Ice Climbing on Mount Cascade

“Avalanche”, came the words from my mouth. I had yelled them-I think I had, but it was tough to be sure that the words cam from my mouth. I don’t know how I knew. I had never experienced an avalanche before, never taken a course in avalanches, I hadn’t even seen the movie-there must be several. I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t know the proper procedures. None of that mattered as I gazed at the gathering cloud of snow in the distance above Ian. There was a certain beauty about that momentary view. Ian appeared to be centre stage in a billowing framework. The cloud was somehow perfect, as in a cartoon strip, with its rounded, comfy, edges. It should have been pure white, but it was gray…very gray-it was noticeably dirty!

“Why is it dirty?” I thought. On reflection, it makes no sense that a tiny, seemingly insignificant detail should have preoccupied my mind in this time of great urgency. Perhaps it is a sensory distortion-a part of the “slow motion” effect popularized in tales of survival. There seemed to be all sorts of time to contemplate the finer details of the avalanche rushing dangerously towards me. The details and distractions didn’t betray the almost immediate recognition of the catastrophic danger.

“Who care’s if it is dirty or not! Get on with it.” Within milliseconds I had instinctively recognized the danger for what it was and had begun some kind of crude defensive…or should I say my mouth had begun some kind of crude defensive. The same kind of defensive that takes over when a barking dog startles you out from a daydream. It began as a withdrawal fear response and quickly changed into a warning scream: “Aaaaaahhhhh…valanche!”

I had first met Ian on an earlier trip to the Rockies-he was “a friend of a friend”. Six of us had met to climb “Professor’s”, a spectacular icefall within hiking distance of the Banff Springs Hotel. On that weekend I was second (followed another’s lead up the climbing pitch) to Chuck and I believe Ian had entrusted Nina to be his second. A trust that should by all rights not be taken lightly for if you fall you rely on your partner’s skill to arrest your fall and support your ongoing existence. It is not uncommon in climbing, however, to hand over the other end of your rope (your lifeline) to a complete stranger. A person who’s sole qualification is that they are “a friend of a friend”. On that weekend Chuck took a reasonably significant lead fall of approximately 10 meters.

A lead fall is particularly more dangerous than a second fall. When you are climbing second there is never much more than a half-meter of rope slack depending on how conscientious your partner is. So, if you do slip and fall you will fall that amount of rope slack plus whatever inherent elasticity the rope affords in added slack. In most circumstances your lead will have reached a spot above you where (s)he feels comfortable setting up a base: an area that allows a stable anchor to be constructed. So there is little likelihood of you pulling free from your protection (“pro”). A lead fall is an entirely different situation. A leader falls from the highest point reached, down to the last piece of “pro” that was placed–if only that were the end of it. (S)he then falls until all the accumulated rope has come to tension on the down side of the last piece of pro. The higher you climb beyond protection, the farther you fall below protection. A necessary addition to this is that the longer the fall the greater the amount of stretch on the rope and therefore the greater the fall due to the elastic deformation of the rope. I have never taken a lead fall, but I am certain that it involves a considerable terror.

Certainly a lot of falls occur as a result of an error in judgment: a placement that was not as stable as had been anticipated, or a hastily applied ice axe, for example. But the worst failure of judgment, a precursor to the most terrifying fall, is an error of setting one’s limit: an over-extension of one’s own ability. Falling unexpectedly is like being called upon to stand up in front of a crowd and say a few words about a subject you are knowledgeable in. It’s scary, but soon you are in the throes of the situation and there is no time left to continue agonizing. I was the MC at a local showing of the “Best of Banff Film Festival” a couple of years back. For weeks in advance I would have momentary flashes-a few seconds at most-of anxiety as I imagined myself in front of the crowd on center stage. On the Friday of the show I was having difficulty with more frequent and increasingly longer flashes of anxiety. In the minutes leading up to my presentation I was in a considerable state of disarray: sweaty palms, armpits, and back; an ongoing urge to defecate; dry mouth; pacing; and a strong need to be by myself. The feelings are welling up in me again just thinking about it. The evening went well and I doubt whether anyone would have guessed at the nervous pre-amble, but I believe, that is the kind of slow, agonizing, self-torture that goes on before the anticipated fall-the “fear-fall. You know that your time is imminent; you know that you are drawing ever closer to the climax and for the most part you must follow through and yet you have doubts as to your capacity to succeed. The fear-fall however, goes beyond stepping up onto a stage…, it involves a whole another level and degree of anxiety.

