/ ARTICLE: Sea Cliff Climbing Safety 

Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.
UKC Articles - on 10 May 2017
Abseiling in to Castell Helen, 3 kbMark Reeves shares some tips on sea cliff climbing safety, written in conjunction with the RNLI crew at Holyhead lifeboat station.

The UK is almost unique in the sheer variety of sea cliff climbing it has. Whether you are having your first adventure on Sennen Cove's single pitch granite cliffs or making an ascent of your 100th route at the much more serious Gogarth, all sea cliffs have a few things in common in terms of added risks involved. This article is about how to become more aware of the maritime environment and how you can help yourself quite literally to avoid jumping in at the deep end.



Read more
L Yorik on 10 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Excellent article.
dr_botnik - on 10 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

In the picture it shows two or three points equalised by tieing one off, then using an overhand with an extended loop to reach the other points. Is this best practice (bar using an alpine butterfly, which I can never remember how to tie)?
abseil on 10 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Good article, with some good warnings about swell. I've had a giant wave go right over the top of my head while at the bottom of Castell Helen - if I hadn't been belayed, I think I would've been washed away.

As the article hints, you should at all costs avoid getting washed into the sea at the bottom of a seacliff. It can be impossible to get out again if there's any swell - as there usually is [the tragedy of Arnis & Rob at Gogarth comes to mind].
Post edited at 16:35
GrahamD - on 10 May 2017
In reply to dr_botnik:

> In the picture it shows two or three points equalised by tieing one off, then using an overhand with an extended loop to reach the other points. Is this best practice (bar using an alpine butterfly, which I can never remember how to tie)?

There are so many ways of skinning this cat safely and the one shown is one such method. "best" practice is really the one that the climber is most confident with.
Mark Kemball - on 10 May 2017
In reply to abseil:
> ...at all costs avoid getting washed into the sea at the bottom of a seacliff. It can be impossible to get out again if there's any swell - as there usually is [the tragedy of Arnis & Rob at Gogarth comes to mind].

Arnis wrote an article about his accident for the MUMC 1975 or 76 Journal. I have a copy somewhere if you're interested.
Post edited at 17:48
In reply to Yorik: Thanks Yorik.

abseil on 10 May 2017
In reply to Mark Kemball:

> Arnis wrote an article about his accident for the MUMC 1975 or 76 Journal. I have a copy somewhere if you're interested.

Thanks a lot for the offer, Mark, that's really very kind of you. But actually I knew Arnis and he briefly mentioned the accident and what had happened to me, though very understandably - at that point - he didn't seem to like talking much about it. Other friends of ours told me about it too.
dr_botnik - on 10 May 2017
In reply to Mark Reeves:

Yes good article Mark. Also think I met you on Scratch Arete last weekend, kudos for helping free the jammed abseil rope
Trangia on 10 May 2017
In reply to abseil:

> As the article hints, you should at all costs avoid getting washed into the sea at the bottom of a seacliff. It can be impossible to get out again if there's any swell - as there usually is

Swanage is very deceptive as the sea can look very calm and benign, but sadly there have been too many drownings of climbers caught by an unexpected surge in the swell over the last 40 years or so. Always belay when you are seconding close to the sea.

Always treat the sea with respect.

muppetfilter - on 11 May 2017
In reply to dr_botnik:
> In the picture it shows two or three points equalised by tieing one off, then using an overhand with an extended loop to reach the other points. Is this best practice (bar using an alpine butterfly, which I can never remember how to tie)?

An Alpine is much easier to equalise and will be stronger than an overhand cross loaded, i cant see a logical reason to use overhands?

(There is the three wraps round the hand methodor the double twist , put your thumb in the hole and push the loop through ways of tieing Alpines)
Post edited at 00:34
MFB - on 11 May 2017
In reply to muppetfilter:
Overhands - strong enough and easier to tie -therefore safer

Cross loaded overhand - used to join abseil ropes - I pretty much rely on that one working
Post edited at 01:10
Mark Stevenson - on 11 May 2017
In reply to muppetfilter:

Instructors now nearly much all teach the method shown in the article with overhand knots as pretty much everyone can already tie overhand knots.

If someone already knows how to tie an alpine butterfly it's dead easy for them to use that instead, but it saves complicating things for the majority who can't or slightly struggle to remember.

