Climbing Safety

Rock climbing can be an immensely satisfying sport, but can also prove lethal.  Two bits of advice can help you avoid injury:  Know What You’re Doing & Use Your Brain!  Here are a few specific pieces of advice you should follow:

1. Get adequate training.  Maybe you’re agile, strong, and a quick learner. Maybe you taught yourself how to ride a bike, ski moguls and live off the land after getting yourself lost in the mountains.  The fact remains that ROCK CLIMBING IS NOT ENTIRELY INTUITIVE.  If you don’t get adequate training, you could easily commit a number of errors that could cost you your life. Sure, SAR gets excited when we get called out on a technical rescue, but that doesn’t mean we want people to get hurt or to endanger our own lives coming to get you.

2. If you’re lead climbing, never let the rope hang behind your knee. Let it drape over the front instead when your last piece of protection is off to one side. This way, when you fall (and you will eventually fall), the rope stays out in front of you. If the rope is behind your leg, it will flip you upside down and smack your head against the wall (“melonhead”).  If you ever see anyone leading with the rope behind their leg, please remind them.

3. Know how to place natural pro before you trust your life to it.  I’ve seen climbers zipper (unzip, that is) an entire 50′ crack because they didn’t know how to properly place their gear. When I got to him, his shattered forearm had a number of unnatural bumps and bends (he was lucky that was all he had).

A few of the primary pointers for placing pro include:
A. Place it for the direction of a fall. That means the cam stem goes down, so when you fall, you don’t twist it and walk it right out of the crack.
B. Use long runners when there’s any chance of your rope’s movement lifting your pro and working it loose.
C. You often face the difficult choice between stopping to place pro and moving before you pump out. A good question to help you decide is “What would happen if I ran this out and fell?” If the consequences are more dire than having to rest, not getting the red point this time up, or even turning the route into an aid route, consider placing pro.
D. Learn to equalize anchors, doubling up on questionable placements.

Also know which direction to place quick draws when sport climbing – with no twists in the runner and the lower gate facing away from where you’ll be climbing above it.

4. Communicate with your belay!!! Use standard calls like “Belay on!” “Climbing!” “Climb on!” “Falling!” “Slack!” “Take!” etc.  It gets nearly impossible to hear sometimes and if you’re shouting “The rope is too tight!” or “If you don’t feed me some rope, I can’t clip and will fall to my death!” instead of “Slack!”, well…nice knowin’ ya.

My friend Dog (Brian) has nearly decked (a.k.a. hit the deck, cratered) three times – once because his belay did not know how to belay and he didn’t check, and once because he jumped off a 75′ cliff (top of the first pitch) without warning his belay, assuming he was still on belay. He forgot he had called “Belay off!” when he reached the anchors, and Robert (who once saved my life with quick thinking in a sticky spot) was, in fact, off belay. Robert lunged for the rope and caught Dog before he became road kill.

5. NEVER UNTIE when you’re above the ground without first securing yourself and the rope!  Most climbers who die do so because they got careless and sloppy.  DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE.  Always take proper precautions.

6. Choose your climbing locations carefully. If the rock is rotten, if people above you are kicking rocks down, if it seems dangerous, then find another spot. Live to climb another day.

7. Get lots of experience on top rope, in gyms, and with experienced climbers before pushing your own limits.

8. Take good care of your gear. Keep it clean.

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