Inspect Your Rock PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA mountain guide, climbing Inti Watana. Red Rocks, Nevada ©Garrick  Hart

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA mountain guide, casting off on Inti Watana. Red Rocks, Nevada ©Garrick  Hart

 

The last thing you want to think about when you’re off the deck is the viability of your equipment.

The beginning of every season marks an important time to check your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Just as we pump up our push-ups and finger board workouts, preparing for the rock season ahead, so too should we insure our equipment is in good nick.

Rock PPE or climbing protection protects us while climbing.

The life span of some climbing protection is easy to evaluate. With others it’s more challenging.

Climbing gear manufacturer, PETZL, breaks Rock PPE into three categories.

Rock PPE Inspection Guidelines

Category 1

  • Includes climbing protection like eyewear, gloves and rope tarps

Gear in category 1 is easy to inspect. It adds to our safety system, but it isn’t critical.

I include belay glasses here because they help reduce strain in my neck and back particularly when I’m sport climbing.

Category 2

  • Includes helmets

Retire Helmets after 10 years of minimal use and after 3-5 years of frequent use. Sign of UV fatigue, cracks, strap-wear or damage to the foam casing inside the shell means a helmet should be replaced.

Category 3

  • Fall protection

Fall protection is a critical category and gear in this category is the hardest to inspect.

Critical climbing gear includes harnesses, ropes, webbing, slings, PAS, carabiners, belay devices, nuts, cams, ascenders, etc.

Harnesses should be retired immediately if they show any wear, fraying or damage to the belay loops or waist belt. Retire a harness after 7 years; or, retire your harness every year if you’re a regular user.

Slings, cord and webbing should be retired after 10 years even if never used. Anything with excessive wear should be retired immediately. I retire my skinny cords like prusiks and cordelettes every year or two. Their smaller diameter means they wear faster. And, I use them a lot!

For ropes, read my previous article, Rules For Rope Care and Longevity.

Hardware like carabiners, nuts and cams are easier to inspect.

Look for grooves and any signs of hairline cracks.

Look especially closely for hairline cracks at the gate/pin area of your carabiners.

You can replace frayed cam wires yourself.

Frayed nut wires, however, means you need new nuts!

An unattended wire may not be a safety issue initially. But frayed wires will dig into your soft gear, clothing and skin, creating all kinds of problems.

 

Finally, know your equipment’s history and if in doubt, retire it.

Safe Belay Technique for Top Rope Ice Climbing

The Schoolroom, Ouray Ice Park, Colorado. Belaying top rope climbers from the other side of the river--Out of the way of the impact zone. ©Karen Bockel

The Schoolroom, Ouray Ice Park, Colorado. Belaying top rope climbers from the other side of the river–Out of the way of the impact zone. ©Karen Bockel

Chicks’ home venue is the Ouray Ice Park—the best place to learn ice climbing from beginners to experts alike, hands down.

The Uncompahgre Gorge narrows down to the tight Box Canyon, which transforms into a beautiful Mecca of icy walls begging to be climbed.

In the Ice Park, one of the first things we teach is how to belay safely for top rope ice climbing.

Ice climbers swing and kick at the ice to get purchase.

Consequently, we need to consider the high likelihood that chunks of ice will break off and fall down right below the climber. This area (anywhere the ice chunks might fall) is called the impact zone—and it’s a place to be avoided!

In order to avoid the impact zone it’s best to belay from a short distance away—in the clear from falling ice.

However, belaying a horizontal distance away from the base of the climb creates another problem. When your climber loads the rope (either because they fall or they are lowering), you will feel a strong pull towards the base of the climb. This horizontal pull is a big deal!

Here is the physics of this big deal:

The pull you feel is directed right along the rope. The pull is upward towards the anchor at an angle. This angle, or force vector, has both an upward pull and a horizontal pull.

The upward pull is easy to resist. Simply resist it with your body weight by sitting back into your harness.

The horizontal pull, however, is much harder to resist. It can drag you along the ground and slam you into the wall. You could lose control of the rope and possibly drop your climber.

The solution to this big deal is a back anchor.

