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Gravity: A Climbers Reality and Words of Wisdom

Dead climber believed to be British pilot

My heart and condolences go out to the family and friends of the climber that died this week in Ras al Khamiah. They have not released the name his name, yet, and I am hoping that it is not one of the many climbers/hikers that I call friend.

I do not know the whole story myself and from what I have been told by several others and have read he was out alone and  fell while descending from the Stairway to Heaven; which is one of the most dangerous hikes/climbs not only in the region but in the world. There are usually 1-2 incidents there a year on this hike.

I myself have not done this hike/climb and know of  many that have safely completed it. I am planning on doing it this fall; I will be doing it with a few people that are very experienced on the route and have completed it at least 20 times each. We are going out in a small group and we also have a plan for the whole thing from start to finish.

I highly recommend that anyone wanting to embark on this hike do so with a few people that have already done it a few times (don’t attempt alone) and have a plan.

It is a sad thing when ever a climber or hiker is injured or dies doing the activity that they love so much. Reading this article made me think and reflect on the events that  happened at Dorrell Climbing Wall at the Dubai World Trade Center just over a year ago; when a very close friend of mine and myself witness a climber fall from the top of the wall due to carelessness. This event deeply impacted me. (I have talked with the the survivor of this tragedy since then and he luckily has made a full recovery).

Due to the huge impact and severity of what happened after that event took place I wrote and posted a note on Facebook. This note I am re-posting here on my blog. I am re-posting it because I have many wonderful friends that are climbers and hikers that I care about and their safety is important to me. We all take risks whenever we go climbing, hiking, caving….and with great risk come great reward. Part of parting in these activities is knowing the risks and implementing ways to reduce the risks.

by Brian Coones on Friday, September 9, 2011 at 2:45am ·

This is a true story and would behoove everyone to read the entirety of it.

For me climbing and other related activities at heights are not just hobbies, they are not something that I do as a weekend warrior, they are not a joke nor something that should be taken lightly.

Climbing is something I take very seriously. For me it is more then a sport and activity. Climbing has been a very valuable teacher, it is something that I live, love, eat, breath and even dream about. It is part of who I am; down to my soul. When I see trees, mountains, man made structures…I see the potential for challenge and climbing. Climbing is a way of life; something I live for, not die for.

I have many reasons for being drawn to and loving climbing, caving, via ferrata and other activities at heights. I could go on all day about my reasons but I am only going share a few: I love challenges and the above is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. They build strength of body, mind… These special sports/activities are unlike any thing else in the world and can take you to so many wonderful, beautiful, breath taking, awe inspiring places.  Rather it be climbing up a mountain or descending into a deep dark hole and no matter where it may take me when I am done I want to return home safely with whoever I am with.

As a climber I know the reality and risks I take everyday. Just as when I was a soldier I knew the risks and had to live with the fact that I may not return from a mission. Climbing, caving, via ferrata and many other related activities are wondrous, exhilarating, fun…in all they are and most of all they are DANGEROUS. There are different degrees of dangerous and these fall into the category of insanely dangerous. No matter how dangerous I still go out day after day doing it again and again. No matter the risks I still want to come home safely with my partners and friends.

One thing that has kept me and my battle buddies alive in the Army and that I learned very well was CRM (Composite Risk Management). Risk management also applies when I go climbing. For those of you who are not familiar with risk management it can be applied to ANYTHING and briefly it goes like this:

You take whatever you are doing say running across a busy street. You add in all of the risks/hazards like being hit by a car, tripping while running… Each one then gets a danger level. The idea is lower the danger level. To do this you add in certain precautions or controls measures to follow to reduce the risk level. Identify, Assess, Plan, Implement.

For a more info follow the link it could save your life or a life of a partner.

https://safety.army.mil/crm/COMPOSITERISKMANAGEMENTHOME/tabid/110/Default.aspx

Task: Running Across SZR (Do not attempt this)

HAZARDS: Being hit by an Idiot Driver

Risk level: INSANELY STUPIDLY DANGEROUS – If you do this you will die

Control Measure: Use the Metro Over Pass

Residual Risk: None (There should be no cars up their)

WOW not too complicated at all and it saved your life.

