There comes a point as you rappel that you desire to branch out and explore rappelling activities in different terrain, conditions, and locations. There are three experiences that can be added to the rappelling activities bucket list. They are waterfall rappelling, cave rappelling, and sea cliff rappelling. Each of these experiences will test your abilities, skills, and overall rappelling knowledge. Additional practice, study, and preparation is highly recommended to be completed because of the significant change in the conditions that will be faced throughout the rappel.
Whether it is carefully descending a waterfall as it pours over your body, drop down into complete darkness within a cold, damp cave, or rappel down a seaside cliff with the roar of the ocean waves pounding against the earth. These rappelling bucket list experiences are beckoning YOU to put all of your hard work and practice to the test. Take a leap of faith and give them a whirl!
Cave Rappelling Activities
Dropping into a deep cavern is awe inspiring. To explore places that very few people have and see the immense grandeur that is uncovered in cave rappelling truly opens the eyes to the hidden beauty buried underneath the earth. Not only is this experience breathtaking to do but once inside the cave there is so much to see and possibly explore. Unless you live close to accessible caves that are open to the public to rappel this may be a rare opportunity but it is not one that anyone should ever miss.
But as always with any rappel, cave rappelling requires certain techniques and skills to successfully navigate the obstacles and depth that may be experienced. I would also highly recommend some additional pieces of gear depending on the depth of the cave, if you will need to ascend back up the rappel rope or if you plan to go caving afterwards. That being said as you read through the different points provided about cave rappelling take into consideration the training and professional help that may be required to safely complete this task.
Cave rappelling is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity that requires careful planning and preparation. Not all of us can be blessed like Batman with the shear strength and abilities he has to dive off a building without any concern for his safety and float effortlessly down the side of a skyscrapers or mountainous object.
Cave Rappelling Descent
When rappelling a cave the motions and techniques are similar as shown in the following steps:
- With your right hand, grab the loose rope leading to the ground. This will be the break and is supported by the ATC. Never ever let go of the rope with the break hand. To break as you descend lower the right hand below the waist while holding the rope, it will stop the rope from running through the ATC. If the right hand is raised all the way up the rope will run freely and will place whomever is rappelling in grave danger of falling.
- Your left hand will be the guide hand and will hold on the other end of the rope that has been secured to the anchors.
- Start to rappel, use your guide hand to feed the rope through the ATC.
- While lowering yourself, keep your legs perpendicular to the wall you are descending. This will allow you to use your feet to slowly walk or hop down the wall.
- Go at your own speed and turn your head to check for any obstacles.
- Going at your own pace, it may feel robotic and tense at first but the more you rappel the easier it will be. The important thing is to control a steady pace as you descend until your feet are touching the ground.
One big difference that you may experience when rappelling in a cave is the absence of any walls to place your feet. Most likely the descent will be midair and may require specialized gear that can slow a descent and create some added friction so that control can be maintained in the descent. Some recommended products are:
- Petzel Pro I’D S Descender – This device is perfect to control the descent and has added features to brake and stop the descent automatically if something goes wrong.
- Petzl Stop Descender – This descender has a self-braking feature that can be activated to maintain your position on the rope.
These products are great for cave descents or any descent where more control is needed whether recreationally or professionally. To learn more on the products features and uses read Best Rappelling Descenders on the Market blog review.
Navigating the Dark Abyss
Once the rappel is completed and feet are firmly grounded on the base of the cave you have two choices:
- Ascend right back up the rappel rope.
- Explore the new surroundings within the cave.
I for one would rather explore the cave. Sometimes a cave could be shallow and there may not be much to explore or see but if given the chance to wander a little deeper and do some caving I would say go for it. My experience in caving is to have a good headlamp to lead the way throughout the tunnels and crevices that are being navigated. Also, wear warm clothing that is water resistant if the cave conditions require such clothing. Caving can get really messy quickly depending on the terrain (is it wet or if there is any flowing water), temperature (cool to freezing}, or are you squeezing between tight, dirty spaces.
Once when navigating an ice cave (which if you can find one in your vicinity I highly recommend doing it) there was a point that the cave ceiling was so low you had to lay down on the frozen surface. With my back on the frozen ice floor I placed my hands and feet on the ceiling and propelled myself to my next destination. I was really doing a horizontal rock climb while pushing myself along the rock. It was amazing! Not to mention all of the unique ice formations in the ice cave itself.
