Posts Tagged ‘risks’

understated trad grades

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Simon Cahill sent me this note on a multi-pitch route at Sentinel:

Just had a great couple of days out with Maddie, day 1 climbed a route on the sentinel, can’t remember the name something like Kasarkstan [actually: Kharzang] and is route number 1 in your book. The grade given is v-diff. It’s a great climb but at v-diff is way off and potentially dangerous as a good severe leader would have an epic. I think it’s pretty solid VS with a lot of 4b climbing and I had to work the crux several times to get it so I think probably 4c ….I talked to Ralph about it this morning and he thought it was an HVS horror, not that bad but not V-diff. I think any update of the guidebook should include a serious regrade.

The descriptions and grades for trad routes were in most cases taken verbatim from Alan Stark’s PDF guide (I bought the copyright from Alan). Those descriptions were in turn mostly taken direct from first ascentionist’s accounts. Many routes have only had one ascent. John Gregory did review the text to some extent before publication, but it is reasonably likely that there are some other errors in there. However, thankfully this is the first error of this magnitude (2 -3 Brit trad grades difference) that has been identified. Be careful out there! Generally, in my opinion, as spelled out in the introduction to the guidebook, UAE trad should be approached with caution, especially on first acquaintance.

DWS risks?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

April in the UAE means deep water solo season. The water is still refreshingly cool but not so cold that a frigophobe like me can’t stay immersed for a while. The sun is still low enough in the sky for long enough to dry out the caves and overhangs. The jellyfish of winter are gone, and with luck: the choppy seas too. The best conditions seem to last until the start of June. Further into the summer and the rock is either in the sun and too hot to touch, or in the shade and too humid. So now is the time. For me a good DWS session – last Saturday, for example – leaves such an excess of psyche that I can barely keep still at work and find myself crimping the edge of a keyboard or undercutting my desk.

Middle-aged desk jockey sketches up Generation-X F7b+, Gen’s Cave

One background worry though: how dangerous is this game? So far in the six year history of DWS’ing out of Dibba there have been numerous minor injuries but none serious. Two types dominate: muscle tweaks and bruises from poorly executed jumps or awkward falls, or cuts from contact with barnacles or sharp rock near the water line. Both risks can be minimised with care. Learn to jump from someone with good technique (not me! though my older son isn’t bad), or at least study the photo of Jiri on page 127 of the guide book. Don’t try to climb on to the rock direct out of the sea, especially in choppy conditions when a limb can be loaded unexpectedly. (Some experiments have been conducted with rope ladders anchored to the cliff with skyhooks, for water exits, but the jury is still out.)

What hasn’t happened so far though, as far as I know, is an accident stepping from a boat on to the cliff. An obvious worst-case scenario could be something like this: 1. climber steps from the boat on to a low foothold, 2. unexpected swell pushes the boat abruptly forward and/or the climber slips, 3. the climber’s foot or ankle is caught between the boat and the rock. I don’t think it is possible to reduce this risk to zero but there are some obvious commonsense precautions. Padding the front of the boat with a bouldering mat makes it easier for the climber to jump off if the exit is going badly. And an attentive “spotter” at the front of the boat can help support the climber’s body out of harm’s way. The climber should always aim to step high … materially higher than the boat. Maybe I am being alarmist. But do take care.

PS Thanks to Alan Christmas for the photo.


Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

I believe most people who have spent a reasonable time in the UAE wrestle with two competing paradigms as to how the country works.

Is it (A) a suffocating bureaucracy in which any attempt at doing anything innovative grinds to a halt at the desk of a rulebound gentleman from the sub-continent (*) who has worked thanklessly for twenty years in an unmarked windowless room, located many miles of echoing corridors deep within the Ministry of Obstruction?

Or is it (B) a glorious anarchic free-for-all in which almost anything goes? Where, for instance, a missed highway turn is easily rectified by reversing back up the hard shoulder or plunging briefly into the sands.

The answer is of course a bit of both.

