Rappelling

Rappelling can be so easy and exhilarating that you forget what a serious undertaking it really is. It's an indispensable activity in climbing, but it's also one of the more dangerous. If you learn it carefully from the start, you should have no trouble using this technique for sliding down a rope, controlling your speed with friction on the line. You will be able to descend almost any climbing pitch on rappel and, in fact, rappelling will be the only way to get down some faces of rock or ice.

You can get a sense of the danger by considering that as you rappel down a high cliff, full body weight on the rope, your life depends all the way on the anchor to hold the rope and on you to use the correct technique. If you fail or the anchor fails, you fall. Unlike belaying, where a large force comes on the system only if you fall, the force on the rappel system is always there. Despite the danger, it's easy to become cocky and careless after you learn how simple rappelling can be, and the exhilaration can encourage hazardous technique.

Coming down from a climb, there's often a choice between rappelling and downclimbing. Sometimes rappelling is the fastest and safest way to descend a particular pitch, but many times it is not. Think it through, considering the terrain, the weather, how much time is available, and the strength and experience of the party. If you decide to rappel, do it safely and efficiently. One of the hidden dangers of rappelling is that it can waste an awful lot of time in the hands of inexperienced rappellers.

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