Caving itself needs to be taken seriously so make sure if you descend into a cave you are dressed properly for the occasion and have lots of good lighting to guide you within the cave itself.
How to Climb Up the Rappel Rope
You have reached the base of the rappel into the cave but now it is time to ascend up the rope. There are several important techniques to learn and one of the most important is the Prusik knot which is commonly used for ascending a rope because it is a friction hitch. Think cave rappelling, you get in a cave but now you need to get back out of it and are unable to rock climb or hike your way out. Tests have shown that the Prusik knot can carry a significant amount of weight and tension in comparison to other knots or methods. This is an excellent choice to support any rappeller’s own body weight or when a knot is needed to hold up more than your personal weight.
Prior to tying a Prusik an Autoblock is needed to safely hold up a rappeller so their hands can be used to tie the Prusik. The Autoblock is a precautionary step that is recommended to be tied prior to the rappel. To learn how to tie the Autoblock read the tutorial on How to Tie Rappelling Knots Hitches, and Bends.
Now with the Autoblock safely in place, move the Autoblock up until it is fully engaged. Once engaged both hands can safely be removed from the rope and used to tie the Prusik about a foot above the rappel device. The following steps teach how to tie the Prusik knot:
- Tie a double fishermans knot to join two cords (see fisherman’s knot below).
- Tie a second double fishermans knot with the other tail. The cords should now make one big circle.
- Pull the double fishermans knots together to create a barrel knot.
- Take the loop of the cord and place it under the rope.
- Wrap the cord around the rope three times. Be sure the wraps stay on the inside of the cord, with the doube fisherman’s at the bottom.
To properly tie the Prusik knot make sure to have additional cord on hand. Always be prepared for anything! By taking proper measures beforehand it will decrease the likelihood of any incident taking place when rappelling.
Now that you know how to tie the Prusik lets put all these techniques into action so that you can ascend up the rappel rope. This example is if you are rappelling on a double rope.
- Start by tying two friction hitches using the Prusik knot. Use two different soft nylon cords, 5mm or 6mm for best results. Both Prusiks will be tied on the rope above the waste, one above the other. Do not overlap.
- On the top Prusik attach the end of the cord to a locking carabiner. A 24 -inch sling will be attached to this locking carabiner and directly to the harness.
- The bottom Prusik attach the end of the cord to a locking carabiner. Attach two 24 inch slings. Once sling will be attached from the carabiner to the harness. The other sling will dangle and will be used as a foot sling.
- At this point place the foot in the dangling sling and stand. This will place your weight on the bottom friction hitch (Prusik). Slide the top Prusik up as high as you can.
- Now sit back in the harness (keep your foot resting in the sling), placing your body weight on the top friction hitch (Prusik). Slide the bottom friction hitch up until the foot resting in the sling’s knee is bent at a 90 degree angle.
- Stand up in the sling again and repeat the steps of moving the top and bottom hitches. The rope can be used to balance when standing but make sure to not grab and balance on the Prusik hitches. Only use the rope for balance, only make physical contact with the hitches when sliding them up.
- Continue to repeat the process until the summit is reached. You are moving the speed of a tortoise in this process but be confident in your abilities and take your time so no mistakes are made. This is a slow and awkward method but this basic step can be learned quickly and adapted promptly when the need arises.
Some Great Rappel Caves
These are just a few great options on where you can rappel caves.
Stephen’s Gap – Alabama, USA
Ellison’s Cave – Georgia, USA
Sotano De Las Golondrinas (Cave of Swallows) – Mexico
For more information on their locations or other great rappelling options please visit 50 Best Rappelling Places in the USA.
Waterfall Rappelling Activities
Not only are you a thrill seeker that likes to rappel steep cliffs and obstacles but now you want to dabble your toes a little more in the water, quite literally. Waterfall rappelling is an adventure in and of itself but is more of a once in a lifetime activity that you do to mark off the rappel bucket list when successfully completed. I personally recommend to rappel somewhere solid and where there is limited moisture; however, there are several precautions and measures that can be taken when waterfall rappelling to make it as safe as possible.
