I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about climbing performance, movement analysis, and program design for climbing, etc; but none of it means a dam thing if we don’t tie in properly; or if the pads aren’t placed correctly.
I’ve been thinking about safety because a friend had a terrible accident in a gym two weeks ago. It appears that the cause of the accident is that he did not tie in.
As a climber of over 30 years, accidents are not new to me, and I have lost a few friends along the way. When I was 16 an older friend and mentor died soloing Ice on Mt. Washington. A few years later Kevin Bein the great Gunkie climbing died when a rappel anchor pulled on him. When I was about 21 in a short period of time I saw or heard about a number of accidents that occurred due to tie-in errors. I counted ten people I knew, all with more than 10 years climbing experience that did not tie in at all, or who did not tie in properly. In response, a friend suggested that everyone check their knot three times prior to climbing, in this order:
1- Tie in, then check your knot.
2- Put on climbing shoes, then check your knot.
3- Step up to the route, then check your knot.
(being a bit of a chicken I also tend to check my knot before taking, or lowering off.)
When discussing these accidents and near accidents it became clear that in many cases the climber was distracted by something while tying in. Someone asked them a question, or handed them something. So its important to not hand a climber anything, or do anything that can drawn their attention away from tying their knot.
Also, we are all in it together, it is the belayer’s job to check the climber’s knot and the climber’s job to check the device. No matter how much experience we have, no matter how many climbs we do per year, we need to always do this one simple and mundane thing that can prevent life changing horrors from occurring. The closest I ever came to a horrible accident was when I took a lead fall, and my belayer’s beiner was not locked. The gate opened, the device slipped out, but was caught on the notch in the nose of the beiner. I missed a 40 foot ground fall onto talus by millimeters. It was just dumb luck that I didn’t die that day.
In the gym sprains, dislocations and broken bones happen on a regular basis. The main factor? Missing or hitting the very edge of a bouldering pad. It only takes a few second to check the pads and make adjustments. Yet it’s so easy to just climb and not deal with it.
Whatever it takes find a way to remind yourself to do a proper safety check. Among a certain set of climbers I used to hear the phrase “Smoke pot? Check your knot!”
Talking to my friend Drew on the phone the other day he mentioned that he and his daughter Mason came up with this new one:
“Check your knot twice, then the device.” (TM Mason Bedford)
Drew had another more colorful one:
“Check yer F***’n knot or I’ll kick your A**!”
What ever works, please, please, please just do it.
What would be a good phrase to use to remind boulderers to check pad placement prior to climbing?