Climbing Safety

Before getting geared up for rock-climbing season, give some thought to safety. Here are three simple things to think about: properly threading top anchors, doubling back your harness, and replacing old, worn-out gear. And, of course, don’t forget to wear a helmet!

Thread Top Anchors
Most climbing accidents occur at the top of a climb or during the descent. At the top of most sport-climbing routes in southwest Montana you will find double-chain anchors (always consult a guidebook for specific anchor information).

Once you’ve reached the anchors, clip in with a 24” sling that is girth-hitched to your belay loop. Make sure that you clip into one of the bolt hangers or a chain-link other than the last one, which you need to reserve for rethreading the rope.

After you are securely clipped into and weighting the anchor, call for slack and take up about four or five feet of rope. Tie an overhand figure-eight knot in the rope and clip this bite to your belay loop. This important step prevents you from accidentally dropping the rope after you untie your lead knot.

Now you can untie your original lead knot and thread the rope end through the last two links of the anchor chains. Next simply tie back into the end of the rope with the same knot you used for leading. Unclip and untie the overhand figure-eight knot securing the rope and call to your belayer to take up the slack. Once you feel tension on the rope from your belayer, unclip the 24” sling and call to be lowered.

Double Back
Many climbing accidents occur because climbers fail to double-back their harness buckle properly. Most climbing harness buckles require the user to thread the waist-belt webbing completely through the buckle once and then back through again to lock the system.

Make checking your harness buckle part of your tie-in routine. After tying in to the sharp end of the rope take a second to assess the knot and confirm that your harness is doubled back. When belaying, always ask your partner if she is doubled back as part of your verbal routine.

When it is time to replace your old harness, consider upgrading to a rig that utilizes a two-piece auto-locking buckle, which does not require the user to double back.

Replace Old Gear
Though well-used gear may feel as comfortable as broken-in blue jeans, retiring hammered or old gear (or hammered, old gear) boils down to safety. There are two simple guidelines to follow.

First, replace any piece of equipment that shows visible signs of damage: a crack in a helmet, frayed rope sheath, a grooved belay device. But most climbing gear will eventually need to be replaced even without explicit signs of wear. Which brings us to the second guideline: if you have any doubts about a piece of equipment—retire it.

Although buying new climbing gear stings the wallet, the cost is nothing compared to a visit to the emergency room. If you need more convincing, check out the following webpage, which demonstrates strength tests on used climbing gear:

Chris Naumann is co-owner of Barrel Mountaineering in downtown Bozeman. Barrel specializes in all types of climbing equipment: gym, rock, ice, and alpine. For more information, call 583-1335 or visit