Monday, July 9, 2012

The Terror of Rockfall

The only thing in the mountains that is scarier than someone yelling the word,"rock," is someone screaming the word "rock" repeatedly. Rock! Rock!! ROCK!!! When someone yells the word multiple times, you know that what's coming is huge...and you know that what's coming could kill you.

Loose rock is utterly terrifying and we were able to find a couple of videos that really demonstrate that danger. In this first video a couple of climbers are descending a loose trail in the Desert Southwest. One of the climber's slips and barely arrests her fall before the "real" near miss takes place.

In this second video a couple of climbers on Mt. Kenya find some loose rock...some loose rock that had been used as a rappel anchor for years. Check out the terrifying results of a kick to the anchor below:

Is it completely possible to avoid rockfall?


Just like all objective dangers, the danger of rockfall can be mitigated by good decision making. Following are some simple rules that will help you to manage this mountain danger:

1) When you choose a route, it's not a bad idea to climb a route that has seen a lot of traffic over the years, but is not seeing a lot of traffic the day that you're on it.

If a climb has a long history, a lot of the most dangerous chunks will have been removed. If the route isn't busy, then the likelihood of party inflicted rockfall decreases.

2) Wear a helmet. The magazines regularly show high-end climbers without helmets. This is an unfortunate trend that really should go away. There is no legitimate reason not to wear a helmet when you are climbing.

3) Yell rock (or ice), not stick, not sunglasses, not camera, not anything but rock or ice. Yelling something other than one of these two words can lead to confusion. People may not protect themselves adequately from a falling object if the alarm isn't sounded properly.

4) Practice leaning into the wall while keeping your helmet above your head. Don't look up. Hopefully any debris that comes down will bounce over you.

5) Beware of the danger zone ten to thirty feet from the base of a wall. Bouncing objects often land away from the base of the cliff. If you want to create a safe zone where people don't have to wear helmets, make sure it's sufficiently far enough away from the wall.

6) Check and double check all rap anchors on trees and boulders. There have been far too many tragedies from the use of loose natural features.

7) If you elect to climb a "loose" route, be extremely wary of everything that could fall off. It could be argued that it's irresponsible to climb a significantly loose route above a popular climb.

While it's impossible to completely avoid rockfall, following the preceding rules certainly could help you to keep the danger to a minimum...

Jason D. Martin

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