Prior to the fear fall there must be an impasse, a breakdown of options. Of the options you have available to you none appear to be working and as you tire fewer and fewer options present themselves. In tiring you begin to realise that you may be in trouble. When you can least afford the leisure, you begin to consider the safety of your protection. “How good was that last placement? Will it withstand the forces of a fall of this magnitude? Is the rope positioned to maximal benefit? Why didn’t I place another piece of pro at that last buttress when I had a chance?” And then it comes to you-“I need to get another piece of pro in quick!” You have reduced yourself to one option, and most times it’s not the best option.

Putting a piece of protection into ice is not easy. Most commonly you are looking at putting in an ice screw, which is very similar to a normal screw but larger: about the size of a plastic tent peg. There are no pre-bored holes in ice, so one must first chip a small area of ice away for purchase: a depression that allows the screw to bite. If you are lucky the screw does bite and then you are able to begin boring into the ice. No screw drivers, no vises, no warm basement workshops, and no hands because you are still clinging by ice axes to the approximately perpendicular face of waterfall ice. Houdini would have appreciated the act. Placing a screw is difficult. Placing a screw in the throes of worrying about a fear-fall, is next to impossible.

I remember Chuck verbalizing his concerns to the ice. He had begun to agonize. At the time I thought, “he probably talks to his computer also, he’s just like that. Its normal as long as he doesn’t start responding to himself.” He must have been 15-20 meters above me, but clearly audible. I distinctly remember him discussing his impasse; he seemed calm, in control. Unbeknownst to me, he had begun to toil mentally and physically. The best solution would have been to buckle down and go forward for the safety of the top, but he was despairing. He began to doubt his ability to reach the top and decided instead to place a piece of pro. The act of placing a piece of pro at this point confirms that you are in trouble. Chuck must have known for some time before he fell, that he was falling.

One of the biggest fears I have is being trapped under water. In the early years of learning to windsurf I remember on several occasions being flung around by a big gust of wind and landing underneath the sail, still harnessed to it and submerged under both the sail and the water. For the most part such unnatural acts require much less than ten seconds to correct and yet your mind is deceived. In the bathtub I am to hold my breath for up to a minute with great ease, but out here on the lake a few seconds is all it takes before I am bowing to my lungs’ unrelenting demand to blow off accumulated carbon dioxide. As panic strikes you begin to struggle and ten seconds feels like an eternity.

The same eternity strikes at the ice climber’s impasse only there is no heroic struggle to get your head above water. The last seconds are spent inertly agonizing over protection-toiling mentally without a doubt-but there is no Herculean effort for life. At some point Chuck must have come to the worst of all doubts-“who the hell is that guy at the other end of my rope”. It was me-“a friend of a friend.”
“I’m falling”, came the cry. In the end you actually jump, you don’t allow yourself to fall; it’s safer to jump. I had never caught a human’s fall before, only some manner of punching bag that had been rigged indoors at the University of Calgary climbing wall. The mute punching bag had caught me even more unawares than the screaming Chuck had. And, I had for the most part successfully caught the punching bag. In retrospect things were looking good for Chuck.

I believe the punching bag exercise is used to build confidence in the novice’s ability to stop a fall of considerable force. The mechanism of catching a fall is based on a friction device that at first glance appears very flimsy. It can be as crude as wrapping the rope around your back and in fact this is often the case in ice climbing because the rope freezes and jams in the normal friction device. The worst sin possible, when using a friction device (a “plate”) is to let your hand be drawn into the mechanism. If your hand is drawn in, your skin becomes the new friction device (read horrendous “rope burn”). In our class, I was unfortunate enough to be the first saviour of the hapless punching bag and the instructor must have placed enough confidence in my abilities to let the bag go without any warning.

I was initially taken off guard and allowed my hand to be drawn terrifyingly close to the friction device. Fortunately the bag came pendulously to a halt in front of the class in a scene somewhat reminiscent of an old tyme public display of Canadian capital punishment. At the time I didn’t think to enter into a discussion of my error nor did I share my brush with failure with the other classmates. My fellow amateurs were busying themselves within the camaraderie of the situation, who was I to allow reality to interrupt the spreading fuzzy feeling. Each in turn readied for a chance at the punching bag. If it were up to the bag as to who should have been let out into the real world of climbing, I doubt whether I would have been the “friend of a friend” at the end of Chuck’s rope.

