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Loose Rock Tip #1: Wear a Climbing Helmet

Loose Rock Tip 1

By

Mike Heinrichs and Allie Arnhart loving their helmets on The Wicked Crag in Colorado.

A good climbing helmet protects your head from falling rocks when you're out having fun on the cliffs.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green Loose Rock Tip #1: Wear a Climbing Helmet

All the essential parts of a climbing helmet, including the shell, chin strap, side straps, circumference adjuster, and headlamp clips.

Photograph courtesy Black Diamond Loose Rock Tip #1: Wear a Climbing Helmet

A climber wears a helmet to protect his head from falling rocks on the limestone cliffs at Shelf Road, Colorado.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

It’s a good idea to buy and wear a climbing helmet, especially if you’re climbing at areas and cliffs with loose rock or if you’re climbing below another party. A climbing helmet protects your head from falling missiles, projectiles, and dropped gear. It protects you from being in a bad climbing accident.

Rockfall on the Salathe Wall

Back in the 1970s I was climbing the first 10 pitches of the Salathe Wall to Mammoth Terraces on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. While leading a crack on the 4th pitch, a party of Germans high above us began hoisting their haul bag when it dislodged a shower of rocks. I heard their guttural shouts and then saw the rocks bouncing down the steep slab above—right toward me.

Helmet Saved My Head and Life

I wedged into the crack, making myself as small as possible, and instinctively folded my hands behind my helmeted head. A two-inch rock hit the climbing helmet, denting it, and then a softball-sized chunk slammed into my right shoulder. I was dazed and confused. My right arm and shoulder felt like raw throbbing hamburger. I didn’t know it then, but my right shoulder blade was cracked from stem to stern. My partner lowered me back to the belay ledge and then helped me rappel to the ground with my one good arm. I was lucky to be wearing a helmet though. That little two-inch rock that smashed against my climbing helmet could have been fatal if I had not been wearing it.

Always Wear a Helmet: Your Head will Thank You!

Since then I always wear a climbing helmet in suspect terrain, especially if I’m climbing a desert tower or up in the mountains. I’m not always a good boy, because I sometimes don’t wear it while sport climbing. I am aware, however, that all cliff terrain is dangerous and potentially deadly, and the climbing helmet is always in my pack ready to be used. Wear your climbing helmet on loose cliffs and you will avoid being in a climbing accident, having a fatal accident, and having your name to Accidents in North American Mountaineering.

When to Wear a Helmet

Here are a few suggestions on when to wear a climbing helmet:

  • If you’re at the base of a cliff and belaying.
  • If you’re climbing on any cliff with loose rocks.
  • If you’re climbing below another party of climbers.
  • If you’re rappelling from ledges.
  • If you’re climbing gullies or couloirs in the mountains.
  • If you’re climbing mountain slopes in the heat of the day when stones loosen up from melting.

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