Have you spent the last few years watching as rock climbing became popular but are still wary of trying it? Maybe your friends are raving about this sport, but you find yourself wondering what the negatives of rock climbing are. Surely it’s a super dangerous activity, right?
In this article, we’ll be breaking down the danger of rock climbing and giving you some tips to help you stay as safe as possible on your next rock climbing adventure. We’ll tell you how to avoid some of the most common dangerous scenarios in rock climbing and arm you with the knowledge you need to keep you and your climbing partners safe.
How Dangerous is Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing is inherently dangerous but remarkably has pretty low rates of serious injuries. If you are just getting into rock climbing, you may feel like you are always getting beat up or hurt in some way, but if you really think about all those injuries, most are likely minor scrapes or gnarly-looking bruises that don’t impact your quality of life.
While there is always the potential for large-scale injuries to happen in rock climbing because of the nature of the sport, they hardly ever do. Since these major injuries are relatively rare, they tend to make a big splash when they happen, making them seem more common than they actually are.
How Do Most Climbing Accidents Happen?
Although it might seem like the act of climbing is where all the accidents happen, most major climbing accidents actually happen on the way back down. While climbing up is more likely to give you some minor scrapes and bruises, most larger climbing accidents happen during the descent.
Once you have reached the top of the climb, you are more likely to feel like you are done and have reached your goal. You might feel relief or joy. People often think that the hard part is over, so they stop focusing as much on what they are doing. This lapse in focus is what leads to more major mistakes being made during the descent.
The most famous rock climbing accident involves rappelling off the end of your rope or being lowered off the end of your rope. These accidents happen during the descent from your climb and can be mitigated by simply tying a knot at the end of your rope, thus creating a closed system, or by good rope management practices.
What is the Most Dangerous Form of Rock Climbing?
As the height that you are climbing increases, so does the rock climbing risk. For example, your risk is relatively low if you are building in an indoor gym. The environment around you is controlled, and the main issues associated with bouldering are injuries to your ankles from jumping down to the ground.
Once you start climbing on a rope, the potential rock climbing injuries that you could sustain an increase in magnitude, but they also can be mitigated by good practices. If you start doing multi-pitch climbing, or longer climbs that keep going past the top of one rope length, like the big walls of Yosemite, you can start getting into some pretty dangerous climbing situations.
A lot of the dangers of big wall climbing or multi-pitch climbing are not from the climbing itself, since the actual motion of climbing is the same as what you would be doing closer to the ground, but the environment that you are willingly putting yourself in. Understanding that being on the side of a cliff hundreds of feet in the air makes even a small injury a lot bigger of a deal than it would be on the ground is essential to analyzing the risks and benefits of going rock climbing.
How Common are Rock Climbing Accidents?
Luckily, rock climbing injuries are not that common. Some studies have suggested that as little as 0.25% of climbers will be injured significantly. The challenge with these studies is that they are based on reports of climbers seeking medical treatment as a result of a climbing accident. These studies do not take into account all of the many minor injuries and accidents that happen to climbers all the time.
The lesson in all of this is that rock climbing accidents are relatively uncommon and are almost always preventable. Unless you happen to be climbing when some major environmental thing happens, you are able to mitigate most of the risks associated with rock climbing and manage many of the dangers of climbing effectively.
Is Rock Climbing Worth the Risk?
Trying to analyze the risks and benefits of rock climbing is something that each person will have to do on their own before every rock climbing trip or adventure they go on. While that might sound like a lot of risk management, a lot of those decisions are something that you might make without even realizing it.
For example, if your friend wants to go climb a formidable wall, but you’re not sure if you are ready for that level of climbing, you may feel hesitant to go with them. You are, in your head, weighing out the risks and benefits and trying to decide if you will feel comfortable in the situation or if you will be so far out of your comfort zone that you will be miserable. These are choices rock climbers make every day.
Remember that even though rock climbing can be dangerous, it is an excellent form of exercise and can be fantastic for your mental health. Rock climbing can be tailored to fit your needs as a solo or social activity. Try to remember all the things you love about climbing, and it’s easy to see why the benefits outweigh the risks of rock climbing for most people.
5 Safety Tips to Reduce Accidents While Rock Climbing
You can do many things to help prevent rock climbing injuries from happening in the first place. Understanding the most modern safety practices and having the proper training is essential to mitigating the dangers of climbing. Here is our list of some of our favorite tips to help reduce the likelihood of an accident while rock climbing.
1. Wear a helmet
What are some risks of rock climbing? Rocks and gear falling onto you are one of the most significant risks when it comes to rock climbing. The best way to mitigate this risk is by wearing a helmet. Wearing a helmet is the first step you can take towards climbing safely. Helmets keep your brain safe and allow you to continue climbing without worrying quite so much about the dangers of climbing.
2. Always have a closed system.
A closed system is the safest way to rock climb and should be practiced every time you go climbing. Having a closed system means that things can’t just slide off the end of your rope. If you, as the climber, are tied to one end of the rope, and a knot on the other end of the rope prevents the belay device from sliding off that end, you have created a closed system.
3. Do your research and plan ahead.
Making a plan before you go out climbing is a great way to minimize the risks you are taking. Knowing what gear you will need to complete a climb is essential to not getting stuck in a bad situation. Do your research before you go so you can prevent any chaos from happening on the wall.
4. Know what your gear does and what it does not do
Knowing what your gear is made for and what its limits are is key to managing the risks of rock climbing. A classic example of this is a grigri, which is an assisted braking device used to make belaying a climber easier and safer. Many people treat a grigri like an automatic braking device, which it is not. Using the grigri in the way it was intended doesn’t increase the likelihood of failure and, thus, of injury.
5. Don’t put yourself in unsafe situations.
If you are planning a climbing trip and seeing the weather get worse, maybe rethink if today is such a good day for climbing. Actively avoiding putting yourself in unsafe or potentially dangerous situations is the perfect way to start mitigating the danger of climbing. Don’t go out if you are feeling unsafe or unsure.
Wrapping Things Up: What are Some Risks of Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing is dangerous, but with modern climbing gear, the risk to your life is very low. Most climbing injuries are small cuts, scrapes, and bruises. A vast majority of the larger climbing catastrophes come from human error or misuse, meaning that you have the power to make your climbing practice safe!! With proper training and tools, you can mitigate the risks that come along with climbing and better appreciate this amazing sport.