Friday, December 6, 2013

3 Overblown Climber Worries & the Dangers They're Distracting From

Everyone knows climbing is inherently risky. In other words there are things that can happen that are outside of our control that can, and do, kill people. Now the ratio of people getting out and having a fun time to people getting a trip to the hospital is very distant. If the same amount of people having fun were getting maimed or killed then climbing wouldn't be as popular as it is. Nevertheless, human beings are control freaks. We want to eliminate the danger from our activities and media reports, online pissing contests, and general human instinct sometimes cause us to focus on things that really aren't that big of a deal and as a consequence we end up missing things we should be worried about. So below are some things to forget about and some things to take into consideration.
1. The Euro Death Knot is Super Dangerous!
Despite the fact that most guides in the US favor this knot and it's been in use for decades there is still a stigma about it that has people constantly questioning it's use. Maybe it's the fact that it has death in the name (the non-slang name is the Flat Overhand). Commonly used as a joining knot for rappels, many guides also use it to tie their cordelettes.

Like any other knot or equipment it has particular uses as well as strengths and weaknesses. The reason this knot is often used for rappels is because it will turn over an edge and is less likely to get stuck. It is also easier to untie after being weighted which is helpful in the uncommon situations where you may need to untie your cordelette. There are of course knots that are stronger like the Double Fishermans but for most situations the Flat Overhand works just fine and has a plenty of safety margin.

That's one sketchy knot, must be the death in the name.
The key is to make sure you have plenty of tail (~12") and make sure the knot is dressed and tightened. Any knot that is not tied correctly or tightened is likely to fail at lower loads. While this knot does not generally test as strongly as other joining knots it has been shown to be plenty strong. 

A good example of this is the second belay anchor on the East Face of the First Flatiron. I use a large horn of rock for the anchor. Because it requires the use of the entire cordelette I make sure I have two handy because this knot in a single cordelette may not be capableof handling a large fall alone before I get the first piece in on the next pitch. But I'm fully willing to use it for the cordelette on the first pitch because when tied to multiple pieces it isolates the knot and it does not see the full load. Besides that it's redundant with the other pieces of the anchor. So for most climbing this is a perfectly fine knot. The few situations where you won't want to use it should be obvious to those in such situations.

2. You Totally Need to Back Up Your Belay Loop or Belay Thru the Tie-In Points!
After the unfortunate loss of climbing legend Todd Skinner when his belay loop broke many people took away the wrong lesson from the accident and everyone started clipping into their tie-in loops and tying extra loops onto their harness. Manufacturers even got in on the action and began having harnesses with multiple belay loops made.

Maybe good enough for someone who named you in their
life insurance policy!
Now if you didn't read the accident report carefully you might glaze over some of the important facts like the fact that his belay loop was severely worn. So much so that his partner had commented on it at the start of the day. So unfortunately, we have a tragic accident in which people focus on the wrong thing. Belay loops are double sewn meaning they are one continuous piece sewn into two overlapping loops.

The risk here is that the extra loop may not be that strong whereas a belay loop that isn't worn out will break upwards of 5000 lbs. Even worn belay loops are incredibly strong. I watched one at the Misty Mountain factory break at over 8000 lbs! Your body will break before that belay loop. The problem with the extra loops is you may accidentally clip the wrong loop and seriously compromise the strength of the climbing system.

If you're really worried about the belay loop then do like the Brits and clip into the loop created by your rope in addition to your belay loop.

3. Daisy Chains are the Best Way to Clip into Anchors!

As the video from DMM vividly illustrates there are many reason to attach yourself to an anchor with the rope. One of the most obvious demonstrated by the video is the possibility of the sling breaking. Another of the less focused on aspects of this video is the fact that you may rip your anchor from the wall. While this may be unlikely with a bolted anchor where well placed bolts can hold well over 20kN the same can not be said for a gear anchor where stoppers and cams may break around 12kN. This doesn't take into account the fact that some softer rocks like sandstone may blow out before the gear breaks.

One thing that is maybe a bit glazed over in the video is the forces on the body. All of those forces are enough to break bones and considering your harness is wrapped around your lumbar spine which is the weakest portion of it and it would be loaded in it's weakest orientation, you may want to think about permanent back pain or disability before you decide to clip in with a daisy chain.

Besides, daisy chains are made for aid climbing so use them for that. Many people commonly clip in short and they do it wrong. Which you can see in the video from Black Diamond. Furthermore people using daisy chains are only really clipped into one sling. Even with the PAS (Personal Anchor Systems) that use full strength loops people are really only clipping in with one loop.

Using the rope has many benefits:
-You're already using it, make it do double duty!
-It absorbs more force over time so your body and the anchor don't fail.
-It's quick and simple.

In reality accidents, although not common, due tend to follow a trend. In reality most accidents are a result of falling. Generally because the climbers are unroped or failed to place adequate protection. Even so climbers are more likely to end up in a car accident than a climbing accident. Regardless attentiveness is just as important in climbing as in driving. 
Where you Should Really Be Paying Attention:

1. Be Careful Rappelling and Belaying.
The vast majority of accidents are actually from falls that are roped or unroped though the ones not related to falls are related to rappelling or belaying. This is unfortunate but easily preventable. According to this report from the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group accidents with rappels and belaying are the second most common. Either people fall off the end of their ropes or the belayer loses control.

What's upsetting is how easily these things are fixed with the right knowledge that might be gained with a certified guide such as those of The Colorado Climbing Company. Make sure to test your belayer before trusting your life to them. If you're not sure have someone back them up. Same thing with rappels, use backups and pay attention. Constant diligence is essential to safety in any high risk sport.

2. Treat Your Equipment Well and Retire it Before It Wears Out.
It is very rare for equipment to simply break. Most accidents like this have an underlying cause like chemical contamination, wear, or user error. Here are two examples of these causes.

Metal gear can wear out too.

One accident a few years ago happened when a climber fell on a fixed quickdraw. Because the carabiner had been severely worn to the point of being sharp it actually cut through the rope. This is a case of wear but also incidental user error. Even carabiners have to be replaced so fixed draws can be suspect and had the climber known the carabiner was sharp they likely would not of climbed the route without replacing it because ropes, while durable, can be cut on sharp edges. Where there is risk of a rope being cut use half or twin ropes. This often happens in alpine climbing where rockfall is more common or unusually sharp rock. 

Another accident was when the user unknowingly allowed their rope to come in contact with acid. Nylon degrades when it contacts acids so when they fell at the gym the rope snapped. So we have the rope being chemically contaminated unbeknownst to the user. You see a lot of people throwing their ropes on the ground in the parking lot. Cars aren't known for leaking environmentally friendly fluids.

So know the purpose of the equipment you're using as well as where it's weak. Know that your gear has a shelf life, especially soft goods. That ten year old harness and that ratty rope? Get rid of them. If you're worried about it then retire it. Treat your gear well, your life depends on it.
Certain risks in climbing can't be avoided but there are ones that can but you can't be distracted from the real dangers by focusing on things that aren't really putting at risk.


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