“In climbing, there are two types of mistakes. The fatal one and others”.
After many years of climbing and working as an instructor, I have seen it all. Likely I have never witnessed any fatal accident but I have seen many “near misses” and “close calls”.
Below I would like to point out a few common mistakes I have noticed happens quite regularly in sport climbing. Some of them could be “fatal” one, some are just bad practice.
- Not tying a figure of eight knot to the harness properly! Tie carefully and do not interrupt this action until you finish it and make sure that the eights look like it should look. Especially be aware when you re-tie at the anchor point after finishing sport climbing!
- Lack of knot at the end of the rope. If you don’t have a habit of tying a knot at the end of the rope – make it soon!
- An unprepared rope is a lazy mistake – flake a rope before a climb!
- Not checking your partner. Do “buddy check” before climbing every time despite who you climbing with. Check that the partner is well tied in, that the rope fits well in the belay device and carabiner is locked.
- Poor belaying. Be critical to yourself when belaying. You don’t just hold the rope! Answer to yourself those questions: Are you well-positioned, do you give the right amount of rope, do you react quickly to the actions of your partner? Pay attention to how you hold the rope. Be careful especially when you are spotting and up to 3rd bolt, when the risk of the decking is the most real. Do not give more slack than necessary, but do not stiff a rope as well. Do not stand in a line of a climb – very relevant when the rocks are fragile and a climber can drop a stone. Wear a helmet!
- Not dumping off old favourite gear. Periodically, check of your personal gear as your life depends on it, replace the old harness, put away old ropes, inspect the quickdraws etc.
- Stress-free use of rings, bolts, spits and fixed anchors. Do not forget the principle of limited trust. This is especially true of the old pitons that you may encounter on some routes. Not all bolts are put by professionals and they can be badly installed. In addition, the rock erodes and some can break with bolts!
- Not locking a gate of a carabiner, in conjunction with other circumstances can be led to serious consequences. Open carabiner withstands the load of 7kN – instead of 22kN.
- Back clipping into the quickdraw. The rope which runs down to belayer is clipped in the lower carabiner in the direction of the harness and not the rocks. If done wrong, it increases chances of the rope being unclipped during a fall. A similar mistake could be made when traversing for a few meters. We should keep a gate of the carabiner on the opposite side of the way we climb.
- Ignoring loose rocks. The belief that all the grips are solid as they are on the climbing wall could be fatal. Erosion goes in the mountains all the time, make sure you don’t fall with a broken piece of rock in your hand. Belay away from the possible rockfall.
- Bad falling. Panic shout “take” instead of a controlled fall. If you stand a meter above your last protection point a better option would be info: “I’m off!” than “take, take!”. A dynamic catch is better than stiff. Make sure your leg is not behind the rope!
- Confusing commands: “take”, “safe”, “on belay” etc. Using too many words and shouting can lead to miscommunication. Make sure you discuss with your partner how to communicate. Agree on the system if you can’t hear each other. Use your partner name if is busy at the crag.
- Failure to use the helmet. Although the helmets most often appear on climbing courses, they are getting increasingly popular among experienced climbers! Today helmets are light and cool looking, making the list of reasons even longer to wear them for both a climber and belayer.
- Top roping on the permanent anchor’s points! If you plan to set a top rope at the anchor’s point, make sure that the rope rests on your carabiner, not a ring! Alternatively, you can use a sling to set up your own anchor point. Yes, it means you need to climb again to clean the anchor.
Disclaimer: All climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions. If any of the technique, skills or advice presented on my blog are not clear to you, seek professional advice and instruction before applying them.