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General Climbing Discussion

Wear a helmet?

The Elk
2:55:05 PM
I'm just curious, seems I've been reading a few things on other sites about wearing helmets etc.
I usually think of bearded, flanelette wearing, old trad guys or bumblies when I think helmets. I can see the positives of wearing one, but almost never see "younger" climbers (unless they're under instruction or instructing) wearing them, and I've never worn one. Do you think it has something to do with the evolution of climbing... ie: sport climbing?


3:40:12 PM
> I've heard enough Mick bashing

Dude that's a bit harsh. I've neither beard nor flany, and 31 ain't that old. If I recall correctly you're the one with the retro crag fashions. Still I'll admit to hex weilding.

Re helmets. I always wear mine, sport, trad, top roping, rapping, hell even on the walk off, and sometimes just standing below the crag. You'd be mad not to for trad leading, especially after the recent tradegy in QLD that should have hightlighted this issue well and truely.

Elk, do you think you're immune leading sport? Keep that rope out from between your legs at all times? Not worried about rock fall, even with gang top ropers kicking choss and gear down on you at Werribee? Not worried about hitting anything on the way down during a fall? Pendulms don't apply to your climbs? Never got spat off a layback? Ever swung in off an overhang? Never belayed someone who dropped something above you or broke a hold off?

Maybe go read Paul Pritchard's account of rapping off the Totem Pole and dislodging a TV sized block into his brain. It might put things into perspective.

Sorry, if I came off harsh. Don't want newbies reading this to think it's cool not to don a dome.

> almost never see "younger" climbers ...wearing them

Maybe they are influenced by climbing mags, that only show helmetless hero shots.

3:53:58 PM
Helmets are really important. I am lazy - but when I get on serious climbs like multipitch trad, mountaineering or aid I always have my helmet. We are lucky in Victoria that most of our crags are well used, cleaned and with good rock. When you go mountaineering you soon discover that rocks have a habit of aiming for your head from a long way up. Helmets are great for aiding also because when you strip gear from the crack it usually fires into your head like a slingshot from above. I have seen several cuts in heads from gear stripping.

The girl in Queensland is very good friend of mine's sister. From what he told me she has at least 5 serious skull fractures - all in the area that would have been covered by a helmet - if she had been wearing one.
12:33:51 AM
I always wear a helmet on multipitch trad, and aid routes also, and where there is greater risk of having something dropped on your head, ie. Weribee Gorge, Summerday Valley, Areas where instruction groups operate. I also think that trad new routing without a helmet is asking for it, especially if you are belaying. If you don't wear a helmet then you should be aware of the risks you are taking, and be concious not to let the rope fall behind your leg while leading to avoid be flipped upside down in the event of a fall. I generally don't wear a helmet on sport routes and well established trad routes at Araps and some areas of the grampians as they suck to wear. Well used areas probably have reduced risks concerning loose rock, but holds still pull off at Arapiles and there are numerous dodgy pieces of rock on well established routes waiting to do a number on someone.

9:53:46 AM
A similar topic ran on the aus.rec.climbing newsgroup some years back. I did a quick google for the reply I posted there. It's a bit lazy just copying and pasting, but I don't think I can say it any more succinctly than I did then.

[recycled posting follows]

Long winded personal diatribe follows. I'm not interested in starting or
participating in a debate on helmets, just giving my perspective on what
seems to be a really bad summer of accidents.

When I was 18, I was studying for my final HSC school exams. I was
studying some chemistry, and I took a break from it all to 'clear my
head'. I decided to go for a ride around the local streets. Since I
wasn't going on any main roads, I figured I didn't need a helmet. So,
I'm flying down a little hill, I glance at my little speedo thingy -
35kmh - and stand up out of the saddle to start climbing up the next
hill. A few pedal strokes into it - hard pedal strokes - my chain
snapped. I don't remember exactly what happened, only the sensation of a
huge white flash going off inside my head. To curtail this story, I
ended up with a fractured skull - a hairline crack in my left cheekbone
- and some medium-term nerve damage to that side of my face. My head had
been the first thing to hit the road. I hit it so suddenly, I didn't
even have cuts on my palms, something I've suffered in every other

Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times I have ridden a
bike without a helmet.

