climbing rules

Posted by: Whitney Zone

climbing rules - 04/26/07 05:20 PM


Posted by DrewDrew, 04-26-07
I recently witnessed an accident where one of my friends fell approximately 50-60ft from the top of a cliff and decked. By the grace of God someone was standing at the base of the climb and more or less tackled him in mid air just before his head hit the ground preventing a head injury that probably would have killed him or left him paralyzed. He has two cracked vertebrae but should recover fine in a few months. He was setting up an anchor at the top of the cliff, and was not clipped in and slipped and fell. This incident has brought up an interesting debate among my friends and I and I wondered if anyone had any thoughts....

Some people argue that there are rules in climbing which you should not violate..ie if you are on an exposed ledge clip in, if you are attempting say the east face of Whitney in a day you should bring emergency bivy gear etc.... These rules are in place in order to mitigate risk and lower the probabilities of consequences in ways that you can control, and you should always follow your rules and make the safe choice in order to mitigate risks.

The other side of the argument is that climbing in itself is a risk, and instead of using rules to mitigate risk one should use their judgment and take calculated risks based on your comfort level as long as you are being honest with yourself in accepting the potential consequences. Solo climbing or choosing not to carry emergency gear in order to go as light as possible are two examples of this.

so what is more important, controlling probabilities to the extent that you can by not violating your safety rules, or making judgement calls and accepting certain levels of risk. i guess this is largely a personal choice but i was just curious if anyone had any insights......

thanks


Posted by m.c. reinhardt, 04-26-07
Interesting topic, DrewDrew. You could argue both sides of the coin. My two cents worth is the latter i.e. climbing in itself is a risk. I would add to this that at no time should you ever risk danger to any other person. On the other side of the coin, it is definitely smarter to not violate "so called safety rules".
_________________________
"When navigating one's way through life, don't just rely on instinct; always carry a compass." m.c.


Posted by VersatileFred, 04-26-07
That is an interesting topic. As I see it, the first approach is "systemic" and the second approach is "egocentric."

While we all need to take responsibility for our actions, it is easy for us to overlook the hidden systemic effects of our actions. Saying that "climbing is itself a risk" sounds like more of a rationalization than an explanation. If somebody takes a fall, somebody else will have to do a rescue. Preventing a fall prevents someone from having to do a rescue. That is my 2c.
_________________________
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers



Posted by rootpi, 04-26-07
To me the point of the 'rules' (e.g. tie off the bottom of the rope before you rappel) is so that you don't have to think about it when you're tired and cold and hungry and oxygen-deprived. I agree with the basic judgment philosophy, but it can be worth it to also have self-chosen rules that you always follow even if it's not necessary in a given situation. So if you're at the last rappel and you can see the rope ends on the ground then it's silly to make sure that you won't rappel off the end of the rope, but you knot them anyway just to stay in the habit. Other decisions have to be made 'fresh' every time, and those are subject to judgment -- impaired or not. But there's no reason to extrapolate that and decide never to have rules.

I'm glad your friend is basically okay, Drew.
-julian


Posted by tcat, 04-26-07
To keep it simple... safety is always the first concern, no matter what your doing. Sorry to hear about your friend.


Posted by Kurt Wedberg, 04-27-07
I think there are some procedures in climbing that you can make hard and fast rules about and many others that require judgment calls at the moment.

Examples of rules based procedures include always doubling back your harness buckles, always checking each other before you start climbing (looking for correctly threaded and tied knots, harnesses put on correctly, etc.).

An example of a judgment call is how often you place protection while leading a pitch. You can decide to make a move while run out 15' or you can place gear to protect the move. If you plug in lots of gear you might be short of a crucial piece near the top of the pitch. If you run it out more you'll have more gear available but you increase the risk if a fall occurs.

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. I've already said a prayer for him and hope the accident can at least be used as a learning experience by others. Thanks for sharing.

All the best,

Kurt
_________________________
Kurt Wedberg
info@sierramountaineering.com
http://www.sierramountaineering.com



Posted by DrewDrew, 04-27-07
another spin on this which fred touched on is the role of ego in all of this. perhaps rules are important because judgment can be clouded by emotion such as ego, fear, those days when you feel really solid and invincible....etc. Isn't this okay though?? I guess climbing is sort of a sick pursuit in that sometimes with greater risk comes greater reward, and many of the most impressive achievements in climbing and anytime limits were pushed (i wasn't alive for it, but i think free climbing in Yosemite in the 70s is a good example of this) was due to people making judgment calls based on ego and emotion. where does the line get drawn though between someone pushing their limits and doing something irresponsible? i guess the easy answer is when other peoples lives are put in jeopardy by having to rescue you and your partner, but as you are making plans and decisions these outcomes are unknown.


Posted by Sierra Sam, 04-27-07
I view risks as cumulative. I will fly (a single engine piston plane) in the mountains and I will fly at night, but I will not fly in the mountains at night. If you look at accident analysis, it is typically true that more than one thing goes wrong and the errors compound each other.

I think about climbing the same way: how many risks do I want to pile on top of one another. It is a judgment call as to how much risk is too much. So for example, a buddy and I climbed Mt. Hood last year unroped because the snow was good and we felt comfortable self-arresting. If it was icy and very windy, we might have decided to rope up on that same pitch.


Posted by dayhiker, 04-28-07
Climbing fatality off the end of the rope:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003684640_climber28m.html


Posted by VersatileFred, 04-29-07
Sorry to hear about another fatality.