Waterfall rappelling is definitely not an activity for an amateur to do by themselves or with fellow beginners. You are taking an extreme sport and making it that much more difficult and potentially dangerous. If you make plans to do it go with several trained professionals or highly experienced climbers. Make detailed plans of where you will go, what equipment will be needed, and rehearse what obstacles will be encountered.
The right people and preparation will help you to be confident in your skills and abilities to descend safely. If you can do this then you will be able to put yourself in an elite group where few have ventured. Move over Tarzan, there is new competition in town that will be flying down the rappel and experiencing the pure adrenaline and thrill of waterfall rappelling.
Finding Locations to Waterfall Rappel
Some of the recommendations that I would make when checking your state or other locations is to search somewhere that is easily accessible and permits rappelling and rock climbing. If there are waterfalls you want to check that there are no rules governing the protection of the lands and therefore will prohibit any rappelling on the waterfall.
If you want to find some great and legal waterfalls that may be rappelled ask around at local climbing gyms, search climbing message boards, or do a general search online. It is always best to practice your decent on waterfalls that have been previously tried and tested by others because there experience will provide critical information on what to expect and how to prepare for the descent. Not to mention that you can gauge the level of overall difficulty by what other experienced professionals have reported.
For more information on great rappelling waterfall locations read this blog post on the 50 Best Rappelling Places in the USA.
Waterfall Rappelling Safety
A few tips on added precautions that can be taken to provide greater security when waterfall rappelling are as follows:
Fireman Belay – This would be one of those times where I am actually going to recommend that your experienced rappel buddy perform a belay known as the fireman belay. Because this is a heightened level of difficulty due to rappelling either next to or in the waterfall the conditions will be extremely wet. The wetter the conditions the greater the odds that you could slip on your feet or with your hands. Having water cascading on you or near you adds this additional element that is new and will require greater focus to navigate these wet conditions safely.
As I mentioned, the fireman belay is an excellent method for a partner to be prepared to stop an uncontrolled descent if something goes wrong in the rappel. To perform the fireman belay you just need the partner to be at the base of the falls or cliff. This partner will lightly hold the rappel rope elevated in front of their face. The partner will not grip the rappel rope tightly but let the rope dangle loose between their hands, keeping them in a cupping shape where the open portion of their hands facing them. The partner can choose to stand directly below the rappel or they can stand back a bit. I recommend standing slightly back to have a clear view when the rappel is taking place and to avoid any potential falling debris. That being said the fireman belay partner should be wearing a helmet if some debris were to fall.
If during the rappel grip is lost or another accident occurs that requires the partner to stop the descent they will grip the rope tightly and pull down with their hands. The hands will now be lowered to the waist or lower and may even be in a semi-squat for added footing stability. This motion is causing the rope to pull down on the ATC or belay device causing the descent to completely halt. When in the fireman belay the rappeller is no longer able to control their descent. At this point the partner can loosen their grip slightly to safely lower the rappeller or wait for direction that the rappeller has regained total control and is now ready to continue a safe descent down the waterfall.
Autoblock – Take the time to tie the autoblock for your rappel which creates added security in the event of a fall. This knot will assist to stop you in midair if control is lost. It is a simple technique that can assist when it is least expected, especially when waterfall rappelling. Follow this link to learn how to tie the Autoblock.
Clothing and Gear – And as always bring the right gear for the level of difficulty in the rappel. Bring tight fitting clothing, wear a helmet (ALWAYS), bring climbing shoes, etc. Being dressed right will help you to perform at your very best. Keep your gear fairly simple on this rappel meaning take only what is absolutely needed so you don’t carry any dead weight.
Setting up the Rappel
Know that this is a broad explanation of how to setup for a waterfall rappel; however, each location and situation will merit different techniques, skills, equipment, and precautions to take. Take every measure to properly prepare and train with an experienced professional so you are confident in your abilities.
As with any rappel you will need to find good anchors. Most likely there will not be anchor bolts at the waterfall but maybe you strike the gold and find that it has been mapped out and anchors set. In which case your job is that much easier. I will assume that there are no anchor bolts and you will need to set at least three anchors using large, living trees or protruding rocks. Everything should be solid and show no possibility of moving or breaking free when the anchors are set. The following are the steps to setup the rappel:
- Use slings (Amazon link) or webbing to create your anchor and at least set 2 -3 equalized and separate points to anchor from. Once set, double check the slings to make sure they are not loose and will be able to bear your weight.
