We’re often asked what the minimum age is for the classic rappel tour, as families with active children enjoy the prospect of creating memories on Maui with their children. Rappelling and outdoor activities are great for bringing multi-generational families together. Some children and teens even decide, after taking their rappel tour, that canyoning is their new sport of choice. The outdoors rock!
The minimum age for the Rappel Maui classic tour is 10, with a minimum weight of 70 lbs, and a minimum waist measurement of 22″. “What’s the maximum age?” one guest asked over the phone. For the classic tour, we don’t necessarily have one, and during the summer of 2017, an 81-year-old man completed a Rappel Maui tour with his family of two generations. He was not the slowest or the least graceful person on the course, and he went out for a nice dinner afterward. Renaissance man, indeed.
Whatever your activity level and appetite for adventure, there’s probably an outdoor activity on Maui for you to discover. Thank goodness it’s a jungle out there. Call us to discuss your multi-generational outing or ask about a senior discount.
Aloha! In this Question and Answer post, you’ll find out what rappelling is. We’re happy to discuss it, especially since most of our guests are unfamiliar, and we like to welcome first-timers to the sport whenever possible.
What is Rappelling?
Rappelling is the practice of using ropes, a harness, belay device and other equipment to descend a steep terrain. It’s an important part of climbing, caving and canyoning–the exploration of canyons. There are a few kinds of rappelling styles. The kind that you’ll perform during a Rappel Maui tour is either:
A standard rappel, during which a person lowers herself down vertical terrain with her back toward the ground and her feet in contact with the rock, and walks down while letting the rope slide through the device. (The angle of the rope through the device determines the speed of the descent.) Here’s where you can learn more about the standard rappels you’ll do during the Classic Rappel Tour.
A free rappel–we also refer to this as a “zip” rappel, during which the climber slides down the rope through free space between the rope’s two anchors. In the case of a Rappel Maui zip rappel, the high end of the rope is attached to the top of a jungle wall near the top of the waterfall, while the other end is attached to an underwater surface in the pool below. Thus the rappeller makes a rapid descent down the rope from the top of the cliff and zips down into the water, which slows her to a stop. You can learn more about the standard and free rappels you’ll do during the Extreme Zip Rappel Tour.
Do You Still Have Questions About What a Tour is Like, and Whether it’s for You?
From the Frequently Asked Questions files, a very commonly voiced concern: “What kind of shoes should I wear to the tour?” Because most of our guests have come to the island with a suitcase, they doubt they have come fully equipped with “the right stuff” to rappel. The truth is: Some forgiving clothing and a sense of fun and adventure are pretty much all you need to participate in this curious journey into nature. The answer to “What kind of shoes should I wear on the day of the tour” is: Whichever shoes you feel comfortable walking in for a few hundred yards, keeping in mind that those few hundred yards may be muddy.
That’s because we equip you with special footwear at the rappelling site. Wear your sandals, your mandals, your flipflops, wear sneakers. Wear your platform Louboutins (or not.) It’s all good, because, once you suit up, you’ll be taking off whatever you’re wearing on your feet, and replacing them with a neoprene booty with special felt soles designed for helping your feet grip the forest’s slippery surfaces.
Once you’re out on the ridges and trails, you will still need to step carefully and pay attention to your guides. They know every part of the valley, and can point out places where the passage is tricky. When you’re hiking along high passes on exposed cliffs, you’ll clip your harness to anchored ropes. When walking up the trail “stairs”, conditions can be muddy and slippery when wet. Use the anchored ropes and trees as handrails, to prevent slips, falls and otherwise ungraceful moves.
Once you’re back at the picnic area, you’ll have a chance to change out of your gear and shoes, clean yourself up a bit, and relax. Unless you really did wear your Louboutins.
If you’re not sure whether a waterfall rappelling tour is for you, ask yourself a few questions:
1. When was the last time I walked down a tropical waterfall, in a rainforest, on Maui? 2. When will I get another chance to walk down a tropical waterfall, in a rainforest, on Maui?
These are just a few of the prompts inspired by a recent article in The Maui Concierge, in which an intrepid writer named Heidi takes on the challenge and joy of harnessing up and looking down. Way down. You can read up on her experience online or in print (at finer news stands all over the island.)
While a Rappel Maui tour is a thrilling but safe activity, there are some natural hazards that exist out in the rainforest. The good news is, with just a little thought and planning, these common risks can be easily minimized and mitigated.
Insects: While there are mosquitoes in the rainforest, there is no malaria or dengue fever. If you are particularly sensitive to bites, we recommend wearing pants and a long-sleeved rash guard. We don’t recommend bug spray, since DEET can damage rappelling gear, and put chemicals into the rainforest streams. Wearing reef-safe sunscreen in Hawaii is the law.
What’s in the Water: Sometimes longer expeditions take a turn for the worse when canyoneers fail to properly filter or purify their water from natural sources. Avoiding waterborne illness is easy–don’t drink the water from the streams or falls. Since there’s plenty of bottled water on your Rappel Maui tour, there’s no reason to do so.