Rock climbing certainly operates chiefly within paradigm (B). We never ask permission to climb or even establish who owns the cliffs. Nor do we look for licences or club memberships from our prospective climbing partners. We infer each other’s competence from nuggets of behaviour, appearance or talk: being able to discuss climbs or climbing areas in other countries, having some gear and demonstrating appropriate usage (ie not racking trad protection for a sport route!), showing some power or grace in movement, not being overweight, etc, etc. This seems right and proper to me and in line with the climbing world elsewhere. There have been vague attempts to foist more structure on the community by people with vested interest but they have been resisted or ridiculed.

The problem with paradigm (B) comes when innocents are at risk. For example, the lack of bureaucratic overview means that almost anyone can market themselves as an outdoor climbing instructor or guide. And given the often-bored and transient character of the UAE expat population: plenty of clueless potential customers. Should we care who exploits that opportunity? I think so. Leaving aside the direct impact on a victim, a serious accident resulting from an incompetent instructor’s negligence that leads to adverse publicity could be disastrous for the sport in the UAE. I would expect: official bans at UAE climbing sites and calls for mandatory insurance and external regulation. If the victim were local and well-connected, then all bets would be off.

So, since at present we are a self-regulating community, what sort of instructors should we tolerate? The only practical answer is people with accredited qualifications. I have expressed that opinion in the guidebook and followed it up with a list of known qualified instructors at the guidebook resources web page. They are all people with UK qualifications. That’s part coincidence but part reflects the well-established nature of the UK mountain training sector. If anyone wants to be on that list and has another country’s qualification, then I would check a database like the UIAA’s and add them if the qualification were recognised.

If you have read this far, you may be guessing there’s a context to this. You are right. Various verbal anecdotes, emails and Facebook messages have revealed a vigorous effort by one non-credible individual to conduct instruction business. An american friend forwarded me correspondence with that individual showing suggested rates of 500-700 AED per client per day. His “qualification” is attendance at a Single Pitch Instructor course in the US. But not, as far as I know, the two day SPI assessment. That’s rather like deciding to drive solo after having a few driving lessons but before having passed a driving test; not something countries with sensible traffic regimes encourage. There’s only so much that we can do to dissuade people like this – particularly when known to be pig-headed – except peer pressure. So, if you agree with me, know who I am talking about (I don’t want to sully my blog with his name) and have an opportunity, please express your opinion to him and/or dissuade anyone entrusting themselves to his hands.

* apologies for this stereotyping but it does appear to be universally true. Be respectful to these folk, shake their hands, ask after their family, know where (usually) Kerala can be found on the map and the rules may even briefly relax for you.

Crag accidents: Personal Locator Beacons

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

There’s been quite a lot of discussion about procedure after accidents in the last few months, especially how to get help in a situation where self-rescue is impossible and help needed. A costly but thorough solution might be to carry Personal Locator Beacons when venturing into areas where it is known that getting help and being located could be difficult. Mike Nott has been researching this topic. These are his notes which he has kindly sent me:

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). PLBs are more usually found amongstthe personal survival equipment of pilots and mariners. However they are more frequently being used by people on land. If you chose to obtain a PLB you should ensure that it is a 406MHz transmitter and that it has an inbuilt GPS. Each PLB has a unique identifier code which can be registered with an official government rescue agency and allows them to identify the holder/user. To register your PLB you will need to call the UAE SAR organisation (800 UAESAR) and they will log you and your PLB’s details. The UAE has a receiving station for PLB transmissions and an established search and rescue service.

When activated by the user the PLB will transmit a distress signal with the personal identifier code and the GPS location, which will be picked up by the local user terminal. In effect they will alert the search and rescue services and be able to tell them exactly where you are located and who you are (if registered). If you do have one you should know that they are not to be used lightly. They should only be used in life threatening situations where your only possible means of survival is to be rescued by government funded rescue agencies. If you can dial 999, do not use your PLB.

My impression is that climbers would want to register a PLB with Oman as well as with UAESAR.

I had never heard of these gadgets before Mike mentioned them. It seems the technology can be made quite small and light. For example this 150g device is retailed by REI in the USA. That’s only about 50% heavier than a Blackberry.