Is rock climbing dangerous?
Yes, rock climbing is dangerous, that is why it is important to understand rock climbing risks.
A quick Google search of rock climbing will open up a world where the thrills, exhilaration, excitement, and fun in delving into one of the most daring adventures on earth are emphasized. With little or no emphasis on how brave rock climbing is.
Right since rock climbing began gaining momentum, attracting enthusiasts from every corner of the world, the sports have suffered multiple casualties.
Georg Winkler, one of the earliest pioneers of sports rock climbing in the late 19th century, widely known for climbing the Vajolet towers in the Dolomites, died in 1888.
This was due to an avalanche while attempting to climb the Weisshorn, one of the Swiss Alps’ significant peaks.
When he died, Winkler, who was just 18 years old, is one of the earliest known casualties that highlight rock climbing risks. As rock climbing evolved, the invention of climbing and protective gear also became.
These protective equipment are meant to minimize the risk undertaken when climbing. Yes, protective gear helped made climbing more manageable, but the risks remained the same.
In November 2019, American free solo climber, Brad Gobright, fell 1,000 feet to his death at the El Sendero Luminoso (The shining path) rock at the Potrero Chico National park in Mexico.
An experienced climber, Gobright, who was 31, was not free solo climbing when he fell but rappelling. His death emphasizes deeply than any blog post can ever do, the rock climbing risks.
Rock Climbing Risks
In 2019, Rock and Ice reported that 15 climbers ranging from their late teens to mid-90s died from rock climbing accidents. In the wake of these deaths, we’ll review some rock climbing risks.
This article was written for the core purpose of enlightenment and not to discourage those interested in rock climbing. You can see our rock climbing safety tips here.
1. Loose Rocks
From the least difficult to the most challenging climbing routes, loose ricks can be found. These rocks, often in different sizes, can be found in loose handholds, footholds, and sometimes on the rock path.
As a climber ascend, the pressure exerted on the rocks gives way to these loose rocks falling. These falling missiles can be particularly dangerous depending on their size and when it collides against the climber.
A moderately sized loose rock could hit a climber on the forehead, causing him to let go of the climbing rope. While he may not fall to his death, the climber may hit certain rock surfaces as he falls before the belayer acts.
Loose rocks could also be in fine sand, which could affect climbers’ sight, which may lead to temporary invisibility. These can be dangerous, especially during solo climbing, as there may not be any climber to help.
To ensure minimal accidents as a result of loose rocks, climbers could put on helmets. For climbers ascending in groups, climbers shouldn’t climb directly below other climbers.
Caution should be exercised in gear placement, especially at the summit. When bags/rappel ropes are being hauled upwards, climbers should stand by the side.
2. Leader falls
This mostly occurs in outdoor lead climbing. In lead climbing, climbers are connected to a lead climber equipped with a harness, with climbing ropes. The lead climber ascends with the aid of bolts, cams, pistons, and nuts.
In this rock climbing style, the roped party safety largely depends on the lead climber’s action. Protections such as nuts, bolts, and fixed pitons may fail, resulting in one of the roped party falling.
To ensure no fall results into decking (ground fall), the lead climber places protection, at a distance, half of a possible fall distance.
If safety is established five feet above the last-placed protection, any fall would most likely be 10 feet or a bit more, taking into account rope elasticity.
Should the lead climber place protection, twice the height of the last-placed protection, any fall from the roped party could result in a ground fall.
3. Gear failure
A significant risk in rock climbing, majorly outdoor climbing, is the risk posed by protective gear failures such as belay devices, anchors, pitons, bolts, and nuts.
There have been several instances where auto belay devices have failed, resulting in great fall distance before the rope was arrested to prevent further falls. Such equipment failure can result in significant injuries such as a severe fracture to the hip or other body parts.
It’s vital to read gear manuals, especially gear such as auto belay devices, to prevent severe accidents. On problematic climbing routes, climbers should ensure bolts, nuts, pitons are solidly fixed and capable of withstanding pressure.
No matter how solid or how much improvement in quality attached to a gear, climbers should never put 100% trust in equipment as they may fail at the least moment expected.
As highlighted by the tragic death of Brad Gobright in November 2019, rappelling is one of the most dangerous risks in rock climbing. Unlike other risks where climbers may suffer severe injures and fractures, rappelling may result in death.
Often caused by equipment failure, a climber falls to his death as he/she detaches from the rope. The dangers of rappelling are usually great as a climber’s fate is entirely dependent on the anchor and climbing rope.
If the anchor fails or the climber detached from the climbing rope, the climber can fall to his death. In most rappelling incidents that have resulted in death, the cause of death has often been traced to the equipment failure.
In other to mitigate risks in rappelling, climbers are often advised to double-check every equipment. No matter how many times a climber has successfully rappelled, a casual attitude to rappelling should be shunned.
From the anchors, every piece of equipment, locking carabiner to the bolts (every single bolt) are solidly fitted before rappelling. In territories with unpredictable circumstances, such as storms, it’s advisable to use a backup safety knot, i.e., Prusik knot, to ensure attachment to the climbing rope.
5. Weather and Hypothermia
This risk is peculiar to mountains and regions with extreme weather conditions. While it’s most likely to occur in mountains and areas with extreme weather conditions, this risk can also occur on any outdoor rock formation, depending on the weather condition.
There are instances where a climber who has successfully made it to the summit has been struck by lightning, resulting in death.
Unexpected rain and snowfall, accompanied by strong winds resulting in a waterfall off cliffs, could lower the climber’s body temperature drastically, resulting in hypothermia.
Hypothermia can be deadly to a climber as it leads to mistakes and a lack of good judgment, resulting in fatal falls. To effectively minimize rock climbing risks, climbers are advised to always check the weather forecast before venturing out to climb.
Whenever the threat of a looming storm is seen, climbers should retreat. Climbers should also be equipped with the right clothes and gear.
There are several benefits of rock climbing likewise risks that have been discussed in this article.
But you can please let us know your thoughts on the rock climbing risks in the comments section below.
See 10 Best Rock Climbing Safety Tips & Advice, 10 Best Rock Climbers in the World, and 7 Ultimate Rock Climbing Equipment List: What Gear Do I Need?