We all abdicate responsibility for our welfare and safety in our daily lives, we happily let the bus driver navigate busy streets for us, the doctor peddling us medicines and restaurants selling us food for our health and well being. Some abdications however sit less well with us. Some of us are bad car passengers and would be a happier driving our own car into a brick wall. Worse still when flying off to you holiday in the sun, you “hope” the engineers have done their maintenance job well, the pilot has not got a hangover and the air will hold you up. These journeys we undertake knowing that our fate is in someone else’s hands. Statically we are well removed from air and car accidents, but sometimes we really feel anxious as a passenger when we are know longer in control of our lives.
I think this is why I don’t like my limited paraponting experiences, being strapped to some bloke who it trying to show you a “good time” is bad enough but being lifted into thin air on a sheet of kite material, to me is one step of abdication to much, I don’t like the physics and it’s a sport like scuba diving, where you are utterly reliant on material “stuff” not human power. So why given this obvious need in me to understand the systems that keep me safe, are we climbers so lax when it comes to our rope holding belay partners. It’s not the dangerous rock or ice climb I am talking about, but it’s when we are engaged in arguably our most social of the winters training activities, in the climbing wall.
Climbing walls are social fun and familiar, and this familiarity, as I know to my great cost brings contempt. When belaying (rope holding) we talk, laugh, drink from our water bottles, listen to the music and check out the fit bodies we fancy performing at the other side of the climbing wall. We happily tolerate our baleyers, who hold the thin rope that prevents us being hospitalised engaging in all of these activities and we do it our ourselves.
1 in 18,000 visits to a climbing wall results in a visit to the hospital, although death is very rare, when accidents do happen in climbing walls its usually as the result of partner/ belayer failure. I know this to my cost, I remember slipping off the route at the top of Alien Rocks lead wall, I remember falling and wondering why the rope did not slow me down. I remember rushing groundwards, face first, turning only at the last moment to slam into the floor from 12m up, being thrown backwards off the safety matting onto the unforgiving cold concrete floor. I remember my scream and seeing the distraught face of my ex-girl friend-climbing partner. I thank Peta, the now paramedic, for holding my head not allowing me to look at my arm and move my body at all. I remember the back splint, the slow worrying drive to the hospital and the fear of maybe, never being able to walk. Luckily, the body has long since healed, however the innate trust in belayers is not. I am a demanding climbing partner, and I now hate busy climbing walls and inattentive belayers and climbing partners. Never again will I abdicate such responsibility in such a relaxed manner when climbing. I urge you all to do the same, not only should you check your knot, but make sure you check you partner as well. At least in this life activity you do have a choice, train them or dump them, there are plenty more climbing partners out there.