Having heard within a week or 2 of lockdown easing, of 2 ground falls (Avon gorge I think), then a supposed heli rescue off a ledge a week ago and now another helicopter evac today in the area, I thought I’d check the BMC’s accident report feature, only to find around 2 or 3 minor accidents seem to be reported there nationwide every month, less than 20 this year.
It can’t be just me who, when hearing of an accident at a crag you frequent you would like some sort of a report on the accident? Even if it was just made clear wether it was climber error, loose rock, or gear / protection failure to put our minds at ease or instill some caution (if for example a venue has a number of loose rock Related accidents)
I realise it’s up to people to make the reports themselves in the U.K. but it’s not happening. In other parts of the world the local access rep will compile the report and release it and I felt I’ve learnt at least something useful from most reports I’ve read elsewhere, there’s absolutely nothing in the UK.
The UK climbing community has a culture of not talking about accidents.
If you try discussing the cause of a recent accident on UKC, people will get angry and try to shut it down (especially if there is a fatality: "it's too early", "the family might be reading this", "wait for the coroner's report", etc).
I think this culture is unhealthy.
The BMC's incident report database launched around a year ago - inspired by a discussion on these forums. I am part of the team of moderators and personally feel publishing over 160 reports marks a successful start. Obviously the end goal is for every single incident to be recorded - similar to the German or American systems. However, since these have been running for decades it would be unrealistic to expect similar results immediately.
As Coel mentions, the culture in Britain means speaking about accidents is currently 'taboo'. My hope is that over time awareness of the BMC system will increase, allowing more people to learn from the experiences of others. Sending your friends or club members a link to the database, or a specific report you have found useful, is one way to do this. I have read all of the reports and believe I'm now a safer climber as a result.
Is there not a way that the bmc rep in that area can actively attempt to reach out to those involved either by ukc or that areas Facebook page and ask them to make a report? However I do understand in fatality scenarios this probably isn’t appropriate early on.
Hmmm, perhaps a little impatient and a little voyeuristic?
The BMC database (which is for 'near misses' as well as accidents) relies on user generated reports. Under the German model police, mountain rescue etc are obliged to submit a report for every accident. The hope is that in the future UK Mountain Rescue teams may submit reports, and indeed there have been discussions to this end. But at its heart the BMC database is a voluntary system and there is no obligation, or pressure, on any person or organisation to report accidents.
If you want to see more reports on the system then I'd say you are doing exactly the right thing by starting this discussion in an open forum. If people are talking about accidents and near misses with their peers, friends, clubs etc then it becomes more likely that incidents like the Avon Gorge ones you mention are submitted. In my opinion this is not rubbernecking: it's a way of preventing avoidable accidents from being endlessly repeated. If you feel strongly enough about the issue then why not speak to your local BMC rep? or post in your local crag Facebook group? Reports can be submitted anonymously, it's just a case of filling in a simple form.
We've only been having similar discussions for decades. As Coel has said, we don't have enough of an open safety culture within UK climbing and mountaineering in order to learn from mistakes.
I tried to move things on back in 2008 (the article I wrote for UKC on this issue is linked from my profile) unfortunately nothing has really changed.
Climbing sits in a bit of a twilight zone. It is dangerous enough that there are definitely preventable accidents taking place however it is safe enough that there is no massive lobby to improve safety and the number of incidents are low enough that clear patterns may be hard to discern.
About the only rough conclusions that I've drawn from reading about twenty years of accidents are:
Give it another dozen years and we can see if we're still having this same discussion on here...
It's something I don't understand at all, in lots of other sports incidents are reported with suspected cause and often injury sustained. It's an extremely useful tool for learning from others mistakes and reinforcing the need for caution.
For example in the BHPA's (British Hang gliding and Paragliding Association) monthly magazine the accident reports, usually provide pilot experience level, details of the accident, expected cause and injury sustained, it definitely focuses the mind a little bit.
Attitudes seem to be slowly changing. just over the past 10 years I'v seen more and more views expressed on this forum that have leaned toward what you say and what Mark Stevenson laid out in his article.
It'll take a fair bit of effort to push the BMC database over into a critical mass; whereby it'll actually be used and useful. Although; I don't wish you to expedite the data personally ;-)
I'll add my own 2p: there's more to an incident than the accident itself from which we can learn from the experience of others. for example it's sometimes a bit gray as to call for an ambulance or MRT.