Interestingly, I was recently shown another nice method by a caver using bowlines which I hadn't seen before. Plenty of ways to do this but instructors do put a lot of thought into what methods to teach focusing on performance balanced against what is easiest for people to quickly grasp and remember.
Toerag - on 11 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
Good article. Other useful tips:-
Look at the horizon - if it's lumpy then there's a swell. Swell can exist with or without wind as it's created way offshore.
Rogue waves - Having spent more hours sat on rocks fishing than most readers here have climbed, I can tell you that they do exist, but are definitely rare and definitely come almost out of the blue - a bigger trough comes in front of them, but that's the only warning you'll get. If you're on a hanging belay there's nothing you can do, but if you're stood on a ledge and happen to be looking at the sea then you'll have a chance to move / hang on. Climbers in Swanage & Jersey should bear in mind the Gogarth advice about fast ferries.
The article is wrong when it says the tides go in and out every 5 hours, it's actually a variable amount just over 6 hours - for example low water here this afternoon is at 14:10, tomorrow it's 14:40, Saturday it's 15:00. The picture in the article actually shows this effect......
Learn the 'rule of twelfths' - this is the layman's version of the 'tidal curve'. Essentially the tide rises or falls fastest around the 'half tide' mark (midway between high and low water).
1st hour of rise from low or fall from high - 1x 12th of total rise/fall (range)
2nd hour of rise/fall - 2x 12ths of total range
3rd and 4th hours of rise/fall - 3x 12ths of total range each hour (1/2 the total range in the middle 2 hours)5th hour of rise/fall - 2x 12ths of total range
last hour of rise/fall - 1x 12th of total range
The amount of range varies around the country and world - For example it's about 3feet at Swanage today, here it's 24feet. So, during the middle 2 hours of this afternoon's rising tide the sea will rise 12 feet here. On a really big spring it'll rise at 2.5 centimetres a minute. Someone used to belaying 10ft above the low water mark in Swanage could find themselves a lot wetter than they like if they do the same thing here!
Some places don't have a nice tidal curve - there are things like double high waters, or asymmetric curves in some places. Hopefully your guidebook will tell you about those anomalies.
Cold water shock - if you have the opportunity to do christmas charity swims in open water do them - they're a great way to familiarise yourself with it. If you know what to expect it's not such a shock and you're more likely to be able to deal with it.
If you're going somewhere new and aren't familiar with the sea then ask the advice of locals, it'll save you wasting time and maybe your life.
Post edited at 10:56
Greasy Prusiks on 11 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Really good article.
JayPee630 - on 11 May 2017
In reply to Greasy Prusiks:

If you are in a narrow dawn then the sea can rise 4 to 6 ft easily. So keep an eye out...

Zawn surely.
mjc1010 - on 11 May 2017
In reply to Toerag:

Also be aware of the time being used in the tide tables, some use GMT all year (eg BBC and the easytide one mentioned but that does have the ability to change it) others will publish time that are corrected for BST (eg tidetimes.org.uk).
Toerag - on 11 May 2017
In reply to mjc1010:

> Also be aware of the time being used in the tide tables, some use GMT all year (eg BBC and the easytide one mentioned but that does have the ability to change it) others will publish time that are corrected for BST (eg tidetimes.org.uk).

That catches plenty of people out. Luckily it works in our favour - the expected movement of water will happen later than expected i.e. the GMT tide table says it's low at noon, when it's actually low at 1pm.
Babika - on 11 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Really great article - the take home points at the end are a useful summary.

I always wear bright clothes anyway but would never have considered it might play a critical part in a sea cliff rescue scenario.

And the "don't automatically dive in to rescue" also, sadly, bears repeating as a mantra.
John Clinch (Ampthill) - on 11 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Just another near miss story

3 of use were gearing up at the base of Gogarth (the route). I was stood readying to belay with the potential leader stood above the level of my head. But the third member of the party stood on a wave cut platform below my feet. She was 3 or 4 feet above a fairly calm sea. Then suddenly the water started rising. Waves sort of flow up the cliff as the hit them. The water reached my neck which meant that woman on the ledge was completely underwater. I was sure she would be washed of the platform. But as the sea drained away there she was having made a reflex grab for a jug with water pouring round her
Rick Graham on 11 May 2017
In reply to John Clinch (Ampthill):

Another close call.

