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Interested in guidance in transitioning to civilian rappelling


Original Post
Brendan FF/EMT · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2018 · Points: 0

Good Evening,

I am looking for some guidance in transitioning to civilian rappelling and mild climbing-- from what I understand it is more considered "scrambling".  Given what I am asking Ill provide a little bit about my background, and while I am sure I am eons behind many here I figure it would help to give a baseline on my experience.  I have been a hiker for approximately 10 years-- and Ill admit to you just like I have my priest on many occasions, I have definitely taken some breaks.  I have spent 4 years in the Emergency Medical Services field, currently rated as something between an EMT-I and an EMT-P (state certification) for any of you that may have experience in the field.  During that time I have practiced mainly medicine however I have had some experience in Fire/Rescue.  I was trained to conduct high angle rescue (urban "rappel and extract") in addition to a few other experiences throughout my career, and quite frankly I always enjoyed the rope time.  Given my love of hiking and my love of being on the ropes I figured entering into the spring here in warm (*sarcastic*) New England I wanted to combine the two and make use of the hopefully warm season.


As I mentioned I am definitely new to the civilian side of things.  When we train and practice high angle typically it involves tying off to either a tower bucket, structural members, or if we're lucky a derrick crane.  However I am wide eyed enough to understand the likely hood of finding any of those out in the woods is akin to finding gold at the end of a rainbow!  And likewise when we work it typically involves going over the side of a building onto a platform (window washers, etc) or down an elevator shaft. Again not very woods-like.


I guess my interest piqued when hiking last season and seeing a lot of areas that I wish I could get down into-- and ill admit as a hobby photographer I have definitely thought about the shots I could get--- but luckily the intelligent side (well maybe 1/8th of a side according to my wife) decided to avoid testing gravity.  I'm ashamed to say on a couple of occasions I did indeed descend using a dulfersitz (and I am sure I messed up that spelling somewhere--- rope under the groin and over the shoulder) on some basic home depot rope but that was meerly as a "this is too steep to walk and I'd rather not slide down 20 feet on my rear-end" type deal as opposed to a true face.  Regardless I am neither comfortable with that idea or foolish enough to try that on any actual sort of vertical . But that said I'd like to find a way to merge my enjoyment of hiking with my love of rappelling. But looking at equipment I am definitely uncertain enough to ask for some assistance.


The primary concern of mine is rope.  Where I work apart from training evolutions (we have certain equipment for this, it's given a life cycle of trainings and at the end of that thrown away), once it's used in an actual evolution it is thrown way for safety purposes. I am far too poor for that (haha).  I know we call it "assault-line" not really sure if this is a generic name or the actual name, but i'd venture it's maybe 1/2" diameter plus or minus a little bit.  For rappelling duties on granite and limestone (as far as I know those are our two primary rocks here in New England) what type/size of rope should I be looking at--- typical 10mm or something else?  And while I am inclined to go towards static since I am not intending to shock load it, is there any nay-say against that?  My concern with a dynamic stretchy rope is A) I really don't want to bounce, and B) since I am not using it for fall arrest wouldn't I be just wearing it out much faster?.   And lastly is anyone willing to give a rough estimate on how many rappels can be done on a rope? (Im not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, so with the "common-sense guideline" just looking for an idea of how many times a person can go down a rope before it actually should be retired, barring any cuts or burns; me and my work partner are trying to figure out how many runs we should be able to do on a rope, and thus how much to sort of sock away for "fun".)


One climb we were thinking of doing was a falls climb--- I've hiked up to the base before and gotten some decent info that there is a path to take that'll lead us to the top of the falls without much fuss.  It's a low volume falls, nothing roaring, but I'm cognizant of the fact that water is water, and if the rope breaks thats a 150 feet of time to reflect on bad ideas!!  Are static lines affected as much as dynamic's in terms of reduction of strength? I've rappelled in the rain and never noticed much slippage or anything, but then again mother nature has never positioned a body of water over my head!  I guess I am torn between do I invest in a dry dynamic line, or is static line okay to use?


I know I am new, I literally googled my ideas a few too many times, saw a mix of nothing and guys attempting to play SAS so I decided I'd simply ask.  Anything said I do take at my own risk..  That said I'd be a fool not to ask!

Thanks B










Kevin MP · · Redmond, OR · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 357

Didn't make it through the whole post, but.....



yer gonna die. 

ClimbingOn · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 405

Also didn't make it through the whole thing, but what you did is essentially ask about how to get into riding the ski lift. Rappelling is fun, the first time you do it. After that it is simply a means to an end. If you're interested in climbing, hire a guide for a day. This will allow you to see if you like it in a safe, controlled manner. If it seems like climbing is for you then the guide can recommend classes and resources.