I don’t know what prompted me to look up at Cascade. It must have been the sound–a low rumbling–that first alerted me to the danger. I had positioned myself at the bottom of a small pitch, which I was about to climb without ropes (free climb). Ian had already summitted this pitch and was continuing upward on a short flat stretch toward the next pitch. I could still see him if I backed away from the ice face. It was a clear and relatively warm day and I was looking forward to a glorious climb.

All climbers have heard tragic tales from Cascade Falls and I suppose we all treat the stories similarly: “… it couldn’t happen to me, I’m careful; they must have made some obvious error”. The winter prior a fellow from France had met with untimely death as a result of a rockfall! Freak accident, I rationalized. The highway drive to the mountains poses considerably greater risk to life and limb.

It was not long before the rumbling overtook us. Within seconds of alerting Ian I hacked at the iceface with both axes. When you place an ice axe there is a feel and an accompanying sound of a good placement, similar in many respects to an effective wood chop with a woodsman’s axe. My left axe entered the ice with a reassuring “thunk” and felt firm; my right, weak and ineffective. There was no second chance to better my right axe placement. The heavy snow began to forcibly thud on my back so much so that it was an effort to stay standing. I pulled as close to the ice face and my axes as was possible. The deluge of snow worsened and its pressure on my back and head intensified.

I have never experienced my life flashing before my eyes and had prior to this day believed it was a Hollywood stunt only. My wife had, the evening before subjected me to an avalanche pop quiz. At the time I had resented her concern. Against my better intention I became distant from the immediate predicament and began to relive our conversation and visions of her and our daughter. We were sitting comfortably on our bed. I could see the moment as from the outside and above. I couldn’t make out any of the discussion but the words widow and fatherless echoed. I wanted to go back to the present-I needed me. The flash was not comforting. It seemed to herald the end. But this couldn’t be the end. There had been no prolonged struggle, the day had not been climactic; the weather was clear and beautiful. WHERE, was my struggle!?

The snow continued its pounding and my right axe finally failed, my arm was sucked away in the avalanche’s torrent and with it went the axe. They two dangled and danced in the nearby current of falling snow. I had only one arm of support left to me and as much as I wanted to rely heavily upon it, I also wanted to relieve as much stress from it as was possible. It was my last hope-I wanted to cling to it with all that I had and yet I was put in a position of rationing its use. The pounding continued and I began to despair. “You should have never attempted Cascade and certainly not on a warm day in January”, I thought to myself.

The snow was heavy and I began to be weighted down. If I were buried, there would be no chance for movement or self-rescue. The snow would set like concrete around me and I would have to hope that someone would be able to find me quickly. My mind went to Ian. He had reached a flat unprotected area above me. If the avalanche had hit him, there was no doubt that he was now buried somewhere below me. He needed me to find him quickly. We were horribly ill-prepared: neither of us had Pieps, a radio transceiver device that enables rescuers to find buried comrades. We both desperately needed that left axe to hold and yet the snow continued its assault.

With only one axe remaining I was unable to maintain my back parallel to the ice flow. My right shoulder was pulled away from the iceface and in response my body began to turn toward the falling snow placing more stress on the remaining axe. My helmet was becoming noticeably heavy. Snow had been packed into it through the tiny holes on top; so much so that it effectively tripled its weight and the only way to remove the snow was to melt it out later.

It was some time before I realised that the rumbling had ceased. I was suddenly aware of a beautiful day once again. The axe had held. I noticed a sensation of raggedness in my right arm. The right axe now hung silently from my wrist. I was unhurt.

“Phil!” came a voice. My god I had forgotten about Ian.

“Yes”, I yelled back up to him. I couldn’t muster any better response. It seemed as though I should have other things to say and ask, but for now “yes” was all that mattered.

“Are you okay?” came his voice again. There was no hint of suffering in his voice.

“Yes Ian, and you?” Our conversation seemed too formal. We should have been embracing each other and perhaps we would have were it not for the intervening pitch and the staunch British upbringing common to us both. I pulled the axe from the ice with little difficulty and stepped back into a newly formed mound of heavy-set snow. The small spot next to the face of the icefall, the spot that had given me safety from the deluge of snow, did not look particularly safe and I wondered about the next deluge and where I might go next. I looked up at Ian, who was now standing at the top of the pitch I was supposed to climb.

