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Always Test Suspect Holds while climbing
10/6/2010 9:18:47 AM

Always Test Suspect Holds while climbing

Loose Rock Tip #6

By Stewart Green,

Whenever you’re climbing, especially if you’re in a loose rock zone, always test any suspect handholds and footholds before using them. You’re climbing along, evaluating the rock quality as you go, but you reach a spot where everything seems kind of loose. If you reach up and grab that square block or crumbling sandstone edge, there’s a chance you might pull it off.

Be Suspicious of Holds
Always be suspicious of any hold that looks loose or crumbly—because it probably is. Be especially suspicious of any block, no matter how solid or secure it looks and no matter how well-traveled the route. Blocks of any size that come off can injure or kill. Routes that are climbed a lot are not always safe. Sure most of the loose stuff has already been pulled off , but routes change over time due to erosion and what was once secure is now precarious.

Test Every Suspect Hold
Always test any suspect hold—blocks, flakes, edges—as you’re climbing to avoid having it break when you grab it or move off it. First, eyeball the hold and evaluate its condition. But just because it looks solid doesn’t mean it is solid. Next do the sound test. Thump it with your fist or rap it with your knuckles. Does it sound hollow or loose? If it does, it probably is and is dangerous. Don’t use it. If you feel any movement, don’t use it.

Finding a Loose Block
Just last week I was climbing Reefer Madness at Turkey Rock and found a large loose block that has always been solid. I climbed up 15 feet to the pointed block and got a finger jam on its right side as I always do on this route. This time, however, I felt a slight movement as the block shifted left a fraction of an inch. Without weighting my hand, I stepped up and got a solid jam in the hand crack above the block, and reached down to its pointed top. I grabbed the top and lightly pulled. The block rocked. Loose, dangerous, and scary.

Avoid Grabbing a Loose Hold
If I had grabbed the top of the block it would have come out and fallen right onto my belayer. I did what you’re supposed to do when you encounter a suspect hold, I avoided using it and then warned my belayer to watch out and move the belay to the side out of the line of fire. I didn’t, however, pull the block off since there a lot of other climbers were at the cliff base. Instead I marked the block with a large X in chalk, which warns others that it is loose.


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