Be A Safer Climber In Just 3 Minutes and 15 Seconds.

It’s outdoor season! After a long, cold and wet winter, the rocks are finally drying and the sun is warm. Climbing outdoors opens some extra variables. I can’t say we can narrow out all dangers of outdoor climbing. All I am saying is that a few minutes and some extra attention is all it takes to make a difference that can save lives.

Check the knots/belayer

It is easier to fix mistakes before the climb than during the climb. Give your partner the chance to save a life! Before starting a climb, double check the safety set up. Does the knot look good? Check! Is that belay set up and locked? Oh that carabiner is not locked! Now it is. Check! 

Stopper knot

There have been many accidents where the rope slipped through the belayer’s hand. It is easy to have too short a rope for the route, and not realize it until it is too late. If you can’t image how that feels rewatch Disney’s Mulan. There is a scene where Yao lets the rope slip through his fingers! That fortunately worked out well for Yao though (thanks Disney!).

I recently started listening to The Sharp End, a podcast hosted by the North American Alpine Association. Podcast two was all about a climber whose rope was too short. The climber fell 45 feet, and luckily survived! Listen and learn from the podcast following this link! According to statistics from the podcast, having a rope top short is the leading cause of rappel lowering failures

Tie a knot at the end of that rope! Always. Make it a habit today. Please!!!


Extra rope at the end of a figure 8 follow through

Just last year this was witnessed by my climbing partner! As a local climber was climbing his figure-8 follow through untied. He literally caught the rope as it was COMING OUT of his harness. Some extra rope at the end of the knot would have really helped, especially with a new stiff rope. How much is enough? It depends on who is talking. I have heard a fist’s length. I have also heard, “Well, not your first size, my fist size.” The person teaching was talking to someone with smaller hands. 

Most reasonably I have heard twelve inches. Twelve inches was first taught to me when learning how to tie the knot. Maybe it is too much, but maybe that is what makes it a safe bet!

Wear a helmet

Gravity works! It works really well. Rocks fall, people fall, phones fall, gear falls. Seeing a pattern? We move up in a world where the law is down. And rocks, objects, and people? We want to go down!

On another side of the world is sport/trad climbing! Even trying to be safe, feet happen! Even veteran climbers occasionally back step. Almost everyone knows someone or two (or five +) that fell, got flipped over and hit their head.

I wish we did not have to, but consider freak accidents. No matter our habits, we participate in an inherently dangerous sport. “If only there was a way to prepare for freak accidents!” Its unrealistic to expect a helmet to save against everything. Helmets can mitigate damages. Want to read more stories about helmets? Check out the American Alpine Associations movement #HelmetsMatter.  Some super cool, super scary stories to keep you up at night. 

Avoid self rappel if possible

This is causing ripples in the climbing community. In the past, good climbing etiquette required climbers to self rappel while the rope is directly in the chains on a route. By rappelling, the rope is not rubbing the chains therefore extending the life of the chains. The problem comes from human error. Too many climbers are not getting on rappel correctly and falling from the top of the routes. Yikes!

In the future (where we live now!) it is becoming more acceptable to be lowered down while the rope is going through the chains. Yes, this does wear the chains down faster. And yes, it has much better statistics for our climbing friends avoiding injuries.

Concerned about chain life? Here is a link to the local climbing organizations for the US. Donations are accepted!

The idea: We would rather spend more money replacing chains than watch climbers get into accidents.

If something feels off, don’t do it.

Guts are there for a reason. While climbing it can be hard to tell the difference between reasonable nerves, and when something-is-off nerves. If those anchors look sketchy, if the decking potential is possible, if that crack looks loose, then trust your gut.

Time summary for extra safety

  1. Check the knot/belay device: 15 seconds to 2 minutes
  2. Tie a stopper knot: 30 seconds
  3. Retie the figure 8 follow through knot: 1 minute
  4. Wear a helmet: 15 seconds (as long as it is adjusted previously)
  5. Be lowered down after cleaning: No time lost or gained

Total time: 3 minutes 15 seconds

Play hard and be smart!

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