Ironically, the day I’d planned to write this, a rock fell onto Kate, injuring her left arm. At the time, neither of us were wearing a helmet, as we were still on the approach to a scramble along the Segaria ridge. The terrain being mostly straightforward and nobody above us. For a moment it crossed my mind that helmets and gearing up would be a good idea, but it certainly didn’t feel necessary.
Thankfully on this occasion a helmet wouldn’t have made a difference, but that’s not always going to be the case. The rock Kate pulled off causing her to fall a short distance could have landed on her head not her arm, she could have knocked her head during the fall. In either scenario wearing a helmet would have been very beneficial.
So why weren’t we wearing helmets?
We had decided on a suitable gearing up spot where helmets, harness, etc would be fitted. We had not yet reached that spot.
Was this a reasonable choice?
I think so. The terrain wasn’t overly steep, nor did it feel particularly loose, it was dry, friction was excellent, nobody above us. Also, we were only on the approach to the scramble, with a few very short rocky steps to negotiate. Our dynamic risk assessment gave us the thumbs up.
A few days prior to this, a group of us were rock climbing at a nearby crag, much of the crag is overhanging. It’s very common for climbers not to wear a helmet whilst at an overhanging crag as the likelihood of something falling onto their head is low. Well guess what folks, we had a large tree branch narrowly miss us all whilst standing beneath the overhanging section of crag. The weight of a climber (Sam) dislodged the branch. Sam didn’t have time to shout out to warn us as it all happened so fast! I was belaying for Sam and we both had helmets on our heads, I was very thankful for that.
Let’s look at this scenario in more detail.
A belayer will often take off their helmet to belay a lead climber, this is a silly mistake that so many of us make (yes I’ve been guilty of this on occasion). The belayer is just as likely to be injured as the climber. Why?
Firstly, if the climber dislodges anything, it’s quite likely going to land on / near the belayer!
Secondly, should the leader fall, large forces can be felt by the belayer, often causing them to be jolted around quite suddenly.
Sam did fall during that climb, I was jolted around and having a helmet on most definitely gave us both added protection.
When Sam dislodged the tree branch, there was no warning for us below, thus wearing the helmet significantly increased our safely.
Let’s consider not wearing a helmet in the above scenario and what could result from that:
Climber falls off, this pulls the belayer into the rock with a force, belayer hits head on rock and is dazed / knocked out. Belayer inevitably lets go of the rope and the climber falls to the ground = 2 injured people (at least).
Climber dislodges tree branch which strikes belayer on head knocking them unconscious. Result is for belayer to let go of the rope and climber falls to the ground = 2 injured people (at least).
Modern helmets are lightweight, comfortable, and even look good. There’s absolutely no excuse not to be wearing one of these at the crag whether belaying, climbing, or sitting around enjoying lunch.
Now I’ll come clean too. Over the years I’ve probably worn a helmet at the crag only about 80% of the time, that’s simply not enough. However, this has improved in recent times to probably nearer 90%. In light of recent events that figure is now very likely to reach 100% and stay there.
There’s a great climbing DVD called Welsh Connections. Amongst the Rock Stars are legends Johnny Dawes and Paul Pritchard. Both being absolutely brilliant climbers at the top of their game and both of world renown. During the DVD both are seen to be wearing helmets and commenting on such (although there is a sketch where Johnny lets his hair blow in the wind)!
Rock climbing is an amazing sport that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people. There’s no need to be super fit, skinny, or tall. But there really is a need to wear a helmet.
When booking a climbing or scrambling course with us, we provide modern, well fitting, and lightweight helmets for your comfort and safety. If you’d like to book a course or guided day, please get in touch anytime.
Thanks for reading, happy climbing J