The crucial part of your post is “mistakes”. Apart from objective danger and very rare equipment failure, nearly all injuries and fatalities are down to human error and no amount of “learning from mistakes”will alter this. As we know these momentary lapses can happen to even the most gifted climbers. Most people are aware of best practice when climbing. All in-depth investigation of accidents will only provide more accurate accident statistics, confirming what we already know. In many European countries mandatory accident reports are part of H&S law and may be used in negligence criminal trials and litigation, not for a learning process. Do we want to go down this path in U.K. climbing.
I can understand reluctance to submit a written report basically saying "I was at fault". And I can understand how people who have made mistakes will attribute the accident to something else, eg gear failure.
Other than for insurers, I'm still sceptical about what useful information people will get from the database in any case. We know climbing is potentially dangerous already, don't we ?
I'm really grateful for the volunteer work on this, plenty of people moaned about this on UKC but some finally did something about it.
I do have to take issue with the points on culture as this is complex. There IS a culture of wanting to prevent speculation before we know what happened. If we don't know, then we can't learn the right lessons; we will see a fair bit of rubbernecking and sometimes even false accusations. I've seen this first hand with an accident in my club. The climbers were blamed on UKC and the parents had to add that to their anxiety of their concerns of an uncertain outcome from intensive care. I was there (unlike the UKC armchair critics) and they were just unlucky not irresponsible. Despite this sort of occurrence, the idea that we can block discussion on accidents on modern social media is ridiculous. I just hope more people would think before they blame and I appreciate this still isn't the 'done thing' on condolences threads. Sometimes a victim or witness (with permission from the victim) will give good information which leads to useful discussion: Paul Sagar's brutally honest self assessment of his recent accident being a good example.
We can't escape the fact that accidents are as much down to psychology as ignorance and this is best illustrated in John Dill's masterful analysis on Yosemite accidients.
"Most Yosemite victims are experienced climbers, 60% have been climbing for three years or more, lead at least 5.10, are in good condition, and climb frequently. Short climbs and big walls, easy routes and desperate ones – all get their share of the accidents."
"at least 80% of the fatalities and many injuries, were easily preventable. In case after case, ignorance, a casual attitude, and/or some form of distraction proved to be the most dangerous aspects of the sport."
Those of us interested in climbing safety know the psychology also prevents good use of the data that does exist, that shows we do not learn well enough from the mistakes of others. To adjust the old horse analogy: we can try to take horses to water where we have improved the access to drink it but too many run away and most who get there won't drink.
Finally to the organisations and information production. DAV in Germany are massive so have money to do such things and so produce extensive output on accident detail and analysis. I bet a tiny proportion of UKC users know about these volumes and even fewer have them. We rely on the BMC where (very unlike the situation in Germany) I suspect less than one in ten outdoor climbers are members and on charities like MRT and RNLA. Their volunteers are busy enough and it's up to them what they do with their time. These organisations' finances are about to take a massive hit due to covid so if people want improved accident reporting analysis in the UK (as I hope they do) let's get together and donate to the charities and join the BMC so they survive in a healthy enough state to look at such improvements.
Of course the frequency of human error can be reduced. Learning lessons from accidents is one way to do this, both by reducing the liklihood of complacency and by making people aware of the dangers in some more complex situations they may never have thought about.
> Apart from objective danger and very rare equipment failure, nearly all injuries and fatalities are down to human error ...
> ... and no amount of “learning from mistakes”will alter this.
That does not follow. One can change practices to make them robust to human error. For example, if we learn that human make errors tying knots, we can adopt buddy-checking. If we learn that humans have set off up indoor auto-belays without clipping in, then we can put up those canvas sheets that block footholds.
> It's something I don't understand at all, in lots of other sports incidents are reported with suspected cause and often injury sustained.
Is it not largely down to an "anarchic" culture in climbing of generally being suspicious of and resisting formal processes and rules?
Climbing is also a surprisingly tight circle - if you've been doing it some time, even at a pretty low level, it surprising how many people you know if not directly then by one degree of separation. When there is accident, particularly a fatality, there is a reticence to talk about the cause of it because of sensitivity to the victim's friends and family. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it is at least understandable.
