How Dangerous is Rock Climbing? The True Hazards of the Sport

... Credit :
Jane Taylor in Sport

Last updated: 09 January 2020, 11:06 GMT

Rock climbing is an adventure sport and does involve some level of danger. But it's precisely the danger and the challenge of overcoming it that attracts people to this sport. For those who are tempted to try it, but are wondering how dangerous is rock climbing, the best answer is that the risks should not put you off from the sport.

The best way to begin is with simple, easy climbs on an indoor climbing wall and work your way up to more difficult faces. The risks can be reduced by using proper techniques and equipment and making sure that you have the proper training.

Most rock climbing accidents are caused by human error, and only a small percentage is due to weather and terrain. It helps to be aware of how dangerous is rock climbing so you can take steps to minimize the risks.

How Dangerous Is Rock Climbing?

Like other adventure sports such as skydiving or paragliding, there is definitely an element of risk involved in rock climbing. But it's the element of risk as well as the physical and mental challenges that attract people to the sport. And when people ask how dangerous is rock climbing, they may really be wondering if it's too risky to even try.

The answer to the question of how dangerous is rock climbing is actually quite complex. It's not the riskiest sport out there, but there are definitely risks, including factors that are beyond anyone's control, such as weather, falling rock, and accidents. But the risks can be reduced and limited if you use the proper techniques and equipment.

In fact, before you begin climbing, it's a good idea to make an assessment of how dangerous is rock climbing so you can prepare yourself in advance. Knowing the dangers helps you to look out for them. And ignoring the dangers can actually increase the risks of climbing.

Levels of Difficulty in Rock Climbing

There are different levels of difficulty in rock climbing, and the risks increase with the level of difficulty. So let's start by looking at the types of rock faces that you might scale. The simplest will be almost like climbing a ladder, while a really difficult climb will look like a sheer, blank wall that should only be attempted by an expert climber.

In the US, routes are graded in six levels of difficulty, from simple walking to vertical climbs with artificial aids. Level 1 is walking and is followed by hiking and scrambling. The climbing begins with Level 5 and is broken down into categories from beginner to elite. Level 6 represents sheer rock or ice walls that require artificial climbing aids like ladders.

  1. Beginner: This is an easy climb, with plenty of handholds and footholds, and almost like climbing a ladder
  2. Intermediate: Does not require any special equipment, but some knowledge of rock climbing is needed
  3. Experienced: Climbers at this level need special shoes, climbing experience, and physical strength
  4. Expert: These climbs need special equipment and a high level of skill, and can be attempted by only the top 10% of climbers
  5. Elite: As the name suggests, these rock faces should only be attempted by climbers with the highest levels of skill and experience, using special equipment

This classification also shows the connection between the difficulty of a climb and the skills, experience, and equipment needed by the climber. The skills needed for rock climbing are physical fitness, especially strength and agility, as well as mental fortitude and the ability to plot, find and use a route up a sheer rock face. As the climbs become more difficult, other factors like wind, rain, and temperatures also add to the risks of the climb.

So, to return to our question, how dangerous is rock climbing, one answer is that the level of danger depends on the level of skill and experience of the climber. It is highly inadvisable for beginners to try difficult routes. In fact, the best way to begin is to find a gym nearby that has a climbing wall and to learn and practice correct climbing techniques before heading to the rocks.

It can also be a good idea to take some basic classes and invest in basic equipment like climbing shoes, gloves, and a helmet. When starting outdoor climbing, it's best to find an instructor or climbing partner. Climbing alone can be exhilarating but also dangerous. In fact, it's one of the leading causes of accidents while climbing.

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What Are the Leading Causes Injuries While Rock Climbing?

There's not a lot of information available about rock climbing injuries, that would help us to figure out how dangerous is rock climbing and how does it compare to other sports. A study conducted in Colorado over fourteen years, from 1998 to 2011, showed that less than one-fifth of all-mountain and wilderness rescues were rock climbers.

Most of the climbers rescued were stranded or lost, and not injured. A total of 244injures and 23 fatalities were reported over the fourteen-year period. The data tell us that most rock climbing accidents are caused by human error. In practical terms, that means climbers who are not using proper techniques and methods or were attempting climbs beyond their skill level.

Out of the top reasons for rock climbing accidents, three are due to human error. Let's look at these in some detail:

1. Solo Climbing

Solo or unsecured climbing is a leading cause of falls, including fatal falls. In general, climbing solo at any height above 30 feet is a risk that should be avoided. Another danger with solo climbing is that if no one knows where you are if you have an accident it may be hours or even days before you can be found.

2. Not Wearing a Helmet

Like roping up and climbing with a partner, wearing a helmet can be cumbersome and it's more fun to climb without. But it leaves you exposed to serious injury in case of a falling rock, which can occur naturally or be triggered by climbers above you. Even a small shower or rock dislodged by wind or small animals can break your concentration and lead to a fall.

3. Lead Climbing and Traditional Climbing

These two methods rely on anchors placed in the rock face. Whether the anchors are already in place or the climber attaches them to the rock face, they can fail at any time. Lead climbers are most at risk of falls and fatal injuries. Top rope climbing, which relies on a belayer at the top of the cliff, is a safer method of climbing.

4. Rappelling or Abseiling

When rappelling, you're basically walking down the cliff face attached to a rope that runs through an anchor. With much more equipment, including the rope, anchor, and climbing harness as well as the knots and the belayer, there's much more room for something to go wrong. Like lead climbing, rappelling is another major cause of fatal falls.

5. Weather

Even if you check the forecast, surprise storms are possible and can be dangerous and even fatal to a climber still on the rock face. Sudden changes in temperature can cause hypothermia and frostbite.

6. Terrain

Rock faces can become loose either due to overuse by other climbers or because they have been weakened by the freeze and thaw cycle in the winter. This adds an element of unpredictability to any outdoor climb, as the rock used for hand or footholds or to hold an anchor may crumble without warning.

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Some Rock Climbing Safety Tips

Once you know how dangerous is rock climbing and exactly what the dangers are, you can take steps to minimize the risks. Here are some of the best ways to stay safe while climbing.

Stick With Your Experience Level

As we've seen, the danger level of any climb depends on the climber's skill and experience. You should never attempt a climb that's beyond your skill level, but you can gain both skill and experience through training courses and by partnering with more experienced climbers.


Use Proper Techniques and Equipment

Most climbing accidents are caused by human error. You can reduce these risks by always using proper techniques and equipment. Always wear a helmet and always test your safety equipment, and double-check your knots.

Be Mindful and Aware

Concentrate on what you're doing, because even a small mistake can cause an accident. Check all knots, ropes, and anchors. If you're belaying, don't let your attention wander from the climber. Keep an eye on the terrain and the weather for any sudden changes.

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Rock climbing is an adventurous and challenging sport with an element of risk. It attracts people who enjoy challenging themselves both physically and mentally. For those who are new to the sport, it's a good idea to assess how dangerous is rock climbing and be aware of the risks.

Once you what the risks are, you can take steps to minimize them. You should never attempt a climb beyond your skill and experience level, but instead, gain the skills gradually over time. Using the right equipment and checking it with each use can help reduce the possibility of accidents.

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