At GMG we are established on the foundations of providing exceptional instruction to climbers that are just learning the craft. From there it blossoms into how we can best serve the local community even more by promoting wonderful areas for all to experience on our guided trips. It is our first priority to provide exceptional instruction in a positive, risk-managed environment. While we also prioritize serving the local community and encouraging climbers to minimize their impact, which we will dive into deeper in our discussion of intentional mentorship.
Resources to Learn from Climbing Accidents
A recent article tells the story of an accident that occurred in 2014. A new climber took a trip to Colorado with a group. She had recently learned how to clean sport anchors in a gym setting, one of the guys she had met the day before offered her one of his alpine draws to girth hitch to her harness and use as a personal anchor system to clean the anchor off the route. Likely due to her unfamiliarity with the process of cleaning as well as someone else’s piece of gear something happened at the top of the route that caused her to fall 60-feet to the ground. You can read more details on the “climbing pass” subscription on Outside, but we want to take some time to analyze even the vague details of this accident.
It does not say if the climber who fell from the route and learned about cleaning routes in a gym setting was taught that in a class or by a friend/climbing partner. But we do know that when the climber cleaned this route they were with friends. It is important for all climbers to recognize the limitations, and biases, of their knowledge. This scenario could have been prevented if the climber had invested a little more time in an educational setting that is fully supervised. While accidents can still happen in a supervised setting, they are much less likely to occur.
In Episode 57 of The Sharp End Podcast, Brian retells a story from his early climbing days about an accident that occurred due to a "flawed knot". In his return to climbing with his sons, years later he made a point to hire a guide to make sure that him and his son were properly educated and supervised before diving back into climbing after years away from the sport.
How to Keep Climbing Safe in the Midst of it's Rising Popularity
Climbing is getting more and more popular. We have seen countless individuals teach their friends how to lead climb and clean anchors in an outdoor crag setting simply by pointing to things and explaining the process. This is a recipe for an outcome like the one summarized above. Not to mention, we are in the day and age of technology. It is so easy to look up “how to clean a sport anchor” on YouTube and get a lot of results - which can also be daunting! Even if you watch a video created by a credible source such as the AMGA there is still a chance of not comprehending, not getting enough practice, not having proper supervision, etc. that can lead to life threatening accidents.
The growing numbers of climbers is not going to stop, and it is impossible to prevent every accident from happening, but we strongly believe that if all climbers, especially those new to the craft were to seek qualified instruction, there would be less accidents in the community. Additionally, climbers should strive to always be students. Always willing to learn. Which flexes our brains and creates an important gap between competence and complacency. Complacency kills.
Seek. Qualified. Instruction.
Have you ever been in an accident or suffered an injury while out climbing? Or have you ever witnessed an accident or injury at the crag or in the backcountry?
Those scenarios can be traumatizing and often elicit a lot of panic. That is why we are going to spend an entire blog post talking about the benefits and importance of obtaining wilderness medicine training whether it is the basics of wilderness first aid or more in-depth training, such as taking a wilderness first responder course.
What is a WFR & WFA?
First, we wanted to start by defining what a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) is and highlight the difference between a WFR course and a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course. A certified wilderness first responder is an individual who obtains a standard level of medical training for remote locations. Responders are trained in patient assessment, equipped with treatment tools to stabilize various conditions, and provide extended care in remote environments (Definition from DMM). A WFA covers some, but not all, of the same topics and not as in-depth. A WFA Course is often 2-3 days long (16 hours), whereas a WFR Course is 7-9 days long (80 hours).
Why Take a WFR or WFA Course?
When you go out for a day of climbing, how often do you plan for your day? Whether it’s a day at a new crag or a bigger backcountry objective. Most of you probably (hopefully) have an idea of what routes you want to hop on or have read some beta on the approach. We call this trip prep. Preparing for a trip is an important facet of risk management whether you think about that in your planning or not. Taking a WFR or WFA course is a form of risk management. By doing so you are equipping yourself with the tools that are at the least nice to have and at most lifesaving.
We love The Sharp End Podcast. For those of you unfamiliar with the podcast, it is a resource that analyzes individual’s accidents in the mountains and concludes with take-aways to learn from. One of the common questions you’ll hear the host ask is if the individual’s involved in the accident have ever received any kind of wilderness medicine training. When the answer is no, more times than not, the response is that the victims wish they did.
Additional Resources: Satellite Devices
As Climbing gets more popular it is important that we are taking the precautions to preserve the community and land that we so deeply love. This industry is full of constant information; standards and best practices are always evolving to become safer and we learn about new land management policies, to name a few. It is important to us that instead of creating new information in this endless sea of resources, to instead refer you to, and share information from, credible resources that are consistently being evaluated by professionals in the industry. Keeping climbing safe and protected will only be sustainable if we all work collaboratively instead of competitively.
We would like to take a moment to highlight topics that we think are crucial to keep climbing safe, accessible, and protected for current and future generations.
