Want to rock climb and rappel, were do we start.

10:40 p.m. on October 21, 2006 (EDT)
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Me and my son watched some guys rappel ausie style why we were backpacking in red river gorge, Ky. Since then, all my ten year old son has talked about is buying gear and learning how. I had done some rappeling in the boy scouts about twenty years ago, but I'm a little hesitant about starting a new hobby or sport that I'm farely ignorant of the basic skills. We would love to learn how, but my budget is tight. Where can we get safe and affordable gear, and very good instruction. I know Rock climbing gear can be very expensive, but I want to start small and work my way up. I've priced rope, harness, beniers, and PPE. and come up with about $500.00 not counting instruction. Is this about right. I don't want to buy cheap (dangerous) gear. But what gear is cheap and good, and what gear is cheap and bad.

7:04 p.m. on October 24, 2006 (EDT)
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$500 is in the ballpark for gear. But there is basically no such thing in climbing gear as "cheap and good". This is an area where you get what you pay for.

A qualification - there is a certification that all the gear you use for climbing should have, and that is the "CE" or "UIAA" stamp. These refer to test procedures that the gear must pass to be sold in most countries as climbing gear. If it passes the tests, it is "safe" and suitable for climbing use. So you can buy any "CE" helmet and be confident it will meet the helmet standard, even though climbing helmets cover a wide range in price.

But, to quote a professor of mine, "having a telescope does not make you an astronomer, and having a Formula 1 car does not make you a race driver." Having the climbing gear, in other words, does not make you a climber. Yeah, many of us got our start by just getting out on the rock. But too many died or were seriously injured in the self-learning process. So Number One piece of advice is take a climbing course from a qualified instructor. I would say, though, that your 10-yr-old is a bit on the young side for anything other than gym climbing.

What gear do you really need at the start? Only a harness, rock shoes, and, if you will be taking classes outdoors, a helmet. Since you really need to learn from a mentor who is experienced and preferably trained in climbing instruction, you do not need your own rope, carabiners, or any other gear.

When you do get gear, stick with the top brands and avoid the SEAsian imitations. At the last Boy Scout National Jamboree, someone ordered copies of the common belay/decending device that ended up lasting only 3 to 4 days at our activity center. The harnesses they got us from a "bargain" source were supposedly "one size fits all", but in reality were "one size fits none." The helmets were ok, since they were all CE. Proper fit of harness, shoes, and helmet is vital. At your son's age, an improperly fitted and adjusted harness is a strong probability. With such a harness, if he turns over in a fall (or rappel), he stands a good chance of falling out of the harness.

Your son may be excited by rappelling, and particularly what is called in this country "Australian" rappel (Aussies do NOT call the face down style "Australian"), but you should know that rappelling is the single most dangerous thing you can do in climbing. There are numerous modes of failure, due to effectively 100 percent reliance on the gear and proper setup of the gear. Every year, Accidents in North American Mountaineering (ANAM, for short) lists a huge number of accidents and fatalities in rappelling. Everything from rappelling off the end of the line to improper use of belay devices to improper setup of the anchors. "Australian" style is one of the most risky, since it is so easy to lose control, plus having the rappel device behind you instead of in front where it is visible and more controllable.

I have been teaching climbing for 40 years and am currently Climbing Director for a Scout Council that has a very high level of climbing activity. Your son could learn through your local Scout Council, but at his age, he will be restricted in the parts of climbing he will allowed to participate in.

In the NRG area, there are several good guide services that provide instruction (for a price), as well as a couple of climbing clubs that have experienced people who provide instruction for newcomers. I strongly urge that you make use of these before you get on real rock yourself. You can also start in a climbing gymn under controlled conditions.

I am not trying to dissuade you from introducing your son to climbing. On the contrary. Climbing is one of the most enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding activities he could participate in. I have been doing it for over 50 years, and continue to do it on a frequent basis. That means technical climbs of a fairly hard degree, not only rock, but ice and mixed rock/ice. It will really build self-confidence and self-control, but again, only if he (and you) is introduced properly and learns all the basic safety practices.

Again, forget the gear purchase until you get tutelage from experienced, and preferably professional, climbing instructors. Climbing is not like hiking, where you can just get out there and start walking.

I suggest you read David Roberts' book "On the Ridge Between Life and Death" to see the things that can happen when you are self-taught. Roberts is one of the most accomplished climbers alive, but he was involved in numerous close calls while becoming an accomplished climber.

12:45 p.m. on October 25, 2006 (EDT)
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Thanks Bill, You answered most of our questions, now we know where to start. We might even wait a couple of years to get started, when he is a little older. I have always wondered what the risk factor was of rappelling. This is a sport that can easily turn ugly if you are inexperienced. I'm going to use these next two years researching and gaining instruction from an expert, before purchasing any gear. Let me know if you have ever heard of a company called "ROCKSPORT", they have a shop here in Kentucky that teaches rock climbing at an indoor facility, I think we are going to take some classes. Thanks again, Magyver and son.

11:58 a.m. on October 26, 2006 (EDT)
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Rappel risks

Mac -

Just a couple days ago, a very famous and experienced climber died, apparently in a rappelling accident. In Dave Roberts' book that I mentioned, when he and his partner were descending from a successful first ascent, his partner fell while rappelling (body never recovered). So it isn't just inexperienced climbers that can make mistakes when rappelling.

In scout climbing, when doing rappelling, the rule is that the rappeller must be belayed. This adds a large safety margin, but is not guranteed (there is always the human factor).

Good decision, to go to professionals for the basic instruction.

12:13 p.m. on October 27, 2006 (EDT)
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Re: Rappel risks

Some more information about the Yosemite accident - while it was on rappel, apparently the belay loop on his harness failed. From comments made by his partner and some others, he tended to use gear beyond its recommended lifetime, and was aware that the loop was heavily worn. Apparently, he had some new harnesses on order, but had not yet received them.

Sounds like a case where a leader fall (common when pushing hard routes, but normally just a minor inconvenience when gear is in good shape and protection properly placed) could also have had the same fatal results.

Still, the investigation is not complete, so there could be other factors.

Basic rule - check your gear, especially when tired at the end of a climb, and definitely don't let your guard down on that rappel at the end.

2:05 p.m. on January 10, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Rappel risks

I'm jumping into this pool pretty late - but to start out and learn to climb - learn body position - learn to use holds of various configurations and sizes - I let my kids start by bouldering. I mean a pair of rock slippers, a chalk bag and a nice, thick mat are all you need to get going (assuming, naturally, that you have boulders!). This also lets kids get used to falling - without getting hurt. In reality, a pair of converse will suffice for just learning to boulder - although your ability to edge is pretty poor with them. Anything is preferable to the "RR's" that I learned in ..... (remember the shoes Mork wore? Yep - those were "RR's" if memory serves ...)

From bouldering we moved on to top-rope climbing at some local crags - this allowed the kids to get used to more air under their feet and more sustained effort without needing to search for gear placement. If I'd been a really nice guy I'd have used a static rope for this, but, wanting them to get some feel for a fall, I used a standard 11mm dynamic rope - learn to love the bounce.

We'd rap the crags we climbed - but ALWAYS with a belay - NOT attached to the harness but directly tied in - so if the harness fails you don't die.

My 17 year old started leading last year - we took a great deal of time going over gear placement in a variety of cracks so she could be confident of her abilities - and she did a good job -

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