Clipping into a back anchor will hold you against any horizontal pull towards the wall. You can use trees or established bolts for back anchors. In the Ice Park there are often fixed ropes that extend the back anchors, elsewhere we bring our own ropes.

Setting up a Back Anchor

If you are using a tree, make sure the tree is strong and big. Tie a chunk of rope around the base. Then tie a bight knot into the rope.

If you are using a bolt, clip a bight of rope (or other anchor material) to the bolt. Then tie a bight knot into the other end of the rope.

Using a locking carabiner, clip the bight you created on either your tree anchor or bolt anchor to your belay loop. Clip it underneath and out of the way of your belay set up/device.

Make sure your back-anchor extends just far enough to let you stand comfortably with the rope snug. This allows for no surprises if the climbing rope suddenly gets loaded by your climber.

Back anchors are extremely important when you’re in an area like the Ouray Ice Park’s Schoolroom. There are often many climbers on side-by-side top ropes. Lots of ice chunks go flying through the air. Belayers need to be a large horizontal distance away from the ice in order to belay safely. This puts them on the far side of the river. Getting pulled into the river is a sure way to end your climbing day, cold, wet and possibly much worse.

Use a back anchor!

‘Tis the Season for Avalanche Training

Karen Bockel teaches Chicks Skiing Backcountry Hut trip participants about the avalanche forecast, avalanche problems types and terrain maps before going skiing

Snowfunatall! Studying avalanche forecast, avalanche problem types and terrain maps before going skiing. Chicks Skiing Backcountry Hut Trip, 2017. ©Jen Edney

Early winter is a great time for Chicks Skiing avalanche training.

Brush up on your avalanche rescue skills, refresh your avalanche understanding and get busy reading your local avalanche forecast.

Get Avy Savy!

Following are two great resources to get you thinking about snow safety. Especially during the holiday travel season, you might find yourself at a new ski area or in new backcountry terrain.

This first video, An Introduction to the North American Avalanche Danger Scale, explains the North American Danger Scale and is produced by the National Avalanche Center.

Every forecast center in the US and Canada uses the North American Danger Scale to rate the avalanche hazard for the day. It’s important that you are familiar with this messaging tool. Understanding the North American Danger Scale will help you understand the avalanche forecast anywhere you might go in the mountains this winter.

This second video, Avalanche Problems Explained, provides further information with an explanation of the avalanche problem types that forecast centers use. These avalanche problem types give you a better idea of what kind of avalanches you need to be concerned about in a specific region. It really helps to identify the specific and particular hazards out there. Avalanche Problems Explained is my go-to for more information when I am reading a forecast

Ski Safely Ladies and I’ll see you on the slopes.

Mixed Climbing – Quick Tips – How to Climb Smoothly

Chicks Mixed Climbing Clinic, Camp Bird Road, Ouray, Colorado. ©Kitty Calhoun 

Chicks Mixed Climbing Clinic, Camp Bird Road, Ouray, Colorado. ©Kitty Calhoun

So Smooth, Just Like Butter on a Muffin!

My seven-year-old son, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with hair slicked back, glided across the room as if he was riding a surfboard. He sang out, “So smooth, just like butter on a muffin.” This line soon became the mantra at my mixed and ice climbing clinics.

So, how do you move fluidly?  How do you climb so smooth, just like butter on a muffin?

You learn to climb in balance with precision and purpose.

What the heck does that mean?

Join us for our Mixed Climbing Clinic where we’ll take deep dive into understanding climbing in balance with precision and purpose.

In the meantime, keep reading to get an idea.

Precision

Mixed climbing is an aspect of climbing that especially demands precision because the holds tend to be smaller. However, smaller does not necessarily mean harder. If you’re in balance, then smaller holds can be more useful than larger holds that put you out of balance.

Balance

My Pilates instructor once told me, “Use stability to provide mobility.” It is the same in mixed climbing. You must learn to keep your core and all of your limbs perfectly still. This all-body-stillness supports the stability and balance you’ll need to move your next tool or foot up. Then the trick is to shift your balance and stabilize under your newly placed tool or over your newly placed foot.

