Lessons From the Crag

I was looking through my old files for the trip report of Gua Musang, when I came across another TR from Simian Boy that I thought was pretty interesting. It detailed a climbing session they had at Nyamuk one weekend – don’t know where I was, probably working or climbing somewhere else because it doesn’t sound like me to miss a climbing weekend.

One of the reasons I enjoyed climbing with the Rockrats was not only because of the fun we had in each other’s company but what we were able to learn through each other’s experiences. We often wrote trip reports after every rock climbing session and each member would contribute with jokes and personal thoughts about the session through mass group mailing.

Although we ragged each other a lot, there were also times of seriousness when we discussed climbing techniques and safety – for instance, learning how to detect core damage in rope. With each climbing session, we were not only improving our climbing abilities, but expanding our knowledge base on rock climbing in general. Of course, it also helped to have a gear-head like Lelek Le Grunt in the group who knew all the technical details of just about everything you might want to know. And if he didn’t, you could bet he would be able to tell you all about it the following weekend.

I digress, below is a copy of one of Simian Boy’s TRs, which, as always, was spiked with his tongue-in-cheek humour (with my annotations in purple italics). I thought this was a rather significant TR to include because it prompted some good take-home lessons which follow after the TR, when some of the other more experienced members of the Rockrats shared their knowledge on how to climb more safely in future.

Simian Boy:

Had an interesting day out with the FYC bikers, formerly climbers, at Nyamuk yesterday.

While we were getting gear out of the cars, I saw Ooi pull out his helmet and I immediately realised I had left mine sitting safely out of harms way at home, on top of my desk. I half-jokingly said that today was going to be the day I knocked my head on something and sure enough, I did on the first warm-up climb (Patrick’s 5b climb with the nasty layback – it’s called “Firestarter” in the area called “Fumakilla”). Since I figured Murphy’s law was already satisfied, I didn’t think too much about falling rocks and smashing heads for most of the remainder of the afternoon.

Ooi led the warm-up climb with no major problems, except for a short detour when he got distracted by some jugs on a neighboring climb. I went up 2nd on top-rope and hung like a horse, much to Mike (P) and Penn’s disappointment. For some reason, they had the idea that I had turned into something of a Spiderman during their short abstinence from climbing, able to scale single buildings in a single dyno. Mike went up the climb after me with no problems neither. Penn didn’t even try because Hong, Tung, Bird, etc were trying some 7As and they roped him in.

Anyway, Ooi offered to lead the 2nd climb of the day as well, the short route on the far right with the mantle crux before the anchor (this one is called “Because I Got High“). He had never climbed it before and he had no beta so he tried for half an hour at the crux and finally gave up. I went up and finished the climb with a little help from memorised beta. Mike, that f***er (sorry, sensored, we’re a family-oriented blog here), was belaying me and talking to Ooi the whole time and I had to fight sweat, gravity as well as him after I committed to a big highstep on the ledge. My left foot was right beside my left hand and my knee was almost touching my face but I couldn’t step up. I wasn’t tired and so I yelled for slack. No slack. Can’t move. Maybe it’s time to head back down and try again. “SLAAAAAAAACK!!!!” Ah, some slack this time. With his weight off the rope, I realise again how light I am, so I step up, set up the anchor, smile and get lowered down. Mike went up next and wanted whatever beta I could offer. I told him to just do what I did. I know he wasn’t watching. Nyah.

Mike got stuck at the crux for half an hour or so as well and Ooi was getting stiff-necked from belaying him and was standing near the edge of the ledge. I anchored myself to Ooi and sat with my back against the wall underneath Mike and braced my feet against a big rock on the ground. It was a comfy spot with a nice view of the town below and the rolling hills beyond it. Finally Mike gave up. Richard came along by then and had a go at it, conquered it and declared it a 5C climb, much to Mike’s chagrin.

