant to be a smooth leaning back on the rope. One hand should always be firmly placed underneath you. If your hand is not strong enough to support you, you should not rappel unsupervised. Your legs must be used to lightly push you from the cliff face. Though the push will keep you lightly away rather than bouncing you, it will take a significant amount of force to keep you from scraping on the rocks. If you have doubts regarding your physical ability to rappel it is advised that you do not attempt it. Try getting use to the motions in a controlled situation like a rock climbing gym where professionals can supervise until you gain the requisite experience and confidence needed to go out on your own.
If you are interested in Canyoneering this season you should consider hiring a guide or expert canyoneer. They will often have their own equipment and experience using it. This will save you time during your adventures because they will know how to set up anchors and ensure you are safe; it’s also likely they can reassure you about security. If you are confident in your abilities to secure the rappelling equipment then it is suggested that you use a mountain guide book which enables you to create routes which increase in height and difficulty over many climbs. Especially when working with children or beginners, it is important to step graduate the difficulty and and skill level required in order to stabilize nerves, which will be needed at the top of the mountains.
At Christensen & Hymas we hope that you enjoy your summer and have many adventures. As you try new things this summer stay safe. Be aware that there are many dangers in any new activity you try. If you are rappelling for the first time be careful, tragic falls happen every day. Although rappelling may be fun and enjoyable, that all can change with an accident. If you have been in a mountain accident because of someone else’s negligence, call us at (801)506-0800, we specialize in serious falls.
Image courtesy of Christian Haugen