/ Is sport climbing safe?

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taddersandbadger - on 06 Oct 2012
Now the obvious answer should be "yes" right? This is why we do it , the pro is bomber and its all about the moves... after an "interesting" day down at Portland today I am left wondering...
Having just lead the mid grade "Top 50" route Pregnant Pause, I was enjoying the sunshine while my climbing partner, 2 stone lighter than me and at least two grades the better climber, floated up same said route. All of a sardine, all hell breaks loose and I am joined at the bottom of the crag by a chunk of limestone the size of a (VERY) large telly and my climbing buddy is taking a very memorable whipper having pulled a flake, at least 4 times his body weight, off what I would consider to be a very well travelled route.
Amazingly there were no serious casualties apart from some of our gear that was 'pile driven' into the ground by the boulder when it landed. So after giving myself a stern telling off for not wearing my helmet whilst belaying - not that it would have made a jots worth of difference had I been in the flight path of the mother load, it may well have spared me some pretty nasty injuries from some of the smaller satellites that rained down around me, it then took three of us to roll the flake over and retrieve the remains of our gear (sorry crag swag bandits!) and send it on its merry way down to the sea (having checked the way was clear - of course!).
Needless to say on the drive home there was much debate surrounding the days events. Perhaps we should have avoided Portland after a day of heavy rain, which may have loosened the flake? Perhaps we should have avoided a route with a loose flake? In our defence this one would have been pretty hard to spot as it was more of a slight bulge that formed a narrow ledge as opposed to an obvious flake.
I know there are those that regard the entire Bill as a lump of choss to be given a wide berth, but having spent a bit of time climbing there, I had learned to 'trust' the bulk of it as pretty good but perhaps now I won't see it as quite as "bomber" as I thought it was.....
Simon4 - on 06 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: Go to the Boulder Ruckle - you know what you can expect there.
Calder - on 06 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

Certainly safer than alpinism. But, even if you disregard that most sport climbing in this country is on limestone, it's never going to be totally without risk.

Especially if you fall off while trying to clip the first bolt like I did last week....
ERU - on 06 Oct 2012
"There's belaying and then there's f***ing belaying," is probably the main danger. That said there is a good photo of someones arm doing the rounds atm too.
I like climbing - on 06 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:
Glad you were unhurt - moments like that are unreal. I think you nailed it when you mentioned the rain this week. How different is the route now ?
I think a route on Blacknor North collapsed a couple of years ago killing the leader so we do have to be careful. I always avoid routes that don't get much traffic after heavy rain at Portland - you were very unlucky because that is a popular route.
Michael Hood - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: In answer to your question - no it's not safe.

But then you could ask what activity is safe, even watching the TV has its risks.

Is it safer than trad - Yes, but as you've luckily found out (the luck being that it missed), it's still got risk.
Howardw1968 - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:
Glad your ok but throwing your trashed gear into the sea that would be littering
Jonathan Emett - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:
I heard a similar story about pregnant pause a few weeks ago, sounds like that route is in flux atm. Glad you are ok.
cas smerdon - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: Of course sport climbing isn't safe! It is bolts joined to natural rock exposed to the elements and weathering over time, it isn't an indoor wall. The rock on sport routes is no safer than the rock on trad routes and you should always check every hold before pulling on it.
Also always wear a helmet when belaying, you are more likely to get something dropped on your head than the climber above you.
AlasdairM on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to Howardw1968: he was talking about the boulder, not the gear.
dale1968 - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to AlasdairM: possibly tongue in cheek?
Sean Kelly - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: Try climbing on chalk. Now that's a real adventure!
Ciro - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

Safe? No.

Safer than riding a bike? Yes.

We go through life having the occasional brush with death. Don't let an incident like this put you off sport climbing any more than a near miss with a car would put you off riding...
Rockhopper85 - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: how has it affected the route? Is the bulge a key hold?
taddersandbadger - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to Rockhopper85:
After a quick check of the gear and rope for damage, my climbing partner Simon, bravely re climbed the route and he reckons it is now a tad harder.
taddersandbadger - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to Sean Kelly:
Hi Sean,

I have done a bit of that, these days it is usually on the lead and slightly overhanging in preparation for ice, and there I can say I am more "used to" dealing with holds blowing, bits coming away and the general jiggery pokery of it all. I think what caught us out here, was that it was so unexpected, which I guess is the lesson....
taddersandbadger - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:
Thanks to all for your posts on this, it has been good to get some input from fellow climbers.
Lets hope we get a good winter!
LukeyG - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: i was on this route today, there is mud and dirt all over the lower half, and a loose flake still remains and will come off if anyone yards on it! dont think its going to be much harder but needs a clean
taddersandbadger - on 07 Oct 2012
In reply to LukeyG:
Thanks for the update, nice to get some more info, hopefully it will clean up soon and settle down, as it is a fun route.
Nic on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

The short answer is yes...no...and maybe!

Bolting routes massively reduces the subjective danger of leading; however, it can't eliminate the objective danger of (e.g.) equipment failure or in this case stuff falling off the route. Speaking as someone with some detailed knowledge of both the geology of Portland and the climbing, I'm sorry to say that things like this will happen and continue to happen...it's just in the nature of rock. Imagine when Battleship Block "fell off"!

That said, I am slightly surprised something came off PP. I haven't done it for a long while, but I would have guessed that it was pretty stable in our lifetimes. Out of interest was this a lump of chert? In my experience that stuff can be the danger on otherwise apparently stable routes.

