Outdoor Rock Climbing Risks, Hazards, & Exhilaration

Hannah Anderson

Hannah Anderson

If you are looking to make the transition to climbing outdoors, you should be aware of the hazards that follow so you can always make wise climbing decisions.

If you’ve ever indoor rock climbed before, you know the type of rush that you get from hoisting yourself up higher and higher with seemingly impossible grips. Indoor rock climbing is a fun, safe way to learn the “ropes” of climbing, like belaying, climbing equipment, and movement. However, if you are looking to make the transition to climbing outdoors, you should be aware of the hazards that follow so you can always make wise climbing decisions. 

1. Loose Rocks

Many injuries from outdoor climbing are a result of falling rocks. It’s common for rocks to fall on the climber’s head, which can cause brain damage. This hazard reiterates the importance of wearing proper gear while you climb. One of the essential pieces of gear is a helmet. A helmet can aid in protecting you if any loose rocks fall on you during your climb. The best way to avoid being hit by loose rocks is by thoroughly checking your climbing area before you start. If there are any obvious signs of recent earthquakes or landslides in the area, choose a different location to climb. 

2. Falling

The largest fear people have when climbing is falling. It takes a lot of trust in your belay to begin climbing. This fear is why so many practice climbing at an indoor gym. There, you can focus on the dynamic between you and a belay without being distracted by weather and wildlife. While falling is a hazard of climbing, with properly tied ropes and trusty anchors, even if you fall, you should be safe. Be sure to only climb where you know you can trust the anchor posts so that if you do fall, they won’t be pulled out and drop you farther. 

3. Weather

When rock climbing outdoors, you naturally expose yourself to any type of weather. A calm, sunny day will naturally be the best weather to climb in, but you should avoid climbing in high winds that knock you and your belayer off-balance, in the rain which can cause you both to slip, or in lightning storms. Lighting will be attracted to your metal gear like carabineers and anchors and you’ll be at high-risk for being struck. Lighting strikes are extremely dangerous. Those struck have a 10% chance of dying. If the weather turns sour during your climb, quickly come down and move to safety.  

4. Gear

Using the incorrect gear, or using the proper gear wrong, can lead to life-altering and even fatal events. For example, you may be wearing a harness, but if it’s not tightened properly, you could risk falling out of your harness if you turn upside down. Using correct gear helps keep you safer, like a locking caribineer which keeps you locked to your belay. Not only do you need to make sure you have the right gear and are using it correctly, but you also need to make sure you have enough gear. When in doubt, bring more than what you think you’ll need. 

5. Communication

Since falling is such a common risk and your belay is there to catch you, communication is an essential part of rock climbing. A lack of communication between you and your belay can lead to unnecessary risks. The belay should always be paying close attention to the lead climber. Don’t let people, animals, or your phone distract you. Let them know if there is a hazard they might not see. As the climber, you should be communicating with your belay to let them know when you are going to make a risky move so they can be prepared to catch you. Communicating and paying attention to each other can help prevent any unnecessary injuries. 

You’ve Got This!

Don’t let the fear of any of these risks and hazards keep you from climbing and exploring the great outdoors. Most risks are easily mitigated by going with an experienced outdoor climber for your first trip or two. As you take your climbing adventure outside, you will be amazed by your strength and movement as you shimmy your way up steep cliffs and rocky mountainsides and trust me, the view from the top is way better than at an indoor gym. It doesn’t get better than the real deal, just make sure you are prepared when you go.

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