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New Study on Rock Climbing Accidents and Rescues
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By Rocky Mountain Rescue Group
From Boulder, CO
Jul 2, 2012
Trademarked logo of Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, Inc.

The Rocky Mountain Rescue Group has just published a study in the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal on 14 years of rock climbing accidents in Boulder County, Colorado.
By the numbers, Boulder County is one of the busiest areas of the country for climbing rescues and we wanted to get the lessons learned into the hands of the climbing community.

The paper covers 14 years (1998 - 2011), 345 search and rescue incidents and 428 climbers within Boulder County.
We also put together a second report that will be more interesting for local Boulder County climbers by including comparisons to Eldorado Canyon specifically.

All of the information can be accessed here:

www.rockymountainrescue.org/Climbing_Rescues_Causes_Injuries>>>

www.rockymountainrescue.org/Climbing_Rescues_Eldorado_Canyon>>>


We hope that the lessons learned from the last 14 years will help prevent future accidents.

Some summary points include:
- Climbing anchors rarely fail (2.5% of total climbing accidents involved failed anchors), and when they do it is because of inexperience in setup.
- 20% of all climbing accidents could have been prevented by better belay practices such as tying a knot in the end of the rope, or wearing belay gloves.
- Rock fall causes a small number of accidents (4.5% of total), and seems linked to the freeze thaw cycles of spring. In early spring climbing checking the rock you’re about to climb on for security is a prudent preventative measure.
- Prior knowledge of climb rappel anchors and walk offs, and taking a headlamp, will prevent a lot of rescues (up to 45% of total).
- The common injuries sustained are to the legs/ankles (30%) and to the head and spine (30%). Knowledge of how to improvise splinting and how to assess spinal injuries might be a great addition to a climbers toolkit.
- 20% of climbers rescued were involved in accidents where the belayer or rappeller lost control of the lowering or ran out of rope before reaching the ground.
- Un-roped climbers made up one third of climbers rescued and almost 40% of those fatally injured.

If you have any questions we will make every effort to reply to Mountain Project or emails. You can contact us at contact@RockyMountainRescue.org


Sincerely,

Dan Lack

Mission Leader
Rocky Mountain Rescue
Boulder, CO
www.RockyMountainRescue.org


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By james-va
Jul 2, 2012

This is great info, Dan -- thanks very much for posting.


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By JohnnyG
Jul 2, 2012

Thanks!

The 20% from belay error is astonishing.

So how strongly do you recommend belay gloves? Or are the majority due to rope length (not tying a knot). I guess I'll have to read the report.


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By JustinJD.
From Denver
Jul 2, 2012

"Notable anchor failures include:...the failure of an anchor built from webbing spliced together using masking tape".

Yikes....

Fascinating read....thanks for posting the link.


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By ErikaNW
Jul 3, 2012
Rapping off the Matron October, 2010

Thanks for sharing and congratulations on the publication! Very well done!


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By Rick Blair
From Denver
Jul 3, 2012
This is a novel auto blocking belay device.  I think it works quite well, depending on rope thickness and sheath quality, it belays very smooth.  Great to lower with.  You gotta love over engineering.  $3 at a gear swap!

Dan,

Point 1, are you including protection in the anchor stats (vs just belay anchors)? Is there a breakdown between fixed and placed pro?

Point 2, Is there a breakdown between lowering someone off the end of a rope and losing control of a belay? Why the gloves? Are people losing control/lowering too fast when they see they are about to lower someone off the rope then trying to grab it?


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By JLP
From The Internet
Jul 3, 2012

Okay, don't free solo and learn how to belay. Check. Falling while leading is dangrous. Check. Got it. Who would have thunk? Not really sure what to conclude out of the rest of it. Seems to me like the record keeping is really non-specific to the point of uselessness, and a 14 year pile of it doesn't really amount to much more for me.

