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The climbing wall King Rock Verona
Photo by archive King Rock - Verona
The climbing wall King Rock Verona
Photo by archive King Rock - Verona

Sport climbing safety, some big little steps to start off with


Some quick thoughts and an "outburst" by Nicola Tondini - Italian mountain guide and director of the King Rock climbing wall in Verona - about sport climbing safety. Safe climbing must begin with big little steps (such as the correct use of belay devices) and requires help and awareness from everyone, beginning with the best and most experienced climbers.

Safety in sport climbing, what’s the current situation? We’re slightly better off than a few years ago. From the excellent King Rock vantage point, we’ve noticed greater attention to the use of belay devices. Yes, because 100% of the accidents we’ve had in the lead climbing wall occurred due to incorrect use of the device. On days when the “usual" climbers come, I have to say that most people belay correctly. On days when the weather is bad, during which many less regular climbers come, things are less rosy.

I’ll now describe the turn of events that led to the last accident that took place in May 2015. A climber fell to the ground from the 6th quickdraw. His partner was using a GRIGRI and payed out the rope using the “old technique” (i.e. holding the Grigri and its cam with his left hand and and paying out slack with his right hand. Which means no hand holds the brake side of the rope). During the fall the belayer keeps his hand on the cam, without anything holding the brake side of the rope (the one before the belay device) resulting in the accident. Both climbers had learnt how to climb last winter, hadn’t attended a proper climbing course… probably they copied this way of belaying from many other climbers who still belay using this “old technique”.

A feeling of anger swells up inside me, especially vented against good climbers, expert climbers who can bank on years of experience, who don’t use these assisted-braking belay devices correctly (GRIGRI, Cinch, etc). They do not use them as per instructions, but continue to use the "old technique". An equally experienced eye notices that although they use the belay devices incorrectly, while using the brakes improperly, these experienced climbers use some little tricks to keep things safe...

WHAT A SHAME THOUGH that beginners who see these experts, here or elsewhere, are led to believe that they can belay with a GRIGRI or other assisted-braking belay devices using techniques that are different from those in the instructions. Techniques which are apparently far easier.
WHAT A SHAME THOUGH that beginners or less experienced climbers are not capable of using assisted-braking belay devices (first and foremost the GRIGRI) in the incorrect manner without creating a very dangerous situation
WHAT A SHAME THOUGH that is seems cool to belay using techniques other than those illustrated on signs, videos and posters in the climbing walls or how Petzl (for its GRIGRI) attempts to instruct in its campaigns.
WHAT A SHAME THOUGH that sooner or later some of these less experienced climbers will drop their partners to the ground
WHAT A SHAME THOUGH these accidents, instead of introducing many youngsters to this wonderful sport, result in the exact opposite as they and their families turn elsewhere

And to think that so little is needed to make the difference! All that is needed is that those capable climbers, the experts, the strongest, give a good example and belay correctly. All that is needed is to see who belays impeccably, instead of who’s the most “cunning”!

Nicola Tondini - mountain guide and manager of King Rock Verona


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