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How to Avoid Lightning When Rock Climbing   

by Matt Samet
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4 ways to keep your cool when a storm threatens 

It happens to the best (and even the fastest) of us. Hundreds of feet off the deck, you suddenly find yourself trapped, pinned down by an ugly beast spitting white-hot lightning and drowning the rock. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when dealing with objective hazards like lightning but here are a few ways to decrease the potency of your epic.

1. Donít panic. Storms arenít like dogs ó they canít smell your fear. Nevertheless, being methodical in your response to the situation will up your chances of survival. This includes you and your partner keeping your cool by not giving voice to worst-case scenarios. Encourage each other (ďWeíll get through this,Ē not ďWeíre gonna die!Ē) and concentrate on your breathing. Many people hyperventilate in tense situations, exacerbating their anxiety and making it hard to think clearly. Remember the simple things, like donning extra clothes before you get wet and cold.

Climbing in a storm <br />by Mike Clelland
Climbing in a storm
by Mike Clelland
2. Weigh your options. Donít immediately assume that your best option is rappelling. Depending upon how high you are on the route, it may be best to climb up to safety or find a sheltered place to stay put until the weather passes. Scope out other escape options, such as ledges you can traverse to easier ground. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your partner, even if that means seconding a pitch in the rain to reach her on a higher ledge versus unproductive shouting. Any decisions are best made together.

3. Move quickly but safely. If you decide to rappel, do it quickly and decisively. Donít hem and haw over leaving your favorite cam as part of an anchor, fiddling with less-precious nuts when itís obvious the cam is safer. No piece of climbing gear is worth more than your life, or your partnerís!
If you decide to go up, donít muck about trying to keep your ascent all-free if the rock is wet. Place solid gear and pull on it, hang on it, or stand in it (you can jury-rig ďaidersĒ with shoulder or prusik slings or a cordelette) to make upward progress. Itís faster to free climb (when safely possible), but itís also easy to slip on wet rock and a broken bone will quickly complicate your epic.

Always carry prusiks and know how to use them. With the rock soaked and not free climbable, itís much more efficient to second a pitch with prusiks than by aiding.

4. Pray. It canít hurt, can it? Iím not necessarily a religious man but Iíve found myself pleading with God a few times while rappelling in thunderstorms. Having a mantra, be it prayer or otherwise, will allow you to focus and keep your head. Even the lyrics from a favorite song might help. Something from the Doors comes to mind ...


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