How Do Alpinists Get Down

Understanding the Risks

Alpinists must carefully consider their options for getting down from a climb. They can either rappel, which is a controlled descent down a rope, or they can downclimb. Downclimbing is more difficult and dangerous, but it can be the only option if rappelling is not possible.

What is the difference between an alpinist and a mountaineer?

Alpinists are climbers who typically focus on climbs that are more technical and difficult, while mountaineers focus on ascents of larger mountains. Mountaineers often spend more time hiking and camping, while alpinists may spend more time rock climbing.

What are the dangers of alpinism?

Alpinism, or mountaineering, is an extremely dangerous sport. Every year, people die while attempting to climb mountains. Some of the dangers of alpinism include avalanches, falling rocks, falling ice, crevasses, storms, and exhaustion.

Avalanches are one of the most common dangers in alpinism. An avalanche is a mass of snow and ice that suddenly slides down a mountainside. Avalanches can be triggered by the weight of a climber, by the vibration of skis or snowmobiles on the snowpack, or by explosives used to clear routes. Avalanches can reach speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour), and they can bury people alive.

Falling rocks and falling ice are also common dangers in alpinism. Climbers can be hit by rocks that fall from above, or they can be hit by ice that falls from above. Both falling rocks and falling ice can cause serious injuries or even death.

Crevasses are another danger in alpinism. A crevasse is a crack in the ice that forms when a glacier moves over uneven ground. Crevasses can be very deep, and they can be very difficult to see. If a climber falls into a crevasse, it can be very difficult to get out.

Storms are also a danger in alpinism. High winds and heavy snow can make it difficult to climb mountains. Storms can also create dangerous conditions such as whiteout (when visibility is so low that it is impossible to see where you are going) and wind chill (when the wind makes it feel much colder than it actually is).

Exhaustion is also a danger in alpinism. Climbers can become exhausted from carrying heavy gear, from walking for long periods of time, or from climbing in high altitudes. When climbers become exhausted, they may make mistakes that could lead to accidents.

The Three Main Ways to Descend

Alpinists typically have to descend the same route they took to ascend, but sometimes that’s not possible. In that case, they have three main options: downclimbing, rappelling, or glissading. Let’s take a closer look at each one.


Rappelling is the process in which a climber uses a rope to slowly and controlled lower themselves down a rock face or cliff. This can be done with either one or two ropes, and is generally considered the fastest way to get down from high up. A climber will set up an anchor at the top of the cliff, attach their rope (or ropes) to it, and then lower themselves down while controlling their speed with a device called a rappel device.


Descending a route is an essential skill for alpinists, since most climbs end with a descent. There are three main ways to descend:

1) Downclimbing: This is the most straight-forward way to descend, and simply involves reversing the route of ascent. It can be difficult to downclimb if the route was challenging on the way up, as climbers will be tired and may not have the same level of strength and endurance.

2) Rappelling: Rappelling is a technique in which climbers use ropes to lower themselves down a pitch or wall. It can be useful if the route is too difficult to downclimb, or if there are sections of loose rock that make downclimbing dangerous. Rappelling also allows climbers to descend more quickly than downclimbing.

3) Shorter pitches: Another option for descending a route is shorter pitches. This involves setting up anchor points and rappelling down short sections of the pitch, which can make it easier than rappelling all the way from the top.


While it might seem like the easiest way down, jumping is actually one of the most dangerous. If you misjudge your jump, you could end up seriously injured or even dead. Jumping should only be done as a last resort, and only if you are confident in your abilities.

When to Use Each Method

Descent from a mountaintop can be tricky, and there are a few different methods that alpinists use to get back down to safety. The most common method is rappelling, which is when the climber anchors themselves to the mountain and then uses a rope to control their descent. Other methods include using a sled or toboggan, body rappelling, and using an anchor.


Rappelling is generally used when a steep descent needs to be made and there is no other way to do it safely. Alpinists will use rappelling when they need to get down from a cliff or a rocky outcropping. Rappelling can also be used in emergency situations, such as when someone needs to be rescued from a high place.


There are three primary methods of downclimbing: stemming, side-hilling, and switchbacks. Below is a description of each method and when it is most effective to use each one.

Stemming: Stemming is done by placing both hands and both feet on opposite walls of the chimney or squeeze, creating a “V” shape with your body. Your weight should be evenly distributed between both hands and both feet. This method is only effective when the walls of the chimney are close enough together to allow you to stem them.

Side-hilling: Side-hilling is done by placing one hand and one foot on one wall of the chimney, and the other hand and foot on the opposite wall. This method can be used when the walls of the chimney are further apart, but can also be used in combination with stemming when the walls are closer together.

Switchbacks: Switchbacks are done by moving one hand and one foot at a time, alternating which side you move them to. This is generally the slower method of downclimbing, but can be necessary when the chimney is very wide or when there are obstacles in the way that prevent you from using the other methods.


Jumping is generally not the safest way to descent a mountain, but in some situations, it may be the only option. For example, if you are caught in an avalance or falling rocks, jumping may be your only chance of survival. If you are stuck on a ledge and cannot safely rappel down, jumping may be your best bet. Always weigh the risks and benefits of each situation before making a decision.

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