A New Generation
The recent propagation of climbing's popularity has created an influx of new climbers, new vendors and new technology to our crags. Gym climbers blinded by the safety and expediency of gym climbing are seeking to try their hand at outdoor rock; increased traffic at local crags is spawning the birth of easy clip anchors for effortless cleaning and quick turn around of routes; and the birth of a generation of convenience is pushing people to climb with less training, less understanding and a lack of proper climbing safety knowledge. While many of these things are nice and make life and climbing more convenient, they can also create safety concerns. I am sure there are other climbing safety sources, but I highly recommend reading Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills and Self-Rescue to brush up on playing it safe at the crag.
Hardware requires the eyes of all climbers in the community to inspect and inform local climbing regulatory agencies to rebolt when necessary. The weather, traffic, rock fall or erosion, and improper use can, and will, wear down hardware. If a bolt is spinning, has lots of rust or just looks plain haggard, it likely needs to be rebolted. Also, be weary of webbing or draws that have been left behind. Visit The American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) for more information. http://www.safeclimbing.org/
Rock fall, although sometimes a natural occurrence, can be either avoided or the risk mitigated. Its common sense to wear a helmet in areas with tons of rock fall (El Potrero Chico). Avoid pulling on loose or hollow sounding rock. If it flexes when you pull on it or sounds like a bongo when you knock on it, don't use it. Also, if you can redirect your rope to not let it dislodge loose rock onto your belayer or climbers below, it's always ideal. Most importantly, yell "ROCK!!!" if you knock something off.
Human Error / Negligence
Many of these accidents occur when climbers don't tie-in appropriately, don't tie a knot in the end of their rope when belaying or rappelling, fail to set up an appropriate anchor, or aren't paying attention when belaying. As climbers and as human beings, if accidents don't happen regularly, it's easy to become lax on safety, especially when double checking knots and equipment, and belaying. When the crags get crowded we have to stay focused.
Beyond the recommended reading, I would also highlight the importance of having some sort of wilderness medical training and even potentially rescue insurance. Having the know-how to resuscitate and check for spinal injuries could mean the difference in your climbing buddy making it at all, much less climbing again. Additionally, the American Alpine Club offers rescue insurance, which could come in handy when climbing in back country or international destinations where assistance may financially ruin you. Insurance at all is key. Think about it, if you’re already surviving on a shoe string camping out at crags, what’s going to happen when you owe $30K in hospital bills because you wanted to save $60 a month in insurance?
As climbers we rely on each other for support in pulling the crux and topping out our projects. The same goes for recovering from a serious injury. If you know someone who has been injured reach out to them with moral or financial help if needed. Same goes for others involved in incidents, whether it’s the belayer or someone at the scene, it’s always best to do what we can to keep them stoked and not traumatized.
It seemed important to highlight some of the things that came to mind when I heard about several of the recent climbing incidents. And, since climbing incidents happen and are sometimes unavoidable, it's always best to be prepared. Most importantly, have fun when you're climbing. That's really what it's all about. After all avoiding accidents will allow you to avoid missing more climbing.
Know of some good climbing safety resources? Have a case study or injured friend in need? Leave a comment and let us know what's going on.
*The American Alpine Club, particularly their Accidents in North American Mountaineering book http://www.americanalpineclub.org/index.php
*The American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) http://www.safeclimbing.org/
*Book – Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills http://www.amazon.com/Mountaineering-Freedom-Hills-Mountaineers-Society/dp/0898868289
*Tradgirl Climbing Safety FAQ Page http://www.tradgirl.com/climbing_faq/safety.shtml
*Wilderness First Responder on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilderness_First_Responder