Rock climbing is dangerous. The single most important aspect of climbing is safety. If you are not being completely safety conscious you are risking both your life and the life of your partner. There are many ways to lower your risk of injury. The most important of which is to always remember to do your safety checks. There are many horrific stories of people getting complacent and skipping safety checks. Once, Lynn Hill, a world-famous professional climber, forgot to check her tie in. She fell 85 feet, surviving only because she landed in a tree. You must be absolutely certain that both you and your partner have all your needed gear and are tied in correctly.
Communication is the key to climbing safety. Before every climb you should go over the main commands you will be using. Make sure both the climber and belayer are on the same page. If it is windy or one person will be climbing out of sight, make sure to establish non-verbal commands using the rope as a method of communication. For example, three sharp pulls means you have clipped into the anchor and are off belay. You will also need to decide whether the climber will be lowered from the top or if they will rappel on their own.
The first thing you need to do is inspect each others harness. Make sure your harness is in good condition, without any tears, discoloration, or worn down areas. Next you need to check for twisted loops—most commonly the leg loops. Finally, you need to check that the buckles are all “doubled back” and locked in place. Most modern harnesses have “auto-lock buckles”, but you should always make sure the buckles are locked and will not open.
The next thing to check is the rope. Examine the sheath of you rope for any abrasions, discolorations, glossiness, or tears. You may also find that the sheath has slipped from the core—leading to it either bunching together or disconnecting completely. If you notice any of these you must retire the rope. If the sheath looks good, it is time to inspect the core. To do this, run your fingers along the entire length, feeling for bulges or flat spots. Both bulges and flat spots are signs that your rope received a core shot. A core shot rope is absolutely not safe to use.
The final checks take place at the base of the wall. The climber should look at the belayer’s belay device to make sure the rope is threaded correctly and that the belayer’s carabiner is locked. Next, the belayer checks the climber’s tie in knot. In almost every situation a climber should be tied in with a figure 8, it makes the safety checks much easier. The belayer should check to see that the figure 8 has been re-threaded and goes through the correct loops of the harness. Once all the equipment has been checked, the climber should ask the belayer “On belay?” and when the belayer is ready they should reply, “Belay on”. This signifies to the climber that s/he is on belay and able to climb. As the climber begins their climb, they should tell the belayer, “Climbing” and the belayer responds with “Climb on.”
Climbing safety is all about redundancy. Both you and your partner should be doing every safety check individually and as a team. There can never be any doubt about whether or not something was checked. Rock climbing is an incredibly dangerous sport, one in which a mistake can be fatal. We can lessen that risk by being conscientious of our safety. You can learn all these safety procedures during the Intro to Outdoor Rock Climbing Course by Denver Climbing Company.