A breakdown of the lead falls - kind of gear that failed, routes, etc - would have been infinitely more useful in itself than the sum of all other information in your links. There is more useful and better quality information on the accident interpretive sign near the bathroom in Eldo.

One example - the ANAM tables and the Eldo sign clearly indicate that gear pulling out of the rock (or no gear) during those lead falls is by far the biggest cause of injury in all of rock climbing (ie, technical, rope, no snow/ice, etc). Your reports absolutely miss that.


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By SendaGorilla
From Boulder
Jul 3, 2012

^^DOUCHE!--------------they're just tryin to help


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By JSH
Administrator
Jul 3, 2012
JSH @ home <br /> <br />photo courtesy of Gabe Ostriker

JLP wrote:
Okay, don't free solo and learn how to belay. Check. Falling while leading is dangrous. Check. Got it. Who would have thunk?


Well, that's exactly the problem. Who would have thunk, indeed? Humans, and their brains. Imperfect human attention is the common factor in, it appears, well over 90% of accidents.

Concluding that this is obvious and that you know better is perhaps the worst and most dangerous message to take home here. You, too, are human. The very word 'human' is synonymous with infallibility and error.


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By Rick Blair
From Denver
Jul 3, 2012
This is a novel auto blocking belay device.  I think it works quite well, depending on rope thickness and sheath quality, it belays very smooth.  Great to lower with.  You gotta love over engineering.  $3 at a gear swap!

The last 2 posters completely miss the point. They probably have a lot of useful data but all I read here is:
-Free soloing is dangerous if you fall.
-Don't get lost or caught in the dark without a headlamp.

The part about common injury is useful.

And he is correct, the sign in Eldo contradicts point #1 about anchors. It appears they are combining all types of anchors together like fixed pro, rappel/belay anchors, that tells you nothing about trad anchor failure either at belay or during a pitch.

I could sum up their report as "Rock climbing is dangerous."

And by the way, they asked for feedback.


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By Leeroy
Jul 3, 2012

OMG I had to CLICK A LINK TO FIND THIS!

That was so much work I guess I'll just have to deem the entire study worthless and proclaim I know everything.

JLP, is it tough being an internet hardman?


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By JLP
From The Internet
Jul 3, 2012

Yarp wrote:
OMG I had to CLICK A LINK TO FIND THIS

Nice work, Yarp. Now go ahead and read it and maybe you'll catch up with all the other posters here.


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By Rocky Mountain Rescue Group
From Boulder, CO
Jul 3, 2012
Trademarked logo of Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, Inc.

Rick Blair wrote:
Dan, Point 1, are you including protection in the anchor stats (vs just belay anchors)? Is there a breakdown between fixed and placed pro? Point 2, Is there a breakdown between lowering someone off the end of a rope and losing control of a belay? Why the gloves? Are people losing control/lowering too fast when they see they are about to lower someone off the rope then trying to grab it?


Rick and others, thanks for the questions and comments.

In response to your points:
1) When we were breaking the results into the various categories we chose to define an anchor as a piece of protection that was intentionally loaded (top rope anchor, slung rock, trad anchor etc.). We assumed that a single piece of pro placed in the middle of a lead climb is not usually intended to be loaded. This might not always be the case but for the analysis we had to draw a line. Cams that pulled after a lead fall were not included as an anchor. There was one situation where a climber was using a single cam as an anchor for an extended rest and the rock surrounding the cam broke.

2) The belay breakdown is: 21 of 51 climbers were either lowered off or rappelled off the rope while 8 of 51 lost control of the belay. In most of these ‘Lost Control’ situations the belayer (or person on rappel) could not generate enough friction and let go of the rope due to the rope burns. The cause of losing control was by fast lowering, and energetic falls that were not caught.


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By Jake Jones
From The Eastern Flatlands
Jul 3, 2012
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.