Many outdoor companies, training centers, large corporations and organizations… (Petzl, TraksPro, KBR, Cisco…)use the same thing. On top of that they also have an actions plan. All climbing, caving… equipment or PPE (personal protective equipment) and safe practices was developed out of this and this CRM was developed because people do stupid things. Yes at somepoint some attempted to run across the SZR there for walk ways with out cars were developed. SIMPLE, effective; yet idiots still exist.

Another great tool that saved my life and the lives of my team are PCC’s and PCI’s (Pre Combat Checks and Pre Combat Inspections or for you climbers Pre Climbing Checks and Pre Climbing Inspections) . This is a system of checks and inspections of not only yourself and your equipment but that of your partners and teams. As a Team Leader in the Army and as I climber I use both systems  or CRM and PCC/PCI every time I go out which has always resulted in my safe return. I have done it so many time it is ingrained into my brain and is like second nature.

Yes, you may think that sometimes shit happens and although it be the case you could of been prepared for it.

By now you are probably wondering what the point of this is; I am getting there so just read and you will understand the point of what is written above.

I was at the climbing wall today excited about working the new routes put up at the wall. Before going to the wall I checked to make sure I had the appropriate equipment as I don’t climb with out it (PCC’s). I wasn’t alone as I never climb alone and the wall was fairly busy. I did my usual 6b route to warm up on (the black one in the right corner). Before doing so I put on my harness and inspected it (PCI’s) making sure there was no damage, it was tightened properly… Before climbing up it is important to know weather or not your partner is and experienced belayer (PCC’s). I knew my partner and very good friend was not experienced since they are new to climbing and I do not let inexperienced belayers belay me unless there is some one there with them that is competent. Also climbing was a very experienced and safe climber that I have climbed with before and I asked him for a belay. He watched me as I tied in and I double inspected my knot and PPE, I watched as he put me on belay and visually inspected him. A few nods of confirmation an “are you ready” and thumbs ups and I was up and down the wall safely. We switched places, repeated the process, he is ready to go and my phone rings. I told him to hold on……call ends, repeat process…he is up and down safely. EASY, SIMPLE, SAFE!

Ahhhh… now it is my friends turn who has climbed a few times before but is a very inexperienced climber with a willing and eagerness to learn. While on the ground I am going over the importance of checking each other, proper knots, the different types of ropes… She is ready to climb and I recommend an easy blue route on the left side. I watch as she ties in and her figure 8 follow through looks a bit twisted; which she catches and corrects. I have her on belay and yet another visual check (PCC/PCI) and I see that she is only tied into the  leg loop of her harness instead of the leg and waits loop (a common mistake). Being a Petzl harness less then a month old on top ropes and that each loop is individually rated I knew that if she did take a fall she would be ok but run the risk of flipping backwards. There are two loops to tie into on a harness for a reason and not willing to take a risk with a good friends or anyone’s life I asked her, “what was wrong with your harness?” When she didn’t catch it I corrected her. I then reiterated the importance of checking each other and tying in properly.

She looks me over and we are ready to go. She heads towards the wall for her ascent and just as she starts to climb we hear a loud crash.

We look over and it is every climbers worse nightmare. A ground fall.

On ground twitching, convulsing, thrashing around, eyes rolled to the back of the head, blood streaming out of his ear, mouth, nose and eye. His right hand and wrist broken twisted and contorted to the point that it was nearly touching his right elbow. Gurgling in his throat as he was seizing and attempting to scream and cry but couldn’t. He hand landed on his face and arm.

Thrashing and moving around, conscious but unresponsive  he was managed to get in an immobile stable position while friends phoned EMS. I kept talking to him trying to get him to look at me. His eyes were rolling back and forth to the back of his head. He finally locked eyes with me. I told him to keep looking at me and not to close his eyes. He was still trying to move around and I kept talking to him, trying to calm him and telling him that it was very important to not move and to keep his eyes open. I asked his name I couldn’t understand as he was unable to speak and it came out in more of a gurgle but we was trying to talk. I waited there with him until EMS arrived.

