Pocahontas Diaries

Adventurer. Photolover. Dreamer.

Essentials to Rappelling

Rock Climbing and Rappelling is something I’ve always wanted to do. I already do a lot of free climbing when I’m out hiking or adventuring about. I took a course in rock-climbing when I was in Malibu about 6 months ago and really enjoyed it, but didn’t learn nearly enough to do it on my own. Since it’s winter in Virginia and most of the places that offer rock climbing and rappelling courses aren’t active right now, I have decided to teach myself how to rock climb and rappel with gear.

I started writing on this subject in my journal but realized I wanted pictures to go with what I was referring to, so I decided to put it in here for my own notes, and for anyone else who’s interested.

The first article I came across was 6 Essential Rappelling Skills:

It goes through “the 6 basic climbing skills you need to learn and know how to safely rappel”:

1) Anchors

At least two bomber anchors are needed, but three’s preferred. Anchors can be bolts, cams, nuts, pitons, trees, or tied-off boulders.

  • an anchor is a point or points where a climber is secured to a cliff face or ledge by using gear
  • bolt is an artificial anchor hammered into a hole drilled into rock (placement of any bolts should be last resort and made by expert climbers who are aware of legal and ethical ramifications of bolting)
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  • cam is a metal, mechanical spring-loaded camming device (SLCD) that fits in cracks and crevices
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  • piton is a forged piece of metal, formed  in various shapes, thicknesses, and lengths, which is pounded with a piton hammer into cracks in the rock surface (rarely used anymore since their repeated insertion and removal damages cliff faces)

Rappel ropes are always threaded through metal - carabiners, quick links, and descending rings - rather than nylon, which can melt, break, and fall if it’s in contact with rope.

2) Ropes

When rappelling, you use either one or two climbing ropes, which are threaded through the anchors. Preferable to use a double single rope so you don’t have to worry about knot failure or the rope getting jammed in the anchors when you pull it.

  • climbing ropes vary in diameter from 7.5mm to 11mm. ropes under 9mm are usually used in pairs. come in two lengths: 165 feet and 200 feet (becoming standard length for american climbing & europe). should only buy and climb on ropes approved and certified by the International Union of Alpine Associations (UIAA).
  • static ropes are stout cords that do not stretch when loaded. not used for climbing since they do not absorb shock of a climber’s fall but instead transfer it to the climber and his gear. used for top-roping, rappelling, fixed ropes, and caving.

3) Knots

Tie your two ropes together with one of four rappel rope knots.

  • double figure-8 fisherman’s knot - the usual way to tie rappel ropes together, strongest of the bunch, will not come undone if properly tied. best knot to tie ropes of unequal diameters (thin and thick rope). biggest disadvantage is its bulk, so increased chances that it might jam in a crack while you’re pulling the rappel ropes.
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  • square fisherman’s knot - easy to tie and easiest of the four to untie. square knot backed up with double fisherman’s knot on either side (always need backup knots with this knot).
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  • double overhand knot - aka “european death knot”. fastest and easiest of these four knots to tie and has the least bulk. do not use this knot with ropes of varying diameters (at least one fatal accident occurred from it coming untied).
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  • double fisherman’s knot - traditional knot to tie two ropes together but has generally fallen out of favor for the above knots. can be difficult to check visually and is often difficult to untie after being weighted. best used for tying thin pieces of accessory cord like spectra together for anchors or slinging nuts like hexentrics.
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Tie stopper knots, which is a double fisherman’s knot, overhand knot, or figure-8 knot, at the ends of both ropes so that you or your partner won’t rappel off the loose ends of the rope. Also use an autoblock knot as a safety back-up. 

4) Rappel Device

It’s best to thread the rappel ropes through a rappel device, like an ATC or figure-8 descender. In a pinch you can use the old-style Dulfersitz, a Munter hitch, or a carabiner brake rig.

  • rappel device - a metal device that is attached to a climber’s harness. climbing rope is threaded through device and through a locking carabiner on the harness, allowing the climber to make a controlled sliding descent, a rappel, down the rope.

5) Autoblock Knot

Use an autoblock knot or a Prusik knot as safety back-up on the rappel ropes to let you stay in control.

  • autoblock knot - a friction knot that is tied onto the rope below the rappel device and then attached to the rappeller’s harness with a carabiner clipped into a leg loop or the belay loop, as a safety back-up. This knot is an essential safety knot that every climber should know, adds friction to the rappel descent.
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6) Pulling Ropes

Pulling rappel ropes is not as easy as it sounds. Common problems getting knot jammed, rope catching in cracks or behind flakes, or too much friction.