Why then, is it do difficult for me to reconcile myself to wearing a
hemet when I climb? I do sometimes. If it's a long route, or loose rock
or high objective hazard, I'll pop on the Petzl. But on ten times as
many occasions I'll find some reason not to. It's too hot, the route is
bolted, the falls would be clean, the rock's bomber - whatever.

11 years ago, I though that cycling on local streets was safe, and that
no helmet was required. But something entirely unexpected happened.

I wonder if the 21 year old in the article below had time to think
'damn, that was unexpected!', before he suffered fatal head injuries.
Maybe it's time to get into the habit regardless of the route. There
have been a few too many accidents in the last few years. I guess I'd
like to be the person who gets the headline 'man in stable condition
after avoiding nasty head smack'.

I don't for a minute believe that a helmet is some kind of magical
talisman that's going to keep me safe from all injury - any more than
I'd believe that a seatbelt will beep me safe from a head-on with a
semi. If I fall, cut the rope on a sharp flake and crater from 30
meters, all a helmet's going to do is make a nice scoop for the SES to
scrape me up with. But just as a seatbelt can *reduce* the resk and the
potential for injury, so undoubtedly can a helemet.

Sorry to post such a downer, but I'm getting a little sick of the injury
toll on the crags. And a little nervous about who's next.


article below reproduced without AAP's permission. But I'm sure they
won't mind.


English tourist dies after rock climbing fall

Source: AAP | Published: Friday January 7, 12:34 PM

A 21-year-old English tourist has died in hospital after falling 10
metres down a rock face at Mt Arapiles, in Victoria's west, on New
Year's Eve.

The man fell at the world-famous climbing venue when he lost his grip
while 20 metres up a rock face known as Tiger Wall.

His rope broke his fall and the State Emergency Services helped him to
the ground within 45 minutes.

The man had been climbing with four other tourists, including a
23-year-old woman from Norway and a 25-year-old man from the US.

No-one else was injured.

The injured man was airlifted to Melbourne's Alfred Hospital suffering
serious head injuries.

A spokeswoman for the Alfred said the man had died on Wednesday.

10:22:35 AM
I always have a helmet with me and don it when I think the risk is there. I don't particularly like wearing it though. It normally gets a worn in the following situations:
- Less trodden areas with dodgy rock (belaying & leading)
- Areas with lots of abseilers and other dickheads (eg: Werribee Gorge)
- Hards climbs with lots of ledges or potentially dangerous pendulams

Some stories of near misses:
- Climbing "Veni, Vidi, Vici" when the biggest bit of gear I had was a #3 Friend. Feeling pretty psyched, well above my last bit of gear when a few rocks go tumbling past, just missing my head. A bunch a school kids on an abseiling excursion who didn't think anybody would be down there.
- Watching a friend dive off "Chain of Fools", a sport climb at the Gallery, and swing head first into the rock. The rope wasn't between her legs, she was just committed to the move with her feet quite high at the time she unexpectedly lost her grip. Luckily she was wearing a helmet.

The Elk
10:52:57 AM
In resonse to Mike's post: (It's human to defend one's comments)

I wasn't trying to make helmet wearing sound uncool, I wasn't trying to jeopardise any safety, I was merely making an observation. I rarely see people wearing a helmet. I was curious to find out why it might be the case.
I am aware of the silly and needless risks I take every time I climb by not wearing one, I am aware of the girl in QLD that decked, and had she worn her helmet she woulda been in a better condition. I have actually had a frind die after a fall onto rocks below, smashing his head up. So I see the importance (long story, no time) Believe me I SAW what the lack of one could do.
I've never worn a helmet, probably because when I started I climbed I climbed with people that never wore one, and I simply have become accustomed to it. I am not saying it's right.