It was at least 10-15 minutes before a single paramedic showed up. The paramedic instructed us to help keep him stable and to help get a neck brace on. It was at least another 20 min before the ambulance arrived.

Standing there I looked up to where he fell from, the end of the rope that he was and still should of been tied into  was dangling just below the top anchors. His friend said that he was just above the overhang slipped hung on and tried to continue climbing then came off. The rope that was there to catch his fall didn’t catch him like it should of.  I did not see exactly what happened but based off of what I saw afterwards it was blatantly obvious what went wrong in that short few minute time span was that he was improperly tied in, he didn’t check himself and his partner did not check him; a process that only takes a few seconds and would of saved the day.

Now this young mans is in for the fight of his life.

I didn’t know him at all. I had seen him a few times climbing before none the less my thoughts and prayers will be with him, his friends and family, and I hope he fully recovers. I do not know what hospital he was taken to nor do I know his current state. When he left on the stretcher we was conscience, breathing, stable and alive.

I have seen many things in my life that most people cannot even conceive. Some of these things haunt my memories and dreams. This is yet another image and memory burnt into my head. The thud, his condition of his mangled and bruised body thrashing around, the blood, the sounds he made…most of all the look in his eyes. Are these memories you are willing to live with?

So now that you have reached this point I hope that you understand.

Some people call me a cowboy (remember cowboys won the west). I maybe an arrogant, cocky shit talking American and at the end of the day, weekend, week… I and those I go out with come back safely.

Total response time of EMS in the city was over 35 min. I climb a lot out in the middle of mountainous no where desert land far from any city. What do you think the response time of EMS is out there? I do my CRM, PCC/PCI and have a back up plan. Do you? I am part of an initiative for safe outdoor practices in the UAE and Oman are you? Do you know who is on the other end of your rope? I do? I know how old my PPE is, do you? Better yet when was the last time you even inspected it? I inspect bolts and anchors when I climb, do you? Do you even know who bolted that route you are on or when the last time the bolts were serviced? I know what fall factor is, do you? I know safe climbing practices, do you? I know the risk when I climb, do you? There are safety standards for a reason.

With the number of climbers and outdoor enthusiasts rapidly growing in the UAE and Oman many more people are heading into the mountains for weekend trips and endeavors. Climbing, caving, hiking, camping…are about family, friends, partners, teams, community. When one small pebble hit a pond it makes big ripples to all the edges and something like this affects us all.

Some people in the UAE/Oman think more effort should be put into putting up more routes. I must say I do love new routes, while on the other hand I love safe climbers and coming home safely a lot more. Maybe it is time for us to pull our heads out of their fourth point of contact and step up to the plate to ensure the the new generation of climbers here are safe. Maybe it is time for the veteran climbers  in the region to work together a bit more to ensure the safety of new climbers and have a positive influence. Maybe you will look a bit closer at your partner next time. I would rather be part of the solution then part of the problem and safety is something that concerns us all.

There are a lot of maybes but in the end – LEAD, FOLLOW, or GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY! (An Army Saying)

This weekend as almost every weekend I will be out climbing with friends making sure we are safe.

Posted below a a bunch of resources for climbing it may behoove you to look it them; who knows it may save your or a friends life. Many of them are in PDF so you can download them and print them off.

http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=1129

http://web.mit.edu/sp255/www/reference_vault/standards_evolution_talk_fri_am.pdf

http://www.mytendon.com/principles-of-safe-climbing

http://aventuraspr.com/rosarioguidebook.pdf

http://santiamalpineclub.org/downloads/Mountain.Climbing.School.Manual.pdf

http://www.safercliffs.org/images/VCCBoltPolicy1.pdf

http://www.chockstone.org/TechTips/SoftRockBolting.pdf

http://www.rock-climbing-for-life.com/rock_climbing_101.html

http://www.usma.edu/dpe/courses/RockCliming/Manual%20BASIC%20ROCK%20CLIMBING%20.pdf

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