Since that last paragraph about pulling ropes was completely useless, here is another article titled How to Pull Your Rappel Ropes Down:

The pulling they are referring to is the act of pulling or retrieving the ropes after the descent or before your next descent.

Which Rope Do You Pull?

Look at which side of the descending ring that the knot is on, that’s the side to pull. Look at the color of the climbing rope. If the wrong rope gets pulled (which apparently happens all the time), it can end up getting stuck. Make sure that both strands of rope run cleanly down the wall from the rappel anchor without twists or binding against each other.

Use a Guide Finger to Keep Rope Strands Separated

Get in the habit of putting a finger on your guide hand above the rappel device between the two ropes as you descend. This simple act keeps the rope separate from you to the anchor above and keeps the ropes from twisting impossibly around themselves. If those ropes are twisted up at the anchor, may have to reascend the stuck rope to untwist them.

Are there Rock Features to Hang Up the Rope

Look for notches, flakes, grooves, sharp edges, and loose rocks, especially in the first 10 or 15 feet of the rappel. Position the rope if possible to avoid these features which could possibly hang up the rope. Also look for trees, bushes, flakes, and rock blocks that the rope could hang up on when you pull it from below or if the rope could possibly dislodge any loose rocks that could hit you. Pay attention and position the rope safely.

Test the Rope Full from Below

After the first climber rappels down to the next rappel station, have him test the pull of the ropes. If it pulls easily, you will be fine. If it is difficult to pull, look for adjustments to the system at the top before you rappel down. The usual solution is to move the bulky knot that ties the two rappel ropes together further down the cliff. If you are standing on a ledge, the knot will often hang up on the edge of the ledge. Move the knot down below the ledge and have your buddy try to pull again. That usually solves the problem. Then pull up the ropes, attach your rappel device to the ropes, and then carefully climb down over the ledge edge before weighting the ropes.

How to Pull Your Rappel Ropes

After you have both rappelled down to the next station, pull your ropes. If you have carefully checked the system and avoided possible hang-ups and tangles, they should pull easily. As you pull the ropes on multiple rappels, feed the free end of the rope through the new descending ring as you pull it. This saves you lots of extra rope work and keeps you from losing the rope if you just let it fall to you before threading the ring. As you pull the ropes, pay attention for falling rocks that the ropes could dislodge. Wear a helmet and keep your head down so a flying chunk doesn’t hit your face. Also remember that the flying free end of the rope after it has pulled through the rappel anchor can act like a whip, lashing your face or your arms. Lastly, remember to yell “Rope!” when you pull the ropes so anyone nearby is warned of both falling ropes and falling rocks.

LA to DC
Day 4: Zion National Park

It was so hard to slim this post down into only eight photos, and it doesn’t even include all four hikes we went on. It was definitely a see-much-as-we-can Zion marathon day.

This park is definitely my favorite so far on this trip. The Redskins colored road had me stoked from the get-go. HAIL! Even tho our season is pretty much shot…

Our first hike started around 11am after we dropped Kyra off at Doggy Dudes ($28 overnight dog boarding). The Angels Landing trail is a must do. It says it’s not for small children or people who’s afraid of heights, but how the hell else are you going to get over your fears? All the photos above are from the Angels Landing hike minus the first and last photo. Incredible hike, definitely in my top three favorites ever. I challenge you to build a bigger prayer rock formation than we did at the top :)

It was a very rare-treat kind of day. We did four amazing hikes (Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, Riverwalk)… Saw a California Condor (only a little over 400 in the world, around 200 in captivity)… Met some amazing people along the way, even encouraged one to climb up a cliff after she watched us do it.. Saw two huge bucks, one that protected his mate and stood his ground in a stare-off when we pulled over to say hello… And found an amazing BLM camp spot recommended by the lady at the doggy daycare…

Definitely coming back here to do the Narrows and Subway. Highly recommend this park to any and everyone.

LA to DC
Day 3: Valley of Fire State Park, NV

The drive through this park is very beautiful. I wish there were more turn offs. We arrived right before sunset and got to see the Fire Wave. Was a lot smaller of an area than I thought but very cool nonetheless.

After the Fire Wave, we blew up some fireworks in an Indian Reservation that we bought from the Indians… On their launch pad which is right next to a gas station mind you… And then continued into Utah and spent the night at Quail Lake Reservoir campgrounds. Very pretty and neat tent sites with picnic tables made out of rock and a wooden awning. And also close to one of the biggest Walmarts I have ever been in. They have really cool backpacks.

