In this column, my Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit teammates and I usually focus on safety on the trails and the overall beauty of the high country. Never have we talked about the safety aspect of the core sport that makes Idyllwild a destination for people from around the world — climbing!
The past year, 2010, saw record fatalities from climbing accidents around the country and this year looks to be on par with 2010’s numbers. There are ways that you can minimize your chances of incurring a minor or major injury while participating in the popular sport of rock climbing.
Here are my five basic safety tips for you to follow while rock climbing. By taking the time to do these five acts, I hope that you will minimize the odds of, even avoid, becoming a climbing accident statistic.
1. Buy your own equipment
If you are dedicated to a sport, you need your own equipment. Borrowed belay devices and harnesses or, even worse, rented equipment is not conducive to a safe rock-climbing practice outside of a controlled environment. Rock climbing requires you to know your equipment and how to use it instinctively. Even though there are basic consistencies with each piece of equipment, when you constantly switch between one brand or piece of equipment and another, the minor changes are enough to trip you up in a moment when reflex must take over.
2. Use standard verbal commands
You may be tempted to skip some of the phrases recommended for exchange between a partner and a “belayer” when you are out with a regular partner. However, it is best to always be consistent in your use of belaying calls and to use the standard phrases such as “climbing,” “take rope” and “off-belay.” Consistency creates habit. As long as you do not let habit turn into complacency, you will stay as safe as possible while climbing.
3. Match your shoes to your climb
If you are serious about climbing, safety and climbing efficiency dictate that you should own multiple pairs of climbing shoes to assist you on multiple types of climbs. Rotating your shoes also helps you avoid developing a “hot spot” related to knowing how to climb only in one shoe.
It is better to develop footwork with a variety of shoes so that you do not become dependent on one pair that will ultimately be replaced.
4. Pick your climbing partners accordingly
A climber with less experience and dedication to rock climbing than you is an encumbrance unless you are a highly experienced climber yourself or a natural born teacher. If you are climbing with a friend who constantly breaks your focus or for whom you have to pause too often, you will exhaust yourself mentally and physically, which ultimately compromises your safety.
5. Replace your equipment
Enthusiasts get attached to their equipment no matter the sport. Unfortunately, for you, rock climbing isn’t a sport that offers a great deal of leeway when equipment gives. A worn-out harness halfway through a climb doesn’t quite compare to a golfer finally having to purchase a new golf bag. When your equipment begins to wear or fade, replace it and memorialize yesterday’s model on the wall of your gear room.
Basic rock climbing safety tips provide commonsense knowledge, but there are more focused safety tips for specific rock climbs. The best safety tip is to always make yourself aware of every aspect of your climb before starting it.