Ooi went up again, and this time around, noticed some big holds about a meter to the right of the route. As always, he took the artistic license to chart his own course before rejoining the route a little higher up. I think somewhere in the middle of this side-adventure, he yanked out a small slab of rock about the size of a dinner plate, yelled “Rock” and threw it safely behind us. It landed with such a loud clunk before shattering into tiny bits, that his belayer (Richard) jumped a little further out of the way from the bouncing bits, which as it turns out, was a fortunate thing because immediately afterwards, a big slab of rock about the size of a 48-inch flat screen tv loosened itself just to the right of Ooi. What happened next, as far as I can remember was this – it came down the wall, smashed itself to small bits of various sizes its as it rolled and rubbed against the wall, like an ice block being chipped apart. Then the bigger pieces just sort of rolled and bounced around where me and Richard had been sitting and standing a few minutes earlier. Fortunately, that was one of the few minutes of that afternoon when nobody was standing at that spot. Mike, Ooi, Richard, me, Penn, 2 Singaporeans and 1 German were pretty much standing around there up until minutes before then watching the climber. Most of the rock that fell ended up landing onto the rope that Ooi was being belayed from.

(Please don’t follow the advice in this next section about detecting compromised ropes – you’ll read later in Lelek Le Grunt’s – our walking rock climbing manual – reply the proper way to detect core damage to a rope) Ah Loong came over and inspected the rope and pretty much gave us a crash course in rope-inspection and we found many weak spots on that new FYC rope. Basically, the weak sections go limp when we curl them into a loop. The more we looked, the more weak sections we found until we came to the conclusion that the rock probably couldn’t have done that much to that many different sections at once. We suspect it might be manufacturing defects or damage sustained during storage at All-Sports. Another thing about safety that I never knew about and just always took for granted. I wonder how many more there are.

Anyway, we lowered Ooi and retired the rope. It is the Beal Top-Gun pink 60m that was bought from All-Sports. It’s the same colour and possibly cut from the same original 200m as Adrian’s. Might be an idea to check that rope too, dude.

Anyway, I’m still a bit of a wreck. Weak ropes and breaking rocks.

Happy Climbing.

I don’t have any photos from that trip since I wasn’t there, but this is a shot of the belay area of Fumakilla.  This is a top-down view of the route “Firestarter”, while “Because I Got High” is off to the top left of the photo.

A view of the base

Rock Climbing Safety Lessons from our walking tech manual (edited by me because of Le Grunt’s excessive usage of colourful language which wasn’t really appropriate for this blog):

Lesson 1: Detecting weak spots and core damage in the rope

What Loong is talking about – where you fold a bight of rope and look for “roundness” – that’s (rubbish) dude.

What you should be looking for are flat spots, which means the core has ruptured a few strands. To do this, press the rope with your fingers and feel along the length of it. If it feels uniform along the entire length, the core is fine. If you feel a sudden flattening of the rope, let the rope owner know. It doesn’t have to be completely flat, as in sheath touching sheath, but anything that feels irregular or like a slight depression is suggestive of core damage.

A lot of ropes exhibit the characteristics that Loong described. Mine does, so does Shen’s. So does his own (sensored) rope! Did he retire it? Noooooooooooo…

What Loong described indicates slight sheath slippage. All ropes will experience that. Better ropes have less of it, not so good ropes will show more of it.

Lesson 2: Staying ON ROUTE

When you climb off route, you run the risk of venturing into areas that see virtually NO traffic and the consequences (as Ooi experienced with the rock fall on the rope – lucky no one was hurt!) – Rockfall, pendulum swings, etc.

Always stay on route and no cheating. Aside from the safety issues, it’s just bad form. It doesn’t help your technique or skill building at all, not to mention, can be downright dangerous.

Lesson 3: Belayers pay attention to your climber!

Please always be aware of your climber. I feel I shouldn’t have to say this again, but I will. When you are belaying someone, you hold that persons life in your hands. Your climber is bestowing a most sacred trust in you. NEVER belay someone because you feel pressured into it. Never do so because you feel you should. Do it because you WANT to. And when you do it, do it with free will and with full responsibility.

More tips from Holdbreaker (particularly apt from one who tends to break a lot of holds):

As to falling rocks – try to test the holds as much as you can before loading it. You will probably notice that whenever I move up and grab something, I tend give it a generous tug before loading it further..

Although, as Mutant Man later pointed out, some holds will still break because the force you exert on it when climbing is not quite the same as the force applied when giving it a tug.

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