Which Is Better - Climbing Or Rappelling?

Yesterday, a beautiful day in the mid-80s with a breeze that picked up as the day wore on, we went to a popular local climbing area.  To our utter surprise, we had it completely to ourselves for almost 6 hours.  We had three lines set up for top roping on a 100 foot ascent.  There were several routes and some climbers who knew the routes were with us. 

I'd been in the gym during the winter - the holds are attached to the fake rock walls.  Its fun, but it's not rock and it's not outdoors.  When you get outdoors and face a rock, you face a different mental challenge.  You don't have only the challenge of finding the route, you have the challenge of getting over the fact that you are climbing a massive rock. 

Once the gear is checked and you approach the rock, the first foothold is almost obvious, but you start to caress the rock to find the best handhold.  The rock is cool and hard and reinforces the point that wrong moves, well, they hurt.  But you love the feel of the rock beneath your fingers and the mix of anxiety and excitement at the beginning of a climb.  You find that first hand hold, place your weight on your foot and move up the rock.  Your other foot is on and your looking for the next foot hold and continuously looking at and caressing the rock.  Your focus so strong that when you take a break you are farther up the rock than you thought.  Secure on a shelf, you rest your arms and take a look around - over the treetops, to the river below.  Beautiful!

You know, however, that you must answer the call to climb to the top, so you turn and start again.  Moving a little at a time, finding the crack for the toe, the overhang for your hand, the offset for your foot, any way to inch up the rock.  Your breath is coming in gasps as you reach for the carabiner that marks the top of the climb.  

Your spirit soars, the birds circling overhead are so close you think you can touch them, too.  Instead you call down to your belayer, sit back, feet on the rock and ride down to the ground. 

We all took turns, challenging ourselves to climb - each at their own level.  At the end of the day, however, we all scrambled to the top by another route and set up to rappel, individually to the ground. 

You're at the top, 100 feet above the ground tied in, but there is only you, the rope and your gear now.  No belayer safely holding you - it's all up to you.  You look out from the top, the view is grand, the wind feels great after climbing all day, but you turn your back knowing the excitement to come.  Backing to the edge you lower your rear over the edge feet on the wall, walking down the face until you feel the rope in your hand give just a little.  That's when you know it's time to let up on the braking gear and descend.  You have control - fast or slow, bounce away from the wall or walk down it, its all up to you.  What do I do?  Loosen the rope hand and start gently bouncing my feet against the rock - constantly watching the for grooves, cracks and outcroppings that could cause me to twirl if I wasn't careful.  Nothing challenging in my way - the rappel is quick and fun!

I can't say one is better than the other.  The accomplishment of climbing - the thrill of rappelling , pretty equal to me.  Each is different, each rewarding.
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3 Responses Jun 21, 2010

I took several tech climbing courses many years ago. Our instructors taught us rappelling, as that is often the only way to descend [from summit, or after weather, late hour, accident ... requires aborting climb].<br />
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They cautioned that many accidents have occurred during rappels. We used to do some climbs just to rappel down - for fun. Speedy descents can be fun, & at times necessary - but put a *Lot* of extra stress on the whole system. Speed = heat on braking hardware. It rope is not unclipped when down, or fed on through to the end, to avoid heat concentration in a small area of rope, much damae can result.<br />
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All sling anchors should be checked and examined before climbing, but a poor set-up *May* not be noticed, if no one falls while climbing, and puts weight on it. The same sling, used as rappel anchor, will definitely have a climber's weight on it - plus much more than climber's body weight, depending how actively he/she jumps around & bounces on the rappel. A 150# person may easily put many extra pounds on the system with bouncing, sudden stop-&-go, or other unnecessary rappel techniques. <br />
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I had been climbing for many years when I made my last few 1/2 night multiple rappels on big mountain descents, and they were much less fun than my first few rappels.

That was a great story, thanks so much for sharing!<br />
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As for which is better, that's purely personal. I am a climber who rappells. I enjoy rappelling and I am one of those who pushes back off the wall and zips all the way to the ground quickly. However I love climbing and that is my passion.<br />
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That being said, we climb with some friends who actually enjoy to rappell more than they do climb and will often do things like caving where they get to set up the big rappells.<br />
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Regardless of which you enjoy more, every day outside on the rock in nature is a wonderul day.

Climbing is obviously better than rappelling. You can always combine the two as well.