I suppose it all depends on whether you think we do learn from knowing the cause of accident or not. For example in sport climbing accidents actually climbing (as opposed to approaching crags and the like) seem to be mostly climber mistakes (tieing in) or belayer mistakes (lowering the climber off the end of a rope). If bolts fail or rock fails we tend to hear about such things. It seems easier for people to talk about accidents where it just seems to be a case of being horribly unlucky (or more cynically, when some one else can be blamed - a bolt pulling for example), than when the person involved made a mistake. From that it is not far to ideas like "fault", "blame" and "responsibility" - which does, and perhaps should, make many of us feel uncomfortable or bad for the person involved.
Let's look at that one example of the 'we' adopting buddy checking. The benefits of this have been known for decades with famous examples of tragedy, miraculous lucky escapes and near misses. It must be dumb as anything not to do something that where failure to do so has killed and seriously injured so many climbers in the past, and where we know it's too easy to get distracted in routine situations that are still safety critical. Now tell me what percentage of climbers do you see doing it despite the information on its importance. How do we fix the psychology around horses and water?
The elephant in the room isn't old style climbing anarchism, it's this: climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.
Every indoor visit I make I see evidence that many don't get this. Someone will add unneccesary and stupid extra risk to the safest variety of the climbing games.
At the limits of risk in climbing, say some Himalayan alpinism, climbers have taken on probability that on paper look similar to Russian roulette and best case, from the most skilled who have died, look to be not so much more than a few multiples of that. From a pure risk reduction perspective this just looks plain mad, but climbing is much more than that.
Just chipping in to say I’ve read and appreciate all the replies.
In regards to those thinking it voyeuristic - tell that to the police when you have a car accident and they come and ask you what happened.
I feel we have a culture of reluctance to point out to another climber when they are doing something that isn't good practice or is downright dangerous.
I was in a club situation some years ago where this issue became a festering sore. Eventually we plucked up the courage to face our friends squarely and tell then what we thought. They left the club and stopped climbing. Was that a good result? I didn't feel so at the time. Ultimately the rest of us were left feeling a lot safer, but the person who left had contributed tremendous energy and enthusiasm to the club over many years. However there was no doubt that several folk had left the club in previous years over their concerns with this person's unsafe methods.
Maybe it's easier to approach sport climbers if you see something bad going on?
In my later years in Finland buddy checks seemed suddenly to be done by everyone when it hadn't been the norm 5 or 10 years before. I think that virtually everyone who did a course on how to climb did it with the Finnish alpine club, and they seemed to be teaching that strongly in all their courses. It rapidly just became 'normal' to do it because there was a critical mass and you felt slightly 'naughty' climbing with many people if you didn't ask to look at their atc/grigri to see it was threaded correctly and so on, and if you didn't show them your knot. Even to the point where I would do it with my regular climbing partner, another Brit, who had started climbing in the early 80s, 10 years before I started. We had been climbing together for probably 15 years by this point not doing buddy checks because neither of us had learnt it as the norm when we started I suppose.
I have no idea if buddy checks are now taught on all kinds of instructor courses in the UK now?
How do you know people are reluctant and how do you judge what is dangerous... I've been picked up by strangers on a declining risk scale for soloing, for body belay practice on easier routes, for using just the one and only bomber belay piece, down to ridiculous issues like not using locking crabs on belay pieces or just two independent pieces when more were available. Do you think it's a good idea for someone in a Doug Scott lecture to tell him his Himalayan climbs were irresponsible in terms of risk?
I'd suggest for indoor sport climbing it's best to talk to the staff than confront someone demonstrating clear dangerous practice.
I'm sure they are taught. What do you see though?
It is a good start but could do with a bit of thematic analysis plus pulling out specific lessons maybe with case study. Would be digestible and engaging, could go in Summit or an article on here? Just looking through the last ten incidents only one has a specific technical learning point. A shortened sling with a krab in the knot to ease untying- but with the same krab they had clipped on the sling for toproping- effectively unclipped the krab so when the knot rolled they decked
Personally I'm unlikely to read every incident already on there so not sure adding more adds value without analysis
> In regards to those thinking it voyeuristic - tell that to the police when you have a car accident and they come and ask you what happened.
And in this analogy with a climbing accident, you want the BMC to be the police. Seriously?
"Rubbernecking" is also a term that originally relates to car crashes.
Thanks for your feedback. Summit articles including case studies dealing with themes were planned before lockdown, not sure if any have been published yet. The value of each report very much depends on the person reading it. If one in ten have relevance to your climbing/hillwalking practices - that's great.
