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Safety illusions in the mountains - a rope

Of course, mountaineering is a dangerous activity, in that thesis I will unlikely go beyond the banal axioms. However, there is an opinion about the relative safety of mountaineering in the case of compliance with a certain rules - I would prefer to deal with this in more detail. There is a lot of illusions and delusions, especially among soft ass professionals and television lovers of mountain sports. I consciously will not use the term "extreme sports" here, since in my deep conviction, mountaineering refers to them only in its pathological forms. A normal person, guided by common sense and sense of self-protection, will never cross the line of "extreme" as in alpinism, or in anything else.

Mount Siula Grande, Peru

In this article, I want to dispel the widespread myth that using a rope while climbing a mountain route always ensures the safety of the climbers.

I am often asked why on the commercial ascents sometimes I do not use a rope?

I'll start to answer the question a little from afar and list the most reliable safety factors in mountaineering, and then I go directly to the question about the rope.

So, the unconditional factors that increase the safety of people on mountain trekking and climbing routes are:

  1. Presence of stable channels of communication with rescue services, police and ambulance (cellular, satellite, radio channel). Ideally, all members of the group should have access to these channels, and communication channels should be duplicated.
  2. Awareness of the rescue services about the route of the group, the timing of getting in and out of the route.

Mount Bazarduzu, Dagestan-Azerbajan

Probably, you understood the idea - you should never count on the possibility of self-rescue in case of an accident in the mountains. This is the most common misconception and the cause of many troubles in the mountains - an over confidence in the abilities to resolve the emerging problems. The availability of various devices for belay and protection - a rope in case of a sudden fall, a GPS navigator in case of loss of orientation, a first aid kit in case of illness - all this is necessary, but the effectiveness of all these elements is rather low, especially if participants do not have special tactical and technical training, which, as a rule, only very few professionals possess. So, help from outside will always be 1000% more efficient than any self-rescue operations.

Elbrus region, Russia

Now let's pass to the declared subject about a rope. The foregoing conception does not in any way concern difficult technical routes, and in no way is an appeal to perform solo ascents without any protection. The use of a rope is an indispensable element of safety for climbing, where there is a high probability of fall - there is nothing to argue about this and the classic safety position in mountaineering is fully applicable.

But as soon as we move to the routes of basic and medium complexity - everything becomes not so obvious. Using a rope can be not only an ineffective measure, but even attract additional risks, about existence of which not many climbers guess. A few examples follow and comments to them as well. Ascent to Elbrus, quite gently ice slope, open hard ice. Moving of a roped group without organization of belay points is an acceptable tactical solution, according to the serious length of the route and the very unstable weather conditions. However, in case of fall of one participant, the whole group can be effected, mutual fall is highly possible, especially if the roped group is rather light - 2-3-4 persons. The result of using the rope in that case - "one fell - all flew." They fell down, got seriously injured and there was no one to help. All died. In this case, the rope helped only to the rescuers - all the dead corpses were connected and there is no need to look for them separately. Another example. Ushba glacier, crevasse, collapsed snow bridge and a roped pair of climbers sits deep in an icy hole with broken legs. Not possible to get out, no radio connection nor any chance to call for help. Both died from hypothermia. Most likely, they are not even found, as the rescuers are not able to search all the crevasses of the glacier. The rope did not help in that case neither, because in roped pair, the mutual fall is the most probable result in case of sudden impact - even a small pull on the rope in case of equal weight of the participants breaks down the second climber and the chances to self-arrest are very low.

Ушба, Грузия

By the way, we'll talk separately about the dangers of an independent climbing of two roped people, it's an interesting topic for the next article. The third example happen during the ascent of Mont Blanc, the moving of the roped group along the steep scree slope (couloir) - the progressing of the group was slowed down due to ineffective interaction of the roped participants. Result: too much time spent in site exposed to the rockfall, the group been hit with rocks, the participants are injured, one died, rescuers arrived in half an hour and took everyone to the hospital - not the best ending of the climb. No comments needed. And the last example. Khan Tengri, fabulous 7-thousender, the traverse of the avalanche slope (crevassed glacier) group moves roped - as it is indicated with most of the safety rules. But breaking down of a small wet avalanche right to the middle climber on a rope. The result is that the whole group is trapped in the avalanche, the participants, entangled in the rope, could not dig themselves out and die at a shallow depth under the snow before the aid arrives. Without a rope, they could easily run down the slope and, after the avalanche got stop, quickly rescue those who still were under snow.

