The following events are true, and no names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Do you remember your first climbing helmet? I do, I was sixteen and was hoping to make a trip to Seneca Rocks for some of my first multipitch adventures. Everything I’d heard about the place suggested there was a good bit of loose rock and it was unwise to go there without a helmet. Of course, being sixteen I didn’t have much money, but my parents wanted us to be safe, so they threw down for that first brain bucket, the burly and indestructible Ecrin Roc from Petzl.
As my climbing progressed, I generally wore it on multipitch climbs, but not often when cragging. And that really didn’t change until I met my future wife, as she told me about two serious accidents that left her with a first hand account of what climbing without a helmet can mean.
There’s a canyon at a climbing area outside Boise that has a band of choss that runs across the cliff near the top of most of the routes, making them a little more serious than most others in the area. A family was out climbing for the day, both parents and their young daughter. They had set up a popular route, and the dad was going up the climb one last time to clean it for the day, when he pulled off a bowling ball sized chunk of rock and fell. The rock hit his wife, who was belaying, in the head and killed her. She was using an ATC style device, and when she collapsed, the rope sped through the device, and the husband continued falling to the ground, breaking both legs.
A grim story to be sure, but some key lessons to take away. If the wife had a helmet on, she perhaps would have survived, and a Gri Gri would have certainly saved the husband from breaking his legs. Tracy went out and bought both the day after hearing about this accident, though she still occasionally strayed from using her helmet all the time until one more tragic event changed her mind permanently.
She was climbing at an outdoor competition in Idaho, the Pocatello Pump, when the climber next to her took a fall and ended up hitting a ledge with his head, then plummeting to the ground. His belayer had threaded the Gri Gri backward, and the climber wasn’t wearing a helmet. Tracy was the first on the scene, and knew pretty much right away this guy wasn’t going to make it based on his head injuries. After that she never looked back about wearing a helmet.
Nothing can affect your quality of life more than a brain injury, and a helmet is an easy way to help prevent the worst from happening. Many climbers will (thankfully) go their whole careers without witnessing events like the above mentioned ones, but that’s the point. It only takes one accident to permanently change your life, so why not stack the odds in your favor?
As Tracy and I spent more time climbing together, I started using my helmet more often, and now it’s a rare day you’ll see me without it. Often it feels like we are the only two people in Rifle wearing them, but a friend almost got killed there when a loose rock fell on his head as he walked under a popular cliff, so we don’t let the odd stares bother us.
So how about you, do you wear a helmet often? If not, what’s your excuse? We want to hear your thoughts, and if you leave a comment you’ll be entered to win a Petzl Elios or Elia helmet, courtesy of the good folks at PembaServes.com. Fire away!