Abseiling — or rappelling — is an adventure sport that involves a controlled descent off a vertical drop, using a doubled rope coiled around the body and fixed at a higher point.
With the right equipment, training, and experience, abseiling allows you to descend down terrains that are otherwise difficult or impossible to travel down. It is widely used in emergency situations that involve rescuing individuals from difficult-to-access areas, such as mountains.
However, many people also like to abseil for fun, as it is a challenging but rewarding activity that can be done in fantastic settings, such as down a rock face, a mountain, a bridge, or even out of a helicopter!
Waterfall Abseiling in Malaysia
If abseiling down a rock face doesn’t sound very exciting to you, you can take it to the next level by abseiling down a waterfall! There are several places in Malaysia where you can do waterfall abseiling, the most famous one being in Gopeng, Perak, which is about 180 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur.
If you’re doing waterfall abseiling for the first time, make sure you book a tour with a reputable guide who has all the necessary licensing and qualifications. Abseiling can be dangerous without prior experience or training. It is definitely not something that you can try on your own if you’ve never done it before.
I recommend this River Tubing and Waterfall Abseiling package in Gopeng, Perak by KLOOK. Although I didn’t personally take this package, judging from the reviews and my personal experience with the booking platform, I trust it’s a good one. The price for this package starts at RM50.
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How Fit Do You Have to Be?
Most waterfall abseiling activities will require you to hike to get to the top of the waterfall, so you need to be in a good enough shape to do that. Usually, there is a maximum weight restriction of around 120 kg. This varies depending on the organizer, so make sure you check beforehand.
In abseiling, you don’t need to be particularly strong, unlike rock climbing. Based on my (limited) experience, skill is much more important in abseiling than strength.
What to Bring
For abseiling to be done safely, it is extremely crucial to have the correct specialist equipment that is in excellent condition, otherwise your life can be put at risk. Of course, if you book a tour, you won’t have to worry about any of that as all the necessary gear and safety equipment will be provided for you.
However, you do have to pay extra attention to what you wear:
- Wear slim-fitting and stretchable sports attire. All clothing should not be too loose fitting or have any extra strings. These can potentially get caught in the ropes and create dangerous situations.
- For the same reason, remove all jewelry. Firstly, you don’t want them getting caught on anything they shouldn’t, and secondly, you don’t want to lose them. Those with long hair, secure it into a bun.
- When you’re abseiling down a waterfall, it may be tempting for men to go shirtless, or for women to go in a sports bra. But do keep in mind that by doing so, you will be exposed to more scrapes — from the rocks, and the harness.
- The same applies to your tracksuit bottoms — avoid wearing something that is too short. If you’re planning to do some serious rock-climbing and abseiling, you might want to consider getting pants with a diamond (gusseted) crotch, to avoid any ripping at the seams and a potentially embarrassing situation.
- If you’re going to do some rock climbing as well as abseiling, wear proper climbing shoes. Otherwise, a good pair of hiking shoes should suffice.
- Dry bag and/or waterproof casing for your phone and camera.
- Spare clothes
- Water and snacks if your tour organizer doesn’t provide any.
What to Expect
An abseiling trip for beginners will typically begin with a briefing and demonstration to familiarize you with the techniques involved in waterfall abseiling. You will need to wear a helmet and a harness. The helmet is to protect your head in case anything above you becomes dislodged, and in case of a fall, which is unlikely if you do everything correctly, but you have to be prepared anyway.
Your trainer may also make you do a dry run down an easy cliff to let you get a feel of it. Among the things that you will do before you abseil include:
- Learning how to wear the harness correctly and attach it to the rope using a carabiner.
- Mastering the use of a device called the ‘descender’ that you will need to use for a smooth descent.
- Learning how to control your speed as you descend.
- Familiarizing yourself with the route to identify the right footholds.
Once the rope is secure and you are safely attached to it, you will begin your descent. Basically, all you have to do is have faith and lean back. For beginners, it is important to go in a slow and controlled pace. Any large or jerky movement can result in dangerous consequences, such as crashing into the rock face or damaging the rope.