Although I don't particularly agree with JLP's flair for ultra-poignant delivery of his point, he does make a good point nonetheless. Making these distinctions, especially concerning lead falls, is important. If you have 500 (arbitrary number) people take whippers and get injured WITH their last piece holding, then leading could be construed to be almost as dangerous as soloing. However, if you take the same number of people, and say that 80% of them that got injured because one or more of their pieces ripped, then it becomes a totally different story- one where emphasis is placed on competent leading and gear placing skills. One data point makes the difference between "chances are you'll get injured if you lead gear routes" to "if you don't know what the hell you're doing, there is potential for injury". That's a pretty big difference.

This was somewhat covered in the section that explained data collection and subtly offered a disclaimer of sorts. Maybe it was overlooked, and maybe it was so hodge-podge or potentially inaccurate that it was omitted on purpose.

Personally, I don't think that the study was a complete waste. I would never have guessed that rappelling holds such a sizeable percentage of incidents. If knowing that makes me or others pay more attention to detail and become a little more diligent, then it's hard to chalk it up as pointless.

Some work was clearly put into collecting and analyzing this data, and for your efforts, thank you.


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By Rick Blair
From Denver
Jul 3, 2012
This is a novel auto blocking belay device.  I think it works quite well, depending on rope thickness and sheath quality, it belays very smooth.  Great to lower with.  You gotta love over engineering.  $3 at a gear swap!

Rocky Mountain Rescue Group wrote:
2) The belay breakdown is: 21 of 51 climbers were either lowered off or rappelled off the rope while 8 of 51 lost control of the belay. In most of these ‘Lost Control’ situations the belayer (or person on rappel) could not generate enough friction and let go of the rope due to the rope burns. The cause of losing control was by fast lowering, and energetic falls that were not caught.

Thanks for the quick response!
What I am reading is that belay gloves are important for situations where lowering is common ( Top rope, single pitch trad and sport )
Are we specifically talking about belaying while lowering?


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By Crag Dweller
From New York, NY
Jul 3, 2012
My navigator keeps me from getting lost

JLP wrote:
... A breakdown of the lead falls - kind of gear that failed, routes, etc - would have been infinitely more useful in itself than the sum of all other information in your links.


How would you benefit by knowing, for instance, that nuts failed more frequently than cams or hexes?

JLP wrote:
There is more useful and better quality information on the accident interpretive sign near the bathroom in Eldo. One example - the ANAM tables and the Eldo sign clearly indicate that gear pulling out of the rock (or no gear) during those lead falls is by far the biggest cause of injury in all of rock climbing (ie, technical, rope, no snow/ice, etc). Your reports absolutely miss that.


So, there was either no gear or gear was placed and pulled out. You think that's more valuable to the climbing community than a reminder about the importance of knowing the descent route or rap locations before getting on a climb?


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By James Arnold
From Chattanooga
Jul 3, 2012
Chew toyed

Dan/RMRG,

I appreciate your efforts and have looked at and used your site in the past for incident analysis and my own learning as well as to teach others "what not to do"...

I would be interested in a breakdown of "loss of control"/-use gloves! of plate/friction(atc) devices vs. assisted belay devices like the gri-gri in the future.

Also, though it would be hard to track, what are your "guesstimate" thoughts using 80m ropes possibly mitigating lowering accidents?

Keep up the great work


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By Marc H
From Lafayette, CO
Jul 3, 2012
The Cathedral Spires in RMNP, left to right: Stiletto, Sharkstooth, Forbidden Tower, Petit Grepon, The Saber, The Foil, The Moon & The Jackknife.

RMRG wrote:
- Un-roped climbers made up one third of climbers rescued and almost 40% of those fatally injured.


Dan,

Does this stat include those folks that have little to no technical climbing experience and not even the most basic climbing gear (i.e. climbing/approach/sticky rubber shoes) and find themselves on technical (4th - 5th class) terrain when they have their accident? Or does it just include those folks that have at least some technical climbing experience and at least sticky rubber on their feet?

