Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Climbing terms for descending on a rope: abseil and abseiling

Abseil is a climbing term that means “descending on a rope.” The word “abseil” also occurs in names of canyon wall locations that require abseiling to get down to the canyon creek. In a recent National Geographic article, author Mark Jenkins and photographer Carsten Peter Mark feature the exciting world (underworld) of  slot canyons in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia [1]. They illustrate the waterfall Danae Falls, which drops and cascades down into Danae Brook Canyon. Along the down-cascading path, you see various pitches with names such as First waterfall (pitch length of 98 ft), Narrow cleft (92 ft) and multiple abseils including Chockstone abseil (92 ft), Waterfall abseil (89 ft), Danae direct abseil (102 ft) and  Slippery log abseil (66 ft, without slipping, I assume). You probably get the idea that it needs some climbing techniques [2,3] and lots of experience—beyond linguistics skills—to manage such abseils.

The noun “abseil” is derived from German Seil. The noun Seil (masculine) translates into rope in English. The German verb seilen means to rope. The prefix ab adds the meaning of down. Abseilen means literally to rope down, but also has the meaning of to disappear or to escape one's duties. Interestingly, the word Abseil does not exist by itself as a German-language noun (not in the Duden anyway), but may occur in composed words, for example Abseilstelle (abseil location) oder Abseilfieber (abseil fever).

Keywords: rock climbing, canyoneering skills, waterfalls, geography, topology, etymology, German-English translation

References and more to explore
[1] Mark Jenkins: Lost in Slot Canyons. National Geographic October 2011, 220 (4),  60-81 [ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/australia-canyons/jenkins-text and ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/australia-canyons/peter-photography].
[2] Climbing Techniques - Abseiling: www.abc-of-rockclimbing.com/howto/abseiling.asp.
[3] Backing Up An Abseil: www.chockstone.org/TechTips/RapBackup.htm.

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