Climbing safety and our responsibility to the sport

I have read several articles recently that bemoan the lack of concern - particularly amongst the newest generation of climbers - for safety, the sanctity of the sport and for the care and maintenance of developed climbing areas. I was lucky enough to be brought into climbing by a seasoned climber with a high level of respect for all of these things, and I try desperately to pass down what he taught me to anyone just coming into, or ignoring critical foundations of, the sport. I witness too often climbers in the gym, or outside, ignoring redundancy in their gear, not doing appropriate safety checks, lacking crash pads, spotting improperly, allowing rando's to belay them, lazily using a grigri, or disrespecting the natural surroundings in a developed climbing area. All of these things drive me up a wall.

People are always mentioning to me in the gym about how conscious I am not only of my own pad placement, but of others', where others are in relation to someone that is climbing, if someone needs spotted - that's all because I was taught properly and because I have a healthy respect for the sport as a whole. I refuse to allow myself or someone else to get injured because they are being lazy or non-observant. I also refuse to contribute to any perception that climbers are either of those things, or that they shouldn't be allowed to climb outdoors because they don't respect where they are climbing. I think these are serious foundational lessons that need to be taught to new climbers that are being brought into the sport, alongside and as a complement to technique, endurance, strength-building, and training routines (and one of the reasons I'm interested in pursuing a career in instruction).

Lesson 1: Gear redundancy and safety checks

I saw an incredibly sad article recently about a man that died leading outside because he was climbing alone, bolt-to-bolt, with a stick clip hanging from his harness, clipping the next bolt and unclipping from his last as he went along. He took a fall, the one bolt he was clipped into failed, and he decked. He unfortunately ended up dying from blunt-force trauma to his head. I'm not saying that there is a 100% fool-proof method for ensuring you will not get injured when climbing. What I am saying is that there are shades of gray. Clipping properly, doing your appropriate safety checks, stick-clipping your first clip from the ground, using correct knots, having a belayer (like, hi) and using redundant gear when doing more complicated forms of climbing will decrease the odds that you will get injured. That's just how it is. Flouting those insurances, back-ups and safety techniques will increase the odds that you will get injured. I have personally witnessed, via safety checks, one of our strongest climbers tying into only one loop on their harness by accident. I also saw someone belaying someone on lead with the rope in their ATC upside-down, likely too nervous and self-conscious to tell their climber to come down and admit their mistake. New climbers have to be taught that these are important, that you are not immortal, no matter how strong and seasoned you are, and that if you forget a piece of gear or your belayer is otherwise occupied, guess what. You aren't climbing today. And that's that.

Graphic courtesy of Aman Anderson & Team Gorda
Lesson 2: Crash pad placement

I have witnessed two serious ankle injuries in the bouldering cave - both were during controlled falls where the climber landed between two pads that weren't pushed together properly. I get that you're excited to get on the wall. I get that you're a V5 climber and you're on a V3, and that you 'aren't going to fall, so it's fine.' But guess what you won't be psyched about....a broken ankle or a blown tendon. It takes two seconds to put your pads in the right place. Just do it.

Lesson 3: Spotting

Why am I always seeing people spotting so terribly, or not spotting at all? The "Oh, it's just a 5.10a, he won't fall, I don't need to spot him" mentality is dangerous. I might look like a big ol' dork, but if Amanda slips while trying to clip the first clip on any climb, I'll have her properly spotted so she doesn't land on her head. I don't really care what I look like, my climber's safety is most important. If I see someone doing a sketchy lay-back on an overhang in the bouldering cave, I'm going to move their pads and spot their head. I'm small enough that I have to body-check people into the pads, but that's fine with me. I see too many people afraid to take a hit from a falling climber in order to keep their body on the pad, and that's scary to me. Don't give a climber a false sense of security by calling out that you're "spotting" them if you're going to jump out of the way when they fall. Just sayin'.

Lesson 4: Don't let that rando belay you and the mental danger of the grigri

So... here's my thing. I think grigri's are great tools when used properly. They create redundancy in the event of human (belayer) error. I obviously have tons of friends that use grigri's properly. However, I see belayers in the gym all the freakin' time using grigri's like a bunch of lazy toolbags. Not holding their break strands, basically zoning out because they assume that, if their climber falls, that you-know-what is going to slam shut and their climber is going to be fine. Guess what. Gear can fail. Your climber's life is literally in your hands. I don't know of anything that's more serious than that. If they deck, it's on you. It doesn't matter how cool you looked belaying, because you were so chill and relaxed while they were climbing. I look like a big ol' dork when I'm belaying, giving slack, taking slack, looking up, left, right, walking back and forth, because I think being someone's lead belayer is a serious responsibility.

(This series on this issue in Rock & Ice is great.)

Additionally - if someone is offering to belay you, but you've never seen them belay before? Make no assumptions. Don't let that rando belay you.

(This flowchart is a representation of how to decide who should, and should not, belay you.)

Lesson 5: Leave no trace

This is like....a Boy Scouts motto, right? If you are climbing outside, don't leave trash any where. Don't break off tree braches, don't stomp brush, don't hike off a path to a crag, don't be a douche. The Access Fund exists to try and maintain access to developed climbing areas around the country, and they exist because there are unfortunately climbers that act like bulls in a china shop when they climb outdoors. Climbers lose access to climbing areas when they do these things. It raises the perception that climbers have no respect for the environment, that they're reckless and that they're infestations that destroy parks and habitats. Don't be that guy.

Obviously this post isn't applicable to everyone that reads my blog, but it's something that has been bugging me lately and that I wanted to say.


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