An example of what NOT to do...

One of my best friends once told me, jokingly, "Sometime you just need to accept that your purpose in life is to serve as an example to others of what not to do."  Earlier this winter, I heard a similar thought, with less joke intended, from an IFMGA Mountain Guide to his Aspirant. "You're never completely useless," he said, "you can always serve as a bad example."  Ouch.

This video, while artfully made and riveting, is an example of what not to do while ice climbing.  Will Gadd, who is an Olympic-caliber athlete in the discipline (which thankfully is not in the Olympics), does a fantastic job of a shredding analysis on his blog here.

What I took away from the first view:

  1. The belayer shouldn't be victim to ice-fall.  Only once (sorry Patsy!) have I ever found it inevitable, and that was on an alpine ice climb, not water ice.  Shorten the pitches, traverse out to the side, tuck the belay out of the way!  This is one instance where moving the belayer far away from the climb is worth the extra slack in the system.
  2. More protection, please.  Yes, this is ice climbing - so we can't carry enough screws to protect it every two meters like a sport route.  But a 18m (60') fall on a WI 4/5 route should never be called for.  And if you're feeling too pumped to stop and place protection.  THEN STOP AND PLACE PROTECTION!  Clip a sling into a solid tool to hang on - do whatever it takes NOT TO FALL!
  3. You're crampons and tools are part of your security, which is why we tend to run it out further on ice.  The uber-athletes of the sport are now climbing without leashes.  I don't claim to be one them.  I climb with leashes, and I keep one of them on at all times.  In this instance, simply hooking the rope with a tool instead of holding the rope with one hand, and having a leash on may have prevented this fall.  Watch what happens - he's pumped (his forearms are tired and loosing strength), so he calls up to the team who just finished the climb to anchor a rope and lower a loop.  Then he shakes out of one leash to place a screw, and shakes out of the other least to hold onto the loop with his pumped, weak arm.  When his feet skid out (because of poor footwork), no one should be surprised that he wasn't able to hold on with one tired, pumped hand as his whole bodyweight is shock-loaded onto his grip.
What I took away from the second viewing.  Yes, I'm a glutton for punishment and couldn't believe what I had seen the first time.
  1. The leader should never, ever fall.  I haven't fallen while ice climbing.  My friends and family know about some very ugly falls I've taken rock climbing and alpine climbing and skiing, but I have never fallen while leading an ice climb.  I have fallen on top-rope - a lot.  That's what a top rope is for.  Falling while leading an ice climb almost guarantees a broken something.  Not getting hurt from a fall like this is an exception - not a rule.
  2. The belayer should be safe from harm.  Never ever ever should the belayer be positioned to be hit from anything from above - because falling ice is going to happen when ice climbing.  It should be expected.  The fact that I'm repeating this from my first view should mean that its really, really important to me.
  3. Please check your partner's system before each and every climb.  Watch for 11:00-12:00 into the video, when the climber is lowered to the deck.  He's wearing a BD Alpine Bod harness that isn't doubled back, meaning the buckle can only prevent about 1kN (225lbs) of force instead of the 16kN+ (about 3800lbs) that its designed for.  The only reason this guy didn't fall out of his harness is because he bounced on four ledges on the way down, absorbing a lot of the impact forces with his own body instead of completely in the system.  This was preventable.
Hell, this whole thing was preventable.  Will argues that you should have about 150 top-roped ice climbs before leading.  I'd certainly consider having at least 100 top-roped ice climbs at a grade before leading at that grade.  I know that sometimes it can't be done, but you should still try!

So for my mom, my sisters, and all my friends who don't climb - this is a video of what I don't do.  I'll use up my nine lives in other ways.