1 | Wilderness Medicine Training
2 | Formal Education
Formal Education is another key to keeping climbing safe and protected. We value formal education in a climbing setting more and more as climbing is growing in popularity. After learning a technical skill, it can be very dangerous when first putting it into practice. For example, learning how to clean an anchor can be one of the most dangerous parts of learning to climb outside if learning under improper instruction. The formal educational setting is important when we first learn a new skill, as it provides a more controlled environment with guides who are managing the risks. The professionalism of this learning environment also enhances one’s ability to take in new information and retain it for future use.
It is important to note that there is a difference between experienced mentors and professional guides/instructors, especially those that are certified by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Many times, experienced mentors have alternate, occasionally selfish motives. When working with a professional guide, you are ensuring that the person providing you new skills is up to date on best practices and presents the content in a safe, clear, and concise fashion. Professional guides work with your individual learning style and tailor your time together to suit your personal needs.
3 | Intentional Mentorship
While we encourage formal instruction for learning new skills, we are still advocates for Intentional Mentorship. It is still equally important to have Intentional Mentorship in the climbing realm, and this dates back to the origin of climbing in the early 1900's. Mentorship is how we can learn "everything else". In an ideal case, someone will learn a new skill in a professional setting and then has an experienced mentor to supervise them until they reach a comfort in performing that task. This is similar to going to College and then having an Internship for further practice. In this fashion, it is often easy for mentors to be the ones teaching new material, which can often times lead to teaching these skills in a chaotic setting. Have you seen someone at the base of a crag yelling instructions up to another climber before? It isn't a great scenario to witness!
As guides and instructors (and recreational climbers) it is a high priority to educate others, especially those new to the community on the importance of local climbing ethics, Leave No Trace Principles, and local climbing etiquette. These topics are very important, but can be difficult to cover in depth when the priority during a course set in an instructional setting, or a guided trip is risk mitigation/management and explicit instruction on technical skills. This is where Intentional Mentorship comes in, mentors have a unique opportunity to set an example and pass on these ethics, principles, and etiquettes in depth and in context to keep climbing safe and protected. We always encourage our guests to be mindful of mentors, identify where their personal biases may be, and make sure to always ask questions! This not only includes the time when they are out climbing on their own, but also with us in an Instructional Course or a Guided Trip.
In the next articles we are going to dive deeper into each of the three topics discussed above to provide resources on Wilderness Medicine Training, Formal Education, and Intentional Mentorship. It is important to us that we work together as a community to keep our Public Lands clean, and protect our ability to climb especially in a time where the number of climbers is drastically increasing. At Granite Mountain Guides we will continue doing our part, by educating climbers and outdoor enthusiasts alike about all aspects of the natural world. Join us!
As helpful as online resources can be, always remember to SEEK. QUALIFIED. INSTRUCTION
Cleaning a single pitch route might be one of the most dangerous and stressful parts of a day at the crag. The process of cleaning presents the moment that a climber often must untie from their rope at the top of a pitch, thread it through the lowering hardware and retie into their harness. In recent years there have been many advancements to make this process at a crag safer.
Accidents in North American Climbing is a resource that is helpful in tracking accidents, injuries and rescues in climbing and why they occurred. From 2003 - 2013 incidents pertaining to lowering are made up of 56% rope too short, 22% of miscommunication, 12% of belay error and 10% anchor failures. Lowering off a route after cleaning the anchor is one of the most common scenarios that leads to injury or rescue. It is important to simplify this process as much as possible.
Mussy hooks are becoming more popular in the USA thanks to the American Safe Climbing Association's Lower-Off Initiative where they are equipping crags with lower-off hardware that increases the safety of the climber by allowing them to stay tied in at all times.
In the past couple of months GMG has been working with the ASCA in their Lower-Off Initiative to install mussy hooks in our own community. Next time you're climbing in Prescott, be sure to keep your eyes out for the crags that have newly installed mussy hooks! And remember: they are not for top-roping.
While installing mussy hooks at crags contributes to a safer and more accessible climbing environment, it is important for us (all climbers alike) to take on a personal responsibility of maintaining this hardware as long as it is safe. To accomplish this goal, it is crucial that mussy hooks are only used for the last person in your group to lower off.
As mussy hooks become more common, and seeing their resemblance to quick draws, it is has become an issue where climbers want to top-rope off of these mussy hooks. This puts unnecessary wear and tear on the hardware which shortens their lifespan.
An easy solution to preserving our beloved mussy hooks is to build simple, safe, and strong anchors. Below is a video from the AMGA of several different two-bolt top rope anchors and how to clean using mussy hooks. Feel free to reach out to us directly if you have any questions, or sign up for our Gym-to-Crag Course or Intro to Lead Climbing Course to learn more!
As helpful as online resources can be, always remember to SEEK. QUALIFIED. INSTRUCTION.
This institution is operated under special use permit with the Prescott National Forest. This institution is operated under special use permit with the City of Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Granite Mountain Guides, LLC is an equal opportunity provider.