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Rappelling Down the Washington Monument

Updated on December 21, 2011
Wahington Monument 30 Sep 2011 -- showing two engineer rappellers | image credit: John Dove
Wahington Monument 30 Sep 2011 -- showing two engineer rappellers | image credit: John Dove

Washington, D.C. visit produces extraordinary sight

I was in Washington recently walking along The National Mall when my eyes were suddenly transfixed upward on two tiny specks near the top of the Washington Monument. Then I remembered the news that engineers were rappelling down the Washington Monument to inspect the damage done by the east coast earthquake on August 23rd. The Monument had suffered cracks during the 5.8 magnitude event.

According to Associated Press correspondent Ben Nichols, "The earthquake did not compromise the structural integrity of the monument, but surveillance video taken that day and released Monday by the park service shows it shaking violently. Daylight can be seen through some of the cracks, the largest of which is 4 feet long and about an inch wide."

Two engineers rappell on the Washington Monument 30 Sep 2011 | image credit: John Dove
Two engineers rappell on the Washington Monument 30 Sep 2011 | image credit: John Dove

Why was everyone so fascinated by engineers rappelling down the Washington Monument?

I stopped and chatted a while with a couple who were peering at the unusual sight through a pair of binoculars. They too were amazed at the sight and offered me a look through their lens.

Sure enough two figures, suspended from ropes attached to the top of the monument, were performing their dangerous duties.

I was drawn toward the Monument and walked toward it. Soon I saw a half dozen film crews with their cameras trained upward and focused on the Washington Monument rappellers. Many of these cameras were tethered to TV trucks with their transmitters raised full height sending images around the world.

Photographers and tourists alike all had their cameras trained on this extraordinary sight.

The Washington Monument | image credit: Library of Congress and National Park Service
The Washington Monument | image credit: Library of Congress and National Park Service

Was it the thought of a damaged icon - The Washington Monument?

What was it that caused such intense interest? To be sure, the Washington Monument is a national icon -- a must-see for many on their tour of Washington, D.C. The fact that this giant obelisk built to honor George Washington has stood in this spot 127 years since 1884 when it was finally completed has now been threatened -- not by a terrorist forces -- but by the forces of nature.

Was it fear of heights?

Or was it the sight of humans so high up rappelling down the side of this icon? For many people the fear of heights and the nightmarish idea of being suspended by ropes 555 feet above the ground make this scene all the more fascinating. Those rappellers were in a position to see Washington from like no others had ever seen it -- by rappelling down the Washington Monument. What a great view! But not one wished for by the vast majority of people.

Rappelling, Edition II
Rappelling, Edition II

Tom Martin's expertise in the art of rappelling has enabled him to train many firemen, police officers, and rescue squads in this lifesaving skill. His volunteer efforts have introduced a huge number of people to rock climbing, cave exploring, rappelling, and to a greater appreciation of the natural world. 304 pages. 2nd revised edition. February 1988.


Was it the fact that engineers were rappelling?

Maybe it was the fact that it was engineers who were rappelling down the Washington monument as part of their job that was the most intriguing thought. Were these individuals trained first as as engineers and then they learned how to rappel in order to perform these engineering tasks? Or were they rappellers who were later trained as engineers?

Watch this incredible National Park Service slideshow of the engineers working on Monument and amazing closeups of the rappellers at work -- plus their incredible views from outside the Monument.

Onlookers were fascinated by human interest stories of these individuals -- which have not yet been fully told. According to one story reported by Reuters, "Winds were so strong last Friday (September 30th) that one engineer, Erik Sohn, was lifted well off the west face and blown to the south side, said Daniel Lemieux, unit manager of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, the Illinois company carrying out the work."

Rappelling down the Washington Monument will likely heighten interest in this adventurous sport

The sight of people rappelling down the Washington monument in sight of thousands of people will not doubt increase interest in learning to rappel. There are schools all across America that where you can learn how to rappel.

There are books and manuals that show you exactly how to rappel.

Military rappellers

The military is where many people learned how to rappel. For these veterans the sight of engineers rappelling down the Washington Monument probably brought back many memories -- of their own rappelling experience in training, or perhaps in combat.

No wonder there's so much interest in this story

So it's no wonder the extraordinary sight of the engineers rappelling down the Washington Monument has struck a cord in so many people,

First Rappelling Lesson

Have you ever rappelled?

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    • John Dove profile image

      John Dove 6 years ago

      Hi Katie --

      It sounds as if you were one of these rappellers. If so, you certainly have an exciting job -- much more than most folks.

    • profile image

      Katie 6 years ago

      We were trained as engineers and architects first before we were trained in industrial rope access techniques. A couple of us were interested in rock climbing before we started doing this type of work but primarilythe rope access skills were learned on the job.