At the risk of oversimplifying the subject, I see rules falling into two major categories:

* Special Interests (benefiting a limited number of people)
* Broad Application (more universal, based on lessons learned the hard way)

I think that you got my point that "broad application" rules are an objective way to capture knowledge. They are "tried and true" approaches to handling a wide spectrum of issues. Yet they only work if people apply them consistently. If people compromise the rules (or treat them as special interest rules), they have to assume responsibility for the principles that were encapsulated in them. That increases the room for error in judgment.
_________________________
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers



Posted by Ken, 04-30-07
My thoughts are that rules evolve from experience: when a reasonably possible adverse outcome can be prevented by taking the action of the rule, it becomes codified.

The key in the original post is: "instead of using rules to mitigate risk one should use their judgment and take calculated risks based on your comfort level as long as you are being honest with yourself"

The problem with that is that being honest with oneself is very hard, and when one is NOT, it is often impossible to know that is the case. Summit fever, hubris, ego, pride....these are the things of the human condition.

The most common dangerous thing that we experience, is driving a car. speed limits are often violated, in spite of the fact that we know better. How many drive after having a few, because in that condition, they feel that they drive better? How many don't fasten seat belts?

Making judgment calls in an unfamiliar situation with severe consequences is NOT a common experience, and I think that most people fall victim to their tendencies to choose what they want to do.

I was struck by the recent posting by Beach. Look at how willing he is to acknowledge what is going on. I'm sure that is a hold-over of his profession, where a mistake in flying has severe consequences. Most people are not looking around so carefully and analyzing the situation on a continual basis. It is a matter of habit and training, I think.

So, to depend upon this judgment process, when it is untrained, untested, and subject to motivations that we don't routinely include in our assessments, is probably folly. Rules protect us from ourselves in these situations.
_________________________
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.



Posted by Richard P, 04-30-07
Originally Posted By: Ken
I was struck by the recent posting by Beach. Look at how willing he is to acknowledge what is going on. I'm sure that is a hold-over of his profession, where a mistake in flying has severe consequences. Most people are not looking around so carefully and analyzing the situation on a continual basis. It is a matter of habit and training, I think.


We had quite a discussion on the summit plateau after climbing the last of the difficulties on the MR. One of the others may be able to elaborate on what all was said, but I do remember making one comment about many people "overestimating" their abilities, leading them to believe that there's little risk.


Posted by spiderman7238, 04-30-07
Clipping in while building an anchor is NEVER considered to be a"judgment call". If I was climbing with a partner that considered that a judgment call, I'd be finding a new partner. Falls from above put not only the climber in danger, but also the people below him. Don't want to clip in? Then free solo and put your own life at risk and let your partner and friends go home alive. The person who broke his fall obviously could have been seriously hurt. I'm an SCMA member, and I can tell you that if I broke that very fundamental rule, I'd have my membership revoked.


Posted by BeachAV8R, 04-30-07
Originally Posted By: Ken
I was struck by the recent posting by Beach. Look at how willing he is to acknowledge what is going on. I'm sure that is a hold-over of his profession, where a mistake in flying has severe consequences.


It is drilled into us during training time and again (I'm sure Sierra Sam can agree with this) that rarely is it ever a singular thing that causes an accident (with exceptions). You usually only have to identify and break a single link in the "accident chain". I know nothing about the aforementioned accident..but if fatigue or hunger, or darkness, or whatever variable could have been broken, perhaps the accident wouldn't have happened. I'm sure I've carried this habit over to my other hobbies (windsurfing, kayaking, hiking). The one thing that is troublesome though, as I noted, is that sometimes you can do everything perfectly right and sometimes there is a singular thing that can make it all go wrong. The rocks coming down while we were in the chute was a perfect example of that.

Originally Posted By: Richard
We had quite a discussion on the summit plateau after climbing the last of the difficulties on the MR. One of the others may be able to elaborate on what all was said, but I do remember making one comment about many people "overestimating" their abilities, leading them to believe that there's little risk.


That was a great discussion. I'm definitely up-front about my insecurities, and I don't ever want, literally, pride to go before the fall.. Experience and the confidence that accompanies it have a huge bearing on risk assessment and probably even what "climbing rules" you subscribe to. Again, going back to the rock-fall event in the couloir...that was my first time up there high in the couloir and I saw a pretty sketchy bit of rock fall head down on some of the guys I was hiking with. So..one time in the col..one time of rock fall. That is a 100% ratio to me. That's enough for me to wear my helmet every time I'm in there. Now someone else might have made that trip 50 times and never once seen a rock come down off the east face. 0% ratio for him (or her). Thus the decision that a helmet isn't something they deem necessary. And then there is the gray, fuzzy area between the two extremes..where you just have to judge for yourself..what are the odds?

I'm not experienced enough to have climbing rules yet. I pretty much take every precaution possible right now..and while that might limit me in some respects (too much weight, too much hassle..) I don't think I'm near qualified to start trading experience for being overly cautious.

Interesting reading the responses...

Chris


Posted by Ken, 05-02-07
I just read the details of the rap accident on Mt. Wake.

This is a perfect example of the use of rules. I find these kind of accidents incomprehensible, particularly in expert climbers.

In this one, it was the typical: not following the safety rule, combined with fatigue, distraction, a problem with the gear (small diameter rope being very slippery in the belay device).

Of note, after the fall, the other climber did not have the ability to rap down, as she "had the rack". That means that he did not have a "rescue" setup that most expert climbers carry: carabiner, prussik loop, etc. With one carabiner he could have used a Munter hitch very effectively, instead of the risk of downclimbing. In fact, the Munter likely would have solved the "slippery rap device" problem, or there are other ways to enhance the function of the device, which they apparently did not do.

One hates to be critical of someone in this setting, but sometimes the highest tribute is to learn from their loss of life.

This sort of accident is very disturbing, as it was totally preventable.

1177633200 . 4355