Thanks!


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By Buff Johnson
Jul 3, 2012
smiley face

JLP wrote:
O One example - the ANAM tables and the Eldo sign clearly indicate that gear pulling out of the rock (or no gear) during those lead falls is by far the biggest cause of injury in all of rock climbing (ie, technical, rope, no snow/ice, etc). Your reports absolutely miss that.


I would to some extent not conclude this as the biggest cause, but rather a problem in situational awareness. As well, perhaps the information submitted in the ANAM and Eldo needs a better look to the reporting parties submitting info that seem to do it with a bias to promote a message, or quite frankly to mask personal responsibility in the accident. Similar to every news report of a chest injury on a ski slope due to whether or not a person wore a helmet or an avy beacon; which may not relate, but the intent was to put out a message about getting education & safety equipment. Grain of salt.

A loss of situational awareness due to some rational cognitive decision made in the process results in an accident in most every case. Which is surely attributable to rescuer accidents just as much as recreationalists. This would seem counter-intuitive as being in this type of terrain, you have, or should have, an intense focus on the situation at hand. Why does this occur and continue to occur?

Complacency of the experienced & educated possibly just as much as the lack of talent or knowledge by the inexperienced. Maybe also seek things like: do we have acceptable use of equipment that still ends in an accident (or misuse, for that matter)? Falling when its not an option? Partners not on the same page and/or mis-communicating? Do we have abnormal psychology disorder/medical concern? An unforeseen (or foreseeable) objective hazard from the terrain? Just pure egotistical arrogance? I think the data submitted here seeks to address some of this better, which I believe also mirrors what the NPS has collected and reported.


Overdue Hiking/Search is still, by far, the biggest occurrence of SAR in needing to utilize resources. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with getting out into the mountains whether climbing, hiking, or gang-banging the local tavern queen. Shit happens sometimes; the mountains will never be the sanitized forum of soccer-mom safety no matter how good the pro and anchors are. But, I think having the extensive data history presented in this type of report offers a better understanding.


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By Wayne
From Superior, CO
Jul 3, 2012

Dan, etal -

The belay/rappel info in the document gives reasonable summary of cause for the accidents, and is good to see. The breakdown for 'off the end of the rope' accidents vs other loss of control accidents was interesting.

It would be good to have a similar breakdown on the cause of lead climbing injuries - R/X routes, vs. gear pulling, etc.

And too bad the data does not distinguish between solo rock climber and hiker scrambling. That also would have been a good distinction, including any reason for the solo climber accident.

Overall, the usual reason to read a report like this is for self-education and improvement. As indicated above, the belay section is useful, and the other two are less useful for this purpose. Some more information that is useful to climbers for self improvement would be greatly appreciated.


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By Eric Krantz
From Black Hills
Jul 3, 2012
smoke break, pitch 5 or 6 (or 7??) of Dark Shadows

JLP wrote:
O A breakdown of the lead falls - kind of gear that failed, routes,


For reliable statistics, you'd need to know the ratio of "kind of gear" failed to "kind of gear" fell on. I guess no one had the fell-on-gear stats to make a useful comparison.

Routes? What if I said 3 people were hurt climbing Route ABC? What if only 3 people attempted that route in 11 years? What if 498 parties had successfully summited?

JLP wrote:
One example - the ANAM tables and the Eldo sign clearly indicate that gear pulling out of the rock (or no gear) during those lead falls is by far the biggest cause of injury in all of rock climbing


"Gear (or no gear)"... That's the most useful sign I've seen yet. Except for this one:

gear pulling out (or no gear) is dangerous
gear pulling out (or no gear) is dangerous


It's pretty cool - and for some people almost necessary - to take a huge mass (mess?) of incoherent data, arrange it, define categories and boundaries, sort, classify, sieve out the useful info, and turn it into stats. However, it requires that one knows what _can't_ be reported due to data limitations, of which you, amongst you're sniveling adolescent retort, have just pointed out 2 perfect examples.


