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Poll: Safest form of climbing considering trad, sport and bouldering?


Original Post
Laura Thompson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

Hi, I am posting this question to the forum as part of a class assignment in which I am required to conduct an interview. I conducted a mock interview with an experienced climber, but I am also curious to see what other climbers have to say about this topic:

What is the safest form of climbing (considering trad, sport, and bouldering) and why? Is there a general consensus among experienced climbers, or is this disputed?

I think this question is interesting because the nature of each type of climbing is so different and I think though people may easily be able to determine their conviction on the question, it can be hard to articulate all of the complexities relating to each type of climbing.

About me: I am not an experienced climber. I have climbed only a few times, outdoor, trad, but I have never lead a pitch. I have also free soloed an easier route with skilled climbers and have done many class 3 and a few class 4 routes on 13ers and 14ers in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I am interested in climbing, mostly as a way to gain access to more technical routes up mountains, in case you were wondering.

Thanks for your input on this topic!

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

I don't know if there is a consensus, but I believe that sport climbing is the safest of the three.

Here are my reasons:

1) You are tied into a rope, as opposed to bouldering.

2) A bolt is less likely to pull out as opposed to traditional protection (cams or nuts)

However, if you fall before getting to the first bolt or the first piece of traditional protection, then you will hit the ground, which would be similar to bouldering and usually without a pad.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Bouldering is by far the safest, unless you're doing highball stuff (which is really soloing, anyways). You're low to the ground and usually fall on a soft bouldering mat unless something goes wrong, in which case you risk serious injury but rarely death. Trad climbing is inherently the most dangerous, for the reasons listed...you're using removable pro that sometimes removes itself. Trad climbing is also associated with multipitch and longer pitches in general, which ups the danger and mortality rate considerably. That being said, trad climbers tend to be more conservative with route choice and climb well below their max grade, and so fall less, so in practice I would say it's often as safe if not safer than sport climbing (when falling often, you up the risk of accidents caused by back stepping, belayer error, gear failure, etc).

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 5

Depends on what you mean by "safest". Lowest chance of fatality? Bouldering by far. Highest chance of injury, also bouldering by far.

Bill M · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 321

I have seen more people get hurt in climbing gyms than outside. The consequence of a fall is much higher trad climbing but people very seldom fall. I think rappelling is the most dangerous, followed by cleaning sport anchors.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530
Em Cos wrote:Depends on what you mean by "safest". Lowest chance of fatality? Bouldering by far. Highest chance of injury, also bouldering by far.
This. With bouldering, every fall is a ground fall- you're guaranteed to hit something, so injury just kind of comes with the territory.

All things being equal, sport is probably the safest as injury and fatality rates should be quite low. There are alot of exceptions to this rule, but sport climbing tends to be on steep (or vertical) cliffs with few ledges to hit in the event of a fall.

Trad, unless climbing harder (which is rarer), isn't as steep or clean, and gear relies on the user completely, so statistically its probably more dangerous. That said, those who are experienced climbers on good rock are probably as safe or safer than anyone on a sport climb because there's no way to know if a bolt is good- and gear can be evaluated.
CRAG-list-KILLA · · Wisconsin · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 205

What about a top rope by far safest I believe in any aspect of climbing indoors or outdoors

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
John Wilder wrote: That said, those who are experienced climbers on good rock are probably as safe or safer than anyone on a sport climb because there's no way to know if a bolt is good- and gear can be evaluated.
That statement could just as equally be applied to a bolt. Bolts can be evaluated. You cant see inside the hole, but you can inspect the outside and the rock which tells you a fair amount about the bolt and the experience of the developer. By contrast, you can inspect a trad placement but you also cannot be 100% sure of it's integrity without falling on it either. I've seen placements good enough to appear in the Camalot user guide pull on small falls. Seemingly good placements can pull under specific circumstances. There was a big thread on this back in the day on RC.com after a guy ripped several .75 Camalots out of a splitter and decked.
Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,523

They are all equally dangerous because we are all equally after the same degree of exposure to maiming / death, on average.

The adrenaline junkies can be found on highball Boulder problems, sparsely spaced bolted routes, and hard-to-protect trad routes.

It is not about which kills / injures more. It is just about the way we chose to kill / injure ourselves.

(Great Question!)

JK- Branin · · Southern New Hampshire · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 58
J Marsella wrote:Trad is the safest because most trad climbers only climb 5.5 or below Oh, that's just me. Nevermind.
I love me some easy trad.
JK- Branin · · Southern New Hampshire · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 58
Em Cos wrote:Depends on what you mean by "safest". Lowest chance of fatality? Bouldering by far. Highest chance of injury, also bouldering by far.
I don't have any evidence (numbers) to back this up, but my gut feeling is exactly this.
Nathan Self · · Louisiana · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 90

In bouldering, your protection is a pad and perhaps a spotter.

In sport climbing, you climb to the protection--and then above it to the next protection.

For trad, you choose the frequency of protection, so you can sew it up or run it out.

The safest is Aid, because you ascend via protection.

Bill M · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 321
Nathan Self wrote:. . . . For trad, you choose the frequency of protection, so you can sew it up or run it out. . . . .
Not! Ever see those PG13 and R ratings on trad climbs.
Nathan Self · · Louisiana · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 90

Sure, but there are countless trad climbs that you could protect every step of the way.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
Nathan Self wrote:The safest is Aid, because you ascend via protection.
Aid is most certainly not the safest, not even close. Some of the scariest moments I've ever had have been on aid. You're not clipping a bunch of #3 Camalots every two feet in a splitter crack. Aid is about climbing on very marginal placements, including gear that's not even designed to hold a fall. I've climbed aid pitches that dident have a single crack larger than my pinky for the whole pitch, and we're talking about C3F and A2+ here, not A5.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190
Bill Lawry wrote:They are all equally dangerous because we are all equally after the same degree of exposure to maiming / death, on average. The adrenaline junkies can be found on highball Boulder problems, sparsely spaced bolted routes, and hard-to-protect trad routes. It is not about which kills / injures more. It is just about the way we chose to kill / injure ourselves. (Great Question!)
Honestly, I think this is probably the best answer.
Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,523

Ted, You are wise beyond your years. :-)

Edit to add: I have heard of 50 feet as the coffin level ... above which chance of death becomes significant. So maybe bouldering has an edge.

keithconn · · LI, NY · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 35

Most dangerous for injuries: bouldering
Most dangerous of death: trad
Sport is pretty safe once you clip that first bolt ...

Nat D · · Seattle, WA · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 765
J Marsella wrote:Trad is the safest because most trad climbers only climb 5.5 or below.
Me too haha
Doug Hemken · · Madison, WI · Joined Oct 2004 · Points: 5,597

You should distinguish between the perception of safest and the actual probability of injury.

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,470

Armchair climbing of course is the safest.

No, forum armchair climbing.

Sitting across from someone in a real armchair is too close to your audience and they may strike you briskly and without warning. You need many miles of electrical wiring to have a safe distance.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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