Don't spend a bunch of time or money to "get into rappelling." It's just not something that is done. Cavers rappel to get into caves. Climbers rappel to get off climbs (or, in some cases such as the Black Canyon, to get into climbs).

Nate Tastic · · 88,4,108,50, 80 · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 10

Welcome to MP Brendan.

I was going to make the friendly suggestion of adding bullet points to your questions and or adding a TL;DR. It's definitely a bit verbose at this point.


Long Ranger · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 106

I would take up something safer, like climbing. 

Sam Miller · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 30

Elaborate troll job?

Alan Coon · · Longmont, CO · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 150

I made it to the 4th sentence...that’s pretty good I think.

Skye Swoboda-Colberg · · Laradise, Dornans, Bham, Cr… · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 115

Invest in (or check out from a library) a copy of Freedom of the Hills, this is "the resource" for the fundamentals of climbing. This book is very accessible and covers all aspects of equipment and techniques used in all facets of climbing. I read this book cover to cover before I bought my first rope and rappelled, a decade later I still return to it for guidance.

If you can afford it, take a class or pay a professional guide to teach you the fundamentals. It will help you with the steep and dangerous learning curve that comes with the first year or two of learning the ropes on your own.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456
trailridge · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 20

+100 what Healyje said

Rappelling may seem fun at first but after many rappels, it is the part of climbing that scares me the most and requires diligence.  With that said there was a video posted recently at supertopo of someone rappelling el Capitan.  Initially I thought stupid, but after watching it,  looked like a good time.   



Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,615

+200 what Healyje said

FosterK · · Edmonton, AB · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 42
Brendan FF/EMT wrote:

I'm ashamed to say on a couple of occasions I did indeed descend using a dulfersitz (and I am sure I messed up that spelling somewhere--- rope under the groin and over the shoulder)Regardless I am neither comfortable with that idea or foolish enough to try that on any actual sort of vertical 

Dulfersitz is a perfectly cromulent means to rappel when scrambling, though not the safest method. 

The primary concern of mine is rope.  Where I work apart from training evolutions (we have certain equipment for this, it's given a life cycle of trainings and at the end of that thrown away), once it's used in an actual evolution it is thrown way for safety purposes. 

Your department must be rolling in the dough, I can't think of any other org that is throwing away ropes just because they were used in a rescue.

I know we call it "assault-line" not really sure if this is a generic name or the actual name, but i'd venture it's maybe 1/2" diameter plus or minus a little bit.  For rappelling duties on granite and limestone (as far as I know those are our two primary rocks here in New England) what type/size of rope should I be looking at--- typical 10mm or something else?  

It's not clear what context (climbing, scrambling, canyoneering etc.) you want to use the rope, but a typical rope for scrambling is 9 or 8 mm dynamic or semi-static. 10 mm and above is overkill, we don't need to meet NFPA standards.

And while I am inclined to go towards static since I am not intending to shock load it, is there any nay-say against that?  My concern with a dynamic stretchy rope is A) I really don't want to bounce, and B) since I am not using it for fall arrest wouldn't I be just wearing it out much faster?.   

If you are not using it for fall protection, a dynamic rope is not strictly necessary, but rappelling won't wear it out faster.

And lastly is anyone willing to give a rough estimate on how many rappels can be done on a rope? (Im not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, so with the "common-sense guideline" just looking for an idea of how many times a person can go down a rope before it actually should be retired, barring any cuts or burns; me and my work partner are trying to figure out how many runs we should be able to do on a rope, and thus how much to sort of sock away for "fun".)

There is no number. As long as it passes inspection and is not more than 10 years old (additionally, meats minimum strength ratings), then you are good to go.

One climb we were thinking of doing was a falls climb-

A what?

Beean · · Canmore, AB · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 0

+300 to what Healyje said but wtf is civilian rappelling? 

AThomas · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 25
Beean wrote:

+300 to what Healyje said but wtf is civilian rappelling? 

Rappelling with less risk of a lawsuit and more personal risk. :-P

Beean · · Canmore, AB · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 0
AThomas wrote:

Rappelling with less risk of a lawsuit and more personal risk. :-P

Thanks. I guess there's no personal risk in the military :P

AThomas · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 25
Beean wrote:

Thanks. I guess there's no personal risk in the military :P

Good point. Scratch the second part.

phylp · · Upland · Joined May 2015 · Points: 617

Hi Brendan, your question is unique. I think the reason you have not been able to find the information you are seeking is that you are kind of describing a sport that doesn’t exist yet: hiking with adventure rappelling.  As described above, people typically only rappel when they HAVE to. If there is no way to get down from something or into something by walking, people will rap. 

