I consider myself very fortunate to be able to make an income from what I love doing. To work in an industry that has a love and respect for the natural environment and gets to encourage others to do the same.
Along the way Ive received excellent advice and guidance from mentors and those with more experience in the industry. I consider myself lucky that the door was never closed on me when I asked for help.
I’m a strong believer too that this courtesy should be passed forward to the next generation of Outdoor Instructors.
Perhaps one aspect of my industry that I don’t feel positive about is the lack of gender equality, with it still being a very male populated one. Some of my closest friends in the industry are some of the best climbers and Instructors I know, that they happen to be female is neither here nor there.
Gender doesn’t matter when it comes do doing a job, smashing out a tough route, leading a long day on the hills or imparting knowledge to others. What matters is ability and attitude. I can only see it as a positive that more women are encouraged to seek a career in the outdoors and even out the ratio.
With this in mind I’d like to play my part in redressing the imbalance and offer an opportunity to an up and coming female in the industry. Realising that courses can be expensive and mentoring opportunities can be hard to access, I’d like to offer a pathway for them to follow, to assist their progression.
Whats on offer?
I’m offering the following courses, assessments and mentoring opportunities, free of charge, to a female candidate looking to take that next step in the outdoors. You can apply for one or all of the places.
– Mountain Skills Assessment
– Mountain Leader Training (1&2)
– Rock Climbing Instructor Training
– Rock Climbing Instructor Assessment
– Climbing Wall Instructor Training
– Climbing Wall Instructor Assessment
– Mentoring opportunities from qualified female instructors working in the outdoors: (Angela Carlin MCI, Orla Prendergast MCI, others)
Ideally the candidate would already be working in the outdoor industry and have a career plan to become further qualified, however, applications will be considered from those not yet working in the industry or who are in a position to inspire those around them, such as a school teacher or club leader. The courses and mentoring could be held both midweek and weekend and those applying should be available to attend.
How to apply:
– Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org detailing your current level of experience and training in the outdoor industry and what aspirations you may have long term.
Properly understanding the weather and how it impacts on our day in the mountains is an important skill for us to have.
The following blog will be useful for novice hillwalkers and those who are taking their Mountain Skills training. It should give a basic understanding of what they need to know to make safe decisions on the hills.
The three areas we will look at are:
Where to get reliable weather information?
How we can interpret that information to help us plan our route.
How we can notice and analyse changes in the weather in real time.
Where can I get my weather forecast from?
Some sites are more accurate than others and some are more reliable for specific types of weather, rain, wind etc.
So if we are going to put our faith in the online forecast then lets make sure we use reputable sites and that we crosscheck a few of them rather than relying on just one.
Also, don’t just check the weather report for the local town, but for the summits of the local mountains too, as there will always be a considerable difference between the two.
I would use the following sites regularly for weather forecasting and find them to be accurate:
But don’t just take my word for it, get familiar with navigating these sites, screenshot them before you start your walk and then at the end of the day cross check what actually happened with what was predicted. This can give you confidence in using a particular site, but also allow you to learn some of the nuances of mountain weather.
How we can interpret that information to help us plan our route.
In short, it will be colder, wetter and windier the higher we go. We should make sure we are prepared for this and that we take it into account when planning our routes.
Of all the elements, wind is the most likely to stop us from completing our hike or force us into making a change of route in the first place. Cold and wet days can be mitigated for with better gear, but wind will stop even the most experienced hikers from making progress or staying safe.
Wind speed increases the higher you go. As the air is pushed upwards by a mountain it is squeezed and increases in speed, making it more difficult to walk and increasing the wind chill factor.
The wind speed on top of a 1000m peak can be two to threetimes faster than at low level, which on a 25 km/h day in Dingle, could be very unsafe on top of Brandon Peak.
Below is an extremely useful chart for understanding what wind speed means in real time:
We should be aware that some forecasts only give us the average wind speed and not the gust speed. Gusts are short and intense, but faster than the average wind speed. Gusty days can make narrow ridges spicier than we might like.
Nobody wants to walk into the oncoming wind all day, especially wind driven rain or sleet.
We can use wind direction to our advantage when planning, so that when we are on the higher more exposed ground we have the wind at our backs assisting us rather than impeding our progress.
We can sometimes use the mountain itself for protection from the wind. On Scarr mountain in Wicklow for example, where strong westerly winds are common, it is possible to approach from the south (red) and contour around the east side (red dash) of the summit ridge, needing only to be on top of the summit for a short period. A good alternative route would have been to travel from Glenmacnass from the north, with the wind on your back and gaining ground on a wide spur (purple).
It is worth noting, that contouring isn’t always a safe option due to the terrain encountered. It can also be energy sapping and ankle jarring to venture off the well walked path, such as the one on Scarr, for the heathery less travelled ground on its east and if overused can impact on a persons overall enjoyment of the day.
We must also take in the origin of the wind when looking at the wind direction and how this matters. Winds from the north are cold, winds from the south and east can be warm and drier while winds from the west can warmer and wetter. The graphic below is an excellent concise description of what we need to know about air masses.
The Lapse Rate:
As we ascend in the mountains the temperature will get colder. We can quickly calculate an approximate summit temperature in advance by taking 1° degree Celsius off for every 150 metre of ascent.
To look at this in practice. You are parked at Cronins Yard, at an altitude of 140m above sea level and with an air temperature of 5°. You plan to climb Carrauntoohil which is 1040m at its summit.
We can divide the altitude gain (900m) by the approximate lapse rate (150) 6 times. If we take 6° off our air temperature at Cronins Yard, the temperature on top of Carrauntoohill summit will be approximately -1°, or below freezing.
This will obviously have an impact on how we need to prepare for our hike: the ability and fitness of the group, additional warm layers, extra gloves and hats, perhaps extra food and hot drinks in a flask and how the underfoot conditions on top might be.
As moist air is lifted over a mountain by the wind, it cools down, condenses and forms rain, known as Orographic rainfall. This type of rainfall creates a rain shadow on the opposite side of the mountain, with descending dry air. This side of the mountain can be drier and warmer than the opposite side. As per the drawing below.
With Lapse rate and Wind chill we looked at the temperature getting colder, but what about when the temperature is too high?
Overheating and over exposure to the sun are probably not our first thoughts when it comes to hiking in Ireland, but they have to be considered none the less.
On sunny days could we plan our routes to take benefit of the early morning shade from a north facing peak? Or aim for a ridge line walk to avail of whatever breeze is on offer? Or could it be as simple as an earlier starting time, to ensure the bulk of the walk is over by midday? Does my route pass a reliable clean water source during the day where we can refill our water bottles?
Rethinking what to carry on hot days is extremely important. Doubling the water you normally carry is good place to start. Suncream, rehydrating salts, blister packs, sun hats and sunglasses. We can pack and prepare quite differently for the rare sunny days we get, so don’t be on auto pilot when it comes to packing.
