Race the Rookies Edmonton

September 27, 2014
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Contributed by Mike Melnick


Rappelling is a process where a competitor descends a terrain feature by sliding down a rope. As is common with all the rope disciplines, a climbing harness, helmet, carabiners, and full fingered gloves. This article is not meant to be used in place of qualified instruction. It's only a couple of bucks and seeing how it's done is easier to understand than reading about it.

The actual act of rappelling is pretty much the same speed for everyone, so gaining and losing heaps of time while on the ropes isn't usually a problem. The time drain is the getting ready and cleaning up portion of rappelling.

Efficient Setup

So you arrive at the rappell site. Your ropes kit should include the following:

  1. climbing harness
  2. two locking carabiners
  3. atc or other braking device
  4. helmet
  5. full fingered gloves
  6. prussik knot

To help you get ready for the ropes faster, consider these tips

  1. Before the race, make sure that your harness is sized for you.
  2. As you get to the site, get your hands warm. trying to double back your harness straps with your fingers gnarled due to cold is a slow process.
  3. Keep your climbing gear in a small mesh bag in your pack. That way, you can reach into your pack and pull out the whole enchilada in one swoop.
  4. Take a moment to orient your harness before trying to get your feet through the leg loops. 30 seconds on planning can save you minutes of feeling like a rookie.
Let's get technical

Now your harness is on, and it's double backed. What do you do with the rest of this stuff?

  1. One carbiner gets clipped on one of your leg loop. If you're right handed, clip it on the right leg.
  2. For now, clip your prussik to that 'biner. You'll use this later.
  3. The other biner and atc get clipped onto the loop in the centre of the front of your harness.
  4. Help your teammates or if they're done before you, let them help you.
  5. Don your helmet and gloves and then check each others' setups

At this point, you're ready to be checked by the ropes staff. Extra sets of eyes on your setup is well worth it. If it's your turn on the ropes, step up and get ready.

  1. Your strongest ropes team member should go last. They can help tie people in and they will be quick getting untied at the end of the rope. Your weakest rope team member should go in the middle.
  2. Make a loop of the rope and stuff it through your atc. Ensure that the rope that goes down, does so on your right (if you're right handed).
  3. Clip your centre carabiner over the loop of rope that you formed and lock it.
  4. Wrap the prussik around the rope and clip it back onto the leg carabiner. Ensure that the prussik doesn't reach to the atc. Lock the leg carabiner
Watch out for that first step

The first step over the edge is always a gut wrencher. You're putting your life into the harness and how you set it up. But relax, if your harness is in good shape, the ropes section is the safest portion of the race. Some tips for the actual rappel.

  1. Sit back in the harness. Relax, let it do the work the way it was designed
  2. Always keep one hand on the rope below the atc. Use that hand to keep the prussik loose. If the prussik gets tight, you'll stop. If you accidentally let go of the rope, the prussik will tighten up and grab the rope for your.
  3. Use your other hand to keep yourself stable. Either by pushing off of the cliff face or by holding onto the rope above the atc. Remember that that's only for stabilizing yourself, so don't grab the rope like you're trying to stop yourself.
  4. On long rappels, the rope below you is heavy enough that you have to pull it up and feed it through your atc. The result is a jerky descent. I haven't figured out a smooth way to deal with this.
  5. When descending past overhangs, expect to get a little upside down and expect to swing in towards the rock when you give up your feet's purchase. Be ready.

Once you get to the bottom, untie yourself, and yell back up as loud as you can that you're off. Then, take cover. Rappels typically kick up some rocks that plummet down on the spectators below. Watch out, they could give you a real ringer!

While your teammates are descending, get your stuff off (except the helmet) and pack it away. Grab a snack and something to drink, ponder the map. Whatever, but just get ready to move.

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