If you want to follow the reports as they come in (rather than plough through the whole database) then you can follow the 'feed' at: https://www.facebook.com/bmcnearmiss/ or https://twitter.com/bmcincidents
If the police didn’t exist you’d hope the next governing body in line would be asking the same question. Who’s asking isn’t relevant.
> If the police didn’t exist you’d hope the next governing body in line would be asking the same question. Who’s asking isn’t relevant.
Are you sure you've thought that through? I was suggesting that your analogy was flawed, but if you really meant it to mean what you seem to be saying here, erm.. wow.
The BMC are only a governing body for UK competition climbing. For general risk they are a members representative body who do good public work in the area on very limited resources. There is one main technical officer employed in the area, who is currently on furlough (although despite this volunteers advice from time to time on the forums).
Good accident reporting and investigation will take time.
Rushed reports to satisfy your voyeuristic urges will be worth little.
I think a lot of the people out climbing at the minute and having accidents don't know what the BMC is, never mind that it has an accident-reporting feature.
> In regards to those thinking it voyeuristic - tell that to the police when you have a car accident and they come and ask you what happened.
I think that's a profoundly unhelpful analogy.
First, the BMC is, in no sense, an organisation for policing anything.
Second, if it's a serious accident (certainly if it's fatal) or there's anything remotely dodgy about it that the police might be interested in, they'll make their own enquiries, as they would for any other kind of accident.
Avon gorge being a roadside crag is like a stadium for climbers. I’ve seen people solo all over the sea walls area. Some cruising in balance and slotting sequences up and down like ‘strictly come climbing’ - others wobbling up doing mad high steps on polished climbing 90ft up that are painful to watch.
They look like they’re inflicting it on themselves and get back to the ground relieved like they just walked out of the dentist after having a tooth out.
What can you say ?
To increase the number of incidents reported on, then a system is required which anonymises incidents. At point of reporting certain data such as date place etc will obviously be needed (and will also prevent duplicates) but the findings made public should be aggregated.
Also a lot of people won't report things like 'near misses' and will see it as them getting away with one. To really get useful accident statistics you need everything reported in the pyramid, from nearly doing something daft right up to fatalities.
The linkage to the DAV and accident statistics is the health insurance system, it is part of the membership fee and your normal health insurer has first call on the DAV insurance if you need treatment. So their insurance company has a massive amount of data. Also the police have trained mountain accident investigators who are called in for serious incidents.
> The crucial part of your post is “mistakes”. Apart from objective danger and very rare equipment failure, nearly all injuries and fatalities are down to human error and no amount of “learning from mistakes”will alter this. As we know these momentary lapses can happen to even the most gifted climbers.
Totally agree about momentary lapses. However if you stand at the bottom of Grooved Arete on Tryfan, for instance and watch people, you won't see momentary lapses so much as error, after error, after error (e.g. starting too late, too many in the party, too many inexperienced, too tired at the start, inexperienced leader (yikes!), poor gear placement, too slow progress (it's going to get dark!) etc. The scenario is set for yet another accident high on the route and another MR callout. Why can't the participants learn from their mistakes (if they survive)? It's hardly rocket science.
> Most people are aware of best practice when climbing.
You must be joking. I live less than two miles from one of the busiest crags in the UK. I can guarantee that I could walk up there right now and find at least one instance of dangerous belaying (often the belayer standing so far out that a falling leader will deck, even from near a bolt). If I go on a weekend afternoon, there will be many instances of dangerous behaviour.
Often people go through the motions of best practice, while failing to relate it to the context. I remember seeing a photo on here recently of a lady extending her runners. She was so near the ground and the belayer had so much slack out that, if she'd slipped, she'd have decked.
Going through the motions is imho a recipe for disaster. Better to work from first principles and adjust to the situation.
What you say may be true, but I’m pretty sure accident reports won’t alter any of that, especially now that many indoor climbers, moving outdoors haven’t a clue about protection and belays. Walk along the top of Stanage any sunny weekend to see that. Even some instructors among the ever increasing plethora of “outdoor” qualifications May display incompetence from lack of experience. Last year we were at a wall watching an instructor overseeing a potentially bad fall. We pointed out the basic error, but were informed that they had an S.P.A. and knew what they were doing. My companion pointed out that he had been a guide for over 20 years and clearly they didn’t. I’ve survived for over 50 years climbing at a fairly high standard by progressing more slowly, learning from others and being anal about safety, but I admit there have been personal lapses that luckily I got away with. Never once read an accident report though.
