Unbelayvable: A Rappel Lesson

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Photo: Andrew Burr

Photo: Andrew Burr

My mate brought his girlfriend to the crag. She’d never climbed outside. We decided we’d rappel in from the top. I asked my mate if his girlfriend knew how to rappel. He said she did. She didn’t have a cord for a prusik so I lent her mine. I rapped first, got to the ground, and then started sorting some gear. A moment later, another climber yelled, ran past me, and grabbed the tails of our rope. I looked up to see my mate’s girlfriend rappelling: torso horizontal, legs skywards, and barely in control. When she reached the ground, I saw that not only did she not know how to rappel, she hadn’t used my prusik.
—Tim Jenkin, Auckland, New Zealand

LESSON: It’s always good to be ready with a fireman’s belay, regardless of your partner’s skill. While rappelling seems straightforward, mistakes can have permanent consequences. Always err on the side of caution. When bringing a new climber out for the first time, practice rappelling on or near the ground. Wrap a tree with a sling and biner, then clip a rope through it and help set up your friend’s rappel. Provide instruction and allow them to rappel horizontally by walking backward to get a solid feel for it.

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