Few adventure sports in the world are as popular as rock climbing. However, as with all adventure sports activities, rock climbing comes with its own number of potential risks and hazards.
According to one report, for every 1000 hours of climbing, an average climber will suffer one injury. The ratio may appear to be quite an assuring one, especially when compared to those associated with most other adventure sports.
Nonetheless, you must ensure that you’ve taken all the necessary safety precautions before you hit the crag. Combine right techniques, good training, and proper gear and rock climbing will indeed come off as a safe enough activity. On the other hand, if you ignore any of these, you’ll expose yourself to unforeseen accidents that may range from severe to fatal.
Nothing of the above is to frighten you away from the delightful activity that rock climbing is. It is only to make you aware of the potential risks and pitfalls. However, as long as you are observing proper caution, there is little chance that you will come in harm’s way. So, for your sake, here is a list of 10 Rock Climbing Safety Tips that will help you circumvent the usual dangers associated with this sport.
Rock Climbing Safety Tips
1. Choose the Right Gear
This is the very first step that you must take to ensure your rock climbing trip winds up as a safe and enjoyable one. Quality gear is essential for safe climbing and when we say gear, we mean everything—your harness, ropes, quick draws, helmets, shoes or any other gear that you are planning to carry on your trip. Always make sure you are comfortable using whatever personal gear—such as shoes, helmet, etc.—you’ve chosen for the trip. Also, if you have any doubts regarding the quality of any of the above-mentioned pieces of equipment, then simply discard that one and choose something you are totally satisfied with. Again, while rock-climbing is a safe enough sport, proper and quality gear can often mean the difference between life and death. So never underestimate this part of the process.
2. Don’t Forget Your Helmet!
This is somewhat of a puzzling affair the fact that, even when it is regarded as a basic requirement, many sports climbers—especially amateurs or hobbyists—often choose to go without their helmets. We said puzzling because no matter what sort of a climber you are, you always run the common risks of flipping upside down, getting slammed against a rock face or hit by occasional loose or falling rocks, debris, etc. in all these circumstances, wearing a helmet ensures that you don’t suffer any sort of injury that may spoil your trip, or worse. So, again, don’t forget to fasten that helmet before you hit the crag.
3. Know Belaying Inside Out
Belaying is serious affair, so we can never overestimate the importance of having proper belaying techniques under your belt. And of course, you must ensure that your partner does the same as well. If you do not know how to belay properly, then never ever try to compensate that by watching a couple of online video tutorials. Enroll for a proper belaying course conducted by an experienced trainer and make sure you diligently learn all there is to learn about belaying, rappelling, etc. and then only plan a rock climbing trip!
4. Choose the Belaying Device You Are Comfortable With
This is another important thing to consider when belaying. Most climbers will be comfortable using the basic ATC device. Also, most rock climbing courses will teach you belaying with the ATC device. So, it’s alright if you go for this, however keep it in mind that belaying safely with the ATC contraption also depends, to a good degree, on the climber’s strength and attention.
An alternative to the ATC device is the more complex and detailed—but also safer—assisted braking device. With the latter, you can exercise more control while performing any belaying activity. While this is a definite plus, the flip side is that these devices are more complex to operate. So, if you are using any of these, you must make sure that you train with it before you go for an actual climbing trip and know how to operate it properly.
5. Choose the Correct Rope Length
Having the rope of the right length for your intended route is just as important. Typically, 60-70 meters of rope should suffice for most outdoor climbing trips. Nevertheless, make sure to double check the length and height of your intended route(s). It must never happen that you find yourself short of rope on the spot and try to compensate that with some makeshift arrangement. If you’re in any doubt, always go for some extra length of rope.
6. Communication is Key!
When it comes to rock climbing safety, proper communication is vital. Before you hit that rock wall, it is necessary that you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to passing the right commands or any other vital information. Prepare some codes between yourself if you must.
Of course, it is ideal if there is little noise around while you are climbing. However, that is not always the case. Your climbing location may sit right next to a highway and the cars will drown your voice. Sometimes, the noise from rivers and streams also make it difficult to hear what your partner is trying to communicate. This is why shorter code-like commands often come handy in those situations.
Finally, if you’re not altogether sure what your partner has just said, don’t just assume. If need be, make him repeat as many times as is necessary till you know exactly what he is saying. Acting on some assumption may often lead to serious hazards.
7. Don’t Let Your Attention Flag
It is common enough to get caught up by the breathtaking scenery all around you during outdoor climbing trips. Sometimes, a belayer will also involve in chatting with other climbers or may sit on the ground for a while. Basically, all this is to say that he is not paying enough attention when belaying someone which means that he may miss some important commands from the climber or interpret them in a wrong manner; or he is not holding on to the rope firmly enough. All these practices are extremely unsafe and can lead to a fall and serious injuries for the climber. This is why it is vital that you pay utmost attention when belaying someone. The sightseeing and other chit-chats can wait till you are sitting around a bonfire in the evening or at the stroke of dusk!
8. Double check Your Knots
Again, we cannot overestimate the importance of this activity. No matter how good or experienced a climber you are and even if you can tie your knots blindfolded, it is still highly recommended that you pay full attention while tying your knots. Do not engage in talking with your fellow climbers or allow any other distraction while tying the knot. Do it properly and pay utmost focus until you are sure that you are safely attached. And once this is done, you must also make sure to have your partner check your knot.
9. Double Check Your Harness and Leg Straps
Similarly, as with the knots, you must ensure that your harness belts and leg straps are tightly and securely attached. Make sure your harness straps are doubled back and also that your harness belt is secured tightly enough so there is nothing flapping around inside.
Another thing to mention (since online merchandise has become so popular these days) that you must never even think of ordering your harness belts or straps online. These pieces of gear are essential for your rock climbing safety and you must make no compromise when selecting the right ones for you. Go to a physical store and try out a number of harnesses and find which ones you are most comfortable with. This is, in fact, true for pretty much all your climbing gear. Only buy or borrow them from quality stores or merchants on whom you have proper trust. Don’t go for online reviews and such things. They may be helpful in many cases, but not when it comes to climbing rocks. Something that is right for someone does not necessarily mean that it will be the proper equipment for you as well. In short, your life is on the line, so never settle for no compromises at all!
10. Be Aware of Loose Rocks & Debris
Finally, you must always be in lookout for occasional loose rocks and so on. This is especially relevant if you are climbing during rainy season. The rain makes the ground softer and there will be more chances of loose rocks coming down the slopes. This can make your climbing activity more hazardous. So, it is recommended that if you go climbing during monsoon months, try whenever possible to choose your belay spots in sheltered locations. Also, make sure to settle for hangout or anchor spots that are not too close to vertical or slab like cliffs.
Elizabeth Sparks received a Masters Degree in geology from The University of Colorado. Elizabeth has been working as a full-time geologist for the past 5 years. In her spare time, Elizabeth participates in rock climbing competitions and frequently goes camping with friends.