> If you try discussing the cause of a recent accident on UKC ...
This has been developed in part because UKC is known by certain people in the press as a good place to go to get reactions, some of which have then been reported in various news outlets. Rather than see speculation reported as news, the culture of not having uninformed discussion came about.
> I think this culture is unhealthy.
Whilst I take your point, I think the culture that exists is a behaviour informed by experience, and appropriate.
Informed discussion can exist elsewhere, as has been noted.
> Informed discussion can exist elsewhere, as has been noted.
Where exactly then? It can exist but does it?
Can't disagree with a word you've written, this time! I've read accident reports and found them terribly depressing. In some cases you could go back 50 or 60 years and find the same fundamental mistakes. I'm definitely of the 'don't go near folk who might be grieving' camp. However I do think it's a good thing that accidents (and near misses) are ultimately logged. Will we find something new? Maybe not. But maybe we'll get localised, timely data that could be useful.
There's obviously a huge (and ever-growing) problem of people going from inside to outside without a clue. With wanky qualifications, there's a false sense of competence - even worse. How can we get the message across to people and save lives? Maybe BMC videos, semi-humourously (to take the sting out of things) going through fundamental cock-ups and how to avoid them?
The personal lapses are, sadly, as unavoidable as breathing. But a lot of the other stuff is basic.
Some more general thoughts...
I absolutely don't have any problem with self aware individuals doing objectively dangerous things in the mountains or on the crags and ending up dead. Equally, unlucky trips and falls can happen, sometimes unfortunately with fatal consequences. It's life, we have free will and things like that happen, including in both cases, to inspiring individuals I've climbed with.
What irks and massively depresses me is when people end up dead when they didn't fully realise that what they were doing or where they were going was dangerous in the extreme. Deaths through ignorance, so to speak. There have been numerous incidents, especially with Winter hillwalking, where this has clearly happened in the last few years: on Snowdon above Clogwyn Coch (known accident black spot), on Coire An Tullaich (the day after warnings posted on here not to go there), on Bidean Nam Bian (clear warnings in climbing guidebooks but NOT elsewhere nor easily accessible to walkers).
The best situation in the future, from my point of view, would be a culture of better risk appreciation. It would be fantastic if in future, new climbers and mountaineers understood much better that risk is divorced from grade and could look beyond star ratings. In my utopia, mountaineers would be fully aware whether their agenda that day was relatively safe, pretty risky or downright adventurous.
If individuals are making silly errors at Stanage or on Tryfan because they are aware that the venues are relatively benign environments and have chosen them specifically, then I'd actually count that as a positive. People make mistakes, the best result is that they can learn from them somewhere that's least likely to kill them first.
Going forward it would be fantastic if all climbers could explain why The Arrow is intrinsically more dangerous than Cenotaph Corner, why Coire an t'Sneachda is more dangerous than Cwm Idwal, why Subluminal is more dangerous than Stanage.
It might be, as one of the sceptics suggests, that an accident reporting system will not tell us anything that some of us don't already know. However, a clear problem is lots of people out there don't know or understand relatively basic stuff beyond the hard technical skills. The only way that's going to change is through a wider cultural shift and I do think that discussing accidents and learning from them is a crucial part of making the change for the better.
> To increase the number of incidents reported on, then a system is required which anonymises incidents.
The BMC system is anonymised - there is a built in moderation workflow which ensures anonymity unless those involved consent to being identified. When we spoke to the operators of the North American scheme, they said that there had been a cultural shift there from anonymity towards greater transparency, so we opted to allow both with anonymity as the default.
In reply to PaulJepson
Totally agree wrt to the pyramid base of near misses being essential info, which is why the BMC scheme is a near miss AND accident reporting scheme. Many of the reports if you read them, are from near misses, and these are often the best from a learning perspective.
As ever, we are very much indebted to the fantastic work of our volunteers who got the ball rolling with this scheme, and have kept the ship sailing despite the rough seas we currently find ourselves in.
You may get more reports if it was easier to find on the BMC site. Maybe in the header bar, istead of hidden away so that only those looking specifically for it will find it. When you get to it you then have to read down the article to find the link which only mentions an easy to fill in form. Make it more prominent on the site and maybe get UKC to have an easily accessable link along with any other climbing, mountaineering, hiking site/organisation. It could be a good thing if it was better known.
