Why Your Mother Would Have Not Liked You Climbing 40 Years Ago

hmThe sport of rock climb­ing as we know it today has evolved from the cen­turies old prac­tice of moun­taineer­ing. Through the years, the sport has illus­trat­ed its dan­gers through acci­dents and fatal­i­ties. Of course though, how could a sport where you’re dan­gling 50 feet above the ground not be inher­ent­ly risky? Even the Amer­i­can Safe Climb­ing Asso­ci­a­tion states “if you are seek­ing secu­ri­ty, do not climb.” But the good news is that with all the inno­va­tions in rock climb­ing secu­ri­ty and stan­dards over the last 40 years, the most dan­ger­ous part of climb­ing now is the approach.

Since the 1970’s climb­ing has grown from a back roads activ­i­ty to an inter­na­tion­al sport with spe­cial­ized gear pro­duc­ers, orga­ni­za­tions set on devel­op­ing safe climb­ing tech­niques, and vies to be an Olympic sport. Along­side the growth in pop­u­lar­i­ty arose a growth in safe­ty stan­dards. Rein­forced belay loops replaced swiss-seats (har­ness­es made out of climb­ing rope), and belay devices replaced the age-old method of body belay­ing (using your hips as a stop­ping device).

rurWith the sud­den increase of inter­est, grass-root orga­ni­za­tions that advo­cat­ed across the board safe­ty stan­dards became more preva­lent. These orga­ni­za­tion include the Amer­i­can Alpine Club and the Inter­na­tion­al Moun­taineer­ing and Climb­ing Fed­er­a­tion. They aim to “spec­i­fy safe­ty stan­dards for moun­taineer­ing equip­ment and tech­niques.” Along­side these orga­ni­za­tions, new spe­cial­ized busi­ness­es emerged to ful­fill the sud­den­ly grow­ing mar­ket. Climb­ing spe­cif­ic com­pa­nies like Patag­o­nia and Black Dia­mond have a high scruti­ny for safe­ty not only for the wel­fare of their cus­tomers, but also for the sake of return business.

Through sharp minds and past expe­ri­ences, gear engi­neers have brought the per­cent­age of climb­ing acci­dents attrib­ut­able to gear mal­func­tion near­ly to zero. But then why, accord­ing to “Acci­dents in North Amer­i­can Moun­taineer­ing,” were their 28 climb­ing fatal­i­ties in 2011 com­pared to 15 in 1970?

ptThe first expla­na­tion is sim­ple. Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, in com­par­i­son to the amount of peo­ple climb­ing, the 2012 ratio has gone down. The sec­ond expla­na­tion is that although gear mal­func­tion has near­ly dropped to zero, human error plays the largest, if not com­plete, role in climb­ing acci­dents. The respon­si­bil­i­ty still lies on the climber to know how and where to use what gear. So forty years ago or not, your moth­er may still not like you climb­ing, but at least you can tell her the gear you are using is safe.

*“The evo­lu­tion of climb­ing equip­ment stan­dards,” by Dave Custer. 2007. Amer­i­can Alpine Club.
* www.safeclimbing.org
* “Acci­dents in North Amer­i­can Moun­taineer­ing” 2012, pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Alpine Club.