The danger of experience

It’s usually true that greater rock climbing experience results in increased rock climbing competence.  However, I worry that there are a small minority of climbers for whom greater rock climbing experience leads to increased risk-taking and occasional bad practice.   What this demonstrates to me is a need to keep an open, questioning mind about my own climbing practice.

Climbing at Holyhead Mountain.

The taking of calculated risks is intrinsic to rock climbing.  As a rock climber does more climbs, they build up experience of calculating risks and making decisions in a variety of potentially dangerous situations.  They also learn from the experience of mistakes, near misses and climbing with people more skilled than them.  In the vast majority of people, this makes them a more skilled and safer climber.

However, I have seen experienced climbers taking unnecessary risks and engaging in poor, and possibly unsafe practices.  I’m thinking of such things as leaving long distances between runners, relying on one anchor for a belay or using dubiously placed protection when the situation doesn’t justify it. Read more

Via Ferrata Virgins – getting started at via ferrata

If you have never done a via ferrata before, then there are some things you need to know and consider to have fun and stay safe.

Me on the Via Ferrata Lamon.

Your level of experience

If you are a confident rock climber or a hiker with experience of scrambling, then you should feel comfortable with much of the practice of via ferrata.  You are also likely to have the essential skills and knowledge that comes from being in the mountains that you need to keep you safe.  However, even with these skills and knowledge, I would recommend getting yourself familiar with what a via ferrata involves before trying one.

Even though I came to via ferrata with rock climbing, scrambling and hiking experience, I found reading up on the subject and speaking with friends I knew who had done via ferrata to be really useful.  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

Tips for via ferrata

These are my top ten tips for how to have a safe and fun time on a via ferrata.

1) Don’t fall off

This may sound obvious, but it cannot be overstated.  There are two reasons that falling off a via ferrata could be serious and should be avoided.

Tip 3 – Always clip onto the cable

The first is that the fall factor involved in such a fall are very high and higher than you are ever likely to take in a rock climbing fall.  Via ferrata lanyards are designed to take the high energy involved in such a fall, but you will still experience a high impact force (i.e. a very big jolt and shock to yourself and your gear) when you come to a stop. Read more

There’s no need to shout: using walkie-talkies when rock climbing

Clear communication between climbers is a vital part of climbing safely.  When two climbers are far apart, out of sight of each other or the wind is strong, then shouting is the usual way to communicate climbing commands and it usually works.  However, for those occasions when it doesn’t, I would recommend having walkie-talkies to hand.

Rock climbing with a walkie-talkie – climbing Colonel’s Arete (VD**) at The Dewerstone, Devon.

Why use walkie-talkies?

Safe climbing depends on climbers being able to accurately communicate information and instructions between each other.  The system of climbing commands is designed to ensure there are no misunderstandings between climbers about what exactly is going on and what they should be doing next.  However, it obviously depends on those commands being clearly heard.  It’s quite easy to come up with things that could go wrong if a shout is misunderstood or a climber makes assumptions when they cannot hear their partner. Read more

Via ferrata – useful links

The via ferrata up Piz da Cir V, above Passo Gardena, in the Dolomites, Italy.

To make it easier to find the best information on via ferrata on the internet, I have started a useful links page.  This includes the most useful sites for planning a trip and the most authoritative sites for safety and technical information.  This page is a resource that I would like to build and so will be adding to it

What they don’t tell you in the guidebook – Craig yr Aderyn

Rock climbing guide books are an invaluable resource and are essential to ensure that you don’t end up climbing the wrong route or no route at all (both of which can be scary and/or dangerous).  Unfortunately, the features of the routes that guide books describe do sometimes change.   The route descriptions in the books also need to be quite brief and this lack of detail can sometimes lead to you being surprised by some aspect of a route.  For these reasons, I am starting a regular series of posts on “what they don’t tell you in the guide book.”  The first such post is about Craig yr Aderyn.

The Bastion face on Craig yr Aderyn. The route The Buttress runs diagonally up from the bottom right of the face.

Read more