The problem with some of the entries, one I know of specifically, is that they have been put in by a third party and are factually incorrect. This third party also talked to a local newspaper with the same errors and over stressed his own minimal part in the event!
There does need to be some sort of fact check on these reports before some of us will have any confidence in them. (Maybe only the accident victim, police or MR should post?)
Maybe the poster should have to give contact details, their involvement and/or knowledge of the 'victim', and the 'victim' should have final say on whether the report is published. If the reporter/victim want to be anonymous on the published report they should be able to do so, but there should be some corroberation of a report if it is not from the 'victim'.
No need to respond to me like that. Within my first 6 months of climbing I saw a 100m rockfall-caused groundfall with both ropes cut and the poor chap landed 6 foot away from me. Ever since I’ve been nervous, cautious, and curious to stay on top of the goings on at the places I frequent so that myself and my loved ones and everyone else can stay safe and so that I never have to see something like that again. Apologies if you’re too dense to understand some people’s need to understand such things but clearly I’m not alone.
May I add I think the fact I was the only witness to the incident (the belayer didn’t see anything he was over the top) - and yet was never contacted by anyone, something I don’t believe would happen in any other activity/scenario, has made me feel uneasy about the hush hush culture ever since.
Personally I would have no problem with sharing information about hypothetical future accidents with an organisation like the BMC or anyone doing serious research.
That is not the same as being willing to talk to every random person on a forum who thinks they are entitled to free entertainment, which is what most of these threads come across as.
Reporting is probably a good thing but this is not a good place to do it.
Isn't the fundamental problem one of education, rather than analysis? Don't get me wrong - I'm totally in favour of having as rigorous a system as possible for accident reporting/analysis. But without a big educational initiative, will the target audience of unaware incompetents learn what they need to learn? I very much doubt it.
It seems to me that, these days, many climbers view routes simply in terms of their grades. The assessment is quantitative rather than quantitative and qualitative. Re Mark's point of The Arrow vis a vis Cenotaph, I would regard the base of Cenotaph as more dangerous than the route. As I recall, it's badly polished and often greasy from rain. Re The Arrow, if the initial wires aren't placed very carefully, they can pop - which, I gather, has happened, with calamitous results. Obviously, in both cases, I'm making primarily qualitative assessments. If the grades were harder, I'd be taking more account of them too. But I'd be constantly assessing with an overall view of enjoying the routes and wanting to go home unscathed. If in any doubt, I'd bin the routes and content myself with going home unscathed.
I'm told that, over the last 30 or so years, teaching has moved away from principles to methods. When I used to look at my partner's students' science experiment reports, none of them seemed to know why they were doing what they were doing. They were simply following a series of methods, which they probably regarded as best practice. But there was never any evidence of understanding of underlying principles. In my view, they had no fundamental understanding of science.
Unless you understand the principles of science, you're going to do rubbish experiments. Unless you understand the principles of staying alive, you're going to carry on with 'best practice' which may be wildly inappropriate to the situation (e.g. extending your runners when you can deck). I suspect there's a huge education initiative required to prevent more and more accidents. (Sorry to be so gloomy.) And the required emphasis on principles and mental agility may be markedly at odds with the experiences that many (most?) people have in education.
Just some thoughts...
> But without a big educational initiative, will the target audience of unaware incompetents learn what they need to learn? I very much doubt it.
But do we know that is who the target audience is? From what Offwidth said about Yosemite it might not be "unaware incompetents" at all. The target audience may well be experienced and active climbers - we might need education in terms of either reminders or trying to do things in new and better ways to how we have done them in the past.
I imagine many people reading through this discussion have, like me, thought about John Allen's recent tragic accident. I know lots of people, particularly around Sheffield, knew John and everyone seems to describe him as great chap. I totally understand why people were very careful about talking about the accident, it was clearly a real tragedy and you feel terrible for his family and friends. But it was also in the news, Edale mountain rescue team recorded their attendance via Facebook and elsewhere as they always do, and I saw a journalist asking in a Peak climbing Facebook group for information about him, she might well have asked on UKC too, I think that was for the Yorkshire Post. I read the UKC obituary for John and listened to Grimer's special podcast mixing music with his recollections of climbing some of John's routes. But I don't know what actually happened. I know I don't have any "right" to know, but if it was holds breaking or insitu gear failing there are obviously different lessons to learn from that than if it was one of those simple mistake that probably all of us who have been climbing decades, if we put our hands on hearts, have to say we have made as well, but were just lucky and got away with.