In this part of the world, the advice from the medical experts is that we should wear sun-cream if we plan to be outdoors any time between April and September, whether its sunny or not. We rarely think in the long term, but skin cancer is a serious issue and perhaps we should be more aware of the dangers of increased radiation at these times of year.
How we can notice and analyse changes in the weather in real time?
A basic understanding of clouds can teach us a lot. I find the Latin names and multiple varieties of clouds can be daunting and off-putting for those trying to learn, however, if we can understand the 4 main types of cloud, practically all the clouds we need to know are composites of them.
Nimbus: a cloud that carries Rain
Cirrus: high altitude, wispy, formed of ice crystals.
Cumulus: puffy, fluffy, cotton wool like, piles of cloud
Stratus: low level, layers of clouds
Using the 4 main types of cloud above, we can decipher the characteristics of other types of cloud and why we should know them.
Nimbostratus: for example, would be made up of multiple layers of rain carrying clouds, which will produce continuous rain and we shouldn’t expect to take off our waterproofs during the day.
Cumulonimbus: would be accumulated piles of clouds carrying rain. They can bring heavy rain, high winds and even lightning.
Cirrocumulus: these small, puffy and accumulated high altitude, icy clouds can be indication of stormy weather in the coming days.
Cirrus clouds are high altitude, whispy clouds. When seen alone, they can be fine, however if combined with low stratus clouds, it could be seen as a sign that rain is on the way.
The extremely simple to use and concise “cloud guide” app is available to download for free and I highly recommend it.
Using it to identify the clouds and noticing how these clouds are changing characteristic is a valuable skill in the mountains.
Rainfall can have an impact on our route selection as much as our enjoyment of the day. If you have to cross a river as part of your route plan, could it be impassable due to heavy rain? Even if its not raining today, did it rain heavily yesterday or overnight and will this have an impact on the route choice.
Remember, rivers don’t swell in size at the exact same time as it rains, we have to understand the rate at which the rainfall runs off the land and into the river and this can have as much to do with the existing water content of the land as it does with the amount of rain that is falling.
For example, after a period of dry sunny weather, the ground can be hard and impermeable. This can mean that instead of the rain being absorbed by the ground it can run off it at speed on steeper slopes. This collects quickly in rivers and they can swell in shorter periods of time than if the water had “drained” into the river.
Likewise, an extended period of cold or freezing weather can harden the ground and not allow rainfall to soak in, again creating faster than normal run off into the rivers.
Being familiar with the response rate of rainfall to river flow is an important skill to learn. Will the stepping stones you crossed to get up the Hags glen still be above water when you come back that way 4 hours later?
If we fail to analyse or prepare for these possibilities we may be unnecessarily forced into an incorrect choice or action plan.
The MWIS forecast in the UK is great at informing the level of cloud cover. In Ireland we have no equivalent resource. Forecasting fog and cloud clover is not a simple process and probably not one we plan for like we do for rain and wind. Sometimes we wont know what the visibility is like until we arrive at the base of the mountain.
How we react to fog and low visibility is important however, If our route plan was to cover a large distance and/or lesser known ground then we may have to factor in the additional time we will spend navigating throughout and entire day. We may no longer be covering ground at the speed we had planned and erring on the side of caution might be a better option than trying to link up that last peak.
You could write a full book about the change that real snowfall and frozen ice makes to our general hiking in the hills, but for the most part a light dusting isn’t going to make that much of a difference underfoot to a regular hiker, but I would ensure my route plan doesn’t cover ground where snow has fallen on steep short grass as it can be extremely slippy underfoot.
My main aims in planning a route over light snow would be to stick to wide spurs and gentler inclines when possible and limiting the time spent on rocky terrain where they may have become iced over. We must also take into account where the snow line is on the mountain. Is it just a light dusting on top or is there an inch of snow at the base? Obviously a small amount of snow lower down is an indication of much greater amounts up high.
If in doubt or unfamiliar with the route, play it safe and plan elsewhere.
The planned use of crampons and/or an Ice Axe is a different matter, but best saved for a separate blog.
We all love to be optimistic in the car park when it comes to the weather,, but we should never become complacent. How often have you started a walk in perfect sunshine only to be soaked by lunch?
Furthermore, if we are changing the route plan because of the weather, either before starting or mid route, we must be sure we can back up our logic and reasoning for doing so with confidence in our decisions.
I hope you find the above information useful. I’ve tried to keep it as basic and uncomplicated as possible. If you are extremely familiar with the above information, then I recommend taking your understanding a step further as part of your ongoing development of mountain knowledge.
I wrote the following post to cover some of the more commonly asked questions from clients looking to book in for Mountain Skills training.
What is a Mountain Skills training course?
Mountain skills 1 and 2 are Mountaineering Ireland approved training courses.
The main focus of the courses are to teach people route planning, navigation and relocation, but there are also parts of the course that teach about equipment, the mountain environment, hazards, how to manage yourself in steep mountainous terrain and how best to respect the mountain environment.
Navigation is when you know where you are and know where you want to go.
Relocation is when you aren’t sure of where you are and need to figure it out so that you navigate effectively.
Who are the courses aimed at?
The courses are open to everyone. They are aimed at those who wish to become more self sufficient in the hills and have the confidence to get off the beaten track, explore more and help relocate when you lose track of where you are.
How long is each course?
Mountain Skills 1 and Mountain Skills 2 are both 2 day training courses. Mountain Skills 2 has a 2-3 hour night navigation section as part of it
Where do they run?
I usually run my courses in Wicklow, Clare, Kerry and Connemara, but I’m open to teaching the courses in new locations if they are suitable to teaching the course.
When can I do it?
A lot of the courses run at weekends but I often run midweek courses too.
How many can do it?
The course can run on a minimum of 1:1 but no more than a maximum of 6:1. Usually there are 4 or 5 on every course.
How much is it?
The cost of each course is EUR 150 per person.
What equipment do I need to come on the course.
– There is no requirement to bring a compass for MS1, but if you have one do bring it. For MS2 you would need a Silva Type 4 compass.
– an ordnance survey map for the appropriate area of the course.
– waterproof Jacket AND Trousers are essential
– lots of warm layers, hats, gloves, backpack etc,
– appropriate hiking boots with ankle support (no runners)
– food/water for a long day on the hills
I don’t know if I’m fit enough?
A good level of fitness is desirable as it’ll help you enjoy the course and will be more conducive to learning, but you don’t have to be super fit or anything like it. While each day of the course might be long, it is not consistently walking all the time. There is a lot of stopping to learn and practice and we need to dress appropriately for moving at this relatively slow speed.
Do I need to do both MS1 and MS2
In general I would recommend both, however you can do one without the other. Of the two I strongly recommend doing MS1. I always say if you learn the skills from MS1 properly you may never need to use the skills learnt on MS2.