“Whoa, was that close!” said Ian.

“Ian, I flashed: my family, my life. I thought I was through.”

I do not recall the rest of our discussions on that day. We did not go on to climb Cascade and I haven’t attempted it since, though every time I drive by (you can see the icefall from the Trans-Canada Highway) I can’t resist the urge to study the topography of that climb. To try and figure out where we had been and where the avalanche had come from. I can’t resist the urge to run through all of the “what-if” scenarios. It’s a beautiful sight and a dangerous place. I doubt that I will ever return to climb it.

After a couple of hour’s contemplation we did go on to climb another pitch, a much easier icefall. Our conversations recycled the same theme: how lucky we had been. If we had reached any other place in the climb it could have been disastrous. We were fortunate for the not-so-subtle warning.

The short hike up to Cascade was only slightly more difficult on the way out due to the accumulated snow. In some areas the snow was easily 2 meters deep and it was packed hard. It had set as I had expected and I was glad to be on it and not in it.

There are dangers with climbing and especially with ice climbing. Yet, for me there is no other endeavour that is so totally encompassing of my skills. The clarity of “being” is unparalleled and there is a divine simplicity in the precision of movement. There is no room for the everyday chatter of thought. The need for absolute focus and presence is liberating. As much as it may seem like an anxiety provoking maniacal endeavour, it turns out to be a zen-like peaceful meditation…, perhaps not as comfy.

Ice climbing is something I enjoy with my entirety and the challenge allows my spirit to soar. I am able to breathe fully and life seems clearer. There is a threat to life and some would argue that that is the attraction. But the risk of life need not be significant when ice climbing is approached with focus and clarity, and not with falsely earned “peak bagging” bravado. I find a certain sense of joy in that discipline…, in that clarity.

Ways to Improve Climbing Performance

A better climbing buddy

Having a good rock climber with good climbing technique as a partner has many advantages. By simply watching them climb a wall, you can find out a great deal: watch the way they use footwork, watch when and where they takes rest breaks and attempt to replicate their technique. Also request your buddy watch you climb and analyse your technique. This is certainly a beneficial exercise as you may not appreciate a number of the things you are doing wrong, nor where you can develop. I generally prefer to have a climbing partner who has better climbing technique than me, it forces me to improve and produces a higher performance level from me.

Strengthen your grip

Despite the fact that improving upon rock climbing techniques is essential to bettering your performance, you’ll find that you also must have good strength and grip. There are a selection of techniques to strengthen your grip and fingers. Two products I favor are the power ball that concentrates on your lower arm and wrist muscles which consequently enhances your grip and the gripmaster that focuses on your fingers.

Lose weight

Whilst rock climbing, we are fighting against gravity. The heavier we are, the more difficult it will be to climb up the wall. It may sound totally obvious, but shedding some surplus weight will make a significant difference to your ability. Be aware, if you are pretty trim already, it is considerably more beneficial to focus on bettering your rock climbing techniques than losing a few more pounds in weight.

Take time to warm up

It’s going to take a longer time for your hands and feet to warm up than your arms and legs. Without warming up properly, you risk getting the dreaded pump quickly which no climbing techniques can reverse – your session is effectively finished. Instead, ease your muscles in by beginning on extremely simple routes or problems. Also, you should rest in between routes, and devote 30-45 minutes on warming up prior to you attempting harder routes. This can be annoying, however, it does work!

Getting Hiking Gear

Hiking Boots

Among the essentials in any set of hiking gear would definitely be hiking boots. And you will need to choose them carefully based on where you’re planning on walking. For most purposes, a good set of hiking boots should remain waterproof and provide support especially to the ankles, which can often twist easily if you’re going to be hiking for a long day or on rough terrain.

Personally, I prefer a good solid boot without anything too fancy. But really, it is a case of experimenting with your preferences and trying on a few different styles and brands until you’re happy with your choice. Once you’ve got them, spend a bit of time hiking regularly while breaking them in, and soon enough, you’ll have a pair of hiking boots that will almost feel as though they’re a part of your feet.


