Rappelling and abseiling are two words for the same activity.
The two are largely interchangeable around the world, with some nations preferring one over the other.
But no matter what you call it, it can be scary to look down incalculable heights and trust that your literal life is hanging on this 10mm thread.
So how do we overcome this fear of Rappelling?
The main fear when it comes to rappelling or abseiling is the fear of falling. Either the fear of messing up somehow and the rappelling system failing, or perhaps just falling in general. You can sidestep these fears by practicing both of them; learning how it feels to control a rappelling system and learning how it feels to fall.
We tend to fear what we don’t understand. That’s why in this article, we’ll be trying to learn as much as we can about what’s it’s like to rappel and to fall.
How to teach your kids to rappel?
Maybe you’re going on an adventure holiday and want to bring the kids, or maybe your little one wants to learn what those people at the rock climbing gym do sometimes.
Your kids want to learn to rappel, and the good news is they can absolutely do it.
However, before strapping the little ones into a harness and sending them off the side of a cliff too soon you’ll need to consider a couple of things.
First, is that rappelling requires a little bit of dexterity. You need to keep your hands on the ropes at both sides of the belaying device at all times during the descent.
If one hand slips or if something goes wrong and they let go for some reason that can mean a much faster descent than anyone would want.
This won’t be a problem if you make sure to inform them of this vital step, and how important it is.
Another thing to consider is the fact that children under the age of eight tend to be a little more top heavy than older children.
A typical climbing or rappelling harness wraps around the waist and the legs, and when you’re hanging from a line, the attachment point sits a little in front of your belly button.
For those that are more top heavy this can mean accidentally hanging upside down. This can mean an awkward and unhappy descent if you’re rappelling.
If a child is under about eight, there are child’s climbing harnesses that have shoulder straps and the attachment points up close to the chest.
This is a safer option if you’re at all worried about them being too top heavy for a typical climbing harness.
Other than that, it’s as simple as explaining to them the method of rappelling which we’ll be covering later in this article.
How to overcome the fear of falling?
We come into this world as babies with only two ingrained fears: Loud noises, and falling.
So begin by letting yourself off the hook for feeling bad about being afraid of falling, that’s first. Almost anyone suspended from an actually dangerous height would feel fear if they slipped and fell.
But this fear is not useful when you’re climbing a rock wall, or dangling off the side of a cliff, where every movement you make matters.
Fear makes us dumb, we can’t process information as well as we could if we were calm.
So calculating where to put your hands and feet as you climb, or making sure the belaying technique is properly done becomes very difficult to keep track of.
Finding out how you best overcome this fear of falling and employing it, can not only make climbing and rappelling safer, but it can also make it more enjoyable.
Not every method will work for everybody, so you have to choose one that suits you.
As was said above, we humans tend to fear what we don’t understand, and things that startle us.
There are few things less startling than the feeling of falling. We tend to enjoy it when it’s a nice smooth sense of falling, like the one you get at the upward peak of a swing set.
But true falling, when you didn’t mean to fall or jump off a cliff, you’re just hanging there, you slip and suddenly you’re not hanging there; it has this jarring naturally terrifying quality to it that makes us all say, “No thank you.”
But something that is startling that happens more frequently becomes a pattern, and our minds love patterns. This means, as terrifying as it sounds, the more you fall, the more comfortable you will be falling.
Every time you fall and are caught by your harness, every time you feel that fear of falling and realize that there was nothing to fear, it becomes a data point.
And the more data points you have, you can start to notice the actual sensations of falling as not dangerous, but as just the feeling of gravity lifting for a second.
In order to practice this one, you’re going to have to fall on purpose. Make sure that you’re in a safe environment with a climber or rappeler more experienced than you who is confident in their skills.
All clipped in and up at some point up on the wall, you’ll warn your belayer that you’re going to let go, and you’ll let go.
This might sound totally terrible to you right now, but remember that the more you experience something scary, the less scary it seems.
How to explain that rappelling is perfectly safe when done correctly?
If a rappeller is worried about stepping off the edge and leaning into the ropes it might be because they don’t understand that rappelling is perfectly safe when done correctly.
It may be for other reasons, so when calming a scared climber or rappeler be sure to consider their experience of being scared.
It’s true that very often the thing that gets rid of fear is just doing the thing causing the fear, but this can be a lot for some people to accept.
It may help to explain to them that while rappelling does have inherent risks, the systems are designed to hold weight and lower people down the ropes over and over again.
That the ropes and pulleys and belay devices and carabiners and harnesses are all inspected thoroughly beforehand to look for any damaged pieces, and if there are any damaged or even frayed bits on a rope, it’s thrown away for a brand new one.
On top of that, all of the gear involved in rappelling is designed to hold under forces upwards of 12-14 kilonewtons, that’s like the weight of a car dangling off the side of the cliff in your rappelling harness.
It can handle their puny weight. If that doesn’t help, you might want to explain the method of rappelling one more time.
When you’re leaning back into the harness, or hanging from the rope there will be three areas where you need to pay attention.
- You need to keep your right hand on the end of the rope that leads down to the ground. (You can of course mirror these instructions if your dominant hand is your left and not your right.)
- You need to keep your left hand on the line leading up to your anchor, using this hand to steady yourself on the line.
- Lastly you’ll need to keep an eye on your belay device. You don’t need to watch it all the time, just be aware of where it is and that you don’t get your right hand too close to it. The last thing you want when you’re dangling from the rope is to get your hand pinched in the belay device.
Unlike belaying a climber, when there is a somewhat complicated technique when you’re rappelling the technique is pretty simple.
You need to keep your hands on the lines as you descend and let the ropes slowly slip through your fingers.
Sometimes rappellers use thick gloves to protect their hands from rope burn.
This helps them keep good traction in any situation since the rope they’re letting pass through their fingers can hurt them if they’re not careful.
If slipping and sliding isn’t their bag yet, you can change the set up very slightly to put the belay device further away from the rappeller.
Only an extra couple feet, this gives them plenty of room for a slower but far more comfortable giving technique.
For descending with this technique, you’ll hold the rope that leads down to the ground with both hands instead of just one.
This means that you can let yourself down in smaller increments and get the feel for this kind of descent.
In this example I’ll describe the left hand being on top, but it depends on which side of your body the ropes hang off.
Your left hand should never get closer than maybe six inches to the belay device.
Again you don’t want to get any part of yourself caught in that thing when there’s weight in the system, and your right hand will begin about six inches behind your left.
- When you’re ready to go down, you begin by sliding your bottom hand down the rope and holding it tightly down by your hip.
- Next, slide your left hand down to about six inches from your right.
- The last part is the simplest. Slowly release the tension on the rope and your weight should feed the slack through the belay device.
Simply repeat this technique for a slow and controlled ride down. But I’ll remind you that if you’re scared the best way to handle it is to experience it and enjoy it.
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