On MS1 you will learn the fundamentals and foundations of navigation. Without an excellent grasp of the fundamentals, the skills learned on MS2 can be harder to understand and of little use in a real life scenario. There is no substitute for knowing the basics really well.
What will I learn on MS1?
There are lots of aspects to the course but the primary focus of MS1 is to learn how to navigate or relocate while using a map and not needing a compass. To attain this a lot of the course will be spent on the following key areas:
Contour Interpretation (what they mean and what they look like in real life)
Using the contours to plan routes and navigate effectively
Understanding the scale of features on the map (and why that’s important)
Navigational techniques and tactics
Setting the map (and its importance)
Basic understanding of the compass
How to give a grid reference
Learning to measure distance through Timing and Pacing
What will I learn on MS2?
Again there are a lot of elements to the MS2 course, but the core elements that we will focus on are:
How to use a compass to follow a navigational bearing
How to use a compass to relocate by taking bearings from the land
Compass based navigational techniques and tactics
Efficient movement skills and techniques for steep ground
Hypothermia/Emergency scenarios and how to manage them
“I cant come to your courses, can you recommend another provider of the MS courses?”
Absolutely, I’m always happy to recommend other providers around Ireland. I strongly advise looking for providers who are qualified Mountaineering Instructors and members of the Association Of Mountaineering Instructors.
Some providers of the Mountain Skills courses are only trained and qualified as Mountain Leaders, the clue is in the name.
I hope the above info helps answer some of your questions, if you are interested in MS1 or MS2 and would like more specific information or to make a booking, please feel free to contact me here.
When I run a Rock Climbing Instructor training course, one of the first points I try to get across to my students is “Don’t be a robot!”.
Being a good RCI is about understanding climbing and the variations of systems used.
It’s not about replicating one or two systems that you’ve been taught and using those all the time, without fully understanding the pros and cons of each system.
Understanding variations as a climbing instructor
Multiple variations exist for nearly all aspects of climbing. Some climbers/instructors use the same methods all the time, others mix and match as to when they use one method over another.
Knowing what the subtle differences are and how they impact on the system are key parts of being a really good Rock Climbing Instructor.
Personally, I feel the old SPA had been dumbed down considerably and to the point where a person could be capable of an assessed level of safety, but perhaps not fully understanding of the why or when we use one system over another.
Thankfully, the newer RCI syllabus goes beyond this minimum standard and requires the candidate to not just be some automaton, but a more robust scheme, where the candidate should be an active climber, with critical decision-making skills and the ability to teach and coach.
Thankfully, on the RCI training courses I’ve delivered, I’ve met candidates with a healthy appetite to learn variations and the reasons why we use them.
Bottom Rope Set-Ups
I’ve picked bottom rope setups as just one example of where variation can differ massively.
All of the pictures below of bottom rope setups are perfectly safe. Some have enhanced safety, some have subtle differences, some have massive differences. All are appropriate to use and they’re many more variations possible too.
But the important thing isn’t that I have told you these are safe to use or that one is better than another, its that you understand for yourself that they are safe to use and what the pros and cons of each system are.
Some are quick to set up, some are easily adjustable, some have less stretch and some save on the amount of gear needed.
Understanding your preference
But this blog wasn’t written to teach you 9 different ways to set up a system, it was to make you think about the way you currently do something and investigate the possibility that there’s a different way to do it.
Personal preference is important as an Instructor. We all have different preferences on how we like to do something. The job of the RCI is not only to have a preference but to understand why they prefer it.
I see new methods in climbing all the time. Whenever I do, I first try to fully understand the method and potential benefits/flaws, then I practice them, use them in a variety of scenarios and try and decide whether I like them or not, or if I can tweak it, safely, to suit me.
An RCI assessor asking you “why?” you’ve decided to set up using one system as opposed to another doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong or unsafe.
It just means they want to see your justification for why you picked that particular method.
Assessments are pressure cooker environments at the best of time. Most of the pressure will have been created by you and not the assessor.
You might read into their questioning tone wrongly and assume you have done something unsafe when all they want is an explanation of why you made a decision.
Trust me, if it is the case you’ve done something unsafe, you’ll know about it.
I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.
On your Mountain Skills 1 & 2 training, you will have been given a host of new skills. This course is designed to make you personally proficient in the Irish and UK hills.
Only through practising those skills in your own time will you become competent at them.
Hopefully, skills that will help you make safe choices in the hills, identify hazards, confidently navigate in poor visibility, manage yourself over complex and steep terrain, deal with minor emergencies and know who to call in the event of a bigger emergency.
When can I apply for my Mountain Skills Assessment?
A minimum of 14 hill-walks must be logged before going for assessment and there are detailed criteria for what constitutes a hill-walk worthy of logging, which I list below:
To occur in a recognised hill/mountain environment of Ireland or the UK.
While low land trails and coastal walks can be rugged and require the use of hiking boots, they don’t meet the criteria.
Perhaps as a guideline, aim to spend the majority of your day at an elevation of above 500 metres or more.
Not a repeat of an already logged walk.
Don’t log the same walk twice or do the same walk in reverse and call it a separate walk.
However plenty of mountains have many routes to the top, so if you climb and descend the same mountain via two totally separate routes and only share the summit or cover some of the same ground, this can be acceptable.
A minimum of 4 hours duration.
Anything less than this isn’t really a full walk, allowing you the opportunity to practice your navigation skills and cover a decent amount of ground.
You should have personally played an active part in organising and implementing the day.
If you hop in a friends car, take no role in organising the walk and follow them around for the day, it will teach you nothing.
Going solo can be a great way to gain the logistical and navigation skills needed to be personally proficient in the hills.
–The route should not solely follow a waymarked way or path. While it’s often necessary to start and finish the route via a waymarked trail of the path, it shouldn’t constitute the larger part of the day.
The best part of this award is that literally empowers you to get off the beaten track. You will be assessed away from trails and paths, so logging walks on them isn’t going to help you.
The walks should present an opportunity to use relevant skills from the course.
If your walks are all logged on perfectly clear weather days, on terrain familiar to you, then it’s very likely you won’t have practised navigation in a realistic way.
Visit areas you are unfamiliar with and go out on days with bad weather, when its safe to do so. Go out at night-time and practice too, if even only for a couple of hours. It’s on these days and nights that you hone your skills.
In addition to the above, you must log at least 4 of your walks in the two months prior to your assessment, you should have walked in a number and variety of upland areas and you must hold a valid outdoor first-aid certificate.
How To Practice
Be sure to practice all the skills taught in the MS courses, they all have their purpose and place when they should be used. For example, don’t rely on pacing for every leg. This is common to see, but It gets tedious and is unrealistic on longer legs when the timing might work better. Or know when to use an attack point technique, where you only have to pace the smaller leg.