If you’ve ever found yourself hiking on the trail with the pants chafing between your legs, then you’ll know that getting the right pair of trousers is vital. Polypropylene is the usual material used for hiking trousers because it is comfortable and quick-drying. Aside from being comfortable, I like my hiking pants to have plenty of pockets for storing granola bars or almost anything that you need quick access to on the trail.

When choosing my hiking trousers, I usually go for the ones that have the lower legs which can be zipped off, and be converted into shorts. It might just be a small thing, but when the heat is baking, then putting the bottom of the legs into the pack and getting on with the hiking does feel great.

Shirts And Base Layers

When it comes to hiking, the base layer is probably the most important garment that you will wear, second to your boots. A good base layer will be wicking away the sweat from your skin, while making sure that you stay at the right temperature. Most important of all, you need to make sure that you’re comfortable, so try a few different materials, and make sure you’re happy with the one you choose, and it’ll look after you while you’re hiking.

Once you start moving on to shirts and fleeces, the old adage about thinner layers and lots of them being better than a small number of thicker layers is completely accurate. If you’re hiking to the really cold areas, a thicker coat can be a good addition, but most hiking trips will suffice with a few layers and a set of waterproofs.

Arborist Equipment

Saw Blades

With so many options to choose from, it’s important to sort them out. A straight saw blade saw with smaller teeth is generally used for fine pruning, with a smooth, steady cut, but slower than more aggressive design. The curved blade, on the other hand, offers you unmatched cutting speed. Narrow width saw blades are best for cutting in tight crotches, and fine pruning.

Tree saws also come with different sorts of teeth, namely large or fine. The large teeth are best for cutting big branches. They work faster, but don’t count on them to give you as fine a cut. The fine teeth are for smaller limbs. Most professional saw blades now come with tri-edged, laser cut teeth for long-lasting sharpness and efficient cutting.

Pinnacle Arborist supplies carries the most popular professional hands saw, pole saw and replacement blades form Samurai, Silky, Jameson, Fred Marvin and Fanno.

Pruning Poles

Most pruning poles today are made of extruded or spun fiberglass, though Poplar wood poles are still in use for their durability. Fiberglass poles from Jameson or Marvin come in a variety of wall thicknesses and lengths to meet your needs, some models also extend or telescope to desired lengths. Foam filled fiberglass poles are widely used for trimming in proximity to power lines. Fiberglass poles have male and female ferrules allowing 2 or more poles to be connected for extra reach. However, the longer the pole, the less rigid it becomes making pruning more difficult.

While all clean and dry fiberglass poles have insulating properties, you should never work within 10 feet of energized lines unless you have been trained to do so safely.

Silky makes popular aluminum Hayauchi and Hayate pole saws that can telescope to 20 feet, providing extra reach in a single pole. Because of the conductivity of aluminum and their long reach, Silky pole saws should not be used within 50 feet of power lines.

Tree Climbing Rigging

For more athletic individuals, it may be very easy to climb up a tall tree with their bare limbs. This is not the case with everyone. So, what should one do if he is not athletic and does not have the courage to conquer the tree all by his own? A decade ago, it would have been difficult to answer this question. However, in the modern day still very few people know about tree rigging. It is a new term introduced into the tree world.

Tree rigging is the process of mounting up equipment and gear on the tree to make it easy for anyone to climb up a tree. Not only this, it means to perform some maintenance tasks such as lowering already cut heavy tree branches loaded on some ones shoulder. The gear is almost similar to the equipment used by mountain or rock climbers and the term rigging came from the mast system of a sailing ship. The pulleys and ropes used are similar to the ones in the mast system of a ship.

It is important to know that there are a number of methods for rigging a tree but mainly three types of riggings are very popular. Single rope rigging is the most simplest of riggings with a strong nylon rope wrapped and tied around a very thick and strong branch of the tree. The climber can then use mountain climbing harnesses that have the feature of using a metal belay which the climber uses to tighten the rope with. As the rope gets tighter, the climber moves up higher on the tree. The belay prevents the rope from losing grip and unspooling. The climber can use a lever to unspool the rope and lower himself down from the tree.

Another kind of rigging is the drift line rigging. This is quite a complex type of rigging but once done it even provides the climbers with the facility of walking over a rope tied between two trees just like a bridge. It is usually done by tying two very strong and durable ropes between two trees that are a few meters apart. The ropes are tied to the trunks and branches of the two trees very securely. The climber wears a safety harness belt hooked to the upper rope and tries to walk on the lower rope.

