If you want to live long and prosper and avoid loose rock, never climb below other parties. Change your plans and climb something else to be safe.
You Want to Climb a Classic Route
It’s hard to do sometimes. You drove halfway across the country to Rocky Mountain National Park and you’re totally psyched to get up to Loch Vale and climb the Petit Grepon. It’s only one of the most beautiful alpine rock climbs in Colorado. You’ve been dreaming about it ever since you memorized the route description in Rock Climbing Colorado. So Susie and you dash up the trail and get to the base of the face at 8 o’clock sharp in the morning. You stop, catch your breath in the thin mountain air, and look up at the cliff.
Change Your Plans to be Safe
What? Look at all those climbers up there already. There must be four parties. And there’s another three climbers standing at the start. Dang it, it’s gonna be a long day. And, if you’re the sixth party on the route, a dangerous one as well. You’re a safe climber though so Susie and you reevaluate your plans. You’ve always made it a cardinal rule to never climb beneath another party of climbers, especially on an alpine route where you know that all kinds of loose rock is just waiting to fall off. You look up the valley toward Spearhead. Whew! It looks like The Barb is empty. You’re gonna do it instead. It’s just as good and you’ll be safe.
Long Routes Have Loose Rock
Make it your rule to never climb beneath other parties, especially on big cliffs and on long routes. You’re asking for trouble if you do. Someday trouble will catch up with you, even if you’re doing everything else right and wearing a helmet. Most long routes have loose rock on them, especially if they’re moderate climbs.
Climb Smart and Climb Safe
Take a place like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado. The Black is a stellar arena for traditional climbing in a wild and forbidding canyon. The rule at the Black though is that the easier routes are the most dangerous; routes like Lauren’s Arête and The Russian Arête. The climbing is often over stacked blocks and through loose pegmatite bands; the belay ledges are filled with rubble; cracks are often jammed with loose chockstones that you’re either standing or pulling on. When I climb in the Black, I climb smart—I wear a helmet; I climb in a party of two; and I never climb beneath another party.
A Major Accident Waiting to Happen
Last year, while researching the new edition of Rock Climbing Colorado, I was sitting in the North Rim Ranger Station visiting with Brent Mims, the park’s climbing ranger. He said, “Most people climb only a half a dozen routes in the canyon. The problem is that they want to climb those routes so they’re often climbing below another party. Back on Memorial Day I saw four parties on The Scenic Cruise. It’s a major accident waiting to happen.”
One Small Stone Can Kill
What can happen if you climb below another party? Maybe nothing. But the worst that can happen is that they can trigger a rockfall that wipes you out. But even one small stone that falls 500 feet can kill you. They can also drop pieces of gear. A cam or carabiner is just as dangerous as that one stone. Still I see it all the time—climbers climbing below other climbers at places like the Black Canyon, Eldorado Canyon, Castleton Tower, Fairview Dome, El Capitan, Cannon Cliff, and Cathedral Ledge. Just say “No” to that classic route and change your plans. It might save your life.