- What are the biggest dangers of climbing?
- How can you avoid dangerous situations?
- Safety tips.
Is Sport Climbing Dangerous?
Yes, climbing is classified as a potentially dangerous sport due to the height and the associated risk of falling. Nevertheless, relatively few accidents happen compared to other sports. The main reasons for injuries are mistakes during the belaying process. You can reduce the dangers of sport climbing through flawless belaying.
How Dangerous is Climbing – in Short.
- Most accidents happen due to belaying errors.
- Correct belaying can significantly reduce hazards when climbing.
- Among the most common causes of accidents in the climbing gym are ground falls during lowering.
- Injuries due to a fall happen almost exclusively during lead climbing.
- Compared to other sports (ball sports, skiing), the risk of injury in climbing is relatively low.
- In bouldering – “minor” injuries (falling on the mat) are more common.
- In climbing – injuries are less frequent but often more severe.
The main focus of the article is “sport climbing & rock climbing” (indoor + outdoor) – but I will also mention “multi-pitch, trad, and alpine climbing”.
The more you know about dangers and possible sources of error – the safer you will be climbing.
Climbing can be very safe
If climbers and belayers are well trained and take the necessary safety precautions, climbing is a safe sport where hardly anything can happen. The prerequisite for this is flawless belaying technique and correct handling of possible sources of danger.
You will find several safety tips further down in the text.
How dangerous is climbing in the Gym?
Gym climbing is one of the safest forms of climbing.
External factors such as falling rocks, brittle rock, or errors in the belay system (bolt, anchor, quickdraw) are virtually eliminated.
When accidents do happen, it is almost exclusively due to errors in the belaying.
The current accident statistics of the German Alpine Club (DAV) show:
- 46% of all accidents are ground falls
- 27 % of all accidents are impact injuries (mainly falls in lead climbing)
- Most of these accidents happen in lead climbing (about 60%).
- Many mistakes happen when the climber is lowered – for example, one in three ground falls is due to an error in lowering the climber.
- 5 of the 30 ground falls could have been avoided by a correctly performed partner check (figure-eight knot, belay device, knot at the end of the rope)
Belaying technique must be perfected.
It is imperative to pay as much attention to belaying as to climbing.
Beginners need thorough training and many hours of practice to perfect the belay technique. In this way, most accidents can be avoided.
Dangers – Rock Climbing
Once you climb outside on the rock, climbing doesn’t necessarily become more dangerous, but there are some additional factors to consider.
Due to animals, wind and weather, rocks can fall and put both climbing partners in danger. Pretty much anyone at the base of the wall can be hit by falling rocks.
It depends on where you climb.
Some crags are relatively safe; others are brittle and predestined for falling rocks. If in doubt, put on a climbing helmet and be safe.
Holds or rock structures can break
Unlike in the climbing gym, the rocks outside are exposed to weather and seasons. As a result, it is not uncommon for individual holds or footholds to break out.
A broken-out hold can lead to an unexpected fall at any time.
Attentive climbing (recognizing loose holds) and belaying (avoiding falling rocks) can significantly reduce the risk.
Bolts & Anchor points
Bolts and anchors last a long time – but not forever. So check all safety-relevant pieces of equipment and avoid possible dangers.
Terrain & Fall Zone
Be careful with sloping and stepped rock faces. It is essential to adapt climbing and belaying to the respective shape of the rock face.
- If the “Fall Zone” is free, you can belay dynamically and provide a soft catch.
- However, if the climber is above a protruding rock ledge, the belay should be as “tight” as possible. Otherwise, the climber could hit the ledge (in the event of a fall).
- To assess possible consequences – The climber must always keep an eye on the Fall Zone.
On vertical and overhanging walls, the fall consequences are often lower. This means that difficult routes and highly overhanging routes are often “safer” and easier to belay.
In some climbing areas, you will encounter somewhat longer distances between bolts. Adjust your risk-taking and belaying accordingly. To defuse tricky spots, I recommend using a clip stick. A clipstick can prevent possible ground falls.
Accidents due to faulty climbing gear are extremely rare. But, of course, this always assumes that the equipment up to date and that you are not using your grandfather’s ancient climbing harness.
A good climbing harness is:
We tested 14 climbing harnesses – take a look at the 6 Best Climbing Harnesses.
Climbing ropes do not last forever and should be replaced at some point.
- Super save and durable
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Dangers in Sport Climbing
…and how to avoid them.
The more you know about possible sources of error, the safer you will climb.
Illustrations by DAV (Georg Sojer).