When Andy Nisbet and Steve Perry were killed last year, along with the shock and sadness I remember that there was also a real need to try understand what had happened - it was like: Andy?! The ultimate Scottish winter climber? How could of that happened? Of course because they were alone we are never going to know exactly what happened, but I don't think wanting to understand is voyeurism, or at least isn't just voyeurism. Whether we do really learn from that understanding is another issue - one that you allude to above. One of the first people I did 'proper' climbing with and who became a good mate after we got on so well on "youth expedition", died some years later in abseiling accident in the Alps. I remember all of us who were together on that expedition and had carried on climbing afterwards wanted to know what had happened. Understanding hasn't stopped me from abseiling although I don't like it much, I think I was pretty careful with it before my friend was killed but perhaps I've been even more wary of it since.
It's difficult stuff to write and talk about when you start thinking about actual people and not just hypothetical scenarios.
> Re Mark's point of The Arrow vis a vis Cenotaph, I would regard the base of Cenotaph as more dangerous than the route. As I recall, it's badly polished and often greasy from rain. Re The Arrow, if the initial wires aren't placed very carefully, they can pop - which, I gather, has happened, with calamitous results.
It's always be obvious to me that the gear on the Arrow was likely to be unreliable, especially low down. It's less obvious to me how and why I have this impression, none of my gear or any of my partners' has come out, and yet I just know.
It's not very helpful to just put it down to experience, but that is what it amounts to. It's a crack of a certain width, it's pretty parallel, it's smooth limestone, there's that bulge at the bottom with the horizontal breaks where people often yard up without enough gear. There's the positioning of the second, and whether it's just a little bit damp. But most of all, it's the experience of the leader; whether they can see how the arc of the rope might lift the lower gear, whether they realise that they are rushing the placements because they are at the limit of their grade and are getting pumped.
Apart from being intrinsically safer, with placements for more gear than you can carry between you and the ground before you get to the hard bit, maybe the Corner also has more of a reputation, so people tend to save it until they are sure they can get up it with something to spare, given its history (and the size of the audience).
Hard to capture all that in an accident report, but it's well worth noting in the guide that care should taken to protect the lower section - as long as leaders pushing their grade know what that means.
> But do we know that is who the target audience is? From what Offwidth said about Yosemite it might not be "unaware incompetents" at all. The target audience may well be experienced and active climbers - we might need education in terms of either reminders or trying to do things in new and better ways to how we have done them in the past.
Clearly there is more than one target audience. (For instance there are old timers who just can't be arsed upping their game. "I've got away with it this long..." Yeah, right. Some know better and some have never learned better. Either way, imho they're in severe need to (re?)education too.
But I'd go after the 'unaware uncompetents' first. I think they're a huge (and ever-growing) audience. People pour off the walls, thinking, "Yeah, I've gone to V4/6c in six months. I'm gonna smash it." It's all about the number (the 6b, the E1). They don't even think about qualitative aspects. Have they read the guidebook beforehand? Nope. Can they find the route? Nope. Can they even find the crag? Often not without help. (If you think I'm exaggerating, we can have a wander round Portland on a busy weekend.)
Re the (excellent) Yosemite analysis:
'Most Yosemite victims are experienced climbers, 60% have been climbing for three years or more, lead at least 5.10, are in good condition, and climb frequently.'
I've never climbed in Yosemite but I wouldn't regard three+ years as being much experience for what, I gather, is a pre-Alpine environment, in terms of logistics, possible stuff going wrong. And you have to question what were the three+ years spent doing? Bouldering? Smashing it in the climbing gym or at a sport crag? How relevant is that?
The Yosemite analysis comes up with three factors: Ignorance, Casualness and Distraction. Distraction is the potential killer for even the most experienced (e.g. talking when tying in). Under 'Casualness', the words that scream off the page to me are, '...just didn't take it seriously.'
When you watch those whippers of the weekend, where Joe Smashit's foot mysteriously pops and he inverts and his gear rips and he ends up three feet up the deck and they have the stress busting whoop, it seems to me that Joe '...just didn't take it seriously.' I'd love to watch video feedback of Joe a year later and see if his climbing has got any safer.
The bottom line is this: every time you tie into a rope, you're putting your life on the line - at least to some degree. Climbing has slid from being an ill defined 'sport' to becoming part of some narcissistic gym culture. The reality is very different. Until people wake up (i.e. get educated), in my view, they're at risk. Yes we can and should have ever better analysis. But unless the lessons of such analysis are used in education, are they really that much use?