Nic
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Phil79 - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

Sport climbing is never 100% safe and people shouldn't assume it is. Tragically someone died on portland a few years back in similar circumstances. http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=58015

The key (like all climbing) is to reduce risks were possible. Wear a helmet and keep looking up when belaying if theres loose rock (and there's shit loads on portland!). Test holds if they look suspect before putting all your weight on them, etc. Common sense stuff. Even so, its not 100% safe and theres always a risk of injury or worse.
Bulls Crack - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

Now the obvious answer should be "yes" right?

A dangerous assumption to start from! Why should one think that? Cliffs are inherently dangerous, mistakes can always be made, much lower/mid grade climb sport climbing is on poor rock etc etc
tom_in_edinburgh - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

Premise:
1. I was nearly killed by a TV sized piece of rock while sport climbing
2. Being killed by a TV sized piece of rock is not safe

Conslusion: Sport climbing is not safe.

Live long and prosper.
Rory Shaw - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: One of the problems with sport climbing is that for a lot of people it is the next step from indoor climbing. These people have yet to build up a knowledge base of outdoor climbing and the risks that it entails and approach it as if they were climbing indoors. As it is bolted they assume that it is 'safe'. Combine this with the fact that a lot of the more amenable sport climbing in this country is found in chossy quarries etc. then accidents will happen! Also low grade sport routes, which maybe less than vertical, are not pleasant to fall off compared to harder over hanging routes.
Pero - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

Climbing, in general, is safe. According to the following there is only 1 death in every 320,000 climbs. Much safer than running, swimming, cycling or football, for eaxmple.

http://www.medicine.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/booth/risk/sports.html
Pero - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh:

I think your syllogism is a bit loose at the seams! ;)
wurzelinzummerset on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to Pero: The figures don't compare like with like. For example a climber may tackle 6 climbs in a day, whereas someone jumping out of a plane is likely to do that only once per day session. Same with scuba diving. In that context I could claim climbing is more dangerous than scuba diving, skydiving or hang-gliding. Furthermore, a prolific climber may do 300 routes a year over a 40 year span. That's 12000 climbs giving a 1:27 chance of death.
Pero - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to wurzelinzummerset: Yes, I agree. For a regular climber, the calculation will work out at quite a high probability of death or serious injury over a lifetime.

On the other hand, a relatively high proportion may be in the two extremes of youthful beginners and high-end risk takers.

So, it becomes very difficult to estimate the risk accurately for, say, a solid VS climber who doesn't take many lead falls and whose judgement is sound in terms of what route to do in what weather.
andyathome - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:
'Is sport climbing safe?'
Given the fact that people have died whilst sport climbing then I would go so far as to say 'No'.
bouldery bits - on 08 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

Of course not, even cleaning your teeth carries some risk.
spidermonkey09 - on 09 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:
Sounds like you got lucky- I climbed the route after a week of heavy rain over the summer and I feel fortunate now! Which flake was it do you know? Has it affected the grade at all?
kurosan - on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger: hey man, just been directed to your post having put up my account of the event under 'epic on pregnant pause'. good debate going on, apart from the usual few who seem to completely miss the point of opening up a discussion. Glad most people have a good point of view in this and recognise that the evaluation of risk can be a cloudy matter when dealing with sport climbing on well travled pitches. As we know risk asseement is a personal afair every climber must process before a days adventure, but isnt the increased efficiency of assesment of risk gained through experience of situations one might not have expected? There for, our, and all present or indeed anyone who has experienced similar can take this new found knowledge forward, into producing clearer more well rounded assesments of what lies above. However its definately the case of a wise post made on this topic that the avoidance of risk does not negate us from the outcome. Risk is everywhere and when you weigh up all info you have at hand, your opertunity to minimize risk in whatever seemingly dangerous persuit you follow is greatly increased. So surely before you can minimise risk you must first embrace it???????
taddersandbadger - on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to kurosan:
Hi Si, cheers for the post and a cool head (never mind balls of steel!) on the day, not many people I know would have pulled back on and finished the route. Legend - will share a rope with you any time.
Howard J - on 12 Oct 2012
In reply to wurzelinzummerset:
> (In reply to Pero) The figures don't compare like with like. For example a climber may tackle 6 climbs in a day, whereas someone jumping out of a plane is likely to do that only once per day session.

The statistics show the risk of dying as a ratio of a number of climbs, not days. It shouldn't matter whether you do one climb per day or several - you're exposing yourself to the same level of risk on each climb (other things being equal, which of course they're not).

However, I can't help thinking that there must be something wrong with statistics that suggest that climbing in the UK is safer than playing table tennis in Germany (or, looking more closely, doing pretty much anything in Germany - what is it with Germans?)

wurzelinzummerset on 15 Oct 2012
In reply to Howard J: If you look back at the context of my reply to Pero you'll see that I'm making the point that climbing is most often done in a situation where multiple climbs are undertaken per day. Yes, the statistics are per climb, but climbs aren't usually done as one-off events in a day like some of the other activities. So just because the probability per climb of death is less than each time you jump out a plane it does not necessarily mean climbing as a pastime is safer -- as I stated, like is not being compared with like.
GrahamD - on 16 Oct 2012
In reply to taddersandbadger:

As far as I have observed, by far and away the biggest risk with sport climbing is complacency.

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