Purpose

Watch a graceful climber and you’ll notice that she’ll slow down and study the next sequence of moves from a relative rest position. Then, once she begins to move again, she’ll commit without hesitation to each move. It’s as if she has glue on her front points and picks. She does not stop and “shop around” for holds.

Never Underestimate the Powerful Tools of Visualization and Breath

Visualizing in small detail is as effective in terms of building brain engrams as doing the actual movement itself.  Yet visualization takes discipline. It takes practice to slow down and focus on running a play-by-play movie in your mind of you climbing like a super star.

Breath connects mind to body. Use your breath as a tool to keep yourself calm and performing efficiently.  Start by simply reminding yourself to breathe. It is very common to hold your breath when the going gets tough. Then you can work your way into more specific techniques. Try inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose combined with a pursed-lip out-breath.

Soon, you too, will be climbing as smooth as butter on a muffin!

Cool Weather Rock Climbing Tips for Staying Toasty

Kitty Calhoun, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing layered up to stay toasty. Indian Creek, UT. ©Kitty Calhoun 

Kitty Calhoun, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing layered up to stay toasty. Indian Creek, UT. ©Kitty Calhoun

BRRRR!

Did you know that 32-41°F is the best sending temperature?

Hands and fingers get the best friction near freezing because they don’t sweat; and, climbing shoe rubber is designed to perform best at these temperatures too.

Autumn temperatures can send chills down your spine and make your hands go numb if you’re not ready.

Follow my tips to get psyched and stay toasty during fall sending season.

Drink:

Take warm/hot drinks. Bring a thermos and/or start with hot water in a regular bottle. Drink the liquid while it’s still warm. Staying hydrated helps keep your strength and body temperature up. You may not think to drink if you’re not sweating and if you’re cold, a cold drink is unappealing.  Get a thermos.

Eat:

Bring plenty of easily digestible snacks, such as GU Stroop waffles. You need calories to climb well and to stay warm.

Layer:

Take clothes off while exerting; add clothes when not: hat, down/puffy jacket, windbreaker, socks with the feet cut out to cover your lower leg and belay gloves are a few essentials.

Grabber Hand-Warmers:

Put a hand warmer in your chalk bag, or your sports bra.

Warm-up:

Stretch and do air squats before you leave the ground. Cold muscles are stiff and more susceptible to injury. Climb a handful of moderate routes before climbing  more difficult routes.

 

Now, what are you waiting for?  Get ready and get out and have some fun!

Rules for Rope Care and Longevity

Karen Bockel Coiling a rope©Angela Hawse

Coiling ©Angela Hawse

Rocktober is upon us. No doubt our ropes have gotten use and withstood abuse with spring, summer and early autumn climbs. Soon we’ll be monitoring backcountry drips for ice and our rope will get a bit of a rest while we sharpen our tools in anticipation of winter.

Take stock of this time to inspect, wash, store and retire your rope properly.

1. INSPECTION

 Your rope is your lifeline. Give it undivided attention and love before you put it away for a while.

Giving your rope undivided attention and love will increase your intimacy with it. You’ll get peace of mind knowing that it’s still a performer. And you’ll catch any problems that could reduce its longevity.

Run the entire length of your rope through both hands two to three times. Run the rope through your hands without gloves so you have sensitivity to any irregularities in the sheath.

Inspect it visually and with a firm grip so you catch imperfections. If the rope feels different from when you purchased it, ie. it’s now limp whereas it was once perky or it’s become a stiffy when it was once supple, it’s probably time to give it a new job. (More below.)

Fuzzy sheaths, picks, flat or unusually stiff sections merit closer inspection. If you find one of these, look at it more closely. Compare it to other sections of the rope. Although you can’t see the rope’s core, you can feel it.  Roll any sections of concern between your thumb and fingers and back and forth between your hands, paying close attention to how it behaves with bends, knots and twists.  Anytime the core of the rope is exposed at all, it is compromised. Cut it shorter to remove this section or retire it.

If your hands are black afterwards, this should reinforce that a good wash is in order.

