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How Safe is Rappelling a Waterfall?

Questions About Rappelling, Rappel Maui, Rappelling Tour Add comments

keep_calm_rappel_square_sticker_3_x_3Sometimes during the same phone call with the person who asks, “How scary is rappelling?” we’re asked, “Is rappelling down a waterfall safe?”
The short answer is, “When you rappel with us, yes!”  The fact is that rappelling is safer than a regular hike down a hiking trail, and as you can read below, safer than the beach.  The 2 guides per 8 guests personalized attention and supervision, safety equipment, and nature of the activity all make a rainforest rappelling tour one of the safest activities on Maui.  Here are some other reasons why a rappelling tour is safe:

Natural vs. Man-Made Hazards

As with any outdoor sport, there are some common hazards and risks associated with canyoneering and rappelling. There are natural hazards, which are limited in number, and include things like rockfall, weather and swift-water current.  All of these dangers can be sensed, monitored or noticed in some way.

And then there are man-made or self-inflicted hazards that are brought on by some failure on the canyoneer’s part. These are much more subtle and numerous, and can include things like inadequate information about the environment, substandard gear, lack of expertise, and many, many other lapses in judgment and behavior.

Rappelling and canyoneering become dangerous when natural hazards, which are always potentially present, meet up with self-inflicted hazards.  In other words, a rappelling team can be its own worst enemies or its own best friends in any adventure.

Your New Best Friends: You, Your Gear and Your Guide Team

When we take new or old friends rappelling, our first safety advantage is the environment. Since we rappel in the same location every day, there are no new routes or anchors to assess, and therefore, there are few surprises.

We already knowCaptain & Clark May, 2014 what the path is like because it’s explored and maintained daily.  When routes change due to weather or water, we close the route until either we can change it, or it has returned to its previous, normal state.

We also know that you don’t go rappelling every day. That’s why there are two guides assigned to each person who’s rappelling: One at the top to get you started, and one at the bottom who’s there as your backup on the brakes, should you fail to brake properly with your rope.  It’s uncommon, but in the even of a mid-descent freak-out or freeze-up, the top guide can pull you or help you back up to the top.

If you’re not the greatest swimmer, make sure you communicate that to your guides. We’ll provide you with a personal floatation device, and we can also provide you with a dry keg in your backpack, which adds additional buoyancy. The guide at the bottom of the falls can make sure that you make it across the pond in good shape.  It’s only a few minutes worth of dog-paddling to the other side.

We know what kind of gear is necessary, and we use and carefully maintain the best gear every time, for everyone.  Whether it’s because of falling rock or stumbling while hiking any surface, we all wear helmets. Helmets save lives.

Your guide team is well-trained and practiced in communicating with each other both verbally and non-verbally using some of the same methods rescue personnel and military units have used for year, decades, centuries.

Many of the hazards canyoneers face in other environments simply aren’t present when we guide our rappelling tours. Again, the rainforest canyon we rappel is visited and monitored every day.

Because the valley we’re visiting is privately owned, we don’t have to worry about trespassing and angering a farmer or rancher.  We already have permission to do our thing.

Rattlesnakes are the bane of many a mountain climber and canyoneer. Luckily, we don’t have snakes in Hawaii, nor are there rabies, malaria or dengue fever.

We conduct tours rain or shine–there will be rain in the rainforest.  But lightning is extremely rare on Maui, and when the rain causes the waterfalls to practically erupt, we rappel existing routes that are near them or overlooking them, so that we can enjoy the excitement of the roaring falls without endangering anyone’s safety. When the water is swift or high, we don’t rappel in it and we don’t swim.

To learn more about some common environmental hazards, how we mitigate them, and how you can prepare for them, check out the post How to Prepare for a Day of Safe Rappelling on Maui.

How the Risks of Rappelling Compare to a Very Common Maui Activity

dangeroussurfWho visits Maui without going in the ocean? That would be crazy, right? Yet there are many more unexpected hazards in the ocean environment, and an overall lack of guidance for those who haven’t spent their lives in the surf. Remember,  you can’t get stung by a jellyfish or bitten by a shark on a rappelling trip.  You won’t get overrun by a surfboard, you won’t step on a spiny sear urchin (the dreaded “wana”), and you won’t get raked over coral by a wave you didn’t see coming.  You’re even less likely to get sunburned in the rainforest environment.  Yet not many people ask, “Is it safe to go in the ocean?”

On a very serious note, Hawaii emergency services and hospitals are plagued with a regular influx of people who have broken or damaged their vertebrae while body surfing, boogie boarding, or just standing in the waves.  Hawaii lifeguards are some of the best in the world, but the ocean is big and the surf is serious, unpredictable business. There are far more swimmers, surfers and kayakers than lifeguards, and unlike a rappelling tour, there is simply no way for them to help each person manage the natural hazards that exist, or the lack of knowledge about the power of the surf.

Safety is our first priority. We don’t do surprises.  When the water is too high or swift, we don’t go in it.  Our equipment, gear and anchor systems are checked and re-checked daily.  Our guides come to the job with years of experience, and receive ongoing training and education from renowned instructors.

Finally, it’s up to you to be your own best advocate, not just for your safety, but for your own enjoyment. Ask questions; be communicative. If you don’t understand or aren’t satisfied with an answer, it’s OK. We’re in no hurry.  Rappel Maui tour sizes are small so that each person can receive very specialized, personal attention from start to finish.  Listening to your guides and focusing on their instructions keeps everyone safe. And, if you decide that it’s not for you, you’re never obligated or forced to rappel once you’re at the edge. If that’s the case, you can continue on the tour as a hiker without having to leave the tour altogether.

But be forewarned:  Focusing on the experience and taking a rappel down a rainforest waterfall on Maui can induce intense feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction, with the possibility of wanting to do it again.

Are you still curious about safety and the other details of a Rappel Maui tour? That’s great! We encourage your questions, since it gives you a chance to prepare for the experience, and therefore get the most from it.  You can read more here at the blog about tour details, or, call us at 808.270.1500 7 AM-7 PM, 7 days a week.

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