Tag Archives: Climbing safety

Gear Review: Black Diamond Vector Helmet Women’s

Vector BD Helmet

Over the winter break I went skiing for the first time in ten years and was shocked to see everyone and their mom wearing helmets. Back in the day, the only people wearing helmets were jibbers doing tricks at the park. Today, you’re the odd one out without a helmet. Somehow, over the last decade, it has become “cool” to wear a helmet skiing. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case in climbing. But it got me thinking, what would it take in culture and helmet design to get climbers to the point where wearing a helmet is seen as cool? The Black Diamond Vector helmet is a step in the right direction.

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Risk Assessment in Climbing

climbing risk

Sasha on Bellavista, assessing the climb and her next move. (Photo credit: Sasha’s facebook)

We recently had the honor of publishing Sara Gillers’ story, the result of which is that she will never again climb or belay without a helmet. It might be my imagination, but since her post, I feel like I’ve seen a lot more helmets around the crag, which from any perspective is a step in the right direction. But here’s the thing – while wearing a helmet to protect your head from potential rock fall is one critical and important aspect of climbing safely, it isn’t the whole picture. One of the few studies I could find regarding climbing head injuries was of “back in the day” Yosemite climbers. It showed that the vast majority of injuries did not involve head trauma, but 12 out of 13 fatalities resulted from hits to the head (Bowie et al., 1988). Whether a helmet would have prevented these fatalities is impossible to tell at this point, but think about it this way: no bulletproof vest is going to protect a soldier from an atomic bomb. Obviously, the best practice is to simply avoid getting hit with an atomic bomb. So, as a climber, it’s imperative to understand that simply wearing a helmet does not guarantee that you’ve dodged a bullet; in fact for some a helmet seems to provide a false sense of security. Equally as important as buying a new helmet is understanding and implementing the lost art of risk assessment. Today we share four assessment factors that should be as second hand to your sport climbing regimen as tying your figure 8.

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The Climbing Accident That Almost Killed Me

The author, Sara Gellers, with part of her skull missing and a breathing tube, after a cinder block sized rock fell on her while she was belaying.

Sara Gillers, with part of her skull missing, after a cinder block sized rock fell on her while belaying.

Today we are honored to share Sara Gillers’ story. We hope that you find her words and advice as inspiring as we did.

I feel stupid. I feel stupid in a way that I can’t recover from. I was an English major at Columbia University, I got A’s – not always, but there were a few – and now it’s difficult for me to even write my thoughts down. It wasn’t always that way.

In a world where people wear helmets for so many sports, why do the majority of sport climbers climb without a helmet? Perhaps more importantly, why do sport climbers refuse to wear helmets and sometimes chastise those who do? Today, not many people bike, ski or snowboard without a helmet. Times have changed from where they were just ten years ago. But why do sport climbers still climb without one?

I did not always climb with a helmet, and my life changed forever when a large block of rock fell on my head. The resulting traumatic brain injury almost killed me. Even though it happened six and a half years ago, I deal with the effects of that accident everyday. Accidents happen. And what happened to me does not have to happen to you. I am sharing my experience to remind climbers how important that silly looking “brain bucket” is. I have spoken about the facts of the accident multiple times, but right now I want to talk about how I still feel the effects of a decision I made when I was 26. A decision that is still hurting me at 32 and that I will be feeling the effects of for the rest of my life.

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Gear Review – Petzl Elia Women’s Climbing Helmet


Dr. Jess is back today with a gear review and message for us all, CXC included: “Protect Your Head!” 

I like to think of myself as a safety conscience, responsible climber. I carefully maintain my equipment, regularly retire old gear, and always do a pre-climb harness and knot check with my belayer. Despite my focus on safety, I’m embarrassed to say that it took me 5 years of climbing to finally purchase a helmet! Maybe it’s the fact that I started climbing in the relatively safe environment of a gym, or that I never saw my friends or the pros climb in a helmet, or the fear that it would be hot and uncomfortable, but I never gave much thought about not wearing a helmet while sport climbing outside. That all changed when I started climbing at Safe Harbor and Birdsboro, PA. Both areas feature excellent bolted routes on man-made crags (a road cut and old quarry) that have quite a bit of loose rock. I bought the Petzl Elia women’s climbing helmet and now that I own the helmet I’ll never go back to climbing without it. Here’s why:

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