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How to Avoid Loose Rock

15 Climbing Tips to Avoid Loose Rock


While on rappel, Ian Spencer-Green removes dangerously loose blocks in Colorado National Monument.

Loose blocks wedged in cracks are one of climbing's biggest safety hazards.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

It's a geological law of nature that rock erodes away. That's the way of the world-rock eventually crumbles to dust and sand. All good things have to come to an end. Even the biggest baddest wall of granite like El Capitan in Yosemite Valley will eventually succumb to the ravages of time and ceaseless erosion. You just need to be careful when you're climbing so that loose rock, eroding rock, and falling rock doesn't spell the end of you.

Loose Rock is on Every Cliff

If you climb long enough, sooner or later you'll have to deal with loose rock. If you head to the Utah canyon country and plan to scale a desert tower, you're going to find loose blocks on ledges and boulders wedged in cracks. If you edge up some big wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison or climb The Diamond, an alpine wall above 13,000 feet in elevation, in Rocky Mountain National Park, you're going to have to avoid loose rock. Even the little crag in your hometown that you climb on every summer evening usually will have loose rock on it. If it doesn't right now, it will eventually. Maybe tomorrow.

Loose Rock Cause Many Accidents and Deaths

Loose rock is one of climbing's biggest safety hazards and causes many climbing accidents. If you look at the statistics from Accidents in North American Mountaineering, published by the American Alpine Club, you'll notice a significant number of climbing accidents occur because of loose rock and rockfall. The 50-year statistics from 1951 to 2001 indicate that 680 accidents occurred as a result of "Falling rock, ice, or object" in the United States and Canada. Likewise, a study by Iain B. Sedgeman of Australian climbing accidents from 1955 to 2004 indicates that 10.8% of the accidents were a direct result of rockfall and loose rock. Not surprisingly, all these accidents resulted from rocks dislodged by climbers above the injured party.

15 Tips to Avoid Loose Rock

To avoid loose rock and stay safe climbing, follow these 15 tips:

  1. Always Wear a Helmet
  2. Avoid Climbing on Loose Cliffs
  3. Don't Climb Below Other Parties
  4. Don't Stand or Sit at the Base of Routes
  5. Evaluate Rock Quality as You Climb
  6. Test Suspect Holds Before Using Them
  7. Pull Down, Not Out
  8. Don't Place Protection Behind Flakes or Blocks
  9. Don't Belay Below the Leader
  10. Keep Your Rope Away From Loose Rock
  11. Watch For Loose Rock When Pulling Your Rappel Rope
  12. Yell "ROCK" If You Dislodge a Rock
  13. Stay on Ridges and Buttresses in the Mountains
  14. Avoid Gullys and Couloirs After the Morning
  15. Climb Early on Exposed Mountain Slopes
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