Rappelling is an interesting sport, but don’t be mistaken; it has also one of the most dangerous sports out there. If something were to go wrong, accidents that occur from rappelling can be life-threatening so you must be very careful when engaging in the activity.
You might be wondering ‘what is so dangerous about rappelling?’ after all, you simply need to slide down a rope as you jump off a cliff, but have you thought about the fact that you could face problems with the rope? Perhaps a knot, or even make a human error.
Natural disasters can also occur, even if you don’t make any mistakes and the equipment remain in good condition.
In this post, we’ll be exploring all the different ways rappelling can be dangerous, as well as how to avoid such dangers when you go rappelling.
Why Is Rappelling So Dangerous?
Now that we’ve mentioned that rappelling can be dangerous, the next step is to find out how. For an activity that seems quite easy, you might wonder where the danger is.
Here are some of the most common rappelling accidents, their causes, and how to avoid them.
1. Unlocked Carabiner
A rappelling accident can occur because your carabiner is either unlocked or comes unlocked at some point during the activity.
A few rappelling accidents have happened in the past years because of carabiner failures.
You also need to ensure that the rope is properly attached through the belay that’s on your carabiner. An improper attachment to your carabiner can also cause an accident.
To avoid this, always check and double-check to ensure that your carabiner is locked. If it comes off, your rope could come out of the belay and cause you to fall.
When dealing with carabiners, you can invest in an auto-lock carabiner for safety purposes.
It adds safety because it locks on its own once the gate is locked, and you won’t need to lock it yourself using a screw.
Another added safety measure is that auto-lock carabiners have a two or three-step procedure before they are opened.
You’ll need to push down the lock, then twist, and apply pressure to the gate before the carabiner opens. That way, you can avoid sudden accidents caused by carabiners opening on their own.
If you cannot afford an auto-lock carabiner, or you still prefer the screw gate carabiner, they’re also safe, provided you can screw it shut properly. However, you’ll need to check it intermittently to be sure that the screw remains locked.
2. Rappelling off your rope
Any mistake with your rope can land you in the hospital for a long time.
For instance, if you don’t tie stopper knots to your rope, you can rappel off the end of your rope and fall many feet down to the ground.
You can imagine how many fractured bones you would have, even in the best-case scenarios.
With care and attention, you can avoid rappelling off the end of your rope. First, you need to ensure that you have more than enough rope to reach the ground, so ensure you know the height you’re descending from.
Then, tie a stopper knot that is large enough so that it doesn’t slide through your belay device, especially if the end of the rappel isn’t visible to you.
You can improve your rope safety by using a friction hitch either above or below your rappel device. If you do this, you can avoid falling to the ground even if you make mistakes.
3. Rope getting caught
If you’re rappelling and you forget that there’s a stopper knot at the end of your rope, you could pull your rope through the anchor and it’ll get stuck, leaving you hanging and unable to go down.
So, while it is good to tie a stopper knot at your rope’s end, you need to remember to untie it.
Also, your rope could get caught on a tree or a ridge, especially when the wind is heavy. If you don’t handle this properly, you could be stuck there.
An easy way to go about this is to tug on the rope gently and then make try to flip it around so that it comes off the object holding it. If this doesn’t work, then you’ll need to use an ascender to go up to the anchor and then fix the issue.
Cutting the rope is the very last option, but you must ensure that you remain enough rope to rappel with if you choose to do this.
4. Losing hold of the rope
This might seem like a learner’s mistake, but some situations can make you lose hold of your rope, especially if you’re trying to untangle a tied rope.
When this happens, you will fall and get injured, unless you have some backup security.
If you need to stop for some reason or adjust a tangled rope, ensure that you lock your rope across your belay device where it can hold firm.
Also, to avoid mistakes and prevent your hand from slipping or burning, always wear gloves.
Tying a backup is also essential, just as a friction hitch can keep you from falling if you were to let go of your rope for any reason.
5. Anchor failure
An anchor failure can lead to some of the worst rappelling accidents you can imagine; even death.
If your anchor were to break a long way off the ground, you could fall to your death or break a lot of bones.
To avoid such a terrible situation, you’ll need to test your anchors as many times as possible. Ensure that it is sturdy and the anchor system can carry your weight before you start rappelling.
6. Rappel Accidents
One of the most common rappel accidents is getting things caught on your rappel device, including loose clothing or hair. If this happens, you could get stuck, be in pain, and not be able to get down until a rescuer comes to your aid.