The pulley system rigging is most useful in raising or lowering materials and tools. It simply employs a pulley fixed on a top branch of the tree. Then a nylon rope is passed through pulley with both ends reaching the ground. The rope is pulled from one end to raise the materials or a climber attached to the other end of the rope.

Improving Your Footwork

In rock climbing, as in every other human activity, people search for the instantaneous improvement, the ‘magic bullet’. In climbing, if I had to cite a magic bullet for technique, it would be improved footwork. I’ve seen world-class climbers with terrible footwork. (How much better could they have been, one wonders, if only…)

You may have just started rock climbing or you may have been at it for decades. I’d be amazed if you couldn’t improve your footwork (and that includes me too!) Better footwork means less effort on your fingers and arms. Put simply, you can stay on the rock for a lot longer without a rest. On a route near your limit, this will often mean the difference between success and failure.

On the rock, most climbers think about going from handhold to handhold. You would do far better to think about going from foothold to foothold. It’s as though peoples’ brains think, “Hands!” – especially when they’re scared. They would be better thinking “Feet!” At their best, footholds may give you a hands-off rest, i.e. full recovery.

A good way of improving footwork is traversing on low walls, just above the ground, in a position of maximum safety (but still, please, take care). Use the toe of your climbing shoe as a precision instrument. Pivot through on it and push your entire body from it. This is what Mike Lea, a former UK national climbing team coach, used to call, “Building your feet.” Try it and see the difference.

Many people shuffle one foot after the other. It may make more sense to ‘step through’, e.g. if you’re traversing leftwards, bring your right foot leftwards, past your left foot. And remember – you don’t need to climb facing straight on to the rock. You can use the inside or the outside front edge of your climbing shoe. You can use heel-hooks and toe hooks.

When I started climbing in the 1960s, it was in big boots. Precision? Forget it! Modern climbing shoes are like Formula 1 racing cars, often driven by novice drivers. Make the most of your climbing shoes and you will notice a huge difference.

A last point (for male climbers, especially novice male climbers). Forget ‘pulling yourself’ up the rock. Instead watch women climbers of all abilities. In general, women have massively better footwork than men. But, with rare exceptions, really good climbers of both genders have a lightness and precision of footwork that’s a marvel to behold. Watch them and learn. Above all, in climbing and in life, never stop learning!

Full Body Harness

  • Comfort- Is the harness padded in areas it will be supporting your weight? Even support for a short time will quickly be felt wherever those straps dig in.
  • Convenience- Does it have enough loops and straps to carry all your gear? Will it be easy to don properly?
  • Safety- Is your harness up to OSHA standards for your particular job? For example are you operating a bucket truck or climbing a tower? I do both these things and have a different harness for each.
  • Proper application- If you did fall, in what position will your body be hanging? If your lanyard is attached at the waist, you’ll be alive but I guarantee you’ll be hurting.
  • Fit- Climbing harnesses are available in several sizes. They are also have different weight ratings. If you are big and tall you may need a custom made harness.
  • Capacity- The weight rating includes your body weight and the weight of all your tools.
  • D-rings- the more the better. My harness has six. All full body harnesses should have a dorsal D-ring.
  • Repel Seat- When all your weight and the weight of your tools is being supported by your leg straps as when you must repel, it will cut off blood to your legs unless you are sitting on something. You can buy these seats separately, but my harness has it incorporated. It is also nice to rest in.

There are many jobs in which working at heights is a necessity. Tree trimmers, power company employees, window washers, people that work on radio and cellphone towers. The construction industry. If your employer does not require you to wear a safety harness, wear one anyway. It could mean the difference between living to talk about it or taking all your meals through a straw or worse.

Truth be told, there is a good deal more to a full body harness, than simply just preventing some sort of fall. If, it happens that you slip when you are doing work up high, you’ll be glad you took steps to make sure you’re fully protected. A full body harness can do just that. Your neck and extremities can all be protected in a suitably fitted harness.

A full body harness has more uses than just on the job. I am sure you can think of many uses to keep yourself protected around the home. I like to do many of the “honey-dos” around the house myself and save the money for a contractor. You will always find me in my harness anytime I am on the roof or trimming the trees. When I am helping a buddy, I make sure he has one as well.