Traversing across to Hypodermic in the 70's.
Rough sea, 3 of us.

First across, water up to knees.
After that I ( fortunately ) insisted on putting a rope on.

Second across, water to waist, Whilst I, belayed in a corner, at a higher level, got wet to chest.
My turn, first wave to chest, then one above head, washed off.

Resurfaced, about 15 metres out, fortunately rope did not catch on submerged boulders, so was quickly pulled to belay stance above wave level. Phew.

My buoyancy was probably enhanced by the trapped air under the light cag I was wearing.
GerM - on 12 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

The article mentions the procedure for summoning help, but it is also worth considering the difficulty of being able to make such a call. As in other envirnments mobile phone coverage is very dependent on local topography, even in areas close to civilisation, as you often have wide open sea on one side, and a big lump of rock between you and any masts on the other. There are exeptions of course, as any Gogarth climbers are aware, with the usual 'Welcome to Ireland' text as you approach your route!

And moblies tend not to work so well if dipped in fresh seawater.
Rock to Fakey - on 12 May 2017
In reply to Trangia:

> Always belay when you are seconding close to the sea.

?

Toerag - on 12 May 2017
In reply to Rock to Fakey:

He means tie yourself to the cliff instead of simply standing on a big ledge. I would tweak it to say 'tie yourself to the cliff on a long enough tether such that you can move out the way when the leader takes a groundfall onto your head' because I've had this happen to me and it wasn't very amusing.
danm on 12 May 2017
In reply to Rick Graham:

Sounds like you made a good call roping up!

My first ever trip to Gogarth was with a partner who'd been there loads. He thought the sea was pretty rough but should be OK. He abbed in first to the niche on Castell Hellen, I heard him shout so abbed down. As I got closer I could see the sea was bigger than before, my mate was already wet and he had in fact been shouting "don't come down!"

We made a decision that we could probably do the first pitch of Lighthouse Arete faster than me prusiking back up, so I grabbed the rack and set off after my mate had quickly set up a belay. The traverse was gopping and slippery and a wave almost knocked me off. Then the rope came tight. "Slack" I shouted, then I turned to see that my belayer was completely submerged! Out to sea, more big waves were queuing up. As soon as the rope slackened, I motored up to the safety of a ledge, and set up the fastest belay I've ever made. My mate endured another full dunking before reaching safety, where we lay in the sun drying out our boots and thinking how close a shave we'd had.
abseil on 12 May 2017
In reply to Toerag:

> ....tie yourself to the cliff on a long enough tether such that you can move out the way when the leader takes a groundfall onto your head....

Or the leader pulls down half a ton of rock/s onto you - meaning you have to leap out of the way. That's happened to me and it is also not that amusing...
Rick Graham on 12 May 2017
In reply to danm:

> Sounds like you made a good call roping up!

Agreed.

Another of my nine lives used up.
Sean Kelly - on 12 May 2017
In reply to muppetfilter:
> An Alpine is much easier to equalise and will be stronger than an overhand cross loaded, i cant see a logical reason to use overhands?(There is the three wraps round the hand methodor the double twist , put your thumb in the hole and push the loop through ways of tieing Alpines)

Is not a Clove-hitch another alternative and easier to equalize?
Incidentally, a friend of mine, Nigel Young was washed off the traverse below Gogarth Main Cliff, and when I passed by asked why he was so wet. He explained he had been washes off the holds, and as he was going down for the third time and thinking his time was up, another wave washed him back onto the ledges. Lucky man! This was shortly before the Johnny Cunningham accident.
Sean
Post edited at 17:35
Trangia on 12 May 2017
In reply to Toerag:
> I would tweak it to say 'tie yourself to the cliff on a long enough tether such that you can move out the way when the leader takes a groundfall onto your head' because I've had this happen to me and it wasn't very amusing.

You also have to bear in mind that if you are not tethered fairly close to the cliff and you do get taken by a wave you don't really want to be dragged into the sea because you could pull the leader off. It's a bit of a balancing act guarding against that and guarding against the leader falling into you.