> It's always be obvious to me that the gear on the Arrow was likely to be unreliable, especially low down. It's less obvious to me how and why I have this impression, none of my gear or any of my partners' has come out, and yet I just know.
> It's not very helpful to just put it down to experience, but that is what it amounts to. It's a crack of a certain width, it's pretty parallel, it's smooth limestone, there's that bulge at the bottom with the horizontal breaks where people often yard up without enough gear. There's the positioning of the second, and whether it's just a little bit damp. But most of all, it's the experience of the leader; whether they can see how the arc of the rope might lift the lower gear, whether they realise that they are rushing the placements because they are at the limit of their grade and are getting pumped.
Dave, in your second paragraph, you've beautifully deconstructed how you 'just know'. You're looking at an interplay of qualitative factors, some to do with the route and others to do with the leader. Ultimately the crucial decisions are, 'Are those wires bomber?' and 'Am I going past them'?
But if someone simply thinks, 'Yeah, I've got a couple of wires in (redundancy = best practice) and they're extended (more best practice), everything's OK,' well, they could be missing the point entirely. And if they rationalise, 'It's only HVS, I led an E1 at Shorncliffe the other day,' well, the stage may well be set for a very unpleasant experience.
> It's something I don't understand at all, in lots of other sports incidents are reported with suspected cause and often injury sustained. It's an extremely useful tool for learning from others mistakes and reinforcing the need for caution.
> For example in the BHPA's (British Hang gliding and Paragliding Association) monthly magazine the accident reports, usually provide pilot experience level, details of the accident, expected cause and injury sustained, it definitely focuses the mind a little bit.
The GA community through various different governing bodies get this broadly right.
There is a bit of a process though to collect and check facts before a report makes print. In my experience (British Gliding Association club) the end result is good, lots of openness, candid reporting and very little judgement or mockery. The result is lessons learned, trends tracked, remedial changes quickly fed back into the training syllabus and instructor updates. That said, in the first instance before publication there is still quite a bit of reluctance to openly discuss accidents particularly in writing in public (like the "accident today at ABC what happened?" threads on here). Even as an instructor it's often weeks after someone has an incident that I get to hear about it (unless we're specifically being asked to keep an eye, limit someone's activity etc), who was involved and broadly what happened and that's usually through gossip, it's many months before it makes S&G magazine or the AAIB bulletin. Mainly it's reputation protection on behalf of individuals and clubs, accidents reflect poorly, partly it's sensitivity, it's a small community and accidents when they do occur can be serious.
> For example in the BHPA's (British Hang gliding and Paragliding Association) monthly magazine the accident reports, usually provide pilot experience level, details of the accident, expected cause and injury sustained, it definitely focuses the mind a little bit.
However discussion of accidents in paragliding's numerous closed messaging groups is firmly discouraged and the level of detail in that magazine is limited to a sentence or two and is rarely very enlightening. So I'm not sure the difference versus climbing is as large as you are suggesting.
What John Dill meant by experienced if you read the article is all four factors together: regular trad climbers with at least 3 years experience, in good condition, and leading at least 5.10a.
The Arrow has been E1 for a while now. Part of the problem possibly.... the E1 is for placing the gear not rushing past it before strength runs out.
I did read the article; wouldn't regard all four factors together as necessarily indicative of requisite experience. To me, the key skill is maturity of decision making: the type of analysis that Dave gave above, where the factors are whirling around in your head, maybe you're getting pumped and you still make decisive (and correct for you/the situation) decisions.
Isn't The Arrow regarded as a HVS that went up to E1, i.e. a bit of a soft touch? How many people climbing E1 are going to go through the same thought processes as Dave and come to the correct decision?
The point that I was trying to make was that if you want good, useful analysis of the causes of an accident it is necessary to be patient in order to allow effective investigation.
If you want a quick account that may include the likely causes then it is very often available in the rescue teams incident report on their website or on social media.
In terms of rapid dissemination of basic information we have never had it so good but in depth investigation is always going to take time.
It's not so very long ago that we only found things out by donating to an MR team in return for their annual report which included details of last years callouts.
Cédric Lachat has made a rare repeat of the 8c multi-pitch WoGü in Rätikon, Switzerland. His experience on the route sounded extremely tough, both mentally and physically.