Rock Climbing 101: Safety First!

While rock climbing is a great way to spend time outdoors, build strength and endurance and make friends, it also comes with risks:

"No matter what you do or the safeties you build in, climbing is inherently dangerous," said Paul Haraf, a senior instructor at the REI Outdoor School in Denver and an AMGA Certified Rock Instructor.

While the best way to learn this sport is with a certified guide, Haraf said, many people first try climbing with their friends. Whether you're on a planned expedition or a casual weekend trip, Haraf recommends the following safety guidelines.

Prepare wisely
In the weeks leading up to your climbing trip, prioritize good nights' sleep, eating well and exercise. If you know your destination is at altitude, arrive a couple of days early to allow your body to adjust. This will help you climb your best and stay alert when you're helping others at the rock climbing area (also known as a crag).

Use your online resources
Check national and state park websites for information on trails and crags, as well as websites such as Mountain Project for detailed information on specific climbs.

Read the information board at the trailhead
You could find information about closed trails or even dangerous animals. For instance, climbers have been known to leave notes about rattlesnake sightings around crags. 

Start a conversation
Talk to local rangers or the people who own the property, as well as anyone you pass on the trail. These people will have the most up-to-date information about the area.

Be prepared with The 10 Essentials
Haraf recommends a 35-45 liter backpack filled with these items.

Tell someone where you're going
This simple step only takes a few seconds and, if you find yourself in trouble, you'll be grateful you did it. At national parks, you can sign in with a park ranger. Otherwise, make sure to leave a friend or family member information on where you'll be and when you will return.

Know your friends' medical history
Before you start a climb, know if your climbing partner has any serious medical issues and where he keeps his medication. If he has an allergic reaction or asthma attack, you'll need to act fast.

Choose a safe climb
When you arrive at a crag, you'll have many climbs to choose from. Look for routes that have a nice, flat landing, easy access to the top and that are big enough for your group. And, no matter how safe a route looks, always wear a helmet.

Inspect your gear
Remember: All climbing gear has a life span and should be retired if you suspect it has been damaged. 

Check any placed gear
If you are sport climbing with bolts placed by others, make sure to check them as you go. A bolt should not be rusted and should not spin. For more information on dangerous bolts or how to re-bolt a climb, visit the American Safe Climbing Association.