- Connect the quickdraws, one to each bolt hanger. The quickdraws must face opposite directions to provide optimal safety when the rope is added.
- Now place the rope through the opposite end of the bolt hangers on the quickdraws. Prior to adding the rope it is highly recommended to look over the rope and check for any abrasions, strings, knots etc. If it’s all good proceed to add the rope.
- Run the rope all the way through the quickdraws until you get to the middle mark of the rope.
- Now tie a Stopper Knot to each end of the rope. This makes sure that you STOP and don’t rappel off the rope ends.
- Now shout “ROPE!” and toss the ends of the rope down the descent.
- Because you should be rappelling with others that are experienced, one of your partners should be at the base of the waterfalls to setup the fireman belay once the rope has been tossed over. The partner should not be standing in any flowing or pooled water to provide optimal support if the fireman belay is needed. This partner can also work as a guide to provide directions throughout the descent.
- Attach a locking carabiner to your belay loop and clip in the ATC, if you haven’t done so already.
- Grab both strands of the rope and double it over. Slide it through the ATC and clip the loop that you slid through the ATC with your locking carabiner.
- Lock the carabiner.
- DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING. Check your locking carabiner, the knots, and hitches to make sure that everything is secure prior to your descent. Check that both ends of the rope are on the ground, that your partner below is prepared to perform the fireman belay, and that the ends of the rope have a Stopper Knot securely tied at each end.
Rappelling Down the Waterfall
- With your right hand, grab the loose rope leading to the ground. This will be the break and is supported by the ATC. Never ever let go of the rope with the break hand. To break as you descend lower the right hand below the waist while holding the rope, it will stop the rope from running through the ATC. If the right hand is raised up, the rope will run freely and will place whomever is rappelling in grave danger of falling. Do not raise your right hand.
- Your left hand will be the guide hand and will hold on the other end of the rope that has been secured to the anchors.
- As you descend shout “On Rappel!”
- Start to rappel, use your guide hand to feed the rope through the ATC.
- While lowering yourself, keep your legs perpendicular to the waterfall during the descent. Know you may choose to descend in the midst of the waterfall or to the side of it. This decision is up to you and what your comfort level. If descending in the waterfall make sure that the water level is low and that you are able to touch the rocky surface with your feet throughout the descent, allowing you to descend in a controlled manner.
- Go at your own speed and turn your head slightly to check for any obstacles. Don’t overthink the actions you have trained yourself to do in a normal rappel, just continue to descend in a steady and controlled pace.
- Once you reach the ground pull the ropes out of the ATC. As a formality tell your spotter “Off Rappel.” You have now officially completed waterfall rappelling and can be proclaimed the king of the jungle.
Seaside Cliff Rappelling Activities
I love listening to the waves crash against the beach or rocky surfaces. It is very soothing to me and even watching the tide roll in is absolutely awe inspiring. The ocean is one of my favorite places to visit. That being the case why wouldn’t I rappel a seaside cliffs? No reasons come to mind so put this on your rappelling activities bucket list.
For most seaside cliffs you would follow basic rappelling techniques while adjusting as needed for the terrain. If needing to refresh yourself on the basic of rappelling read the Ultimate Guide on How to Rappel.
The biggest word of caution when rappelling is knowing what the base of the seaside cliff will be like. Is there firm ground that you can plant your feet on or does it drop straight into the ocean? If there is dry ground is it only accessible during low tide or can you typically expect it dry and clear from any hazards on a clear sunny day? When you reach the bottom can you hike out, rock climb out, or will you need to ascend the rope?
Based off the answers to these questions the right preparations can be catered to the needs of the rappel. Once planned and anchored in just soak in the soothing sound of the waves, just don’t get too distracted though because your first responsibility is to safely rappel the seaside cliff.
Each of these rappelling activities (Caves ,Waterfall, and Seaside) are unique experiences that will remove you from your rappelling comfort zone. Each of these scenarios offer new challenges and opportunities as well as breathtaking views. As always plan beforehand what you need and seek guidance from experts and professionals to safely navigate one of these destinations. When done right you will experience thrills unlike any other in exotic locations.