Don’t set out to practice for navigation for the entirety of your 4 to 5-hour walk. Aim to drop in small bits of navigation practise as you enjoy the day out, or it may start to feel like a chore and will put you off practising. Closer to the assessment then, concentrated nav practice hikes are a good thing, to really polish off the skills, but for the most part get out and enjoy the hills.
When practising, set yourself 3 or 4 navigational legs in a row, where you will only reach the target if you get each of the legs correct. That way if you make a mistake there’s no bluffing that you got it right and you can self-teach as to where you made the mistake. Viewranger or a sat-map can be excellent tools for confirming where or how we made mistakes. Or for instant feedback confirming that we are correct!
Have an experienced friend give you regular mock tests on the hill, or if your friends are inexperienced, have them test you using Viewranger or something similar.
Don’t forget to practice at night. You probably won’t just figure it out on the assessment, but do it somewhere that it’s very safe to re-locate if you get lost. I used to practice for my MS on a hill near a telephone mast, I always had the safety net of knowing my car was parked beside a flashing red light if I was to get truly lost.
Read pages 14 & 15 of the Mountain Skills handbook, it lists clearly the types of navigational legs and tasks that an assessor will be giving you. Practice like you will be assessed. For example, one of the tasks is “You can select and follow a route of not less than 1.5km in length to a given destination using the map only?”. These are the kind of navigational legs you should be setting for yourself when practising.
Visit other parts of the country and practice in unfamiliar terrain.
How will you know when you are ready for the Mountain Skills Assessment? Some people will just know they are ready and will have the confidence to go ahead. If you’re not quite sure there are a few different options that can help you to decide:
Ask a more experienced hiking friend to go for a hike with you and be honest about what they see. Have them throw a few trickier navigation legs at you. Are you confident and assured and able to manage yourself? Then maybe its time for the assessment.
Examine the MS1&2 syllabus from the MS handbook. When looking at each part of the syllabus ask yourself do you really understand that skill or aspect of the course? If you really understand it that’s great. It’s a good sign you might be ready for assessment. But if there’s a particular aspect of it that you don’t understand or don’t remember being taught, then do some further training online, ask an experienced friend to teach you or go back to your instructor to ask for further guidance. I always tell customers that their MS course only finishes when they pass their MS assessment and up until then they are welcome to email me if a part of the course needs clarification.
There is an assessment checklist on page 33 in the MS handbook. Read it and be honest with yourself about the answers. This will give you a good idea of whether you are ready or not.
If its been years since you did your training or you really struggle with an element of the course, consider hiring an instructor for a short refresher course, either 1:1 or as part of a group. We can only absorb so much info at one time and we lose more over time, so it’s common to be rusty or completely forget things. A refresher course can be well worth doing and an element of “mock assessment” can be incorporated into it to give you a feel for the real thing.
If in doubt, do more. There’s nothing like booking and getting your assessment date to focus your mind. If you have an upcoming assessment and don’t feel quite ready then get out and practice more. Lots more.
Read over the sample written paper in the MS handbook. If you are struggling to answer the questions you may need further training or practice.
The above consolidation criteria are minimums. Don’t aim for 14 walks as a target. I know from my own personal experience that ticking the minimum requirements can start to feel like a chore, whereas it’s been on the additional walks I’ve done that the skills really sank in.
The Mountain Skills Assessment
It’s common for people to be nervous in the run-up to and on the assessment. For some people, it will have been a long time, or even first time, they were assessed on a set of practical skills. The assessor will allow for all that.
Below are a couple of tips worth remembering on the day.
The contour features you will be asked to navigate to are always the same. They will be big or medium-sized features and not tiny obscure ones. At a mountain skills level, they will be Spot Heights, Spurs, Cols, Re-entrants and major slope changes, either in angle or direction, covering multiple contour lines. If an assessor is asking you to find a small single contour line feature, hardly noticeable on the map, then they are either testing you too hard, or you can take it as a compliment that you have been doing really well and they are looking to challenge you. This would be appropriate to do a couple of times over the course of an assessment if you were performing well, but you shouldn’t consistently be asked to locate difficult contour features. This would normally be the standard of the Mountain Leader candidate.
Assessors can get a reputation for being stern or austere, which can add to the pressure of the assessment, but before you judge them understand that their feedback to you generally has to be muted. For example, if an assessor praises you too much you could become complacent and make errors, affecting your confidence and adding pressure when it’s not needed. For this reason, assessors will rarely tell you whether you were right or wrong on a navigational leg. It should be obvious on the next leg if you weren’t at the spot you thought you were and it’s good to let your assessor know that you can correct a mistake.
If you do make a mistake on one of your navigational leg, it is not a big problem. Keep calm, think rationally and try to do better on the next leg. It would be over-zealous to think isolated mistakes will affect the outcome of your assessment. The assessor will be looking for consistency but will forgive the odd error. We all make them. If the pattern is that you consistently make the same mistakes, then this could lead to a fail or a deferral, however. A pattern of mistakes shows you aren’t fluent with the skills needed.
Use appropriate techniques. If it’s a blue sky day and you are asked to navigate to an unmistakable nearby feature, which you can clearly see, then there is no need for any navigation technique other than using your eyes and feet. At the other end of the spectrum, if visibility is poor, use every tool at your disposal to make sure you can find what you are looking for. Be realistic with your legs, the assessor isn’t trying to trick you, they just want to see you use the appropriate tactic for the job.
Don’t be overeager to show how good your compass skills are. A lot of legs can be navigated by using a map on its own or for the most part. For example, if you are using an attack point as a technique, it can often be achievable to locate the bigger object by using the map alone, then using the compass to locate the smaller nearby object. This will be quicker, easier and show the assessor you are confident. You will be given plenty of opportunities to have your compass skills tested.
Concentrate! A two-day assessment like this gives you ample time to show a range of your skills but also your ability to focus and concentrate. Snack regularly, drink plenty of water to keep your brain at full power and keep your concentration at all times. Don’t switch off when its someone else’s leg. It’s an exciting challenge and welcome it as so, it’ll make passing all the sweeter.
Make sure you bring extra layers and that your gear is up to standard for poor weather. An assessment is not like just going out for a long walk. You will stop and start a lot! Sometimes the stops can be lengthy and the weather can be atrocious at any time of year in Ireland. Dress accordingly.
Don’t take too long working out your navigational legs. It should only take a couple of minutes to formulate a plan and calculate your bearings etc. If you take an excessive amount of time to calculate a bearing or decide on a plan, it’s a clear sign you haven’t practised enough and aren’t fluent with the skills. However, a good assessor will allow for nerves early on and to let you settle into the pace of the assessment.
Really understand what it is the assessor wants to see from you over the courses of 2 days. At the end of the assessment, he/she will want to be absolutely clear in their mind that you are personally capable of keeping yourself safe in the hills in a variety of conditions. They will be personally endorsing your pass. They don’t want to turn on the news the next weekend and hear you’ve walked off a cliff, so they are doing you no favours if they make it too easy for you.
