Page 50 - SA Mountain Issue 64
P. 50

                                c Utionar
   The American Alpine Club publish an annual review of climbing accidents in North America. Climbers volunteer their misadventures, and the annual report posts a simple, anonymous synopsis of each for all to learn from. It is partly the inspira on for my regular Cau onary Tales ar cle in SA Mountain.
The 2017 report featured more than 150 injuries, and 38 fatali es from technical rock climbing in North America. This report was followed by a fascina ng summary by the editor, Dougal Macdonald, and with permission, I’ve drawn heavily on this summary for this quarter’s Cau onary Tales along with a South African narra ve.
more prone to misalignment prior to or during a fall. Avoid dirty or wet rock, and particularly in the case of the micro-sizes, practice  nding bomber nut placements as an alternative.
Beware of swinging falls
 Killers that feature in the Accidents Report year after year:
Failure to arrest on snow
You’d be forgiven to think this doesn’t apply to
y taleS
by ant hall
 South Africans, but slippery snow and ice has claimed a signi cant number of fatalities in recent years in our own backyard. And, precisely because we are not geared up for these conditions, I’ve recently heard several accounts of South Africans
in the Drakensberg, and abroad,  nding themselves in ‘non-sticky’ situations that were just mild enough to be alluring, but with disastrous potential as conditions became ever-so-icy without an easy opt-out.
Failure to tie stopper knots in the ends of ropes
Our previous articles have touched on this, and here our foreign colleagues agree – it’s the small things that kill. I dare say everyone who ever abseiled or lowered off the end of a rope were smart, lovable people who ‘had it under control’ until the last second. Perhaps on that super-windy
rap in Patagonia you may be wary of knotted ropes becoming stuck/ jammed out of reach, but the argument for using stopper-knots is far more compelling.
inadequate preparation or experience for a given route
We see this trend in SA too. ‘Prior planning prevents poor performance.’ All too often we see that inadequate orientation, planning, and incorrect equipment are the underlying cause of numerous problems later on in a big undertaking
. . . I’m not suggesting that we take the fun and adventure out of climbing – quite the contrary, but preparation should be part of the adventure and result in ef cient, successful climbing.
Watch those micro-cams
2017 featured several instances of micro-cams pulling out in falls, suggesting that climbers are putting too much faith in these tiny units, or that they don’t place them carefully enough.
Micro cams (< 10 mm) are wonderful and have helped open up some hard test pieces, but they have limitations. Their laboratory strength rating is poorer than their larger counterparts, but more speci cally, the small contact surface and limited expansion range makes them trickier to seat properly and
I know the feeling – traverses can feel less intimidating, but pendulum falls may expose climbers to a greater chance of serious injury. Firstly, by taking a 90-degree swing-fall, the sideways velocity is the same as a vertical fall of the same distance! Second, the points of contact
are likely to be corners,  akes and arêtes, which your cat-landing re exes hadn’t anticipated. Vulnerable parts of the body are exposed to impact, and lastly, the rope may be more prone to damage sliding over sharp edges. This applies equally to lead-climbing, second- climbing and to pendulum abseils.
Weight-test an abseil or lower before unclipping from safety
This obvious test has, and could have saved countless experienced climbers from subtle human error in their setups. When abseiling we’re all typically tired, de ated after the achievement of the day, and possibly have our gear in mild
disarray. In recent years, I’ve recalled incidents where climbers had simply not attached their abseil at all, attached to their gear-loops or buckles, or mis-threaded the rope attachment to the anchor. The combinations are too varied to list here, but a simple weight test prior to committing your life to a system can eliminate lots of (but not all) errors.
rope up on scramble terrain
Now this area poses the biggest room for improvement for many South African climbers I know. We all like to use a bit of easy scrambling (or soloing) to make quick work of descents at the end of the day, but this is another subtle killer. The biggest argument against using rope
techniques on easy terrain is that it takes too much time, but here’s my contention: we’re not using these techniques because we aren’t good at them! With a bit of practice and skill, I’ll contend that we can protect many of our necky scrambles. The problem is that we don’t learn these skills at crags. When I climbed the Grand Teton in 2015, I watched a European guide protect both himself and his wife with a cunning variety of short-roping techniques, and do so faster than I could solo the route next to them. It was quite a sight to behold, and I think we should all aspire to survive our adventures by virtue of skill rather than sketch! (By prior arrangement, I roped in with them on one or two of the more consequential pitches.)
    Five more unusual remarks, and precautions that would
 have saved lives in 2017:
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