2. WASHING

Ropes like to be clean but they don’t like harsh detergents.

Use a mild detergent or better yet Sterling Wicked Good Rope Wash.

I use a large rubbermaid tub or my bathtub. Fill with just enough warm water to ensure the rope is submerged.

Add the Wicked Good Rope Washor a small amount of detergent (1 tablespoon). Swish it around and then pile your rope in there (flaked rather than coiled) so it’s all submerged.

Let it sit for 30 minutes to absorb the soapy water and dislodge dirt.

Get your hands in there and move the rope around, agitating the water like a gentle cycle on your washer. This will dislodge remaining dirt.

Remove the rope, dump out the water and replace it with clean, cold or warm water. Put the rope back in and give it another gentle cycle and repeat the process until the water is clear.

You can use a top loading washing machine on a gentle cycle, but I prefer to do it manually.

Some folks like to daisy chain the entire length of their rope, but I prefer having it in a pile.

Dry your rope out of direct sunlight. I hang mine over my pull-up bar or a door. You could use a laundry drying rack or flake it out on the floor.

Be sure your rope is fully dry before you store it.

3. STORAGE

I store my ropes stacked in a rope bag.

Although there is nothing wrong with coiling and hanging or stowing them away, flaking ropes prevents kinks and divits that come from tight coils. Most rope bags have a ground tarp incorporated. If not, get one and use it. A ground tarp at the crag will add considerably to the longevity of your rope by preventing small, sharp crystals of sand and dirt from penetrating it’s sheath. Rope Bags also give you a grab-and-go system for the next time you head to the crag, or you can easily coil it from a rope bag if you’re packing it for a project.

Store your rope in a cool, dry place free from direct sunlight and any chemicals. Acid to ropes is like kryptonite to Superman. Keep them well away.

4. RETIRING ROPES

Well cared for ropes last many years.

There is no hard and fast rule for how long ropes last because there are so many variables: How much do you climb with it? How many significant lead falls has it sustained? Did it cut the mustard of your rigorous inspection?

Here are some general guidelines for rope longevity: If you’re climbing 3-5 days a week, working routes and whipping regularly, your rope may only last a year or less. If you’re a weekend warrior, your lead rope could give you several years. If you climb less frequently you could get four to seven years out of your cord.  Much more than 7 years and it will, like all nylon, lose some of it’s dynamic and desirable properties.

Ropes, like us, can have several life stages if they’re not compromised.

My ropes start as lead ropes. Then my skinny ones go to my neighbor for his rafting trips and my fatter ones retire into the good life of topropes for 3-5 years.

All of my ropes are inspected regularly and retired liberally.

When they reach the end of their lifespan I either send them to Sterling Rope to recycle or give them to friends for art projects, rigging or doormats.

Give your rope the attention it deserves regularly and it’ll serve you well!

Tech Tip: How to Fix a Back Clip

Figure 1.

I just returned from teaching two back-to-back clinics at Rifle and Maple Canyon where the primary objective for our participants was either learning to lead or becoming a more confident lead climber on sport routes. And did they ever. At the Maple clinic, Tracy Martin and I, the two instructors for the program, didn’t lead a single route all weekend; the participants did all the rope gunning. They chose the routes, they hung draws, they cleaned the anchors when finished and moved on to the next climb. It was so gratifying to see everyone taking charge of the situation.

Clipping bolts can seem pretty basic, you just clip and go. However, there are a couple of pitfalls you need to be aware of that will need fixing on the fly. Let’s talk about the most common mistake and how to fix it quickly, the back-clip.

What is a back-clip?

A back clip is when the rope is clipped into the bottom gate of the quickdraw, well… backward. This means that the rope from your knot runs through the carabiner toward the rock, instead of away from the rock. (See Figure 1)

Figure 2.

How it should look:

Once the rope is clipped into the bottom carabiner of the quickdraw, the rope should run in a straight line all the way back down to the belayer. There shouldn’t be any twists in the rope or the quickdraw it’s clipped into. (See Figure 2)

Why does it matter if you’re back clipped or not?

