Abseiling (/?æbse?l/ or /???pza?l/; from German abseilen, meaning “to rope down”), also called rappelling, is the controlled descent down a rock face using a rope. Climbers use this technique when a cliff or slope is too steep and/or dangerous to descend without protection. Many climbers use this technique to protect established anchors from damage. Rope access technicians also use this as a method to access difficult-to-reach areas from above for various industrial applications like maintenance, construction, inspection and welding. Rescue teams are also known for using this method as a way to access injured or stranded victims.
Slang terms for the technique include: rapping or rap jumping (American slang), deepelling (Canadian slang), and abbing (British slangfor “abseiling”).
The term rappel, used extensively in the United States, is derived from the French language rappeler, to recall.
In the Alps, the term “calata” (from Italian, for descending or lowering) is used.
The origin of the abseil is attributed to Jean Charlet-Straton, a Chamonix guide who lived from 1840–1925. Charlet originally devised the technique of the abseil method of roping down during a failed solo attempt of Petit Dru in 1876. After many attempts, some of them solo, he managed to reach the summit of the Petit Dru in 1879 in the company of two other Chamonix guides, Prosper Payot and Frédéric Folliguet, whom he hired. During that ascent, Charlet perfected the abseil.
- Ropes: Climbers often simply use their climbing ropes for abseiling. For many other applications, low-stretch rope (typically ~2% stretch when under the load of a typical bodyweight) called static rope is used to reduce bouncing and to allow easier ascending of the rope.
- Anchors for abseiling are sometimes made with trees or boulders, using webbing and cordellete, or also with rock climbing equipment, such as nuts, hexes and spring-loaded camming devices. Some climbing areas have fixed anchors for rappelling.
- A descender or rappel device is a friction device or friction hitch that allows rope to be paid out in a controlled fashion, under load, with a minimal effort by the person controlling it. The speed at which the abseiler descends is controlled by applying greater or lesser force on the rope below the device or altering the angle at which the rope exits the device. Descenders can be task-designed or improvised from other equipment. Mechanical descenders include braking bars, the figure eight, the abseil rack, the “bobbin” (and its self-locking variant the “stop”), the gold tail, and the “sky genie” used by some window-washers and wildfire firefighters. Some improvised descenders include the Munter hitch, a carabiner wrap, the basic crossed-carabiner brake and the piton bar brake (sometimes called the carabiner and piton). There is an older, more uncomfortable, method of wrapping the rope around one’s body for friction instead of using a descender, as in the Dulfersitz or Geneva methods used by climbers in the 1960s.
- A climbing harness is often used around the waist to secure the descender. A comfortable climbing harness is important for descents that may take many hours.
- A prusik, Klemheist knot, or autoblock knot may be used as safety back-up, commonly referred to as an ‘autoblock,’ and is used as a back-up in the case of the abseiler losing control of the abseil. One of these friction hitches is wrapped around the rope below the rappel device, using a short loop of smaller diameter cord or webbing, often called a ‘prusik loop’. The prusik loop is then attached to the belay loop or leg loop of the harness.
- Helmets may be worn to protect the head from bumps and falling rocks. A light source may be mounted on the helmet in order to keep the hands free in unlit areas.
- Gloves protect hands from the rope and from hits with the wall. They are mainly used by recreational abseilers, industrial access practitioners, adventure racers and military as opposed to climbers or mountaineers. In fact, they can increase the risk of accident by becoming caught in the descender in certain situations.
- Boots or other sturdy footwear with good grips may be worn.
- Knee-pads (and sometimes elbow-pads) are popular in some applications for the protection of joints during crawls or hits.
Reference: Wikipedia Abseiling