Do you feel the rush of fresh air? We have just opened the door to the gym and are about to step outside.
This is a wonderful moment. For many, climbing outdoors is what rock climbing is all about. But it also is a potentially dangerous step. If you walk out the climbing gym door unprepared to meet the technical challenges and face the hazards, you take unnecessary risks.
So what is so different about being outside? Almost everything. And that is the challenge.
Climbers see the same equipment and the same moves, hear the same banter and assume that climbing outside is just like climbing in a gym with the roof off.
But you cannot get hit by lightning at the local rock gym.
Or get caught in the dark.
Or rappel off the end of your rope.
Climbers indoors can be casual about some things; climbers outside must be cautious about everything.
Here are a few examples to drive the point home:
- In the gym, the bolts, anchors, and quickdraws are in place and their condition is monitored by the gym staff; outdoors there may not be bolts or anchors and almost certainly no quickdraws, and no one is responsible for inspecting anything.
- In the gym, you rarely have to worry about your safety on the approach or descent from a climb-stumble and you might get a rug burn; outside you can be struck by a rock while you are standing at the base of a route or fall off a cliff while setting up a top-rope.
- Indoors you do not have to worry about sunburn, rockfall, dangerous trails, poisonous animals or plants, rain, lightning, heat, cold, loose rock, or dead batteries in your cell phone; outside, you better be prepared to deal with all these things and more. Climbers often get in trouble because they make bad decisions.
Most often these bad decisions are the result of being unskilled, unaware, or brazen. Learn the skills, stay alert, err on the side of caution, and you will maximize your safety. Then you can concentrate on having fun!