Rock Climbing: Safer than you think
Author: J Miller
It never fails that when I talk to someone about my climbing career that the questions about safety and even sometimes my sanity come into the conversation. To the layman climbing is an extreme and dangerous sport. It is in fact an extreme sport, and it does have some inherent dangers. However, working to the climbers’ advantage is an industry full of people obsessed with safety and gear engineered to handle far beyond what is actually necessary to protect the climbers. When done properly with good technique and use of appropriate safety standards a day of rock climbing will be safer than your daily commute to work.
Accidents do happen in climbing, and often the results are tragic. With every accident is a lesson, because somewhere a mistake was made. Recent media attention was given to a young climber who died in a fall. Upon analysis of the accident it was found that the gear intended to keep him safe was used improperly. The gear did not fail; the climber and his partners failed to use it as intended. The “quickdraws” that were in place in this recent accident have the ability to withstand 20 kilo-newtons of force applied to them, far more than any fall the climber could have taken would have provided. To put it quite simply, they could hold the weight of your family sedan. I wouldn’t go recommending that people use climbing equipment to start precariously suspending the family car for fun, however it’s a bit of insight into just how strong the equipment we climbers utilize in our trade.
In addition to the gear is the fact that experienced climbers are actually quite aware of what is necessary to stay safe, and are quite competent at applying those principles. The principles used involve the utilization of redundant systems and an assumption that if something can go wrong or fail it will. When executed properly, every part of the system in place will have at least one element of back up, sometimes two, and will be double if not triple checked. Most climbers obsess over this system of redundancy, and will not take any risks that are not backed up properly. Standards for how to create anchors, tie knots, and place safety gear are in place and have continually improved throughout the history of climbing. Assuming each principle is applied properly the system will be made fail safe and affords everyone using it a fun safe day of climbing.
This is where the climbing guide comes into play. Everything described above leaves open an opportunity for failure due to human error. This error comes from inexperience or carelessness. A climbing guide is someone there to deliver experience as well as the care and attention to detail that closes the safety system. Good climbing guides obsess over best practices in safety even more than the recreational climber, because their job and more importantly others’ safety depends on it. There are training’s available to guides, like PCGI, that allow them to learn the absolute best practices and safety techniques. It also teaches them how to teach these techniques to others, how to handle the unexpected event that falls beyond their control, and even how to provide rescue were the unexpected to happen. By hiring a trained climbing guide even the most basic beginner can have themselves a fun and safe day of rock climbing. For the advanced climber looking to improve upon their own use of safe techniques a guide can be a great resource as a teacher as well. Climbing is a very safe sport when done right, safer than most other extreme sports, and a good climbing guide is your gateway to obtaining that level of safety.