Don’t try anything new on the assessment. If you haven’t practised a technique you probably won’t execute it correctly on the assessment, no matter how much you think it might work. The same goes for equipment if you are breaking in a pair of new boots or haven’t tested a waterproof layer yet, it’s bound to go wrong.
To sum it up, the easiest way to pass the assessment is to have all your navigation skills sharp, turn up prepared and with the right equipment and have an enthusiastic approach.
It’s a fantastic feeling to pass an assessment, to have an assessor validate you’re becoming self-reliant in the mountains and for all the possibilities and adventures that will allow in the future, enjoy it!
Full disclosure, this isn’t so much an informative blog as an advertisement. Not just for me as an Instructor, but for my colleagues too.
Up-skilling your self-rescue techniques should be a consideration of all climbers at some point in their progression.
Self-Rescue For Climbers
In this post, I mention just a few of the problems that might arise for climbers, but no solutions. For them, I suggest you book onto a climbers self-rescue course.
If you’re interested in becoming more self-sufficient as a climber, then get in touch with me or another AMI instructor and schedule a training course.
I know I love teaching these kinds of courses and I’d be stoked to run more.
Problem Solving & Self-Rescue Scenarios
The common answer from most climbers when shown a self-rescue method is that they would have “figured out” a solution or done something similar, given time.
Time is a luxury in problem-solving and rescue scenarios though. Keeping a calm head and thinking many steps ahead are important too.
Let’s look at some scenarios that can occur, some common, some less so, that climbers should be able to resolve in a timely and safe way.
Some can happen in any terrain, some are easily solved at single pitch crags and some are made extremely complex by being in multi-pitch terrain.
Climbing above a runner
If your second climbs above a piece of placed gear it puts them in a similar scenario to a lead climber, in that they have gone from being top-roped to being open to a dynamic fall.
If the second cant downclimb or reach down to fix the problem themselves then it’s up to the leader to solve the problem from above and the answer can differ slightly depending on how quickly the second needs to be safeguarded.
If they are comfy on a big ledge holding a jug then we have more time to solve the problem compared to if they were crimping on small holds and close to pumping out.
The answer is a reasonably straightforward one, but are you going to come up with it in a hurry under the pressure of time and a friend falling?
Ascending/Descending A Rope
I once abseiled into sea cliff route which looked bone dry from above to find the bottom half soaking wet and it was going to be a nightmare, if even possible, to lead.
Walking out wasn’t an option and as it was a traversing route, my friend at the top couldn’t drop me a top rope to climb it.
Using a fairly simple process with a Prusik and a Klemhesit. I ascended the 25m abseil rope to get out of there. Simple if you know how I guess.
Ascending/descending the rope can be part of a simple solution or a smaller part of a much bigger and more involved scenario.
Either way, you’ll want to make sure you can do it safely, efficiently and with a good back up knot.
For whatever reason, your second can’t do a move, that you could do, to complete the pitch. If it were a single pitch the answer is straightforward, you could lower them to the ground and abseil down to clean the gear.
If it’s a multi-pitch though, then you may have to set up a haul system to get them past the hard crux move and on to easier terrain.
Essentially a pulley system, but If you do it in the wrong order or get the parts wrong you could cause a very big and dynamic fall for your second and possibly a shock load on your anchor.
The problem can go from a minor one to a major one very fast.
Even if you do set up everything right, did you know that hauls/pulleys create increased forces on the belay anchor?
Do we need to beef up the anchor then? A good AMI instructor will know. They’ll also know all the other angles you may not have considered yet.
And what differs between using a belay plate in the conventional way or when its in guide mode? Or the difference between an assisted haul and an unassisted haul?
Escaping the system
You’ve just led one of the lower pitches on a remote multi-pitch. You’re comfortably belaying your partner up enjoying the stoke of an amazing route so far.
Next thing you know the rope dislodges a small flake and as it drops and it hits your second on the arm. They’re fine, but they’re pretty sure the flake has broken their arm.
They certainly won’t be climbing the rest of the pitches to the top and retreat downwards seems like the best option, but it’ll be up to you to get ye both out of there safely.
The solution isn’t going to be a quick one, but after you’ve tied off the belay plate and taken a second to think through the process, you come up with a plan. Part one of that plan is for you to escape the system you’re tied into while remaining in your harness.
Would you know how to build a system of weight transfers and redirects to allow you untie from the rope and start the next part of the rescue while keeping yourself safe?
As for the next part of the rescue, well that’s where it gets complex and best saved for a training course.
The really complex one!
So far a lot of the problems have been from the point of the view of the leader. But what about when it goes wrong for the leader and it’s up to the seconding climber to self-rescue?
Imagine a scenario where our leader has climbed up and traversed away from you on a multi-pitch route, to make it even more complex, lets say you are belaying them from a hanging belay. They fall, knock their head and are unconscious, hanging from the rope off their last piece of gear.
As in nearly all serious scenarios, I expect you will immediately call the emergency services, but they could be a while in getting to you. You have the potential to assist your partner, but every minute will count.
One wrong move and it could make the whole situation worse. For example, you can’t even begin to move in an upwards direction as your hanging belay will start to lift up too. A simple fix, but have you ever been shown how to negate an upward pull on the belay anchor?
This is a really big scale scenario, hopefully, the kind of thing that you will never have to experience and completely outside the realms of teaching someone on a one day course. But the bones of executing this rescue lies in the mastery of the simpler methods listed above.
On the last professional assessment I did, I was asked to perform the above rescue. I knew exactly what I had to do, performed it near to perfection and it still took me 40 minutes in total. I never stopped for a second of that, sweating profusely, while trying to exude a calm demeanour.
Not the kind of solution you figure out and execute safely if you’ve not been trained and practised for it.
It’s worth stating that the best way to solve a problem is to avoid it in the first place and experienced climbers do for the most part stay alert to hazards and pitfalls.
But problems do occur and small issues can become big issues quite quickly if we don’t know what we’re doing.
Being an experienced climber doesn’t automatically make you an experienced problem solver.
I hope the above post gives some food for thought, until next time.
Are you interested in taking a Self-Rescue For Climbers course? Click here to read more about the courses I run.
If you’ve spent any time walking in the Irish hills and mountains, you will be well aware of what mild hypothermia feels like, even if you didn’t fully recognise it at the time.
Hypothermia doesn’t just happen in the depths of winter, in the upland, it can catch us out at any time of year, especially with the rapid changes of weather we are used to.
Prevention is obviously better than cure, so when we are allowed on the hills again we should come prepared.
Catching Hypothermia in the Hills
No matter what the weather is like when we leave the car park, we should always be prepared to expect harsher conditions and carry the right amount and kind of equipment with us.
At the bottom of the page, I’ve listed an appropriate gear list for hiking in Ireland.