Be careful when lowering down!
- Communicate with your partner
- Release partner slowly and evenly
- Make sure the landing area is free
Use belay devices correctly!
- Belay only with trusted devices
- One hand always on the brake rope
- Correct position of the brake hand
- Consider weight difference
Partner check before EVERY route!
- Carabiner and belay device
- Harness belt
- Knot at the end of the rope
Use All Quickdraws!
- Falls are always possible
- Handles can rotate or break
Clip Quickdraws from a stable position!
- Clip at hip level if possible
- Up to the fifth bolt, there is a danger of falling to the ground.
Keep the “fall zone” clear!
- On the floor and the wall
- Attention also for pendulum falls
No top rope on a single carabiner!
- Two independent anchor points
- At least two carabiners
Watch out for pendulum falls!
- Toprope in overhanging routes only with clipped quickdraws.
Never rope on rope!
- Rope on rope may cause severe damage to the ropes.
- Never two climbing ropes in one carabiner.
Too much slack is dangerous!
- Too much slack may cause a ground fall.
- Position of the Belayer – close to the wall (approx. 1m distance).
We Tested Rock Climbing Shoes.
Take a look at the 9 Best climbing shoes.
Avoid Climbing Accidents – Tips for belaying
Proper belaying is “essential for survival” and the cornerstone for safe climbing.
You won’t become a good belayer overnight – improving your skills is an ongoing process.
Great Video on how to belay:
How dangerous are multi-pitch, alpine, and trad climbing?
It depends somewhat on how well the route is protected with bolts and anchor points.
Overall, multi-pitch routes and routes where you have to place your own protection are significantly more complex and challenging to climb. The belay technique is more elaborate and altogether more demanding, which opens up more room for possible mistakes.
- Experts can climb “safely” even in challenging routes.
- Belay and rope technique must work perfectly – there is hardly any room for error.
A sport climbing multi-pitch is protected throughout with bolts and anchor points. And, provided that the belay and rope management is flawless, it can be classified as relatively safe.
A solid bolt is always safer than mobile belay devices (cams, friends, etc.).
Climbing remote mountains – in an alpine climbing tour, the climbers are mostly self-protected – that is, there are no or only a few bolts. The demands of such a tour are significantly higher. Accordingly, the associated risk and danger.
Trad climbing (traditional climbing)
There are no fixed bolts or anchor points. The climber must protect the route independently with mobile belay devices. Much more demanding than sport climbing and therefore – more dangerous.
Length of the route & weather
In addition, of course, there are always factors such as rockfall and weather changes. The longer the tour, the more the weather conditions play a role. In a short sport climbing route, bad weather is no problem (quick retreat possible) – in an alpine climbing tour, a developing thunderstorm poses a real danger.
Retreat & Rappel
If you have to abseil down the route, you face additional difficulty. Mistakes can happen – and mistakes during rappelling often end fatally.
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How dangerous is bouldering indoors?
- Almost twice as many injuries happen in bouldering as in indoor climbing.
- However, the injuries are comparatively minor and not life-threatening.
- Most accidents happen when landing uncontrolled on the mat.
Most injuries tend to be twisted joints and, in the worst cases, broken bones. Most bouldering injuries affect the lower and upper extremities (legs 50%, arms 36%). (Source DAV)
Climbing – injuries due to overload
Strictly speaking, an overload is not an acute injury in the classical sense but an accumulation of minimal damage to the anatomical structure over some time.
Injuries due to overload are annoying and often take a long time to heal
These types of injuries do not put you in the hospital right away, but they can be very inconvenient and lengthy. It is not uncommon for overloads to result in a lengthy break from climbing.
Body parts susceptible to injury:
Finger – Tendon pulley injuries
The annular ligaments’ job is to keep the flexor tendon as close as possible to the bone to enable maximum force transmission when bending the fingers. In addition, they serve as a reinforcement of the tendon sheath. We have four to five annular ligaments in each finger.
At the first sign of pain, it is advisable to end the climbing day early. This is because a tear in the annular ligaments can lead to a climbing break of up to 3 months.
The elbow with its many muscles, ligaments and tendons is predestined for overloading. The many pulling movements during climbing not infrequently lead to overloads with corresponding inflammations.
Long dynamic moves often cause the shoulder to hurt. In addition to good technique and body tension, it is above all a strong and balanced shoulder musculature that prevents injuries.
Lower back and intervertebral discs
Often the result of muscular imbalances. For example, strong hip flexor muscles combined with weak gluteal muscles.
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