I make no judgement on dome donners, Good for you folks, I was just making a comment and wondering why we don't see more of it. Seems the emergence and popularity of sport climbing has rendered people to believe they're not really necessary. Is that that case? Is that what people think?


2:12:40 PM
I think the magazine thing is definitely a factor. Its a bit like getting your shirt off before a lead climb so you'll look good in the photos.
The other factor is definitely the limited number of people who use them. Most of the people I climb with don't bother. I'd say its 20% or less who carry a helmet regularly. Most clubs (VCC, uni clubs) try and encourage helmet use on club trips though.

2:35:22 PM
Another factor in my mind would be cost. For most people starting out climbing that startup cost are pretty high, especially when you dont know for sure if your going to be climbing alot. Your looking at $300 for your basic shoes+harness+chalkbag+belay device type kit, and another $100 on top of that for a helmet seems a lot. Combine this with the fact that most people starting out would have no idea of the inherent risks, so wouldnt deem a helmet essential.

By the time you start knowing enough about the risks your normaly starting to aquire a lead rack, and when faced with the choice of a helmet or a cam, the cam is going to win everytime.

Then youve already been climbing for a year, and never really used a helmet, so your not used to wearing one. Then you start introducing people to climbing, and they see you not wearing a helmet, and it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle.

Id been climbing a couple of years before I finally bought a helmet. It got use in Tassie, and ive used it occasionally in Victoria (Werribe Gorge & Watchtower Face) in spots where ive come to expect a constant rain of debris from above. I noticed when I wore the helmet in Victoria that other climbers tend to be somewhat condesending. This and other reasons have seen the helmet on the shelf for a while. After reading the recent Missing Link & Frog Buttress accident reports, ive made the decision to at least wear it whilst trad leading.

Anyway thats my rambling two cents worth.

3:52:16 PM
I believe also another reason ppl dont' wear a helmet on certain routes (incl myself) is that it just doesn't feel right. You dont' climb as well and you whack ur head on every bloody rooflet as u go up! having said that, its all about changing ur habits and to be honest I dont' reckon I'll be donnign the old skid lid when I'm sport climbing in the gramps or say thailand ;) but werribee or loose rock areas definitely, multi - definitely, trad most of the time..
We had a agroup of beginners at B.A.R.C. cliff at summerday the other w'end and u sometimes forget that some crags haven't seen many ppl for awhile, well I was runnin up an easy route to access the top and I stepped on a hold that launched a TV sized (34cm Panasonic flat screen) rock at my belayer. didn't hit her but it smashed into heaps of pieces right near her leg. Tell u what its stuff like that the makes u remember to wear a lid!

9:55:23 PM
Regarding the Tiger Wall accident (from Good Bad and Ugly) my partner was there as part of the Arapiles Rescue Group. After the rescue she recalled how climbers were standing around the scene saying something like : "It's OK - it's only a head injury".
What the climbers were viewing was a conscious patient and that seemed OK.
What my partner and the ambulance officers saw was a patient with severe head injuries, with fluid leaking out his ears. His condition deteriorated rapidly as he was transferred to the ambulance and then driven onto Horsham.
A helmet may not have saved his life : Mick Hampton took a similar fall in the mid-eighties and survived, even though his rope was cut over an edge and he ended up on the ground (with compound fractures).
I would recommend that you wear a helmet around the cliffs. If you ignore this advice, then that's your problem.

10:21:00 AM
I don't for a minute think that a helmet will allow you to cheat death.

I do think that it will reduce the severity of some accidents, avoid others entirely and be entirely ineffectual on others still.

Cliffs are dangerous environments. All sorts of things happen for all sorts of reasons. I don't have a crystal ball. I can't predict which things will happen on which days on which routes. Wearing a helmet all the time, whenever I leave the ground, is the only sensible solution in my book.

