Now that winter has come and gone, we can finally see the sun shining down upon our favourite crag in Kochel, Germany. As one of the route setting teams, we had long since rung in the new sport climbing season before large groups of sport climbers started to arrive. Unfortunately, as more climber started to hit the crag, the more shocked I became. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Even the more experience climbers were making the most awful mistakes. Just the other day, I witnessed something you’d usually see at the gym: the belayer kept moving away from the base of the wall as the climber ascended. All of the sudden, the climber falls from the last bolt and slams into the wall.
“Ah, so that’s what facing the rock head-on feels like.” Fortunately, it was nothing serious. Another example: A belayer said to his partner, laughing: “good thing I’m using an assisted-braking device! I just completely let go of the rope ‘cuz the quickdraw hit my hand.” Of course, we can’t really do anything about our reflexes, but come on. I know what you’re thinking: “amateurs…” But, the thing is such silly mistakes aren’t unique to beginners. In fact, we more seasoned climbers tend to make mistakes precisely BECAUSE we’ve been climbing for so long. It’s like a kind of tunnel vision! So, before we kick off the new climbing season, it seems now’s a better time than any to reacquaint oneself with the most common mistakes made in sport climbing.
Done it a thousand times before…
I was out climbing with a friend and thought to myself, “Wow. Training at the gym was obviously worthwhile since my leader’s up there doing a no-hands rest. What a cool cat, I say to myself. After all, the route was by no means easy. Only later did I realise that it was more or less an involuntary break during which he quickly finished tying his knot. Yeah… Tied ‘em a thousand times before… “Good thing I noticed it after the crux”, he said soberly. Do we really have to start doing the “partner check” again after ten years of climbing?
Apparently, we never should’ve stopped! Double checking is not just useful when it comes to knots but other integral bits of your gear as well. For example, it can help you find other mistakes like when the rope is not threaded properly. Other mistakes can be weeded out simply by getting new gear. For example, if your belayer tends to forget to screw screw-gate carabiners shut! In such a case, I’d recommended giving him or her a twist-lock or ball-lock carabiner that has a safety wire too. It’s money well spent – promise! The same goes for investing in a new climbing harness with a smart buckle system. Most new models have something similar to the Rock&Lock system by Singing Rock, so you won’t have to double back. Another potential error eliminated!
Much too little and then much too much
Lead climbers like to nag. One minute you’re not paying out enough rope and doing so too slowly, and the next you’re paying out much too much and way too quickly. Maybe that’s why so many belayers stand so far away from the wall? To be prepared for anything and everything? Regardless, not giving the appropriate amount of slack can really get a climber’s knickers in a twist – and understandably so! But still, who wants to be “bitched at” in their free time? Well, nobody, really, but try to be a good belayer, anyway! That means you shouldn’t give too much slack because, in the event of a fall, your climber will go for a long ride, which could be fatal! Far too often, we underestimate how much a fall can be lengthen by too much slack.
Here’s another example of a situation from the gym you’re probably all familiar with: one second the lead climber was just about all the way up top and now he’s dangling about a metre above the ground. Come on, people, stand adjacent to the wall and keep your head up! After all, a stiff neck will heel a lot faster than broken bones! Maybe you could even get a neck massage? Another fatal error is when there’s too much of a weight difference between climbing partners, something that tends to be more pronounced in the winter. In other words, it’s okay to ask! Of all the places where you wouldn’t ask a woman how much she weighs, climbing gyms aren’t one of them. That’s how important it is to know your climbing partner’s weight!
Ah, distractions, distractions. I was hanging just below the crux and was hesitant, so what do I do? I look down at my belayer for reassurance, but what I get is the exact opposite… My belayer is indeed looking up, just not at me! I guess somebody else had the better arse! To be fair, this level of distractedness is by no means unique to my belayer. As I look around, I notice how little the belayers are paying attention to their partners! When I think about it, all of the mistakes mentioned before could fall under this category. We all know better, but for whatever reason, we still allow ourselves to get distracted.
And for good reason, I mean, there are so many beautiful people with beautiful bodies, with some wearing less than others, and climbers attempting to redpoint your project and much more. In fact, it can be so difficult to concentrate sometimes that one could claim that trying not to listen or watch something or someone is harder than climbing itself! However, this is not the cause of all missteps. It’s also true that there’s often not enough communication between partners. When lowering off, for example, communication is incredibly important. Unfortunately, there have been far too many accidents – some fatal – as a result of poor communication. Communicating clearly with your partner could save your or his or her life! If you’re going climbing with someone you usually don’t climb with, it’s crucial that you agree on climbing commands beforehand!
We all make mistakes
Despite all the precautions you may take, your gear can end up failing you, too. So, it’s always a good idea to inspect your rope after your winter break and check the “expiration date” on your belay loop. In other words, check your gear for wear and tear. None of us want to end up like Todd Skinner, whose belay loop was so worn that he tragically fell to his death. Even carabiners can wear out over time, resulting in very sharp edges. Falling onto a sharp-edged biner should be avoided at all costs because the rope could rip. So, do check them for wear on occasion. It’s as easy as running your fingers over them.
The same goes for the protection on the wall. Bolts can take quite the beating over the years, so it’s incredibly important to watch out for wear and corrosion caused by weather conditions and sunlight. Always err on the side of caution when building a belay as well. When in doubt, just leave your gear behind. By the way, a good thing to use as an extension on the wall is the Kong “Prog”, the long-awaited arm extender. No genetic engineering required!
As we all know, water shapes rocks. As a result of the freeze-thaw process, this can have an effect on us climbers as well. Another instinct that always seems to fall by the wayside as a result of climbers’ winter hibernation is the awareness of the risks of rock fall. You don’t see that all too often at the gym, do you? Spring, in particular, is a time when it’s not at all uncommon to see “pebbles” flying by when your stand at the base of a wall.
You may also come across several loose nuts on bolts. Before committing to them, do make sure they’re tight. After all, what’s more embarrassing than getting injured as a result of foolishness? All that being said, let’s kick off the climbing season with some common sense, shall we?