Black Dog Insurance

I often see climbers running it out on easy routes, virtually soloing a climb, only putting in one or two pieces.  When they get down I often ask them why thy did that, and often the answer is “it was easy”.  I often wonder if these climbers do this because they feel that if they’re climbing with a better climber, then that climber may judge them as timid or something, and that running it out show’s their true metal.

I’ve done lots of soloing, from walls with ropes, to rock and ice routes with non, even some North faces, but you know what, when I’m climbing, no matter the grade, when I’m tied to a rope I always place enough gear not to deck out.

I have too many examples of easy climbs I’ve done where I’ve come off unexpectedly, wet rock, loose rock, just plain lack of attention.  One minute you’re cruising on easy ground, the next you’re ten metres lower checking yourself for broken bones.  Maybe I’ve been unlucky, but if you’re in the habit of soloing with a rope on, you only have to be unlucky once!

Add into the random reasons for falling I know someone who was attacked by bees, someone who was bitten by a snake , and someone knocked off by a sheep, so there is always the chance of a fall.

Add to this that on many classics routes these days you can have holds like glass (I’m thinking of Little Chamonix here), or routes that have had few ascents (especially mountain routes) that can get very grubby.  Get a damp day, throw in dirty rock, a glassy hold, and your ability to guarantee not whipping can be seriously compromised.

The best example of this was Andy Fanshawe, a bold climber with a reputation for running it out, who fell leading a climb well within his grade and died - his reason for rushing that he was due to be on Blue Peter.

The minimum

And so you should always be placing gear on a climb - not tons, but enough to stop a ground fall, say one piece ever few body lengths, and there is nothing worse then running it out, getting to an unexpectedly hard section, and wishing you had something in.  Ask yourself how many times, or a easy route you’ve run out, you’ve thought “If I blow this I’ll bloody die!”.  If that’s the case maybe you should think more about how stupid everyone will think you are for breaking your legs on an easy climb, rather than putting in more runners than you need.

Black Dog

For me, personally, I feel pride in well protecting any climb, even one I could solo, climbing it well, getting the rope and gear right - being safe, and setting a good example - everything we should aim for in good cragmanship. And when I feel like just gunning it up the easy ground, as if time really matters, I always think back to the time I got knocked of bike by a black dog that leapt from a car, a chance encounter so slim I doubt it would ever happen again (I ended up in A&E with a big hole in my head).  Well we can go through life, doing things that we know are dangerous, but know our skills make safe (driving at high speed for example), and yet, one day, a black dog may cross our path. 

The easy gear we place is insurance against that.

Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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