Yes, it does feel funny at first. You do bang your head on rooflets. But you get used to it. If you're in any doubt, read Pritchard's book, The Totem Pole. What would you rather get used to? Helmets aren't cool. They make you look like a dork. But not as much as drooling on yourself for the rest of your life.

If you can make the decision to put on a seatbelt in a car *every* time you drive, it's no different to wearing a helmet *every* time you climb. You can no more predict which car trips are dangerous than you can which climbs are. You don't expect that a seatbelt protects you from every injury, but you accept that it guards against some.

The bottom line for me is that I'd rather the headline reads 'climber narrowly escapes serious head injury'.

1:27:28 PM
This is an interesting topic. I always wear a helmet - I'd rather be considered a dorky bumbly than a dead cool chick (actually I think I'm a bumbly regardless of the helmet, haha). When I started spending more time climbing, all I owned was a harness and shoes, and my climbing partner said that he wouldn't climb with me until I bought a helmet. So I scrimped and saved, and we started hitting the outdoor crags. Very responsible of my climbing partner, I think.

When I went to Thailand over Christmas I took my helmet 'just in case', although it ended up staying in the bungalow the whole time. It was interesting to see a couple of climbers wearing a helmet, though. And I remember a couple of hairy climbs with ledges where I could have easily hit my head falling, and wishing that I had brought my helmet that day...This, I think, affected my confidence in leading - I felt safer seconding or top-roping climbs like that, unfortunately.

JUST WEAR IT! (with apologies to Nike)
5:48:57 PM
I always wear a helmet both climbing and especially when belaying. Although when you climb you always try and not knock any rocks down onto your belayer, but sometimes you do, and sometimes what you think was a small marble sized stone turns out to be the size of fist. Weriibee Gorge is one place I always wear a helmet, even when walking at the bottom..with so much loose stuff, who knows what might get knocked off from above.

For a $100 and a bit of inconvenience, a small price to pay to insure your head.

1:20:33 PM
In 37 years of climbing, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I have not worn a helmet. Frankly I feel naked without it, and count it as part of my rack and as essential as the rope.

The 'incidents & near misses' I have personally seen, far outnumber my digit count.
If I include the extra incidents I have heard of then it would outnumber my many partners (digits) over the years as well.
On one occasion I possibly could have killed my less experienced belayer by stonefall, if it wasn't for the fact that he was wearing a helmet; (following my lead literally and figuratively!)

I tend towards the bearded and flannels trad image, and consider that 'Dorky and Cool' are irrelevant words to the dead.

Even an 'el cheapo' helmet is better than none, and although a helmet may not necessarily save your life; if you survive, then it could make a significant difference to the quality of your remaining life.

For those who knock back wearing one for fashion reasons; my question to them is "why are you climbing, instead of parading on a catwalk"?

I agree with The Elk though; in that when I look around, its still a minority who wear one.

I'm stoked in Climber Chicks partners attitude. Full marks to that bloke.

I can also vouch for Neils comment about cleaning pro and having the noggin saved by the helmet.

Re Elks original question "Do you think it has something to do with the evolution of climbing... ie: sport climbing?"
My opinion is that helmets have always been in the minority; ... (even before the advent of 'Sport Climbing'). Perhaps because in the earlier days Climbers liked to consider themselves as alternative types / anarchistic?

I got into climbing from the 'institutionalised' background of speleology. Helmets were not an issue for cavers as it provided a neat place to hitch a light too, thereby freeing your hands for the task. This for me meant exploring (involving climbing) underground. These days I still do the odd pitch of adventure climbing at night, simply because I enjoy it. Without a helmet this would still be possible, but for me it wouldnt feel right, nor be practical unless weight was an issue.
I find the advantages of helmets outweigh any disadvantages; most notably during inclement weather I have often appreciated the extra warmth provided by a helmet.
I also have a second lightweight ventilated helmet for use on hot days. This one is usually loaned to any novices I may climb with.

The older I get the more I appreciate life. I intend to continue wearing my helmet ...

There are 15 messages in this topic.


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