Here’s how to avoid getting seriously hurt rock climbing

Safety tips from the Squamish Access Society.

Climbing is dangerous, there is no way around it; Ultimately, our sport revolves around going up and down cliffs that falling off can be fatal.

Bouldering might be an exception, as climbers typically don’t get higher than a few feet off the ground, but it still took a lot out of ankles, knees, and elbows.

We often remain unaware of the serious accidents in our area, which are rarely publicized due to patient confidentiality and respect for the victims. This can give us a false sense of complacency in assuring ourselves that accidents only happen on the big mountains and not on the small rocks of the Smoke Bluffs.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of serious accidents on the Sea to Sky this year resulting in life-changing injuries or death. We can never rule out risks when climbing, but many accidents are preventable, making them even more difficult to process. While everyone’s acceptable level of risk is different, there are a number of ways we can stack the deck in our favor.

One of the most common serious accidents is a climber rappelling or lowering at the end of a rope. This can be due to a number of reasons – missing an anchor point, climbing on a rope that is shorter than the route requires, or not rappelling with the middle of the rope at the anchor point. Knotting the end of the rope every time, even if it seems unnecessary, is the best way to ensure you never fall victim to this avoidable accident.

For many people, pushing your limits is a central part of the climbing experience. In a sport that requires so many different skills, the safest way to test yourself is to challenge just one aspect of your skill at a time. If you’re looking for a physical challenge, do so on a route that’s well bolted or easily protected when trad climbing. If you want to do a long multi-pitch, choose one with a difficulty level below your max.

Injuries don’t always happen when we’re working at the edge of our capabilities—complacency or naivety can be just as dangerous. A common factor that contributes to serious accidents in trad climbing is “running out”. That means you leave big gaps between the protection you place to arrest a fall. Running out can be useful when trying to move fast, but the consequences are often grossly underestimated.

Another underappreciated way to manage risk is to climb and surround yourself with the right people. Climbing with a more experienced mentor will help you learn best practices and get feedback on your methods, but it’s important not to follow blindly. Always try to make your own calls and have frank conversations with your partners about possible dangers, what you think is acceptable, and when to break up.

After all, a helmet can mean the difference between a small scratch and something much worse. A helmet will never prevent an accident, but it is your last line of defense if something goes wrong.

Alex Ryan Tucker is a resident of Squamish and a board member of the Squamish Access Society. For more information on SAS, visit

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