The rope can unclip itself from the quickdraw should you climb above it and fall! (See Figure 3)

How to Fix a Back-Clip:

There are a couple of different methods to remedy this type of mistake, so let’s look at a few ways. The general rule of thumb is to add before you subtract for optimal security.

Method 1:
Clip the second quickdraw behind the first and then remove the offending quickdraw that is back clipped. By adding the second one behind, you stay clipped in at all times and no slack is created. This is the best method if the clip is at a hard section of the climb or anytime you’re not feeling confident.

Method 2:
Unclip the top carabiner that is clipped to the bolt hanger and rotate that carabiner in the proper direction and reattach it to the bolt hanger. You need to use your eyes and pay attention to which way to rotate the carabiner. With this method, the rope stays clipped into the bottom carabiner of the draw and you don’t end up dropping any slack down to your belayer. This a good method if you have a very secure stance and the climbing isn’t challenging for you.

Method 3:
Unclip the rope and reclip it correctly. I used to do it this way myself until I learned better. This is the LEAST preferred method, but for some reason, it’s the one you probably see most commonly at the crag. The reason I don’t recommend this method is that you are the least secure for the longest period of time. Undoubtedly you’ve already back clipped, then you fight to unclip the rope from the bottom carabiner, your belayer quickly takes in that slack to keep you from taking a bigger fall then necessary, then you have to ask for slack again, possibly getting short-roped by your belayer, FINALLY you reclip.

 

Figure 3.

 

Sigh of relief. Sounds stressful right? That’s because it is, for both you and your belayer. Use method 1 or 2 and you’ll feel much more confident on the sharp end.

Smarter not Harder

Thanks to this little guy, I learned about the new Black Diamond Pilot, which is brake-assisted, with the bonus of having no moving parts. To belay a leader, the hand motion is easy and intuitive, effortless to give slack to the leader, and easy to catch a fall. It’s also lightweight so I can justify bringing it along on longer multi-pitch climbs. ©Dawn Glanc.

Smarter Not Harder

I am a cragger at heart. Yes, it is true. I truly enjoy single-pitch climbing. I love to push myself on trad gear in places like Indian Creek. If I am clipping bolts, I take on the mantra, “if I’m not flying, I’m not trying.” This attitude of trying hard and pushing myself is why I like staying close to the ground.

With trying hard comes hanging on the rope. Yelling take and falling are everyday occurrences. Taking significant falls, bumping, and boinking become part of the day.  Because of all the climber’s shenanigans, the belayer has to work extra hard, often putting in overtime hours.  This is why I recommend that every belayer becomes familiar with and uses a brake-assisted device. In my opinion, a standard ATC is no longer safe enough for a day of serious belaying.

Just this year alone, I know of two accidents where the brake-assisted belay device saved the life of the climber. Belayers are often in vulnerable positions, unable to run from rockfall or other dangers. This assisted brake can make all the difference if the belayer becomes injured or incapacitated. By using the modern brake-assisted devices, you simply stack the odds in your favor.

There are many brake-assisted belay devices on the market these days. Many companies are seeing the safety benefits of brake-assisted belay devices, and coming up with their versions on the theme. Just make sure you know the details of YOUR device.

No matter what equipment you choose, the belayer should be both diligent and familiar with techniques to belay a leader and a top rope climber. Advanced belay skills such as pulling up and boinking will be much easier as well with a lock-assisted device. Belaying is serious business, but with the correct device and the attention to match, we can work smarter not harder, which leaves more energy for sending!

– Dawn Glanc

Dawn is a certified rock and alpine guide. Her hobbies include climbing and long belays at the crag.

 

 

Chicks Tech Tip: Using the Rope to Connect the Climber to the Anchor

In recent years, the use of a PAS (Personal Anchoring System) has become quite common among rock climbers. A PAS is practical in situations where the ends of the climbing rope are not available because they are being used, for example, to set up a rappel, or when the climber wants to thread the rope through a fixed anchor and then be lowered to the ground.

In other situations it makes more sense to use the rope itself to secure a climber to an anchor. This system is most common when climbing up a sequence of linked pitched such as in the alpine or on a multi-pitch rock climb. The climber ties her rope into a clove hitch just beyond her tie-in and attaches it to the anchor with a locking carabiner.