IIRC there was a terrible accident a few decades ago at Swanage when the second got swept off by a freak wave. He wasn't belayed to the cliff. As a result he pulled the leader off. They got caught by the current and sadly both drowned within sight of other climbers who could not rescue them.

ads.ukclimbing.com
oldie - on 12 May 2017
In reply to GerM:

Incidentally I'm told it may be possible to text when the signal is too weak for talking. However if texting the emergency services direct one must first be registered to do so (free).
Mbowell - on 12 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Really good article Mark.
kevin stephens - on 12 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Check out the belays before you ab in, pre place a belay rope if necessary
Don't use too long an ab rope, tie it off if necessary otherwise the sea will wrap it around submerged boulders irretrievably
Make 100% sure you ab into the right place as mistakes are not easy to rectify
Check conditions before you commit, sea cliff rock can be unbearably greasy before the sun dries it off
thor - on 13 May 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

I must say that as a climber (well past my best) I found this article and other comments on the forum informative and helpful.
As a Coastguard Rescue Officer I can perhaps elaborate on the cliff rescue aspect. HM Coastguard are responsible for co-ordinating all sea cliff rescues via their nearest operations centre. They are able to call on local volunteer Coastguard Rescue Teams (CRT’s) which are located around the coast and also Coastguard Rescue helicopters. The RNLI lifeboat can also be called out, for example, to recover a fallen climber if in the water, to help search for a missing climber, or to provide light onto the cliff from seaward if the rescue is taking place during darkness.
Where there are cliffs located on the coast, such as at Gogarth, the local CRT is equipped and regularly trained with rescue equipment which includes ropes, harnesses, winches etc, and additionally qualified rope rescue technicians who are the guys that actually go down the cliff face.
(I’m not sure the Holyhead CRT would be too pleased to hear the suggestion that they may not know where a particular cliff is located in the Gogarth area though.)
An unsavoury aspect of a CRT’s work is the recovery of suicide victims as the Gogarth cliffs are an attraction for people in that state of mind.
One way in which climbers, like myself, could help is in relation to the leaving of rucksacks and other items at the top of a climb. Frequently a search is intiated by the coastguard when a member of the public reports finding such items on the cliff top. Unlike when when we leave stuff at the bottom of a climb it is not always obvious that it has been left by climbers whilst abseiling down to the start of a climb and so the CRT is called out to assess the situation and perhaps initiate a search as it could be someone in trouble. Perhaps if we left a note with the equipment or maybe informed someone nearby then it would save a lot of inconvenience to the volunteer rescuers.
Another suggestion I would make is to carry a headtorch if climbing towards the end of the day. There have been quite a few instances of climbers becoming benighted on sea cliffs which can add to the complexities of a rescue scenario. Unlike inland you cannot just lower yourself back to the bottom/start of a climb.
I’m sure if Mark were to get in touch with the Holyhead CRT he would be welcome to have a look at the extensive cliff rescue equipment they use and maybe observe a training session. While there also have a look at the long list of incidents they have been called out to over the past year or so.
Dave Cumberland - on 13 May 2017
In reply to Rick Graham:

Also useful to take a couple of spare ropes at some venues for all the sometimes wet or dew-covered grass at the top of the cliff. Often belays need extended too. Have used spare rope handrails at Gogarth frequently.
DC
kevin stephens - on 13 May 2017
In reply to thor:

I was climbing with my mate Phil Morris at Pembroke in the days before it became popular; we were still relying on Mortlock's original guidebook. As well as leaving our rucksacks at the top of the cliff we had left Phil's crutches (he could climb but not walk to well after a climbing accident. We topped out to find a worried coastguard about to climb down a very thick hawser laid rope hand over hand to look for the apparent suicide victim
philluu on 13 May 2017
In reply to oldie:

This [texting emergency services] is a very good idea in my opinion as a text message can go as and when you have coverage, whereas a call needs consistent coverage to connect.

Register at http://www.emergencysms.org.uk/index.php
mark hounslea - on 14 May 2017
In reply to kevin stephens:

Make sure you keep your rock shoes from rolling into the sea!
kevin stephens - on 14 May 2017
In reply to mark hounslea:

Or confusing the first pitch of Swastika with the scramble approach to This year's Model
radddogg - on 14 May 2017
In reply to Mark Kemball:

> Arnis wrote an article about his accident for the MUMC 1975 or 76 Journal. I have a copy somewhere if you're interested.