But we can all be caught off guard on the hills, so how can we recognise hypothermia as its happening and manage it efficiently, before it becomes more serious.
Below I’ve listed simple and concise explanations to help us in spotting its onset and managing the outcomes.
What is Hypothermia?
To simplify it, Hypothermia is when our body is losing heat faster than it can create heat.
Exposure to cold weather (wind, rain etc) or any condition that decreases heat production or increases heat loss (overexertion, lack of fuel) or a combination of these things.
Signs and symptoms:
Shivering, confusion, putting on clothes or even paradoxically removal of clothing.
Look out for “The umbles”: Mumbles, bumbles, grumbles and stumbles.
What are the stages of hypothermia?
We can arrive at a stage of mild hypothermia quite fast and it can be as simple as having reduced circulation, shivering and feeling in a grumpy mood, which may easily go unnoticed by others in our group.
We are still able to move under our own steam, but we need to take positive action to prevent our condition from getting worse.
This will be much more noticeable as shivering stops and confusion increases. We will have a lack of coordination, slower breathing, weaker pulse, increased confusion and possibly feeling sleepy.
We will be laboured in our movement and possibly not moving without assistance and we will need to take urgent action.
We will probably not be able to move of our own volition or even with assistance.
A weak pulse and difficulty in breathing will be noticeable and we will possibly lose consciousness as our self-defence mechanisms begin to shut our bodies down to protect the brain.
We will be in need of urgent medical attention.
How do I treat Hypothermia?
It’s not as simple as throwing on another layer and that’s it, but there is a simple formula to remember how to treat lesser degrees of Hypothermia
Fuel + movement = Heat
While this might seem simple, its extremely effective, especially at the early stages, but one without the other is useless. If you give someone fuel but don’t get them moving, then they will continue to get cold.
If you get someone moving, but haven’t given them fuel, they will burn more energy and lose more heat, possibly pushing them into a more advanced stage.
Once in a more developed stage, getting a person moving enough to stay warm might not be easy and I would be seriously considering calling emergency services if this was the case.
If the person can’t move because of an injury or incapacitation, then we should definitely be calling emergency services and making the person as warm as we can while we wait.
Click on this link to read a separate blog about emergency equipment we should be carrying on the hills with us as leisure users.
Heat blankets, fuel, less strenuous or gentle activity and movement.
Treatment for Severe Hypothermia:
The treatment will have to be administered by trained professionals. A gradual raising of the core temperature, warm IV fluids, peritoneal lavage (a warm fluid-based washing of the abdominal area)
While the above is a concise explanation of Hypothermia I would strongly suggest all active hill users learn as much as possible about the topic.
Early identification of the signs and appropriate treatment is so effective, just please don’t do the “it’ll be grand” approach and solider on.
Id also suggest gaining an outdoor specific first aid qualification too, it might just save a life some time.
I hope the above is useful and please get in touch if you would like to discuss any of the points made.
Gear Checklist for Hillwalking In Ireland:
– waterproof jacket and trousers. No matter what the forecast is, waterproofs should always be carried. Mountains can create their own weather systems, different from that of the local lowland area. They can also be excellent as a windbreaker layer, even if it’s not raining. The two jackets I use are a North Face Summit Series Goretex jacket and a Columbia Outdry jacket and I really like both. I tend to spend a lot of money on my waterproof jackets and go slightly cheaper on my trousers.
– hats, gloves, buff. and spares in a dry bag. I have both expensive items and cheap Penneys items. All will work, just some will work better than others, but the cost doesn’t have to be a barrier.
– Baselayer – again you can spend a lot of money or go cheap with generic items, once they are made from material good for wicking sweat then they are good enough. Polyester/merino/bamboo are good, cotton is bad.
– hiking boots. On the Irish mountains, we don’t get the perfect quality trails and tracks that you find in other countries so appropriate hiking specific boots with ankle support are essential and runners are just a bad idea. Don’t buy them online either as the fit is everything and a good outdoor shop will be able to help you choose the best fit for you. I personally like La Sportiva boots, they work well for narrower feet, so aren’t for everyone.
– warm breathable layers – again you don’t have to buy specific hiking clothing, obviously, purpose-designed clothing will perform better, but any clothing designed to be used for an activity or the outdoors is appropriate, for women gym leggings are a great option instead of trousers. Like baselayers make sure they aren’t cotton or denim. Cotton and Denim don’t dry fast and you can lose a lot of body heat as your system works hard to warm up the cold fabric. This is an issue on a wet day as well as a hot day when sweat covered clothing can sap at our energy levels stealthily.
– Spare layers – a warm mid-layer, either fleece layer or a softshell, stored in a dry bag is essential for if the weather changes or if we get cold while stopped.
– Hiking socks. Specifically designed hiking socks are expensive, but they last a long time and will help prevent getting blisters and that’s worth any money. I like Bridgedale socks.
– food/water/snacks Enough for a long day on the hills, but also consider bringing some “what if” emergency snacks too, in case you are out longer than you intended.
– Backpack. A well-designed backpack allows you to carry all the weight on your hips and is designed and cushioned appropriately. It’s sore and frustrating if you carry the load on your shoulders all day and when we are sore and frustrated we make bad decisions in the outdoors. Bad decisions can lead to incidents. I only ever use an Osprey Talon 33 Litre bag for day to day hiking and highly recommend it. It makes sense to buy a bag from a company that only design and make bags as all their research and development goes into that product.
– Trekking Poles. – I always carry a pair when I’m in the outdoors, I don’t always use them, but I always have them with me. At first, they can feel awkward to get used to, but once you are used to them they are excellent for moving efficiently and extending the lifespan of your knees. I use them a lot in descent to assist with a recurring knee injury. They can also be great to give to a nervous companion on steep descents, as a crutch for someone with a light sprain or to use as a splint for an injured arm or leg. I use Black Diamond Trail Poles. All of the above might take some time and cost to put together, so now is as good time as any to start preparing, so that we are ready in advance of needing them. The gear might also seem heavy and restrictive, but the extra weight will soon be forgotten about and will ultimately only make us fitter on the hills.
I hope the above is of some help and I’m happy to answer any questions, so please feel free to get in touch if you do.
When the lock-down restrictions ease, the numbers going hill-walking in Ireland will undoubtedly increase, some will be experienced and returning to the hills, others newer and less experienced.
This extra increase in participation will no doubt put extra pressure on the mountain rescue services, all while they try to keep their own volunteer members, and their families, safe from harm.
Mountain Rescue advice for safety on the hills
Mountain Rescue teams have issued advice for people to be cautious in their return to the outdoors, to not take on more than they are able for, be it physically or navigationally.
They have also advised that those in need of rescue or assistance should prepare themselves for potentially longer response times or even the possibility of an overnight on the hills while waiting for daylight to safely navigate home.
