Monday, April 30, 2012

Hello. My Name is Cam.

Hey Jean, I hope you don't mind me posting on your blog, but I was thinking about how much fun we had this past weekend together in the Gunks and I've been meaning to write something for a while.

When I think of all the places we have been and all the fun climbs we have done, I get all warm and fuzzy inside.  Sometimes I just hangout on your hip all day and enjoy the ride.  I have to admit there are times when I think you have completely forgotten me, lost on the back gear loop (you know, outta sight, outta mind?).  But there have been plenty of times we have worked so well together - whether it be on-sighting a new route in a new location or climbing a line we have done time and time again. It is always fun, isn't it?  I was so psyched to be able to help you out recently on the last pitch of Doubleissima.  We did a lot of hanging out together there at that crux, didn't we?  Truth is I was glad to help. You know, Jean, there was no way in hell I was going to let go of that rock and let you down. We were in it together!

It was so fun watching your friends Louise and Carol climb up High E, City Lights, Yellow Ridge. I wish I could have helped you out on Birdland yesterday, but it was clear you need more little guys than one big guy on that pitch! (wink) - It's okay, I had so much fun anyway.

Hangin' Out on the High E Ledge

So what's next? Oh yeah, that's right - I think you said we'll be doing some climbing in Vermont the next couple of weekends.  Then we head to "The City" and The Cottonwoods soon after. Can't wait to get back out west and get in some tight squeezes with you! Later!
Fondly, Cam
Louise had lots of company up there

Monday, April 2, 2012

An Oratory on Brain Buckets

I am frequently reminded of the importance of wearing helmets when actively participating in the climbing domain. As a motorcyclist of over 40 years, I learned at a very young age that wearing a helmet was a “must”. I do not ever recall there being any negative stigma associated with wearing a helmet when you ride. It wasn’t until I was older and teaching motorcycle safety instructor courses that I became acutely aware of the surprising number of riders who felt wearing a helmet was not only optional but a downright infringement on their rights. Of course, when conducting a motorcycle safety course, we had the authority to require helmet use – else you find some other place to learn to ride or teach.

Since I learned to rock climb (20 years ago) I never thought twice about helmet use. I mean really – doesn’t it make sense that a helmet might protect your head in a slip or fall? Of course when you learn more about climbing you learn of numerous other hazards which might inflict harm should you opt out of some cranial protection. Falling rocks, gear and other debris are fairly commonplace in many popular climbing areas - and if even a stone the size of a half dollar were to hit you on top of the head from a fair distance above, you’d be lucky to walk away – more likely you’d be facing emergency first aid, evacuation, hospitalization and possibly death. (Not to mention how ugly you might look with a bashed in head or face!)

What strikes me most (no pun intended) is the lack of helmet use in sport climbing areas. The next time I get to Rumney, I might conduct an informal “study” by counting how many climbers I encounter with lids and those without. Granted, if I do this, I will need to keep it simple by counting climbers who are actually wearing a helmet WHILE CLIMBING. At sport areas, there are 2 types (well maybe 3) types of climbing set-ups in action: lead climbing, following and (similarly) top-roping (one could argue seconding and TRing are the same in this case). Now BELAYING is a whole different matter! What percentage of climbers do you think I might find wearing helmets WHILE BELAYING when I go to Rumney? Care to post your guesses follows?

Percentage of climbers at Rumney wearing helmets while climbing =
Percentage of belayers at Rumney wearing helmets while belaying =
Ratio of climbers vs. dogs at Rumney (no wait – that’s another soapbox for a future post!)

Wait - maybe SOME people DO look ugly in helmets!
Since sport climbing is widely considered “safe” in terms of protection and by nature, can be on more overhanging terrain (especially as the difficulty rises), most “sport climbers” refrain from helmet use. I suppose it is considered uncomfortable, cumbersome and mostly unattractive (read “UGLY”)! I have plenty of friends who are sport climbers and my oratory is NOT intended to offend – although I must admit I don’t buy the arguments. Climbing is inherently dangerous and like other high risk activities, there are MANY steps one can take to mitigate the risks and thereby decrease the odds of serious injury or death. Helmet use is an obvious choice. But I guarantee you we won’t see a change in this behavior at the sport crags. It is a part of the culture. (By the way, are the arguments against helmet use the same for boulderers? To me, without the protection of a rope and relying solely on a crash pad and/or spotters, wouldn’t a helmet make total sense before climbing 15 feet of the ground, especially considering “falling” in bouldering is more commonplace than sending???) But I digress.

Recently, some friends of mine were climbing at Rumney, and these folks typically fall into the helmet–wearing type of climber more so than the no-helmet crowd. The leader was climbing up to the 2nd or 3rd bolt (not far off the deck) and reached the crux where she began to have difficulties. After some time I suppose she couldn’t sustain her position on the rock any longer and knew she was about to come off. And so she did, landing on her belayer below and tumbling/stumbling to a stop. The belayer, ever at the ready particularly when she knew her partner was in trouble at the crux, was knocked hard into the rock head first. She tells me had she NOT been wearing her helmet at the belay, the scene would have been an entirely different one! (The leader sustained a bad gash in her lower leg, but no head injury.) This story has provided me with a stinging reminder to wear my helmet even when belaying.

We subscribe to 3 climbing magazines – Climbing, Rock and Ice and The Alpinist. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist ( I have a climbing friend who IS a rocket scientist by the way – just an aside), to see that the magazines do NOT promote helmet use and in effect discourage it. Glorious photos of professional and amateur climbers around the globe in all venues are depicted. While admittedly I believe there may be a slight increase in the number of helmets I see worn in the mag photos in recent years, it is still a sad representation. What I find most hypocritical is that in some of the content writers testify as to the importance and value of helmets, yet the practice lags far behind. The most recent issue of Climbing is the 2012 Gear Guide – check out the first paragraph on helmets on page 62. I quote: “You wouldn’t consider biking down a busy road without a helmet, so why climb without one? Whether sport climbing at your local crag or venturing up a 15-pitch alpine route, helmets offer critical protection from falling rock or ice as well as from a blow to the head during a fall.” (add “or belay” here).

Before anyone starts admonishing me for hypocrisy by claiming I don’t always wear a helmet, bite your tongue. While I am far from the moniker “safety saint”, I do wear my helmet probably 95% of the time, yes, even belaying. I find exceptions and when I do it is when I perceive minimal risk. But the risk is still there and I have a little voice in my head that warns me – the one time you think it’s safe to take off your helmet is the one time something will happen – and you will wish you hadn’t. Ok little voice – I hear ya.

This is a blog. It is MY blog. But I welcome participation so the posting is open! Fire away if you care. And whether you wear a helmet or not, consider taking this survey offered up by a graduate student performing a study on helmet use in climbing. He will donate $1 to The Access Fund for every completed survey he receives.