(Re)learning Self-Rescue

My self-rescue skills became rusty because I never got into the sort of trouble where they would be needed. That’s definitely a good thing.  My self-rescue skills also became rusty because I never practiced them and didn’t get refresher training as often as I should have.  That’s definitely a bad thing.  The self-rescue course I did at the weekend highlighted for me just how risky it had been leaving it so long to get a refresher.  There were so many aspects of the rope work that I had forgotten and other aspects that I wasn’t particularly confident on.   The instructors were great at talking me through the steps of a variety of techniques and putting them to use in different scenarios on the rock.  I feel more confident about self-rescue now and determined to practice it more often (although, only in pretend situations).

Via Ferrata Accidents – what you don’t know might hurt you

Valerie on the bridge on the Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini in the Dolomites, Italy.
Valerie on the bridge on the Via Ferrata Sandro Pertini in the Dolomites, Italy.

If someone asked me what causes accidents on via ferrate, I would only be able to make a few informed guesses. This is because there is surprisingly little readily accessible information on why accidents happen on vie ferrate. This concerns me because understanding why the cause of accidents is essential to preventing them. I’d like there to start a conversation about the causes and prevalence of these accidents as a way of improving understanding and helping people safely enjoy vie ferrate.  As a starting point, I’ll set out what I know and suspect.

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What They Don’t Tell You In the Guidebook – Wobblestone Crack

Me climbing Wobblestone Crack at Burbage in the Peak District.
Me climbing Wobblestone Crack at Burbage in the Peak District.

Well, the clue is in the name.  You can’t really start out on this climb unaware that some bit of rock is going to wobble when you hold on to it.  However, some of the wobbly rocks are more obvious than others and the guidebook doesn’t mention the most important of them. Read more

Climbing for Two: climb when ready

Guest blogger: Valerie Van den Hende

This is the promised update to my post ‘Climbing for Two: to climb or not to climb’ from May 2013 in which I discussed my decision to continue with rock climbing at the same time as growing Baby Van den Hende, currently known to his friends as ‘Bump’.

Ready to climb with Bump.
Ready to climb with Bump.

Bump is due any day now, and Robin has been reminding me that it would be a good time for me to tell you about my experiences before life is filled with nappies and puke, and my brain can no longer string together a meaningful sentence.  Personally, I think my brain reached that stage a while ago, so there may have been some hefty editing to this post on my behalf by well-meaning relatives… Read more

Bias Can Get You Lost

I like to think that I’m a rational person and that I make reasoned decisions on the basis of a considered weighing up of all the information.  This is important, as sound decision-making is vital for the safety of me and other people in the mountain sports that I do.  The truth is that I am as vulnerable as everyone else to my decision-making being distorted by biases that lead to less than rational thinking.Where am I going?

Confirmation bias is the tendency people have to accept information if it supports what they believe and to reject information if it contradicts these beliefs.  This is because people give more weight to information that supports their existing beliefs and are more likely to look for such information.  Conversely, confirmation bias means that people tend to give less weight to information that challenges their existing beliefs and are less likely to look for it.  If they do find such disconfirming information, people are inclined to explain it away or attempt to discredit it. Read more

Climbing for Two: to climb or not to climb?

Guest blogger: Valerie Van den Hende

This climber has a baby on boardOne of our first considerations when thinking about trying for a family was would I have to stop climbing?  There seems to be a lot of conflicting advice (and some rather strong opposing views) on the internet on the subject of rock climbing during pregnancy.  General medical opinion appears to be that any activity where falling is likely should be avoided, as well as contact sports, anything that could result in even mild abdominal trauma and loaded twisting movements.  The reasons for this are obvious – clearly I wouldn’t want to cause any physical damage to either myself or our baby, but on the other hand, there are definite benefits from climbing, both physical and psychological.  And if pregnancy yoga is safe, then surely some aspects of rock climbing (or ‘yoga going upwards’ as I like to call it) could be ok? Read more

Further Recalled

Today a group of manufacturers have issued new recalls on via ferrata lanyards.  This is the second wave of recalls of this type of equipment in the last six months and relates to a different type of lanyards than in the first wave.  The statements issued by the UIAA (the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) and the manufacturers are clear that the issues with these particular lanyards are potentially fatal.

Climbing the via ferrata Via Delle Trincee in the Dolomites.
Climbing the via ferrata Via Delle Trincee in the Dolomites.

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Be Seen on the Mountain

I couldn’t see where the cries for help were coming from.  The rocky hulk of Tryfan was almost black in the twilight and was shrouded in cloud.  I could tell the shouts of help were definitely coming from high on Tryfan’s west face, but they were just disembodied voices in the growing dark.

The Moon over the west face of Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, Wales.
The Moon over the west face of Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, Wales.

I was in a group that had climb Tryfan earlier in the day before moving on to climb Glyder Fach next door.  It was November and we had decided to head down by the Y Gribin ridge as the light dimmed.  Cutting cross-country to get back to the cars, we heard cries of “help!” and headed in their direction to see what we could do. Read more

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

Rock the morning after

It’s common for rock climbers to drink alcohol after climbing.  It’s also common for rock climbers to go climbing the morning after drinking alcohol.  If done in moderation and sensibly, this can be fine.  But it can also be unsafe and affect climbing performance both in the short and long-term.

It’s my stag party soon and a big part of the plan is to go rock climbing.  As alcohol is typically central to a stag do, I’ve been wondering recently how sensible it is to combine rock climbing and alcohol.

It’s not just on my stag trip that the two activities of drinking and climbing might come in to close proximity.  Alcohol comes into a climber’s life all the time and it’s often part of the climbing lifestyle.  A pub is a good option for food, drink and relaxation on the Saturday night of a weekend away rock climbing.  The alternative of relaxing in the campsite, hostel or hotel usually comes with a few beers, some wine or the odd whiskey.  Then there is the trip to the local pub that can follow an evening session at the climbing wall.  The next day, climbers can be out climbing again.  I’ve been around climbing and alcohol in all these situations and my forthcoming stag has got me thinking about what affect this has lifestyle has on climbers and whether it makes it harder to keep yourself and your climbing partner safe as well as to climb at your best. 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

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

Learning to lead

Libby teaching me about placing gear.

Guest Blogger – a post by my fiancee

Well, after two years following Robin up crags and cliffs, we decided that 2012 would be the year I would learn to lead.  Aside from the fact that it’s frankly rather cool, I had several reasons I wanted to progress to leading.  Firstly, I wanted to start pulling my own weight in our climbing partnership, we both want to have a stab at longer multi-pitch routes where leading through is necessary, and lastly, you haven’t really experienced trad climbing until you’ve been reduced to a quivering wreck…

Women usually climb very differently to men, so I decided I wanted a female guide to help me through my first foray into leading.  As we climb mostly in North Wales, Robin contacted Libby Peter, and we hired her for two days at the end of July 2012. 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