It was also recalled in Mountain magazine in 1977 as part of an article on the history of Gogarth development; The Gogarth Saga.

PDF https://contributingtotheproblem.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/thegogarthsaga.pdf
abseil on 14 May 2017
In reply to Rob Powell LC&CC:

Hi Rob, that's a great article - thanks a lot for posting it.
Greasy Prusiks on 14 May 2017
In reply to thor:

I for one would be really interested in a video of how a rescue might unfold and what you can do to help should you be in/near a rescue. I've (thankfully) never been in a rescue but I reckon a rough idea of what the coastguard/mountain rescue want from you would be invaluable.
Toerag - on 15 May 2017
In reply to Greasy Prusiks:
> I for one would be really interested in a video of how a rescue might unfold and what you can do to help should you be in/near a rescue. I've (thankfully) never been in a rescue but I reckon a rough idea of what the coastguard/mountain rescue want from you would be invaluable.

As a member of a CRT, What you should do if near a rescue:-
a) Don't get in the way
b) Speak to a non-busy member of the team (not the man in charge) offering help then get out of the way
c) do as you're told by the team
d) If you're being rescued, in good shape and uninjured the team just want you to do as you're told
e) If you're injured or in bad shape then the team will appreciate knowing what happened, and any underlying medical conditions (diabetic, allergies to drugs etc.)

The things a CRT would rather you really did are the most important things - prevention, and notification.
Prevention
1) Make sure you have self-rescue skills (hauling, escaping system, prusiking) and sufficient equipment
2) Headtorch as mentioned above
3) Helmets!
4) know the tides
5) If climbing in an unfamiliar area get in touch with a local first to sanity check your plans
6) climb with another team at the same crag - this makes life so much easier on many levels
7) Wear sensible clothing

Notification
Let someone know where you're going, and when you expect to be back safe in signal range. Do it in writing if they're unfamiliar with where you're going. Even if you tell your aged mum or non-climbing partner back home they can pass on the info to the authorities when you don't check in. Remember to tell them you're safe at the end of the day!
Imagine you say "I'm off to Cornwall climbing for the weekend" and have a disaster on the saturday morning - no-one will know until you fail to turn up for work on Monday, and Cornwall's a massive area to search by which time it's too late. If you send a text on your way to the crag on the saturday morning saying you're going to crag xyz and you'll be finished by 4pm for the day, the call to 999 will happen at 5pm and there's a higher chance of a better outcome.
If you leave a note on your dashboard that says 'climbing at xyz' someone will know you're away from it all day and break into your car. If you're leaving a note for a mate, then tuck it under your wiper so they can remove it when they've seen it.

What happens in a rescue:-
It's normally easier to evacuate a casualty by sea if it's calm enough - lots easier to lower / stretcher into an inshore rescue rib than haul out. If not, then it's a case of hauling out the casualty.
So, the CRT will need to rig a belay directly above the casualty (you may be able to help guide them here). They will then send down two members with a stretcher ('face team'), put the casualty on the stretcher, then haul out the stretcher whilst the face team ascend ropes accompanying it to help it over obstacles like overhangs. The belay for the system will be well back on safe ground to allow for a hauling system and safe manoeuvring of the stretcher at the top of the cliff. Rescuing trapped / stuck climbers will simply involve them getting a rope to the climber then hauling them out. Rescue strops are carried to put on stuck soloists.
As per Tor's comments above, climbers don't constitute CRTs' main 'clients'. It's normally suicides, cars found at the bottom of the cliff (potential suicides, but normally dumped), dogs, and scramblers/coasteerers caught by the tide that we deal with. Our team is part of the St.Johns Ambulance rescue services, in the other channel islands the fire brigade do cliff rescue. If in doubt call 999 and ask for coastguard, in many situations a boat will be involved as per Thor's comments.
This clip of our team on exercise should give you a flavour:-
http://www.itv.com/news/channel/2016-08-16/st-john-cliff-rescue-team-working-hard-to-keep-up-skills/
Post edited at 10:25
Greasy Prusiks on 15 May 2017
In reply to Toerag:

Brilliant reply, thanks a lot.

Given me the kick up the arse to finally learn hauling systems properly.

Thanks again.

Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.