Regardless of how fun climbing is, for climbers just ending the day safe and unharmed is the ultimate goal. All else is a bonus. With routine climbing practices it is easy to cut corners in the order of ease or out of impatience but as many veteran climbers can attest to, safety in the long run comes from routine safe practices. Although much of the time extra steps or formalized motions may seem excessive they certainly can help ensure safety through the years.
Belay commands and partner checks are great examples of climbing fail-safes on the most basic level. Being that every situation is unique there are often far more ways things can go wrong than can be anticipated so as a wise man would say, expect the unexpected, or in climbing terms, be prepared for the worst-case scenario at any given moment and act accordingly.
The unfortunate beauty of climbing accidents is that as an outsider looking in we can often learn from any mistakes made by others without necessarily having been personally involved. And due to the fact that accidents occur with some regularity we can see which mistakes climbers often fall victim to and with what regularity. There is no way to prevent every possible mishap but we can certainly be aware of the points which frequently cause drama.
The following are some climbing safety pointers which largely stem from trends of accident causes. Honestly, most of these insights are from memory of particular accidents and are by no means statistical. Also, by no means is this an exhaustive list:
-Use formal climbing commands between partners and keep communication to a minimum as possible to minimize confusion. Have a plan before you head up.
-Pay attention to the order of operations of the tasks being preformed by your climbing team. This way if communication isn’t possible both parties have an idea of what to expect.
-Know your climbing partner and their limitations. If they are new try to set them up for success with instruction and add redundancy to systems as needed. If you are both new consider hiring a qualified instructor or climbing with a reputable mentor and invest in instructional literature. Realize your gaps in knowledge as a new climber and act accordingly.
-As a leader pay close attention to where you are relative to your gear and the terrain or ground below. Also be very careful of the integrity of gear paced when low on a route with out much gear in place.
-Stay on belay whenever possible in exposed terrain and avoid going on and off and back on belay when at a distance from your belayer as confusion here can be catastrophic.
-Tie a knot in the opposite end of the rope from the climber in a single pitch lower-off scenario to prevent the possibility of lowering the leader off the end of the rope if the height of a single pitch route is misjudged.
-Tie knots in the end of the rope when rappelling as to not accidentally go off the end of the rope. Be certain the rope is properly through your belay device and clipped to your harness. Also, use a third-hand backup on decent so that the rope can be managed if tangled below and to minimize the potential of a large fall in if control of the rope is lost. Give a fireman's belay to subsequent climbers rappelling down.
-Be careful in selecting descent routes. Pay close attention to where the rope will end up if it is pulled down. In addition to featured terrain, the wind is a common culprit for ropes moving where they shouldn’t and becoming stuck. Consider a saddlebag technique, a walk off descent, or avoiding particular routes on the given day.
-Be careful with the potential for rope drag while leading. Sometimes shorter pitches make sense and are actually more efficient. Climbing gets a lot harder with a rope pulling you down and belaying a follower is even harder.
-Protect climbs which traverse appropriately to prevent the potential of a swinging fall to the leader or the follower.
-If you are trying to follow a route, stay on route, don’t go off route into the unknown to try to make it easier. Loose rock is more common off of established lines and the availability for protection is questionable.
-If the route you intend to climb has inherently loose rock do not follow another group up it as they may pepper you with rocks. Also consider avoiding a known to be loose route if you are likely the first to climb it for the season or if wildlife such as goats are above.
-On climbs where protection is at all marginal climb within your ability and assume that routes that were established and rated many years ago will be challenging at a given grade.
-Use the appropriate gear for a particular outing. Wear a helmet and use a rope where appropriate.
-Be aware of how much force will go into a rope system of anchor should a climber fall and address as necessary. There is a variance in climbing materials that is worth being aware of as well as practices which can increase potential overall shock load and the potential for failure in a system.
-Be vigilant monitoring the integrity of soft materials which are load bearing and retire them as necessary.
-Avoid soft materials, such as ropes, from being loaded over sharp edges.
-Ensure gear will take load in the appropriate way for which it is designed with carabiners taking weight in an in-line orientation. Also, be sure not to back-clip while leading as the rope may unclip itself from protection in a fall.
-Be suspicious of all fixed gear, especially old and weathered or loose pieces.
-If the weather looks bad stop climbing higher. Address the problem.
If you do anything always double check your work. If you accidentally miss something important a second look just may make the difference to keep you safe.