When it comes to outdoor climbing, many non-climbers (and beginners) assume that the danger lies in the going-upwards bit. In fact, it could be argued that the most treacherous part of a climb is cleaning the route. If you don’t know what that means, check out our sport cleaning blog. In a nutshell, cleaning involves retrieving your gear (i.e. quickdraws) once you have finished climbing a route. This means that you will need to reconfigure the anchor set-up so that the rope runs through the chains at the top of a route, rather than your draws. As you can imagine, this has been the cause of myriad accidents – and sometimes fatalities – in the climbing world.
The best ways to keep yourself safe and prevent cleaning accidents are to (a) ensure you have the right gear, and (b) learn from a professional climbing instructor. “Safety third” sounds cool, but living a long, happy life of adventure is way cooler.
When cleaning a route, you should always use the rule of two: use two quickdraws at the anchor to rappel on, and two slings with two locking carabiners to clean your route. On a typical sport route, when you reach the top (if there are no perma-draws) you will clip your two quickdraws to the bolts and secure yourself. Once your belayer takes up the slack in the rope, you can secure your slings to the chains with your locking carabiners (ideally leaving the last link of the chains for the rope). Slinging in with a 60cm is the standard for most routes (we recommend checking out the Mammut Contact Dyneema or Singing Rock Dyneema sling). As for carabiners, small and lightweight is the way to go, especially for those tricky anchors that have only two U-bolts; we love the Wild Country Session screw gate carabiner for cleaning! Another option for cleaning a sport route is to use a personal anchor system (PAS), which only requires one locking carabiner.
DISCLAIMER: A PAS is not the same as a daisy chain. Do NOT use a daisy chain as a sling to clean a sport route. If you do not know the difference between the two, leave a comment below and we can set you right.
The Metolius Personal Anchor System has a great feature whereby the last loop of the PAS is a different colour to the rest of the loops. This makes it easy to figure out where to clip your carabiner if you would like to extend your PAS to its full length. The PAS’ multitude of loops makes it useful for racking other items, such as an extra carabiner. The PAS is secured through the harness in the same manner as a sling (check out the item description if you are unsure of where or how to secure your sling). Always follow the manufacturer instructions – they do this for a living, they know what they’re talking about.
Another essential to keep in your crag bag (besides your lunch) is your helmet. Concussions are more common than you may think, along with fractures or lacerations to the head. These can occur both indoor and outdoor, whether you’re tradding, sport climbing, leading, top-roping or belaying. All it takes is a loose rock or an act of nature. And yet, so many climbers opt to go helmet-free. Mountaineers, ice climbers and trad climbers practically have their helmets glued to their head while on an epic, but few sport climbers wear helmets, and virtually noboulderers (you’re more likely to find them in a beanie). For many, this decision boils comfort and fashion – not a good enough excuse to risk your life.
Luckily, MMO offers an abundance of helmets that are both comfortable and rather stylish (if we do say so ourselves) – there’s something for even the fussiest helmet connoisseur. The Singing Rock Penta is comfortable, unisex and comes in four suave colours. It’s also ultra-light for those bare-bones trad and via ferrata missions. The Black Diamond Half Dome is also a fantastic option, especially since it’s a ponytail-(or man bun) friendly, and has a clever one-handed adjustment dial so that you can easily get your perfect fit.
We’ve gone through a lot of info, but the most important this to remember is: “safety first” is not just a phrase. It is an ethos, both indoors and outdoors, and it could just save your life. Wear your helmet when you’re at the crag (both while climbing and just hanging around), and use all gear as it’s intended to be used – don’t take shortcuts. If you’re unsure about anything, especially regarding cleaning your routes, book a course with a qualified instructor. You’re worth it.