According to OSHA, thousands of people are either killed or injured from slips, trips, and falls. Unfortunately its rules and regulations are written in blood. Most of the injuries or deaths we hear about in the news that result from falls can be prevented. I mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Ensure you have the proper harness for the proper situation or job. Firefighters have a harness made to withstand high temperatures. People that perform high rescues use a harness that enables them to more easily retrieval a person in distress.

Once again a climbing harness is not the only piece of protective equipment you should use. When working at heights I regularly don a climbing hard hat, eye protection, a shock absorbing lanyard as well as a top of the line tower climbing harness. No cost is to great when it comes to my safety. I recommend you purchase the best equipment available and inspect it regularly.

Foods For Climbing Training

  • Try to eat foods that are as fresh as possible for nutrient quality. The more processed a food, the less nutritional value it has. You want to go for food that is going to provide you with the most energy. Complex carbohydrates are your best choice and include such items as whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice and vegetables. All of these foods are a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • When considering protein choices, consider lean meats such as chicken, turkey and fish. Beef is fine as long as you choose extra leans cuts. Don’t overlook the high protein, low fat benefits of foods like tofu, cottage cheese and eggs. Many climbers like to use whey protein as well, making it into shakes or adding it to cereal or other cooking. It is low in fat and is one of the nearly complete protein foods available.
  • Don’t completely shy away from fat, just be sure to choose the right kind. The good fats contain much needed fatty acids that the body needs to stay healthy. Nuts, avocados, olives and cold water fish are good choices. If these foods don’t appeal to you, fish oil supplements are a great alternative.
  • As with all healthy diets, a rock climbing training diet must include plenty of water each day, and this is especially true when climbing. Staying hydrated is a vital element of strength and endurance. While some sports drinks are suitable for hydration, others that contain excess sugar, fructose or glucose should be avoided.
  • Endurance is vital to successful climbing and one way to develop staying power and avoid fatigue, is to keep your insulin levels steady. Though a spike in insulin may make you fell energized at first, you will begin to feel tired as the spike levels off. It is far better to avoid sugar spikes and keep things level. This is most easily done by eating smaller meals at shorter intervals. It’s recommended that you eat every three to four hours to regulate sugar levels.
  • In spite of all your best efforts to eat well and stay in top physical condition, you are bound to find yourself feeling hungry or weak during a long climb, or when good food choices are unavailable. For these times, it is valuable to keep a meal replacement bar or shake on hand.
  • A multi vitamin supplement is always a good idea just to boost up those vitamins and minerals that could be lacking in your diet.

First Aid Kits For Climbing

In the UK climbing instructors have to go on refresher courses every 3 years and one of the key things the last course emphasised was the necessity for climbers to customise their first aid kits to suit the conditions they operate in. I thought I would outline the contents of my first aid kit that I use for rock climbing and mountain skills courses.

Thus my large group first aid kit now contains (unusual items first):

  • Gaffer tape – 5(+) m. Wrapped around the body of my plastic first aid box. This method of storing gaffer tape takes less space, but I have also carried it squashed flat on the original cardboard centre – the trick here is to cut the inside of the cardboard tube so that it collapses more easily. Gaffer tape does not come as standard in first aid kits, but it is amazing stuff that resolves all sorts of problems from making splints, restricting movement to repairing blown tyres and patching torn clothing.
  • Compeed – In many different sizes. Brilliant stuff that is perfect for blisters, but has lots more uses where there are difficult wounds / wounds that need time to heal – it was the only way I could get some nasty abrasions to heal when in the hot, humid, tropical climate of Thailand.
  • Shrink wrap – great for protecting larger wounds from the risk of infection. I store this folded flat into squares and kept in a strong self-sealing plastic bag that doubles as a waste disposal bag.
  • 6 large zip ties – great for holding limbs and splints in place.
  • Survival bothy – A lightweight ripstop nylon shelter and still the best way to keep a group or a casualty sheltered, protected and warm if they are unable to move.
  • Wound dressings – I carry lots of wound dressing. These will be a mix of standard wound dressings and tampons – tampons are especially useful if you are out I the field with groups of teenage girls for an extended period of time i.e. D of E award expeditions.
  • Burn Gels – I only take these if I am on over night trip or expeditions where stoves will be used.
  • Wound Closure Strips – These are great for deep, but superficial cuts.
  • Spare batteries for my head torch.
  • Waterproof paper + pencil – always useful for noting down key points in the heat of the moment or when the party has to split up to get help. This information should include the location of the group, the condition of the group, description of any illnesses or injuries and the number in of people in the party.
  • Melanin sterile pads – awesome for keeping larger wounds protected

