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Safety Basics For Climbing

Getting Off the Ground

The smart climber is the one who has the right equipment and the knowledge to use it correctly. It doesn't matter how hard a route he can climb; if a climber doesn't follow the fundamental rules he risks losing the game. Following some basic principles will help increase your safety and enjoyment of rock climbing.

The easiest way to rock climb is by setting up a "slingshot" top rope. The climbing rope runs from the belayer up through an anchor at the top of the route and back down to the climber. As the climber ascends, the belayer takes in slack through a belay device. If the climber falls, the belayer locks off the rope. When the climber reaches the top, the belayer lowers him back to the ground by releasing rope through the belay device in a smooth and controlled manner. A secure anchor and a belayer prepared to catch a fall are essential for safety.

Creating a SECURE Anchor

Strong: the anchor must be strong and stable enough to do the job. Common anchors include large trees or bolts. Always use two or more. Inspect them, be certain of their strength. Use the appropriate equipment and connect the anchor points properly. If you have any doubts, find another anchor. Always protect yourself from falling when working near the edge of a cliff.

Extended: the master point must be extended over the edge of the cliff. The master point is the final attachment point for the climbing rope itself and is formed by multiple carabiners. To ensure that the rope runs smoothly and minimize the chances of cutting the rope, the master point must be over the edge of the cliff. Do whatever necessary to extend the anchor. If you can't, choose another route.

Centered: the master point must be centered above the climb. If it is positioned to the side, there is the potential for a dangerous pendulum if the climber falls. Choose an anchor that is directly above the climb. If the climb does not go straight up, but diagonals, consider another climb.

Unbroken: the master point must consist of an unbroken ring of metal. Use at least two carabiners, one of them preferably a locking carabiner, orient their gates so they open in opposite directions, and rotate them so that the gates are on opposite sides.

Runs easily: test the rope by pulling on it. If it doesn't run smoothly through the master point, re-position the anchor.

Edge padded: pad all edges that could damage any part of the anchor or the rope if something moved. Use a pack or extra clothing.

Building a SECURE anchor is essential, but even a perfect anchor is no guarantee. Use it incorrectly and risk losing the game. In order to maximize safety, the belayer must do his job correctly.

Preparing to CATCH a Fall

Closed system: the belayer must tie into their end of the rope and close the system. If not, the rope could run through their hands and they could drop the climber. Even on short climbs get in the habit of having the belayer tie in.

Aligned: the belayer should be clipped to an anchor on the ground (a tree works great) and they must be in line between their anchor and the master point. If not, if the climber falls the belayer will be pulled sideways until they are aligned. This can cause them to lose control of the rope and drop the climber.

Tight: the belayer must also be tight to the anchor. If not, if the climber falls the belayer will be pulled forward until tight to the anchor and could lose control and drop the climber.

Communication clear: the belayer and climber must communicate clearly. They must understand climbing signals and use them. Poor communication is a frequent cause of accidents.

Hand on the rope: the belayer must understand the mechanics of belaying and must be able to perform all functions without releasing his brake hand. The belayer cannot catch the climber if his brake hand is off the rope.

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