You will use your legs to control direction and maintain your balance, but do not put your entire weight on them, as the slippery slope might cause you to lose your footing. Instead, allow the descender rope to hold most of your weight.
And most importantly, have fun!
My Abseiling Experience at Sungai Pisang
When I first heard about abseiling many years ago, I was utterly dumbfounded. Why would anyone do that and consider it a fun sport? I mean, climbing a hill or a mountain makes sense because you achieve something in the end, i.e. reaching the peak. In addition, you get to work up a sweat and enjoy the view while you’re up there.
But why would anyone enjoy going down a cliff using a rope? Where’s the fun in that?
But it intrigued me anyway, and of course I had to go and try it. Whether or not I’d like it, that was for me to find out. Besides, it didn’t seem like it required much skill or strength. Or so I thought.
So, in April 2018, I joined an abseiling trip organized by MadMonkeyz Climbing Gym. The fee for the abseiling trip was RM68 inclusive of equipment rental. This wall-climbing gym organizes monthly outdoor activities at different locations around KL or nearby, so do follow their Facebook page to find out about their upcoming events.
We met up at the gym early in the morning and carpooled to Sungai Pisang, a 30-minute ride from Kuala Lumpur. Most of the other participants were regulars at the gym and already knew each other. I was the only one who came alone.
At the car park near the trailhead, we were each given a helmet and a harness that would later be attached to the abseil rope. Each of us was assigned a hiking partner to look out for each other on the trail. My partner was a guy in his fifties, but he was so much faster than me, I almost had to run to catch up. In the end, he let me lead. The hike to the waterfall took less than an hour.
When we reached the top of the waterfall, we were given some time to rest while the crew did the setting up. Some of us took the opportunity to cool off in the water. I was too busy checking my legs for leeches (that’s the part I hate most about hiking).
When they were done, the team leader demonstrated to us the basics of abseiling, including the safety features. He reminded us not to lean too far back or our legs might go over our heads and we’d be hanging upside down.
The crew had set up two routes, each one with its own pros and cons. The first one had a longer rope, which reached the water below, but the route was a little trickier because of tree roots. You had to be careful where you placed your feet, lest they get stuck.
The second route was slightly easier because you only had to rappel down a smooth rock surface. It had almost zero obstacle, but its proximity to the waterfall made it more slippery. On top of that, the rope was several feet shorter, which meant it didn’t reach all the way to the bottom. You’d have to let go of the rope and free fall into the water.
There was one girl in the group who was as scared as I was because we were both terrified of heights. Strange how the waterfall didn’t look so high when we saw it from below, but now standing at the top, we were seriously considering backing out. But since we had already paid, we decided to go through with it. We both chose the first route.
There were crew members stationed at different points to help and guide us along the way — two of them at the top, one on a ledge somewhere in the middle of the rocks, and two more at the bottom.
To go down, I had to use both hands to hold on to the rope — one hand in front of me, and the other behind my back, at waist level. The one at the back had to to hold the rope at all times, releasing slowly as I went down, but never letting go, unless I wanted to meet an early death. I slipped once, banging my shoulder against the rock, but managed to regain balance quickly. In the end, I tried both routes after being egged on by the others.
What could have been done in two or three minutes by the experts took me about 20, maybe longer. I had asked one of the participants to take photos and videos of me from below. Poor girl had to wait an eternity for me to finally reach the bottom.
After everyone had completed their first descent, we stopped for lunch. We were allowed to climb back up and repeat as many times as we wanted, but I said no, thanks. I hadn’t expected it to be that tiring. My arms, my legs, my lungs, my face, my heart — basically my whole body ached, because I was breathing hard and grimacing and screaming inwardly and holding on too tightly to the rope the entire time.
I wish I could say it wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be, but it was. The technique, per se, wasn’t that difficult — it was actually pretty straight forward, even for non-climbers. And I was right in thinking that it didn’t require much strength.
But my fear of heights was making it a lot harder than it should be. The sound of the waterfall roaring in my ears and the water splashing into my eyes weren’t helping at all. Who knew that going down a cliff with a rope could be so challenging?
Would I do it again? Maybe.
Have you tried waterfall abseiling? Was it an enjoyable experience for you? Comment below.
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