Temperature: Getting too cold or too hot is a common show-stopper for canyoneers from Maine to Hawaii. If you know that you are prone to hypothermia or hyperthermia, plan and act accordingly. Don’t stay in the water if you find it very cold, and bring a rash guard or even a wetsuit top or wetsuit if you know you are sensitive to chilly water. Drink plenty of water and cool off in the pools if you’re feeling too warm. Eat a good breakfast/lunch and hydrate yourself before your tour. Bring towels and a dry change of clothing with you so that you can return in comfort after a day in the water and/or rain.
Rockfall: Rocks can and do move about in the water, especially when water levels rise rapidly. They can also be loosened on dry land by a number of factors, including climate. In this case, we don’t recommend “using your head.” Helmets save lives, and that’s why everyone wears a helmet, every day we go out, for the duration of the tour. No exceptions. Listen to your guides always, who will be watching for loose debris. Lean into the slope and look down (not up) if you hear someone yell, “Rock!”
Swift Water and Flash Floods: When water levels are high, or there is a threat of flash flooding, we stay out of the streams and waterfalls. We do dry rappels next to or overlooking the roaring falls on these days, the sights and sounds of which are unforgettable.
The Road to Hana: While you don’t drive all the way to Hana to reach the activity location, you do take the infamous Road to Hana about halfway there. It’s about an hour from Central Maui to the rappelling site, and so if you are prone to car sickness, please be prepared.
There are other hazards associated with canyoning in general, but there are some that simply won’t apply to you on a Rappel Maui tour.
Hunters and Land Owners: Since we rappel with permission in a privately-owned valley, we don’t have to worry about angry farmers, ranchers or hunters.
Wildlife: The birds mind their own business, and the freshwater fish are so tiny, you need a little net to catch them. There are chickens and ducks nearby that belong to the arboretum, but they’re more like pets. There are no snakes, bears, wolves or coyotes. Further, Hawaii is a rabies-free state.
Do you want to talk about your own personal preparation plan? We have our listening ears on from 7 AM-7 PM every day. Call 808.270.1500 or let your fingers do the typing at our Contact page.
Sometimes 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 canyoning 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 canyoning 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 know 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.
How the Risks of Rappelling Compare to a Very Common Maui Activity
Who 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.
“So, I just have a question,” the person on the other end of the phone says, “How scary is rappelling?” That’s a tricky question, given that there are different kinds of scary, and the fear factor in any adventure is personal. If you want to know for yourself, read on, or call us at 808.270.1500 to talk about your day. You can also see firsthand what Audrina Patridge thought of her first rappelling trip when she and the show 1st Look came to visit.
What Kind of Scary Can You Expect–and Not Expect? It’s NOT haunted house-scary. There are no “gotchas” in a Rappel Maui tour–and we keep it that way on purpose, no surprises. It’s NOT unsafe-scary. We don’t take risks with equipment, best practices or behavior. Period. It’s NOT camp-scary. There are no snakes, no rabies, no malaria, no dengue fever. There’s plenty of bottled water to drink, snacks to eat, and hand sanitizer/running water at the picnic area. It’s NOT amusement park-scary. Unlike a roller coaster ride or even a zip line, rappelling is not a ride that happens to you. Once you begin your descent, you’re in control of the action and the pace. You’re the boss, with your guide team there if you don’t know what to do, or need a hand. DO expect to feel the kind of scared that comes with doing something exciting, thrilling, that you don’t do everyday. Like walking down a tropical rainforest waterfall on one of the most remote islands on Earth, for example. If you are feeling afraid at first, DO expect to feel a sense of accomplishment and invincibility afterward. Like you faced your fears and conquered them. Your guides are practiced at introducing first-timers to the sport. Welcome!
Rappelling Realness You may not look graceful during all of your rappels. You may want to take a “do over” before you feel like you’ve got your ninja moves down. Rappelling down natural, wild terrain may cause a broken nail, a scraped shin or some bruised skin. We’ve seen our friends show these off later, while telling and retelling stories about their epic day. We heard one young photographer say, “Mom, turn so that your scratch shows.” The outdoors are messy; you may find the water chilly–or exhilarating. You will wear unusual equipment, get wet and gritty, and stay that way for a few hours. You might not look good in a helmet. You might follow a 10-year old who looks like a circus-performing monkey on her first rappel ever. Those are the realities of taking on one of the best adventures on the island. Let’s say that the “scary” stuff dissipates for most people long before everyone is finishing their celebratory cookie at the end. What to Expect When You’re Rappelling You will feel excitement from your surroundings and the experience. There’s the roar of the falls, the birds and breezes in the trees, the sensation of intense sun or soft shade of the tree canopy. Your senses will be stimulated. If the cliff exposure or the heights are turning your adrenaline up to 11, tell your guides; they are experts in focusing energy in the right direction. And you’ll find the built-in support of others on your tour, even if they are complete strangers, surprisingly inspiring.
Best Bets For Good Times DO try to relax. Take photos and for sharing later. DON’T worry about being inexperienced. We cater to people who don’t do this every day. DO listen up, look around, laugh out loud. You can do this!