Nobody, experienced or otherwise, goes into the hills planning to have an accident, but accidents still happen. Now is a good time to plan and prepare for the possibility.
I have included at the bottom of the page a checklist of the everyday gear people should bring on the hills. To many it will be obvious what these items are but below I’ve listed 5 emergency items hillwalkers should consider bringing out too, but hopefully never need.
I’ve also recommended Irish based outdoors, suppliers, as now more than ever it’s important to shop local.
Also called a bivvy bag or bothy bag, this is possibly one of the most important items any hiker can carry with them.
Essentially a portable tent, without the bulk or weight, they can be stored in the bottom of your pack with convenience. They come in all sizes from smaller 2 person ones to larger 12 person sizes and are low cost.
They provide immediate protection from cold and biting winds or rain and within minutes of getting inside them, the body heat of the group will be keeping everyone toasty.
Whether you are lost in bad weather or keeping an injured friend warm while waiting for rescue, the benefit of a group shelter cannot be overstated.
I think this should be mandatory equipment for all hikers and considering the present need for social distancing, perhaps each hiker should carry a small personal one instead of the norm of one between a large group.
Adventure.ie sells an excellent Life-systems 2 person option in their Glendalough Store and online.
Getting caught out in fading light or after dark is an easy thing to happen. Without the ability to see where we are going, we are faced with the option of stumbling around in the dark or waiting it out ’til the next morning.
Neither are pleasant options. Tripping over a small divet can be more likely than walking off a big cliff, but both can injure you badly.
A cheap 5 euro generic headtorch isn’t a good option here, they won’t stand up to the rigours of mountainous weather.
Considering reputable outdoor brands like Black Diamond and Petzl have entry-level head torches from 20 euro, this should again be a no brainer, just don’t forget the fresh batteries.
Both Adventure.ie and Alpinesports.ie stock excellent affordable options.
There are excellent ready packaged options out there aimed at outdoor users and all the leading outdoor shops will stock them, but sometimes they have apparatus included that we are unlikely to use. Even more likely is that we don’t replenish the commonly used items in our kit. Cuts, sprains and breaks are the common injuries.
If cost is a barrier or you don’t want to carry the bulk of an all purpose first aid kit, then just make your own. It doesn’t have to be complicated, get a waterproof dry bag or zip-lock bag and stock it with alcohol wipes, gloves, face mask, plasters, different types and sizes of bandages, an extra large bandage to control bleeding and a roller bandage. Also, a small roll of duct tape.
It will be easier to keep track of what’s been used, it will barely take up space in your bag and you’ll be more likely to carry it.
A whistle should be included too, by far the best way to get attention in the hills or to assist a rescue team in finding you in poor visibility.
Also sometimes called space blankets, there are plenty on the market at a low cost, low weight addition to your backpack. They are super efficient at retaining body heat for an injured person and their big benefit is that they can be worn by a cold or near hypothermic hiker while moving.
There are some very cheap pocket sized options, which are really useful, but its worth noting they pose a potential risk to helicopters in that they can be sucked up into their engines. So remember to pack them away if being approached by a helicopter following an incident.
This is less likely to happen with heavier and more robust (albeit costlier) emergency bivis blankets like this one offered by Great Outdoors.
Experienced hikers get disoriented all the time and its not an issue, its not knowing how to relocate and get back on track that can be the issue. So many hikers go into the hills, either without a map and compass or with a set, but without the knowledge and practice of how to use them.
Navigation is a tool that needs to be kept sharp in order for it to be effective. So if you’ve never learned how to or its been a long time since you did, you probably wont “figure it out” while under pressure on the hills.
Consider getting some navigation training or doing a refresher. Currently there are numerous providers offering online refreshers. While they aren’t a substitute for a full course, they are an excellent option for preparation that we can be taking in advance of being allowed on the hills again.
When full courses are allowed to run, The Mountaineering Ireland approved Mountain Skills course is an excellent place to start. While I am a provider of the course
there are also multiple other providers and with some research it’ll be easy to find an Instructor who teaches the course regularly and comes highly recommended. If in doubt as to who to choose, look for Instructors or Leaders who advertise the AMI or UIMLA badge. Trust the badges as a sign of a professionalism and quality in the outdoors.
Regular Gear checklist:
– waterproof jacket and trousers. No matter what the forecast is, waterproofs should always be carried. Mountains can create their own weather systems, different to that of the local lowland area. They can also be excellent as a windbreaker layer, even if its not raining. The two jackets I use are a North Face Summit Series Goretex jacket and a Columbia Outdry jacket and I really like both. I tend to spend a lot of money on my waterproof jackets and go slightly cheaper on my trousers.
– hats, gloves, buff. and spares in a dry bag. I have both expensive items and cheap Penneys items. All will work, just some will work better than others, but cost doesn’t have to be a barrier.
– Baselayer – again you can spend a lot of money or go cheap with generic items, once they are made from a material good for wicking sweat then they are good enough. Polyester/merino/bamboo are good, cottons are bad.
– hiking boots. On Irish mountains we don’t get the perfect quality trails and tracks that you find in other countries so appropriate hiking specific boots with ankle support are essential and runners are just a bad idea. Don’t buy them online either as fit is everything and a good outdoor shop will be able to help you choose the best fit for you. I personally like La Sportiva boots, they work well for narrower feet, so aren’t for everyone.
– warm breathable layers – again you don’t have to buy specific hiking clothing, obviously purpose designed clothing will perform better, but any active wear or clothing designed for the outdoors is appropriate. For women gym leggings are a great option instead of trousers. Like baselayers make sure they aren’t cotton or denim. Cottons and Denims don’t dry fast and you can lose a lot of body heat as your system works hard to warm up the cold fabric. This is an issue on a wet day as well as a hot day, when sweat covered clothing can sap at our energy levels stealthily.
– Spare layers – a warm mid layer, either fleece layer or a softshell, stored in a dry bag is essential for if the weather changes or if we get cold while stopped.
– Hiking socks. Specifically designed hiking socks are expensive, but they last a long time and will help prevent getting blisters and that’s worth any money. I like Bridgedale socks.
– food/water/snacks Enough for a long day on the hills, but also consider bringing some “what if” emergency snacks too, in case you are caught out longer than you intended.
– Backpack. A well designed backpack allows you to carry all the weight on your hips and is designed and cushioned appropriately. Its sore and frustrating if you carry the load on your shoulders all day and when we are sore and frustrated we make bad decisions in the outdoors. Bad decisions that can lead to incidents. I only ever use an Osprey Talon 33 Litre bag for day to day hiking and highly recommend it. It makes sense to buy a bag from a company that only design and make bags as all their research and development goes into that product.
– Trekking Poles. – I always carry a pair when Im in the outdoors, I don’t always use them, but I always have them with me. At first they can feel awkward to get used to, but once you are used to them they are excellent for moving efficiently and extending the lifespan of your knees. I use them a lot in descent to assist with a recurring knee injury. They can also be great to give to a nervous companion on steep descents, as a crutch for someone with a light sprain or to use as a splint for an injured arm or leg. I use Black Diamond Trail Poles.