One way to save yourself from such a situation is using a rappel extension that will keep the device as far away from your person as possible. That way, you can rest assured that your cloth, hair, or anything on your person won’t get caught on.
You can also have pocketknives on you so that you can set yourself free if this happens. However, it might be hard for a learner to handle this easily.
The safest thing to do is ensure you dress carefully, wear clothes that aren’t too loose, and keep your hair braided, covered, or tied up in a bun.
7. Losing focus or control
Rappelling accidents have occurred because the person or people involved lost control of the device and engaged in excessive speeding.
Such a mistake often results in accidents such as hitting yourself against a surface or falling to the ground.
One way to save yourself in such a situation is to have a backup belayer or knots that can slow you down.
If you’re rappelling alone, you need a prusik knot to improve your safety. If you’re rappelling with someone else or a group, the others should have a fireman’s belay.
No matter how good you are, or how many times you have engaged in rappelling, you need to always be cautious and attentive.
Don’t ignore any safety tips, including using a friction hitch, an autoblock knot, or a prusik not.
8. Human mistakes
When rappelling, your decision to ignore a warning sign, failure to make all the necessary checks, and an inability to focus on the activity can result in accidents.
No matter how comfortable you are with the sport, and how many times you have rappelled at the same spot, you must double-check your equipment, make plans for backup, and avoid taking shortcuts.
If you think you might have forgotten something or not tied a knot tight enough, don’t brush off the thought; check it out until you’re confident that you’ve done all that you should.
Even if you’re rappelling with a friend you trust or an expert, don’t leave your safety to them; check it for yourself and be sure.
Ensure you have your complete safety gear on and confirm from the belayer that you’re good to go before you descend. Don’t assume that they see you or they know what you’re going to do next; communicate before you move and get confirmation too.
9. Extreme weather conditions
After considering all equipment-related issues as well as human error, you’ll need to think about something that is largely outside your control; weather conditions.
If you’re caught in a lightning strike or severe wind when rappelling, things could go bad. You could fall off, especially if you don’t have a rappel backup device to hold you from falling.
Seeing as there’s nothing you can do to reverse a weather condition once it occurs, you’ll need to prevent weather-related accidents by always checking the weather forecast before you head out.
If there’s a chance of a storm, rain, snow, or even heavy winds, you should cancel your plans.
If you’re already rappelling and you notice a sudden weather change, turn back immediately or hasten to the ground, depending on where you’re closest. Call for help immediately, especially if you have no experience handling bad weather.
Thankfully, natural causes like weather issues can be avoided as much as possible, and haven’t led to as many accidents when compared to human or equipment errors.
Useful Tips to Stay Safe Rappelling
Now that we have talked about the most common mistakes people make during rappelling and how to avoid the most likely dangers, let’s talk about some general tips to help make rappelling less dangerous for you, especially if you’re a beginner.
1. Learn about Rappelling
No matter how easy it looks, it is always better to practice rappelling before you actually go rappelling for the first time.
Start by doing as much research as possible and learn all that you should about rappelling, including all the steps you need to take to remain safe during the process.
Join forums where experienced rappellers share their experiences, so that you can have a great deal of information and knowledge before you start.
However, be discerning enough to turn away wrong advice, especially those encouraging you to skip some safety steps or procedures.
Always specify if you’re a beginner when you’re seeking advice so that you get the most suitable guidance for your level of expertise.
2. Watch Helpful Videos
When preparing to go rappelling, videos can be helpful, especially with regards to setting up your equipment and ensuring that you’re doing everything by the book.
Learn how to tie knots, align your rope, and lock your carabiner from videos that guide you through the process, even if you’ll have someone helping you with that before you begin.
Find out about backup knots because they can save you from a fall when an accident occurs. With the help of a video, you will learn how to use a backup knot to ensure your safety. Thankfully, it only takes a few seconds to get a backup knot in place.
3. Practice Rappelling
Yes. You can, and should practice rappelling, even if it looks easy to you. Practicing rappelling is fun, and is equally safe and important for you before your first rappelling experience.
When you get a lot of practice, the actual event becomes easy for you and you’ll be able to avoid mistakes. Even if you make any mistakes, you’ll know how to correct them immediately.
Unlike what many people think, rappelling can be very dangerous, especially if you don’t have all the tools you need or you lack the basic knowledge.
To avoid potentially harmful and extreme accidents, endeavor to follow the advice contained in this post and seek guidance from the personnel in charge if you’re visiting a park.
Rappelling is always fun when you know what you’re doing and you’re safe, so don’t skip any fitness step or guide, no matter how much experience you have.