You want to learn how to rappel but have a severe rappelling fear or a phobia of heights. The thought of going over a cliff edge or down a cave hole seems like an absolutely terrible idea to you. Just the mere thought of it causes your knees to buckle, the palms of your hands to sweat, and your legs to shake. Maybe your heart rate increases. I know that getting to that edge and peering down for the first time can catch anyone off guard. Fear of heights or not, it is a long way down for anyone.
Even with this fear I want to help you conquer it. Fear shouldn’t drive away your desires to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. You should be driving fear. Fear is something that can be overcome with proper training and by taking small, calculated steps. Now let’s discuss how to overcome rappelling fear.
If you have a phobia of heights I would recommend simply testing the waters first to build confidence in your abilities and understand what it is like to be elevated off of the ground. Find a local climbing gym to practice climbing. Many climbing gyms have specific heights marked that you can safely climb without being tied to a rope or having a belay partner. Typically the floors at these gyms are covered with think pads that you can safely fall on.
If you don’t have a climbing gym then get out and try bouldering with trained professionals. Bouldering is simply climbing boulders and for safety you bring a portable pad that can catch you if you fall. The boulders are smaller in size but allow climbers to scale and climb unique shapes and objects without the use of a rope or a harness.
Spend time climbing and conditioning yourself. Spend time making mistakes and falling. You want to learn how to be successful as you scale up a climbing wall or boulder but you want to experience failure as well to recognize your limitations. Each mistake is a learning moment and each triumph builds confidence in your abilities, which begins to push away fear.
What this simple step really does is help you to recognize when to be fearful or in other words aware of potential danger. By overcoming obstacles and knowing your personal limitations you can make better decisions when climbing and eventually rappelling. You will understand what you will need to practice and what elements require you to seek additional training.
Seek Professional Training
Why should you seek professional training? Let me tell you. First they are experts that have gone through the ups and downs with rappelling. They know what roadblocks beginners will face and what hurdles will need to be overcome.
Professional instructors can give you basic directions on what to do. First and foremost instructing on the specific gear needed, how to use the gear, how to tie essential knots to rappel, and how to safely descend from the top down to the bottom. Professional instructors can also coach on best practices and how to improve your form. The feedback from a trained instructor should be soaked in like a sponge. Their words of wisdom can greatly impact your performance and will be absolutely invaluable when the time comes to use what was taught.
One of the greatest things an instructor can do is assist with overcoming the phobia of heights or any rappelling fears. They will practice lowering students on ropes from high heights to create a greater awareness that rappelling can be done safely if done right. An instructor will also train on how to overcome fear that is nothing more than nonsense. Many times, we as humans build up a perception of what something is without ever trying it. Fear can incapacitate individuals and make them believe that they are in danger even when they are really not.
Let me share an example. My kids at times have believed that there was a monster in the house. When they would go to bed they would create this fear but there was nothing to be truly fearful of. I would boldly come into their room and check under the bed, check the closet, and then beat up the imaginary monster causing my kids to laugh hysterically. They would then think that threat was gone and feel safe alone in their bed. Now was there ever a monster in the room? No! But they had to recognize the silliness of the fear and once they saw that, they were able to quickly fall asleep.
Now a good instructor will explain the difference where there are fears that are nonsense and then there is fear that can take place that may be true fear. Such as bad weather rolling in, lose debris, or something else that happens in a rappel. Many of these incidents can be overcome by properly planning and preparing. If fear begins to build a good instructor will also tell you to recognize your abilities and move on, if there is nothing to truly fear. Just like my kids imaginations of a monster in the house.
Trust in the instructor and what was taught. Trust that your personal abilities and skills have increased from the guidance and training received. Follow closely to what was learned and don’t let fear hold you back.
Rock Climb Up and Belay Down
Now that you have practiced climbing in a gym or bouldering and have received additional instruction from a trained professional it is time to move to the next step of overcoming rappelling fear. It is time to climb to heights that require a belay partner. It is time to safely push your limits and soar.
By climbing a massive wall you will create a new level of confidence within yourself and trust with your belay partner. You and your partner will properly gear up and use techniques taught and practice to successfully scale up the cliff and then safely lower down. This is a huge step to overcoming rappelling fear.
As you begin the climb when you are maybe 8 – 10 feet off the ground work with your partner to forewarn them that you will be letting go of the wall. Now let go and test what happens. You will quickly learn that by properly testing and preparing there will be no harm. Most of the dire thoughts created from fear will be pushed away. Recognize that if you are prepared, you will not fear. Now get back on the wall and climb as far as you are able. When the climb is finished allow your belay partner to safely lower you down. Slightly push off the wall with your feet as you descend with your feet sticking out at about a 90 degree angle from the rest of your body. This will be good practice to get comfortable with what real rappelling will feel like when you are in total control of your descent.
When you reach the bottom, pat yourself on the back. Look back at everything that has been accomplished and what brought you to this point where you have been able to incrementally overcome the fear of heights and properly prepared yourself to overcome rappelling fear.
Conquer Rappelling Fear
So here are the checkpoints that have been reached thus far in this journey:
- Proficient at climbing short heights within gyms/bouldering without fear.
- Received professional instruction from a climbing instructor on how to properly use gear, climb, belay, rappel, and overcome personal hurdles.
- Proficient at rock climbing with a belay partner and lowering from the wall without fear.
Before you go rappelling, make sure you have all your safety gear lined up. A phrase I love is, “If you are prepared, you shall not fear.” Be prepared with all the gear you will need to protect yourself. In rappelling, if you don’t have any other safety protection, wear a helmet. A helmet is an absolute must. It will protect you from any falling debris, or any bumps and scratches along the way. Here is my helmet recommendation and a guide for how a helmet should fit on your head.
The final step is to overcome rappelling fear. You really have it in the bag at this point. You have pushed yourself to new extremes and have received adequate support to achieve this goal. You have taken baby-steps to beat this fear into a pulp.
With all the training and help that has been received it is time to put it to use. Bring a well-trained rappel buddy to navigate you in your descent from the cliff. This partner will also provide a second pair of eyes to check over all the equipment, knots, and that you are properly anchored in prior to rappelling.
Now take a deep breath and begin the descent. You have done everything within your control to ensure a smooth and safe descent. You have taken all the necessary steps to overcome your personal fear of heights and any rappelling fear you once had. There may be some slight anxiety and the fear may attempt to emerge, but trust in your abilities.
As you step over the edge with your feet pressing over the way a sense of excitement will come in. As the pace is controlled and steps are taken greater confidence will build. You will begin to see what you are capable of and what you have achieved. All that hard work has brought you to this point and your life will have changed forever. From this point forward the outdoors will beckon you to come back out and rappel again and again and again. Congrats on your accomplishment and happy rappelling!