RCI: Problem Avoidance

The best solution for problem-solving is to avoid creating the problem in the first place. It seems so simple, but it works.

Ask any experienced RCI how often they actually have a major problem to solve or rescue to enact and I’m sure the answer will be hardly ever.

Having a good eye for potential problems and having a good working knowledge of the crags and cliffs we use with clients is the best possible way for us to avoid major problems.

Problem avoidance in the wild

  • Avoid routes with large ledges on them, such as Frost In May at Ballyryan. If a climber gets cragfast and cant be talked down, you ideally want them to eventually lose grip and safely fall off the climb onto the safety of the rope. If the climb you have set up has a large ledge, then they could easily stand or sit for quite a long time without falling off.


  • Avoid traversing routes as much as possible. This doesn’t mean that you have to stick to routes that are completely vertical. A lot of appropriate single pitch introductory climbs will have a small element of traversing in them and this is fine once managed or where they present a low consequence outcome for the climber should they fall. However, routes that traverse consistently are best avoided due to the obvious potential for big swings.


  • Overhanging routes can cause problems with overweight or top-heavy clients inverting. If the overhand is very steep, the client could take a big swing during a fall. While it’s unlikely you would set up overhanging routes for a novice, the RCI doesn’t always just work with novices and many climbers coming from an indoors background are more than comfortable and able for an overhang. Setting up a bottom rope on Stigmata might be frowned upon though.


  • Loose or suspect rock. Any routes with obvious loose rock or suspected dangerous loose rock should be avoided. I have a personal dislike for bottom ropes on Porcupine at Dalkey Quarry, as there is a massive and “booming” loose rock near the top, dislodging which would certainly create a severe accident for climber and belayer.


  • Attentive belaying is as important as just taking in. It’s common to see an instructor belaying a climber while also chatting to the rest of the clients on the ground. While taking in the slack rope is the primary concern of the belayer, they should also be observant of where the climber is going. They could easily move off route while the belayer is distracted, creating potential for an uncontrolled swing or climber getting cragfast.


  • Jewellery, scarves, hair, watches and phones can all get stuck, wrap-around or fall out of pockets while climbing. Always remember to start every session by asking clients to remove jewellery, put away coins and phones, or anything that can fall out of a pocket and hit someone. Choke hazards like scarves and catch hazards like long hair should be removed and tied up respectively. Insist on this, perhaps even provide a small box or bag where they can leave their valuables and don’t accept a client who thinks “it’ll be grand”. Describe finger “de-gloving” in detail if they aren’t respecting your request.


  • Helmets should be properly sized and fitted. If a climber does bang their head, you want the correct parts to be protected.


  • Harnesses should be fitted properly, around the fleshy part of the belly and above the hip bones. Not on the hip bones. They should be regularly checked especially if the climber took them off for the bathroom or a cigarette break.


  • Use triple-lock carabiners for clipping in. If you’re clipping customers in rather than tying in, be it for efficiency on a bottom rope set up or for the safety line on a group abseil, use a triple action locking carabiner and always always double-check it’s properly locked. I have observed people in the past who described themselves as experienced climbers, not fasten up a screw-gate carabiner they were about to rely on.


  • Clear and concise briefing prior to climbing is much simpler than solving a problem. Perhaps having the first climber or another instructor demonstrate what you would like them to do when being lowered, would prevent a nervous client not wanting to relax back onto a bottom rope. Likewise, it needs to be explained to novice clients that they aren’t attempting to top out on a bottom rope before they start climbing. It can be hard to direct or instruct someone who is far away at the top of a climb, feeling nervous and with strong wind deafening your instructions.

But sometimes problems occur and to fix them, we should know what to do. To learn more, read this blog on solving common problems.

Remember to always dress and stress your knots, put a knot at the end of your abseil rope and tie a good stopper knot.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this video or other skills.

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