Using the rope to anchor in directly is very simple and efficient. The only gear necessary is a locking carabiner. Another advantage: the system is very shock-absorbent because the rope itself is stretchy, and the hitch can also disperse energy by tightening when loaded.

Here’s how to do it:

1.) You’re already tied into the end of the rope with a figure eight follow-through.

2.) Clip a locking carabiner to the masterpoint (also often called the Powerpoint) of your anchor, with the gate facing outwards.  (AKA clip and flip)

3.) Reach down the rope, give it a half twist, drop it into the locker, and repeat the same motion to drop another half twist into the locker; due to this motion, this method is called the handshake clove hitch.

4.) Lock the carabiner and you’re off belay.

Tips:

The clove hitch is adjustable – you can change the distance between your tie-in and the anchor by feeding rope in or out of the hitch.

Keep the length of your attachment snug enough so that you can weight the anchor comfortably – a constant but low load on the anchor is preferable to accidentally shock-loading the anchor by having slack in your leash.

The Masterpoint can be found at the bottom of two equalized and non-extending pieces of gear. In this photo, the climber has tied a clovehitch then attached it to a locking carabiner at the Masterpoint. ©Angela Hawse

How to be the World’s Greatest Climbing Partner

Diane Mielcarz and Olga Lopatina belay during 2017 Chicks Maple Canyon Clinic, Utah © Louis Arvevalo

Diane Mielcarz and Olga Lopatina belay during the Chicks Maple Canyon Clinic, Utah. © Louis Arvevalo

I’m often asked, “How can I get outside and climb more?”

Many women feel limited by a lack of climbing partners. It’s intimidating to make climbing plans with someone you’ve just met.

Tackle this problem by becoming the world’s greatest climbing partner.

Here’s the truth: all the other person wants to do is get out and climb more too.

So, if you’re an asset to their climbing, you’ll be well on your way to climbing to your heart’s content.

But what does being the world’s greatest climbing partner mean exactly?

The world’s greatest climbing partner is competent, psyched and able to perform a wide range of technical skills. The world’s greatest climbing partner can shoulder the responsibility of a day at the crag.

Here are 5 tips to get you on your way:

1. Be an Ace Route Caddy

Just like golfers need someone to help them call the shots, your climbing partner needs you to be proactive and useful.

If your partner is going to lead, then get things ready for them to simply shoe up and tie in. Prep the rope by flaking it out and tying a stopper knot in the end. Stick-clip the first bolt. Do a draw count or gear assessment to make sure she has everything she needs. And, once she’s back on the ground, pull the rope so it’s ready for the next person to top rope.

If the route is a top rope, make a plan to set it up from the top.

2. Know How to Clean an Anchor

This will help keep the climbing train rolling and you’ll get more pitches in.

Remember, the leader bears the burden of getting the rope up. This is hard enough. Taking the rope down shouldn’t rest on their shoulders too.

Don’t forget to communicate your plan. How will you clean the anchor and get back down. Will you lower or rappel?

3. Be Positive, Try Hard and Don’t Make Excuses

We all have bad days. Keep your excuses to yourself. No one wants to read that book.

4. Don’t Bail

If you make climbing plans, keep them. Life happens but there’s nothing worse than a climbing partner who bails, especially on short notice. If bailing is unavoidable, notify your partner ASAP and help them find a replacement partner.

5. Be the Best Belayer You Can Be

Give your climber your undivided attention. Don’t chat up others when belaying. It’s distracting and can compromise safety.

Know how to give a soft catch.

Don’t spray the climber down with beta (unless they ask for it).

Do offer words of encouragement (but not too loudly).

Do remind her to breathe.

Finally, if you’re still not comfortable approaching strangers to make climbing plans, try connecting with partners through the Chicks Alumni Facebook group, “Friends of Chicks Climbing & Skiing.”

It should give you confidence knowing that everyone in the group has received the same high level of instruction and should be on the same page with climbing best practices.

See you at the Crag!