Then there are the standard items such as:

  • Triangular bandages x 2
  • Assorted Bandages
  • Protection: Gloves / CPR Breathing shield / valve
  • Shears
  • Antiseptic Wipes
  • Zinc oxide tape, breathable tape and first aid plasters in a variety of sizes.
  • Gauze pads

Fitness Training For Rock Climbers

Climbers need to have a high amount of muscular endurance, with the body being able to deal with the build up of lactic acid that the muscles will produce. There also needs to be a high amount of power as well a tremendous amount of strength, especially in the latissimus dorsi (back), forearms and hands. Having a high amount of stamina is a must as you can be climbing for hours at a time and is especially important as altitudes increase.

When I have worked with climbers, we have concentrated working on the back muscles, shoulders, forearm and hand muscles and the core muscles. I use a variety of exercises to help the above muscles and body functions. They include, but not limited to deadlifts, squat variations, pull up variations, rows, press variations and clean variations.

The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can, regardless of whether you climb or not. It works around 200 muscles in the body, not to mention the back, arms, legs, glutes and gripping muscles. I do this exercise two different ways. I get my climbers to do a heavy deadlift day, working up to 90-95% 1 rep max (RM) for 1-3 reps. I then get them doing dynamic work 3 days later, working on pulling quickly from the ground. I would get them working at about 55-60% 1 RM and doing 8 sets of 1 rep with about 30-45 seconds rest between sets. I would supplement this lift with exercises such as high pulls, cleans from the floor and hang cleans.

I will occasionally supplement heavy deadlifts with heavy front squats. Like deadlifts, squats are extremely tough on the body and work around the 200 muscle mark too. Front squats, especially with an Olympic grip, put a lot of strain on the mid-section and back muscles as the weight forces the body to keep back muscles tight, allowing the chest to stay up.

I do a lot of pull ups with my climbers. We do wide grip, neutral, palms back, towel pull ups, fat grip pull ups all with a full range of motion. I get my climbers to go from a dead hang on every rep. Again, I do very high weight pull ups for few reps, adding weight around the climbers waist (I had one guy pulling an extra 40kg for 5 reps) to no weight at all. On these days, I get them to pull as quickly as they can. For those powerful enough, jump pull ups and muscle ups will be prescribed. I do these for sets of 3-5 reps, really focusing on powering up.

Obviously there is a lot of forearm and grip work done. I vary the exercises from simple static holds to wrist flexion and extension. Some static holds I like to use are plate pinches (placing two 10kg plates together and pinching them together on the smooth sides), dumbbell holds and barbell holds. I might also make it a more conditioning exercise by doing farmers walks and make it even harder by adding my fat gripz to the bar. Hammer curls and reverse curls are also thrown in occasionally for forearm and biceps strength.

In my personal training sessions with my climbers, I get them to do press variations such as single and double arm dumbbell presses, push presses, Arnold presses and bench presses and press ups. This is to help strengthen the shoulder girdle muscles and shoulder muscles. I will also use dips to help with shoulder strength and triceps strength. I do these exercises for higher and lower reps and use a variety of weights.

For the climber, core muscles are very important. A favorite of mine is the Roman Chair Twist, where the climber lies back and then twists from side to side. This will engage the rectus abdominis, tranverse abdominis and internal and external obliques. Other core exercises are variations of the plank hold, ab wheel or barbell role outs, hand walk outs from the toes to nearly flat and back up, hanging knee raises and weighted Janda sit ups. I do these with a slightly higher rep range.

For conditioning, I will do short intense circuits as slightly longer interval training sessions. The circuits could be anything from a tabata circuit (20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest, repeat until 4 minutes is done) to one exercise done for 10 reps with a minutes rest and performed again (McPhee burpees are good for this). I will also do high intensity interval training (HIIT) working with high intervals from 30-60 seconds with rest periods of 1-2 minutes. I will get my climbers doing this for around 10 minutes to 20 minutes tops.