AskDefine | Define rappel

Dictionary Definition

rappel v : lower oneself with a double rope coiled around the body from a mountainside; "The ascent was easy--roping down the mountain would be much more difficult and dangerous"; "You have to learn how to abseil when you want to do technical climbing" [syn: abseil, rope down] [also: rappelling, rappelled]

User Contributed Dictionary



French rappeler ‘remember’.


  • /ræ'pɛl/


  1. to call back a hawk
  2. to abseil





fr-noun m

Extensive Definition

Abseiling (from the German: abseilen, "to rope down") is the process of descending a rope under control, used in rock climbing, mountaineering, caving and canyoneering; used to descend cliffs or slopes too steep to walk down.


It is also known as: rappelling (American English), abbing (British slang for "abseiling"), jumping (Australian slang) rap jumping (American slang), roping down, roping, seiling (Australian slang), snapling (Israeli slang), rappling (Hindi slang).


The origin of the abseil is attributed to Jean Estéril Charlet, a Chamonix guide who lived from 1840-1925. Charlet originally devised the technique of the abseil (or rappel) method of roping down during a failed solo attempt of Petit Dru in 1876. After many attempts, some of them solo, he managed to summit the Petit Dru in 1879 in the company of two other Chamonix guides, Prosper Payot and Frédéric Folliguet, whom he hired (a rather paradoxical move for a guide). During that ascent, Charlet perfected the abseil.


  • Helmets are 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.
  • Knee-pads (and sometimes elbow-pads) are popular in some applications for the protection of joints during crawls or hits.
  • Ropes used for descending are typically of Kernmantle rope construction, with a multi-strand core protected by an abrasion-resistant woven sheath. For most 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.
  • A harness is used around the waist to secure the descender. A comfortable harness is important for descents that may take many hours.
  • A descender or rappel device is a friction device or friction hitch that allows for 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 rappeller descends is controlled by applying greater or lesser force on the rope below 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, as in the Dulfersitz or Geneva methods used by climbers in the 1960s.


Abseiling is used in a number of applications, including:
  • Rock climbers returning to the base of a climb or to a point where they then try a new route.
  • Recreational abseilers, who return to the top of the line by track, stairs or other methods and abseil again.
  • Recreational canyoners, who travel down mountainous watercourses where waterfalls or cliffs may need to be descended and simply jumping is too dangerous or impossible.
  • Recreational caving, where underground pitches are accessed using this method (Single Rope Technique).
  • Adventure racers, whose events often including abseiling and other rope work.
  • Industrial/Commercial workers, who use abseiling techniques to access parts of structures or buildings so as to perform maintenance, cleaning or construction. (eg window cleaners, railway scalers, quarry workers, etc.)
  • Access to wildfires or wilderness rescue/paramedic operations by rapelling from a hovering helicopter.
  • Confined spaces access, such as investigating ballast tanks and other areas of ships.
  • Rescue applications, such as accessing injured people or accident sites (vehicle or aircraft) and extracting the casualty using abseiling techniques.
  • Steeplejacking, as a replacement for bosun's chair.
  • Military applications, such as entering a building through a window.
Abseiling can be a dangerous sport, and presents risks, especially to unsupervised or inexperienced climbers. Abseiling is, in fact, viewed by climbers as being more dangerous than climbing itself, as the rope system is taking the weight of the practitioner constantly rather than only in the event of a fall. Moreover, a high percentage of mishaps classified as "climbing accidents" actually occur when abseiling.
Abseiling is prohibited or discouraged in some areas, due to the potential for rock erosion and/or conflict with climbers heading upwards

References and footnotes

External links

rappel in Catalan: Doble corda
rappel in Czech: Slaňování
rappel in German: Abseilen
rappel in Spanish: Rappel (excursionismo)
rappel in French: Descente en rappel
rappel in Hebrew: גלישת מצוקים
rappel in Italian: Discesa in corda doppia
rappel in Dutch: abseilen
rappel in Portuguese: Rapel
rappel in Russian: Дюльфер
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