Here’s how to avoid serious injury while climbing

Tips from the Squamish Access Society to stay safe.

Climbing is dangerous, there is no getting past it; Ultimately, our sport is built around climbing and descending cliffs that could be fatal to fall from.

Bouldering may be an exception, with climbers usually no higher than a few feet off the ground, but it still claimed plenty of ankles, knees and elbows.

We often don’t hear about serious accidents that occur in our area, which are rarely made public due to patient confidentiality and respect for victims. This can lead us to a false sense of complacency as we make sure accidents only happen in the big mountains and not on the small rocks of the Smoke Bluffs.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of serious accidents this year on the Sea to Sky, resulting in life-changing injuries or fatalities. We can never eliminate risk in climbing, but many accidents are preventable, which makes them even harder to accept. While everyone’s acceptable level of risk varies, there are several ways to play the game in our favor.

One of the most common serious accidents is that of a climber abseiling or descending from the end of a rope. This can happen for a number of reasons – missing an anchor, climbing a shorter rope than the route requires, or not setting the abseil with the middle of the rope at the anchor. Tying the end of the rope every time, even though it seems redundant, is the best way to ensure that you never fall victim to this preventable accident.

For many people, pushing their limits is central to the climbing experience. In a sport that requires so many different skills, the surest way to test yourself is to challenge only one aspect of your skills at a time. If you want a physical challenge, do it on a route that is well equipped or easy to protect if you are trad climbing. If you want to take a long multiple step, choose one at a note lower than your maximum.

Injuries don’t always occur when we operate at the limit of our abilities – complacency or naivety can be just as dangerous. A common factor contributing to serious trad climbing accidents is “exhaustion”. This means leaving large gaps between the protection you place to catch a fall. Running it can be useful when trying to move quickly, but the consequences are often severely underestimated.

Another underrated way to manage risk is to climb and surround yourself with the right people. Climbing with a more experienced mentor helps you learn best practices and get feedback on your methods, but it’s important not to follow blindly. Always strive to make your own calls and have candid conversations with your partners about potential dangers, what you consider acceptable, and when you will stop it.

Finally, a helmet can mean the difference between a few minor scratches and something much worse. A helmet will never prevent an accident from happening, but it’s your last line of defense if something goes wrong.

Alex Ryan Tucker is a resident of Squamish and a member of the Squamish Access Society Board of Directors. Go to squamishaccess.ca for more information about SAS.

Virginia F. Goins