Safety Is An Illusion

Rock climbing is a pretty safe sport all things considered. People think it’s extreme but the process is pretty slow and steady and methodical compared to base jumping, downhill mountain biking and has far less regular impact when compared to rugby. It’s only dangerous when things go wrong, 90% of the time it’s user error or misjudgment that causes serious injuries in climbing. What’s great about climbing, especially sport and bouldering is that you can push the limits in a very safe way, it almost becomes safer the better you are.

Despite my first sentence, I try not to think of doing any particular thing in climbing as safe or dangerous, but rather as a risk that needs to be managed. The better you are at identifying risk, the better you are at dealing with yourself in risky situations and the better you are at doing the right things while in a risky situation, the less likely you are to get seriously hurt while climbing. 

Alex Honnold talks about risk and consequence when asked about the dangers of free soloing. The consequence of a fall is death or serious injury, the risk, or chance, of him falling is low, therefore he’s happy to do it. Driving a car on a busy highway is similar to free soloing in my opinion, the consequences are high, crash at 120km/h and you’re not having a good time. The risk of a crash is low if you’re alert and in a good car with good brakes and steering. The balance changes when you look at your phone, or it’s misty and raining.


Safety in climbing is about how prepared you are for what comes your way. Having good gear, wearing a helmet, following procedures like safety checks, knots in the end of the rope etc. This all helps prevent the typical user error issues of not tying in properly or being lowered off the end of the rope while abseiling. Mental preparation like being comfortable with no fall zones and being confident in your climbing and technical abilities go a long way to getting you out of risky scenarios. Like driving, even the best crash and the worst are sometimes just lucky, stack the odds in your favour by managing the risk both internally and externally.

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