Abseiling is an extreme sport that demands the right frame of mind and physical fitness. It’s mainly a recreational sport without many competitive elements involved.
Abseiling can be enjoyed outdoors over natural steeps or within some specialized facilities.
Whether you want it and wherever you practice it, it is dramatic, fascinating, and action-packed. Adequate precaution and preparation must be done for the safety of participants in an abseiling activity.
Welcome to the extreme sport of abseiling!
Rock climbing is going up a rocky ascent in a near-vertical version.
Abseiling is the equivalent opposite; going down a near-vertical descent using a rope. In Europe, the most popular name for the sport is rappeler.
In practice, the techniques of abseiling have several uses besides adventure. Mountaineers, cavers, search and rescue teams, and rope access experts use abseiling techniques to go down cliffs or slopes.
In nearly all situations, abseiling seems dangerous, whether you do it without any form of protection or control.
People who master these skills can find careers in a wide range of fields. Besides training or guiding the bold and fearless in descending adventures.
There are professional fields that require these skills for maintenance, inspection, welding construction, among others.
Why is abseiling so dangerous? What could go wrong?
Abseiling is by no means a small task. The whole idea of falling backward off a slope/cliff/rock pegging your full trust and safety on a rope is quite chilling.
But people do it all the time around the world! They make a 40-ft fall just for fun. That’s courage and guts.
Although this is a controlled activity done using relatively safe devices, accidents do happen. Several situations can lead to injury and fatalities.
Failed anchors, rope cuts and rope that ends abruptly, detached karabiners, abseil devices that fail mysteriously, clothes and long hair tangled on devices, flips, swings, and even tripping are some of the misfortunes that could spell danger for an abseiler.
Many descending methods, including climbing down a mountain via a designated route, pose a certain degree of danger.
Abseiling, however, is a different ballgame and could be extremely unforgiving if a mistake occurs. You got to be extremely careful!
What are the Possible Dangers?
It would be best if you doubled or triple check your anchors for stability. The anchor is the object onto which you tie your rope.
It could be a natural rock or any other artificially designed item.
Assess your anchor until you are overwhelmingly convinced that it can withstand the force and the descent’s pressure.
If it’s a rock, for instance, evaluate it and its surrounding for cracks and disintegration.
You don’t want it to come tumbling down when subjected to the strong pulling force.
Even if you’ve used the same anchor before, give it a thorough assessment.
Erosion and other natural effects take place constantly. Be on the lookout for such degradation.
Abrupt rope ends
Let’s say it won’t be an amicable affair if the rope ends unexpectedly, either by cutting off, failing to go all the way to the ground. You will be in a severe fix until you get help.
To avoid this, ensure that you have a long rope that touches the ground.
Failing to tie a stopper knot
A stopper knot helps to bring you to a smooth halt once you reach the end of the descent.
It doesn’t matter the kind of knot you make at the end, but it’s essential to ensure that it can do the job. You also want the knot to untie easily once you are done.
What is involved in abseiling?
You can look at abseiling as controlled failing. Your overall safety is determined by your skills and the kind of device and protective measures put in place.
In this extreme sport, you are attached to the rope.
The rope is, in turn, hinged to an anchor at the top of the cliff, rock, or the building you are dropping from.
As I expound later on in this article, you use a belay device to increase or decrease the friction between you and the rope. But you have to learn the basics.
Too much conflict may result in slow or no downward movement. No disagreement may as well mean gravity will, unfortunately, help you to accelerate.
A regular abseiling exercise can be done with only three items: a rope, a climbing harness, and a belay device.
The same climbing rope used in rock climbing and other ascension activities can be used for abseiling.
With a good rope, you can even take the risk of abseiling with minimal equipment.
However, this is a considerable risk, and probably one that is not worth taking.
The harness is used to hold your weight upon the rope while you abseil.
There are made in different shapes, sizes, and designs. They are made both for ascending and descending. The harness used for abseiling is relatively simple in design.
The harness’s basic design will have a waist belt, leg loops, and a belay loop. You use the belay loop to attach to the belay device as you abseil.
Importantly, your harness should be comfortable.
A belay device works by applying friction on the rope, helping you to control your abseiling speed.
Belay devices are categorized into manual and assisted in breaking devices.
The manual belay is entirely controlled by the abseiler, while the assisted belay is mechanically controlled.
You must pick one that perfectly suits your needs.
A helmet, gloves, and a safe pair of shoes are also essential protective gear for abseiling.
How safe is abseiling?
With all considerations put in place, abseiling is still a high-risk sport. This notwithstanding, all the safety precautions enhance safety and make the sport worth trying.
A standard safety precaution is having an instructor at the top of the cliff right by your anchor holding onto you using an extra safety rope.
As you make the descent, you are firmly attached to the instructor’s second safety rope. If something goes wrong, the instructor can take quick rescue action.
Another important abseiling technique to learn is sound control. You must take control of your speed of descent, and, most importantly, you must take control of your thoughts and avoid panicking.
One of the mistakes you could make is grabbing the rope above the belay device. This might result in severe rope burns on your hands.
What is abseiling used for?
Despite the high risk involved, abseiling the art (and science) is useful in many fields. Oil rig workers, tree surgeons, and the military are fields that benefit from excellent abseiling skills.
Geotechnical workers undertaking activities such as rock demolition, soil stabilization, and rockfall netting also use abseiling skills.
High window cleaning in high-rise estates can also make use of abseiling activities. Think of the window cleaners suspended over a skyscraper.
The only difference is that their device is safer, and they aren’t daring; it’s a real job.
Abseiling is perhaps more popular in different parts of the world as an adventurous sport. It’s also regulated in some parts with training facilities available.
It’s possible to turn your adventurous desire into a worthwhile career.
The Final Word
This is an extreme sport that demands excellent physical and mental preparedness. No single performance is like the other, and all precautionary measures must be enhanced each time you undertake the adventure.
Human beings thrive in thrilling experiences. Life is, in itself, an uncertain journey where not much is guaranteed.
Despite the risks involved, the feeling of successfully undertaking an abseiling trip down a high face has unrivaled pleasure.
If you have the daredevil, fearless spirit, then this is a sport you can try out someday.