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By Eric Krantz
From Black Hills
Jul 3, 2012
smoke break, pitch 5 or 6 (or 7??) of Dark Shadows

Rick Blair wrote:
The last 2 posters completely miss the point.... And he is correct, the sign in Eldo contradicts point #1 about anchors.


Yeah, GREAT sign at Eldo!! "Failed gear during lead fall (or no gear) is the leading cause of injury"".

It's like, crashing while drunk driving (or walking) is the leading cause of injury to drinkers.


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By DaveC
From Louisville, CO
Jul 4, 2012
Dave Christenson, descending from the Maiden

Bump, particularly for the 20% of belay failure accidents. What can the climbing community collectively do to reduce this ________ (tragic? appalling? alarming?) number?

Also with respect to ANAM & the Eldo sign: Those are looking at / based on a different set of accidents/ data. Interesting to compare and contrast those with the RMRG report. Not surprising there are differences in the tallies.

Climb safe. Teach the newbies to tie knots in the end of the rope and or have the belayer tie in as a habit.


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By Rocky Mountain Rescue Group
From Boulder, CO
Jul 4, 2012
Trademarked logo of Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, Inc.

To address a few more of the comments brought up:

Not surprisingly, this community is looking for as much information as possible to inform decision making. Pointing out the "would have been nice to have" areas is very helpful for us as we continue to collect data. It informs our future data collection methods. So, thanks.

RMRGs priority is performing and training for rescues, so some data gaps inevitably creep into the records. Particularly insightful data that we are now collecting is for the types of belay devices used, helmet use and climb grade. The type of gear that failed (or didn't) in a lead fall is also on the list. Marc H also points out one data gap that will be improved. Because of a lack of detail collected on un-roped climbers, this category included free-soloers (i.e. experienced with sticky rubber on their feet) and inexperienced scramblers. We did find that there were very few un-roped climbing accidents in Eldorado Canyon compared to all of Boulder County.
We should note that for some accidents much of this data does exist but for this type of write up, the 'unknown' category can't makeup a large % of the total, so that's where we use a coarser category such as 'un-roped climbing'.

As far as 80 meter ropes go it seems as though most 'lower off', or 'rappel off' accidents were because of 50m or 60m ropes being used on anchors that were set up for 60m or 70m ropes respectively, or where there was enough rope but it wasn't confirmed by the climber that it reached the ground. Control of both ends of the ropes (e.g. knots in the ends) would be the first line of defense for these incidents. Having the guidebook in your hands (or on your phone!) would be another good choice. 80m ropes couldn’t hurt.

The point about ANAM is a good one, yet tricky. ANAM is mostly self reporting by climbers and can miss a lot of incidents. Some of the RMRG data that went into this paper was reported in ANAM but it was a small fraction, so consistency of data reporting is also important to figuring out some of the real trends.

Climb Safe!

Dan Lack


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By Princess Mia
From Vail
Jul 5, 2012
Chillin' at City of Rocks

Great study with lots of info. Being involved in research myself I realize a line has to be drawn at some point. There simply is never enough time or money to answer all questions.
The point is, any additional an new info is better than none. Keep up the good work and hopefully we will be able to answer additional questions in the future.


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By Rick Blair
From Denver
Jul 5, 2012
This is a novel auto blocking belay device.  I think it works quite well, depending on rope thickness and sheath quality, it belays very smooth.  Great to lower with.  You gotta love over engineering.  $3 at a gear swap!

Eric Krantz wrote:
Yeah, GREAT sign at Eldo!! "Failed gear during lead fall (or no gear) is the leading cause of injury"". It's like, crashing while drunk driving (or walking) is the leading cause of injury to drinkers.

Or maybe a little more like a sign that reads "Are you sure your gear placements are good? Most accident here happen due to blown gear." I think that's a pretty useful sign.


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