LA to DC
Day 2: Death Valley National Park

After Red Rock Canyon, we drove to Death Valley and spent the night camping at Stovepipe Wells ($12). In the morning Kyle found a piece of dried lake bed to paint a 5 year old painting on. After he finished he put it back where he found it and that was his contribution to the world for the day.

We checked out the Mesquite Sand Dunes which was about 5 minutes from the campground. Roll down the hills of sand, so much fun. Tip: Cover your ears with a hat.

The roads in Death Valley are quiet and vast. Stretch on sometimes for miles going completely straight. As Kyle said it, the kind of road you shoot a bullet on and go try to find. Yeah have fun with that.

Our favorite part of Death Valley was a scenic drive called Artists Drive. It was like a Disneyland ride thru Death Valley. A nice little surprise with wonderful colors along the sandstone walls. Totally worth every minute.

Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation on earth was pretty neat. We walked around it barefoot and carved a message saying “Hi! You’re beautiful” in the salt beneath our toes.

After Death Valley we checked out the wild hot springs in Tecopa. There’s also a resort there you can pay around $20 to camp there and access their hot springs 24 hours. Stop by the Crowbar Cafe on the way out, the staff and food are amazing.

We spent the night in the Dumont Dunes in the sand using the car to block the wind from hitting the tent. Definitely going back with a dune buggy or dirt bike another time.

Great day :)

LA to DC
Day 1: Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA

Driving across country from Los Angeles to Fairfax, VA (right outside Washington DC). First stop of the day was Red Rock Canyon. Beautiful place. Traveling north, we found a place off to the right with a parking lot and bathroom before the actual entrance to the park. This place was fee free versus the main area where they charge a fee. We climbed to the top of the cliffs and watched the sunset :)

Havasupai, Grand Canyon, AZ, USA.

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Waterfalls. Cliff Jumping. Blue-Green Waters.

Do I really need to say anymore than that? It’s currently my favorite place I have been to in America. This Indian Reservation located in the south western part of the Grand Canyon is kind of like an adult Disneyland slash a little piece of Heaven on Earth. The fun part, you can’t access it by car.

First things first, the Havasupai Tribe has been around for 30,000+ years and is said to have inhabited these 185,000 acres land for over 8 centuries. In 1882, they were pushed out of most their land by the US government. They fought for their land through the US judicial system for over a century and regained approximately 11% of their original ancestral land in 1975. Now they rely on tourism for survival. Please respect their home. The Natives I have met are amazing people, take a moment to get to know them and their culture.

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Getting to Havasupai

Hike. Horse. Helicopter.

Those are your three options. Or wing-suit base-jump in… that’s actually not a bad idea. Add that one to the list of what only insane people would do. The deal is, you can drive your car as far as to Hualapai Hilltop, which is your starting point.

Driving Directions to Hualapai Hilltop

From the 40, take Route 66 to Indian Road 18.

The end of Indian Road 18 is the Hualapai Hilltop. You can also google directions to “Havasupai Campground Parking Lot.”

Peach Springs Airport area on Route 66 is the last place to get gas, food, water, etc. Tips: Fill up your gas tank. Stock up on extra water to leave in the car for when you get back to your car from your hike up.

Once you get to the hilltop, you can take the hike down the trail to the village/campground or take a helicopter to the village. Unless you have some medical condition where you can’t walk 8 miles, take the hike down, its worth it. Tips: Get to the hilltop the night before around sunset to watch the sun go down the over the canyons. Bring a tent to camp at the hilltop overnight and hike out in the morning.

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Hiking from the Hilltop to Supai Village

8 miles. 3 to 5 hours. first 1.5 miles descends 2000 feet.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Arizona’s desert heat, during the summer, it gets H O T… some days reaching a high of 110+ degrees. I have been there in July and September and both times I can tell you I rather slap-box a grizzly bear than hike down in that heat. That being said… For the average hiker, you want to plan to start your hike at 4am. Tip: Take at least a gallon and a half of water per person.

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The Supai Village is 8 miles from the Hilltop and everyone must check in at the village office. Office hours are usually from 8am to 4pm. The village does have a convenient store and cafe… And also a lodge and church :) OH, and a water station to refill your packs and bottles.

Pricing:

  • Environmental Care Fee: $5 per group
  • Reservation Entry Fee: $35 per person
  • Campground: $17 per person/night
  • Lodge: $145 per night (up to four people) + $40 deposit per night
  • Saddle/Pack Horse: $93.50 one way (can carry up to 4 packs or one person - must reserve at least a day ahead of time)
  • Helicopter: $85 one way (usually starts flying around 10am - first come first serve - only flies certain days so check with the office)

Prices can change so call to confirm. Also, if you show up without a reservation, they can charge up to double the amount. Reservations are highly recommended. (Memorial day weekend is their busiest time with around 700 reservations.)