Matterhorn - Monte Cervino, Alps, Italy

The conclusion from the above written should done with caution. The use of the rope must be justified and tactically weighed, not always the solution is so obvious and for its correct adoption according to the situation, climbing experience is required. Standard solutions (such as the mandatory use of a rope at all times), in some cases, do more harm than good. While training in mountaineering and passing alpine climbing courses one should pay more attention to the tactical solutions rather than to the technical ones. For example, to spend a week trying to train a novice climber how to use a system of pulleys to pull a partner out of the crevasse is a matter of course interesting, but as well rather meaningless, and perhaps even dangerous. Since, in the crevasse, most likely this person will be together with his partner, being confident that he has all the necessary knowledge about climbing knots and pulling systems.

Text — Alexey Trubachev, founder of the MCS AlexClimb mountaineering and climbing school.

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Our Principles

AlexClimb Rule #1 - Safety First

From the very beginning of our activity, here nearly 16 years, the first Principle of work of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb is the Safety Priority. On the basis of this Principle all process of training is based, all programs and rounds are developed and carried out only within this main principle. We consider that at professional approach to development of programs, at personal discipline and correctly put motivation - occupations by mountaineering and rock-climbing are COMPLETELY safe. And from the return - all troubles and accidents in our sport come from nonprofessionalism, from ignorance or neglect by elementary standards of safety, from irrational motivation, from revaluation of own forces and opportunities. All these prerequisites we COMPLETELY EXCLUDE in our work - ours Rock-climbing, Ice climbing and Mountaineering are based on one Principle - the Safety Priority. In rock-climbing, mountaineering and ice climbing, the Priority of Safety of MCS AlexClimb-is your personal security and comfort irrespective of, than we are engaged - we train muscles and we work technology of the movement in the sports hall and on the rock climbing wall, we make the way through snowstorm to top or we relax on golden sand of the Caribbean beach after hot day of trainings on rocks. The Safety priority - the main credo of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb.

AlexClimb Rule #2 - Leave No Trace

Closely interacting with Nature, working with the active programs in mountains, woods, lakes and rivers, we perfectly understand the importance of carefull and respectfull bahavior towards the Nature, for its resources. From the very beginning of our outdoor-activity we adopted rules of  Leave No Trace technique - the standard of behavior of the person accepted in all the civilized world in relation to environment and especially - to the wild nature. After all on the relation of people to the nature near which they exist, itself can draw dalekoidushchy conclusions on the relation of these people to... Where and as we didn't travel - we don't reserve any garbage, we try to reduce whenever possible our influence on environment to a minimum. We clear earlier zagryazyonny tourist parking of the left garbage, we take out and we take out to utilization places that to us other people left there. We consider that only thus, at personal individual consciousness of each citizen, each tourist, climber or autotraveller, we will be able to keep the nature surrounding us in its state, natural, suitable for life, - in it pledge of the healthy future for ourselves and our children.

AlexClimb Rule #3 - Sober Concious

The position of AlexClimb Mountain and rockclimbing School regarding healthy lifestyle is quite clear - we consider that only sober consciousness is capable to fill sincere emotions,  to sympathize, to enjoy life in all its variety. Bright various enjoyable life is possible only on condition of keeping the absolute sobriety and purity of consciousness. Any way of obscuring our perception of reality is intended to do harm to our consciousness and bring harm to our physical health, to replace the true values by false ones, to destroy us physically - to turn us into flabby, weak, senseless, gray herd with empty hazy eyes. We don't force anybody to our point of view, everyone has a God's gift of making his own choice and to destroy himself if that is what he wants... But in AlexCilimb Mountain Climbing School we accept quite certain and very simple set of rules: neither alcohol, nor drugs.