All of the above might take some time and cost to put together, so now is as good time as any to start preparing, so that we are ready in advance of needing them. The gear might also seem heavy and restrictive, but the extra weight will soon be forgotten about and will ultimately only make us fitter on the hills.
While I’m aware that the above might seem excessive or over-cautious, I genuinely can’t think where Id leave any of it out in normal circumstances, so I definitely don’t advise leaving any of it out for the near future, when our need to be self-sufficient and stay injury free in the hills will be more important than ever.
I hope the above is of some help and I’m happy to answer any questions, so please feel free to get in touch if you do.
A false loop is created when a sloppy stopper knot is tied to back up another not, most commonly in the case of climbers tieing into the rope.
What’s wrong with a false loop?
Often they are just small loops, which lessens the potential of what can go wrong, but as seen on a recent post online, some people do climb with excessively large false loops, which can lead to a whole new array of problems.
Let’s look at when and why a false loop isn’t desirable in climbing:
If a climber clips into the false loop instead of the rope loop for safety, let’s say on a multi-pitch belay stance, it could be catastrophic. There have been recorded instances of this occurring and leading to accidents.
If running a group session in a climbing wall with novices, it would be easy for a novice to remove the carabiner from the proper loop and clip it to the false loop and again there are recorded incidents of this happening each year.
If the loop was excessively large, a lead climber could accidentally clip into a quickdraw via the false loop and not the live rope.
If this was on trad gear they could possibly lift out the trad gear and if it was on bolts they could be yanked backwards, causing a fall onto a false loop.
It just looks plain wrong
If someone can be that sloppy with the simplest knot, then how sloppy are they with the rest of the aspects of their climbing, like building anchors.
Much like if you tie in with too big a loop, the large false loop can snag on protruding holds or create a suspension hazard, like in a climbing wall where there are large upturned holds.
It’s even possible for body parts to become ensnared or trapped in a loop. In the picture above it would be quite easy for the climber to catch a leg or arm in the false loop, creating an unorthodox fall.
The potential for a choking hazard on a stupidly big loop is there too, were you to get your head stuck in the loop.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post or other skills and remember always buddy check and “dress & stress” knots thoroughly!
Is climbing on an older well used rope the equivalent of knowing you have bald tyres on your car and hoping you don’t skid on a slick road?
Ropes are expensive and we all like to get the most out of them, but knowing when to retire or assign them to an alternative use is an important decision.
When should I retire my rope?
RECOMMENDED LIFESPAN OF CLIMBING ROPE
Lets first look at some approximate guidelines from manufacturers about the life spans per usage of a rope:
Daily usage: less than 1 year
Weekly usage: approx. 1 year
Regular monthly Usage: approx. 3 years
Regular annual usage: approx. 5 years
Rare annual usage: approx. 5-7 years
Never used: approx. 10 years
How accurate are the Guidelines?
The guidelines make for interesting reading as I know ropes get used way past their recommended lifespan all the time.
With any guideline and approximations, there is a degree of vagueness and manufacturers will err on the side of caution.
These are also “normal usage” guidelines and don’t allow for what happens to the rope during the lifespan, the abnormal conditions it experiences, or even how it’s been stored and cared for when not in use.
A rope getting heavily stressed over an edge on its first day of use could be dangerously damaged, way more than one that’s barely used by its owner over a 5 year period.
Let’s look at two identical 10.0mm dynamic single ropes I have purchased:
Purchased in 2011, the rope was used a lot at first for leading on trad, then for bottom roping and now gets used solely in a teaching capacity for demonstrating setups.
It has no fuzziness or swollen lumpiness, no sheath slippage and through touch and bend inspection, no apparent damage to its core.
It’s lost some of its dynamic quality, but for the eye to see, looks in great condition. It is no longer ever used to climb on
Purchased in 2016, the rope was used as an all-rounder at first and used often. It saw a good amount of work and was used on a good number of occasions for roped scrambling.
It was used on multiple occasions to direct belay off some coarse rock. Its diameter is visibly swollen, it now measures 12mm with callipers and has a fuzzy and rough exterior.
There is no bunching or sheath slippage or apparent damage to its core.
It lost some a lot of its dynamic properties and is visibly in poor condition and is no longer used in any capacity.
Work vs lifespan
The point of the above two descriptions of rope is obvious, the latter had a harsher workload than the former and as such measuring its lifespan by time alone is a useless factor.
As climbers, we must be diligent to record the various uses and hardships that a rope goes through and be willing to absorb the cost of repurposing a rope when its time has come.
The conditions we store our ropes in has a massive outcome on their lifespan. All manner of things can affect the quality and safety of the rope and often the damage can be hidden internally.
UV damage to the sheath from overexposure to the sun
Chemical damage from contact with solvents or corrosive materials
Collected dirt/grit/salt damage grinding on the inner core
We must be as careful when we store them as we are when we use them. Below are some of the common issues leading to rope damage.
Using regular ink to mark our rope rather than specialised marking ink
Leaving ropes on a floor in the shed as cement dust is corrosive
Oils and diesel: Left in the boot of our car coming in contact with the rope
Some powerful batteries can give off gases, so be careful if storing ropes near power tools
Guidelines for good rope maintenance
Below are some tips for extending the lifespan and maximising the safety of our ropes.
Regularly inspect your ropes by touch when coiling and flaking your ropes.
Fully investigate any irregularities to the touch or feel of the rope or if unsure, ask a more experienced person to also inspect anything suspect.
If you can see the core of the rope protruding from the sheath, it’s too damaged to use as a single piece of rope.
Likewise, if you feel a flat spot in the rope, consider the internal core too damaged to risk using.
Wash them occasionally using just lukewarm water or manufacturer-approved cleaning agent.
Dry them properly and don’t store them wet or damp where they won’t dry out.
Use a rope bag when at a dusty/dirty crag to keep grit from working inside the sheath
Don’t buy a second-hand rope, you can’t tell where it has been or what it has done.
Don’t lend a rope to somebody, unless you totally trust them to look after it and tell you how it was used/abused.
Store the rope in a dedicated bag/box/area, where you can seal the container and contact with a chemical is impossible.
Consider retiring any rope that has been subject to a fall with a very high fall factor rating. These types of falls are uncommon but do occur.
If the rope becomes stiff and unworkable, it’s possibly time to retire it, as its properties have been compromised beyond their intended usage.
Ok, so when should I retire my rope then?
To sum up, if your gut instinct tells you a ropes integrity might be compromised, either by its uses, appearance, how it feels or how you stored it, consider retiring it and buying a new one.
We change our climbing shoes all the time when we notice damage to them and they are considerably more expensive than the average 10mm single rope.
I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.