Recalling a Crisis

A failure of crucial safety equipment leads to a tragic death.  Major manufacturers issue urgent recalls of the equipment and an emergency meeting of the industry body decides to review safety standards.

If this were a story about a major consumer product, it would be major news.  It’s not.  This is a story about a piece of specialist mountaineering equipment – via ferrata lanyards.   For this reason you won’t find this story mentioned outside the specialist press.  It’s a story with a lot of the features of a crisis.  Although the response to it has been swift, it raises all sorts of questions about the regulation of mountain sports and the accessibility of the mountains to the public.

Climbers on the Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini

Vie ferrate

Vie ferrate are a way of enabling access to mountainous areas that would normally only be accessible to experienced mountaineers or rock climbers.  These “iron roads” have a mixture of attachments to the rock to help people climb past the sections where the rock climbing is a bit harder. Read more

UPDATE – Totally Recalled

It’s been reported that an emergency meeting of the Safety Commission of the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme – International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) will be held this week because of concerns over the safety of via ferrata lanyards from several manufacturers.

My Edelrid via ferrata lanyards in use

A couple of weeks ago Edelrid recalled some of its via ferrata lanyards after a fatal accident on a via ferrata in Austria.  Since then, manufacturers Wild Country, AustriAlpin, Singing Rock, Climbing Technology and Edelweiss have all issued their own recalls on their via ferrata lanyards.  Apparently, initial research is suggesting that grit in intensively used, elasticated lanyards abrades the nylon and causes the lanyards to fail to hold a falling climber.

I did a post on the original Edelrid recall as I think it is intriguing how much trust climbers and mountaineers put in the equipment they use and the people who make it.  My feeling is that we can probably trust manufacturers to warn us if our gear is potentially unsafe because of the premium their customers put on safety.

This wave of recalls shows there is a widespread problem with a particular type of product, but it’s not a universal recall of all via ferrata lanyards.  Read more

In praise of Builders Bars

It’s hard to write about Builders Bars without sounding like an advert.  They may only be protein bars, but they are great protein bars.  They are also brilliantly convenient if you want to recover after rock climbing and don’t want the hassle of protein powder drinks.

A Builders Bar

Clif, the company that makes the eponymous power bar, makes Builders Bars.  They are basically chocolate-coated biscuit bars that contain 20g of protein for building muscle and aiding recovery after exercise.  There is even a picture of a ripped climber on the packaging to give you an idea of what to aim for (I’m still trying). Read more

Totally Recalled

Earlier this week equipment manufacturer Edelrid issued a product recall for a selection of their via ferrata lanyards.  This recall follows a fatal via ferrata accident a couple of weeks ago.  Apparently, investigations have so far established an association between increased use of these lanyards and a weakening of their elasticated webbing.  As the Edelrid lanyards involved in this accident had apparently been rented, it is quite possible that they had seen greater than usual use.  However, the actual cause of the accident has not yet been established and Edelrid have issued the product recall as a precaution.

Using my Edelrid lanyards on the Via Ferrata Michielli Strobel.

Every so often you see product recalls for mountaineering equipment.  In the last year, for example, Petzl has issued product recalls for Scorpio via ferrata lanyards and some GriGri 2 belay devices.  Most of the time I just glance at these notices, but the Edelrid notice grabbed my attention because I’ve used Edelrid lanyards for the last couple of years.  My model isn’t covered by the recall and so I’m saved the hassle of returning the set for inspection and repair.  But this particular recall has got me thinking about is the trust we place in both our gear and the people who make it. Read more

Helmets for Big Heads

I’ve written an updated version of this post because there some helmets that will fit big heads have come onto the market since this original post was written.

My Big Head

Whether it’s due to excess brains or empty space, I have a larger than average head.   This makes it hard to find any headwear that fits.  Anything marked “one size fits all” does not seem to include me in the definition of “all”.  This might be only an annoyance if I were not a rock climber.  I need a helmet to protect my head from falling rocks, dropped bits of gear, impacts and banging my head against overhangs (which is a habit of mine).  If a helmet is to protect my head properly, then it has to fit properly.  Unfortunately, my big head means that the selection of helmets that will fit me is small.

Me wearing a Grivel Salamander XL helmet.

At a little over 62cm in circumference, my head is too big for Black Diamond’s popular Half Dome helmet as this has a maximum size of 61.5cm.  All helmets by Wild Country have a maximum size of 61cm.  Petzl’s Meteor III+ helmet and Elios helmet both have a maximum size of 61cm.  This is also the maximum size of Mammut’s Skywalker 2 helmet.

A quick internet search shows that I’m not the only climber whose head is bigger than 61cm in circumference and so I have written the following helmet guide for those with generous heads. Read more

Turning Around the Men in Pyjamas

There are times when there is no doubt that you should tell someone that they’re not properly equipped for a day in the mountains and should turn back.  One example of this happened earlier this month when a stag party attempted to climb Snowdon dressed in pyjamas and trainers, in a storm and by the scrambling route of Crib Goch. Unsurprisingly, this stag party got into trouble and had to be talked down by phone by mountain rescue.

A back-clipped quickdraw; a potentially dangerous mistake that is a little too easy to make and to not notice.  Would you point this mistake out to someone you didn’t know?

According to the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, this stag party was just one recent incident of groups heading up Snowdon without suitable clothing and equipment.  Although trying to climb a mountain in nightwear is an extreme example, my experience is that it’s not uncommon to come across people hiking, scrambling, rock climbing or doing via ferrata who look like they don’t have the right clothes, equipment or skills.  These people can be putting themselves at risk and can take up the valuable time of mountain rescue if they get into trouble.  What I wonder is whether there is a moral obligation on all of us to tell these people to turn around or change what they are doing. Read more

A definition of rock climbing

I came across the following definitions by accident when I was researching rock climbing in Spain on the website www.andalucia.com.  These definitions made me smile and so I thought I should share them.

 “Those who find hiking not quite exciting enough may like to try rock climbing, which is hiking vertically upwards, mountaineering, which is hiking vertically upwards with snow, or caving, which is hiking vertically downwards (except for the return journey, which is hiking vertically upwards underground).”

Hiking vertically upwards with snow