This is what I heard you say:

1.  You sometimes want to get somewhere where it’s too hard to hike, so your solution is to rap. But if you can’t walk down, you also can’t walk up. You need to know how to safely ascend a fixed line. You can take a course from a certified guide to do this. It will involve understanding safe anchoring, safe rappelling, and safe ascending a fixed line. It actually a lot of expertise to do these things do it’s not going to be one course. 

2. The other thing you describe is just loving to rappel. A lot of people above find this hard to imagine, as do I because it is one of the most dangerous parts of climbing. Climbing is wonderful, rappeling is a neccessary evil. But if you truely want to do this, again, you can find a guide who can teach you the skills. Then you would have to learn about locales near you where you might do this  if it’s not a climbing area, it could be extremely dangerous. Even if you found a huge solid tree to anchor from on the top of a cliff, the possibility of loose rock coming onto you from above could be extreme. And if you went to a climbing area, where you could walk to the top and rap down, you might be endangering climbers below you. 

I’m trying to answer your question seriously because you seem to sincerely want to explore this passion. What I and the others are saying is that for you to not end up killing yourself, there is a lot to know. Please seek traing from a professional. They will be able to discuss with you the scenarios you have in mind, and will help you understand the complexity and danger. 

Brendan FF/EMT · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2018 · Points: 0

Good evening, sorry took a while to respond was on shift.  Didn't bullet my first post for fear of coming off disinterested.  But I'll keep this short and sweet.

To the few saying elaborate troll job, unless this is some climbing term I don't know well thank you for only reading a few lines.

I should have been clearer on "falls rappel". What I meant was waterfalls.  The ones I am thinking of are low flow, so no Niagra Falls.

"If you can't walk down, you can't walk up".   Very true.  Ill save you my drawing skills (something between Piccaso and Stevie Wonder..) But what I was getting at was, and I'm not sure how best to explain this but ill try, where the hike starts at the bottom of a cliff but has to snake around the surrounding landscape in order to get up there.  Not sure if that makes much sense.

And very good point on not having to comply with NFPA; although admittedly I lean more towards their conservative stances when I can.

Thank you all who responded meaningfully.  Obviously my goal is for safety-- otherwise I'd be asking how many shoe laces will work for the rappel (haha).  I'm definitely going to find a few locals that do it recreationally.  Again thank you.

GDavis · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 10
Brendan FF/EMT wrote:

But I'll keep this short and sweet.

liar

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 442

When I first learned to rap, I thought it was pretty cool and enjoyed it. Nowadays, it seems tedious at best and can be a royal pain in the ass when seemingly minor things don't go perfectly smooth. It's also the part of climbing that is statistically most likely to kill you.

For thickness, I would go with something in the 9-10mm range. With static line you can easily go thinner without sacrificing a whole lot of durability if you're just rappelling but that will require specialized rappel devices and better grip strength. If you're going to be rapping near waterfalls, I would recommend you learn how to use a friction hitch as a backup under the rappel device or better yet a firemans belay. A guide is going to be a better teacher than the internet.

However, I would recommend that you get a dynamic rope because I expect that you will eventually get bored of rappelling and might decided to take up climbing afterwards. That'll give you more flexibility and possibly save you money down the road. 

Steev F · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2017 · Points: 0

I can see how you can be uncertain about getting your own equipment if you've simply been trained using existing fire department equipment. Not many climbers still use 8 plates, not to mention the brake bars, MPDs, and 1/2" static lines.......

Here's what you need:

1) learn how to evaluate and build good anchors(YouTube, books, REI instruction videos, CMC manual, etc). Realize you won't be using pickets or fire engine hitches...

2)harness, rated locking carabiners, helmet

3)modern climbing rope, static will give you more sense of security, dynamic will be more useful if you get into climbing. 10mm is a good starting point, don't buy the skinny half ropes and also no need to go 13mm. (no, Home Depot does not sell climbing rope)

3) Friction device that works for your rope's diameter. ATCs are a good starting point

4) back up your friction device, you said you're trained in high angle rescue you must know how to tie a 3wrap  prussik..... Also visualize and make sure the end of your rope is on the ground........

5) practice "horizontal rappel" on the ground until you're comfortable building the system and operating your friction device, then practice vertically with minimal fall risk(10ft off the ground off a tree or roof beam) before heading out

Lastly, I've taken all the rope rescue classes offered in the fire service and have never heard of "civilian rappelling". Nor is it ever a term in any manual or NFPA standard. Whoever you heard it from is probably a dangerous person to learn rope systems from if they are making up terms to impress you. Good luck

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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