Contact Information:

Supai Village to Campground

2 miles. 1 to 2 hours. descends I don’t know how many feet.

Even though the campgrounds are only 2 miles away from the village, it takes some time because the terrain is sand/dirt… And there are also two waterfalls you will pass on the way that you will probably stop at stare at.

Before I get to the waterfalls, for those of you who are hot and sweaty and need to go for a dip… There is a little oasis you will pass before you get to the first waterfall. It is a little tricky to find as you cannot see it from the trail. Look for an area trails off to the left in the first half mile, follow it and you may find what my friends and I call “Champagne Bubbles.”

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Lay in it and see why we gave it that nickname.

The first waterfall you will come to is Little Navajo Falls. This is where most of the locals hang out and play. Two out of four times I have stopped here I have seen a native cliff jump off this fall. If they see you, they may even wait til you have your camera out and ready to shoot before they jump.

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Towards the end of this hike as you get closer to the campground you will run into the most pictured falls of Havasupai… Havasu Falls. This is probably the most popular hang out since it is close and easy to access.

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If you can resist stripping down and tossing your packs, you are only about a fourth of a mile away from the campground… Well depending on where you set up shop.

Campground

The camping area is about a mile and a half long. The water from the previous falls run through the campground in the form of a little river. Immediately upon arriving at the campgrounds is the ranger station on your left, and the bathrooms on your right. Unfortunately there are no showers, but who needs a shower when you are surrounded by water.

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About 200 yards into the campground is a water station to fill up. If you continue about another mile you will run into another set of bathrooms… The deeper you go into the campground the closer you get to your next waterfall, Mooney Falls.

Mooney Falls

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Standing at almost 200 feet tall and half a mile away from the campground, this waterfall is a little tougher to get to than the previous ones mentioned. Chains and ladders are in place to assist climbers through the small tunnel and down the canyon wall. Take your time and practice caution.

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The picture above was taken right after a flash flood. During monsoon season, flash floods are common… Tip: Camp on higher ground during monsoon season.

Beaver Falls

This is where all the fun starts :)

The trek to Beaver Falls is an interesting 3 mile hike. There’s a couple ways to get there. Follow the dirt path that is ever changing due to the floods, walk or guess your way thru the water, or make your own. Any way you go you will get wet. Tips: Wear shoes and socks that you don’t mind getting wet and won’t give you blisters if they are. Bring plenty of water and snacks, this is an all day hike there and back.

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The shallower areas are colored like the sand or close to the green pictured in the above photo. The water in Havasupai get bluer as the water gets deeper, which are also the areas you want to be jumping into, not walking through.

If you follow the water when you start heading towards Beaver, you will find a stream of water coming down over rocks that you can cool down in. A ranger confirmed this is the same water that comes from the drinking water fountains at the village and campground. It’s crystal clear even when the water may be muddy from a flash flood.

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Some areas (such as pictured below) get a little trickier to trek through the water. In this case, stick to the sides and follow the ledges or find a path back to dry ground. Tip: Wait til you see what looks like a trail that leads from the water to the dry ground path to avoid getting poison oak and such.

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There are times where you will probably have to switch to the dirt path if you are trekking through water… It’s a nice change as some areas look like you’ve been taken back in time to Jurassic Park.

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There are some areas where you will have to cross the river. One crossing had a ladder the first time I was here. The second time, unfortunately, the ladder was destroyed from a flood. The natives do a pretty good job of maintaining the trails here though, so it may be back up.

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You’ll know when you get to Beaver Falls by the line of people jumping off the first set of falls.

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Now for you adventurous folks who are on this page for the 80 foot cliff jump that is ever so inquired about on a daily basis… Once you get to Beaver Falls, keep going. Keep going toward the Colorado River until you come across this cliff.

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Two things about this jump. One, remember to clinch. Second, you will have to climb back up the side of this canyon wall after the jump to get back.

That being said, have fun and be safe! There is usually a ranger around this area to make sure no outsiders from the Colorado River come in the reservation and also to let you know when its time to go. I haven’t had the opportunity to venture all the way down to the Colorado River yet but I heard its well worth it and when I do get to doing it, I will update this entry. Cheers and happy exploring!

Thoughts, ideas, inquiries: oxmina@gmail.com