Climbing is Dangerous:
Stack the Odds in Your Favor.

Check your knots and harness buckle
• Inspect your gear and replace as necessary
• Know your partners and their habits
• Check your belay - are you sure you're on?
• Read all warnings - they can save your life
• Fixed gear is unreliable - back it up when possible
• Keep an eye on the weather
• Rock breaks - check your holds
• Always double check your rappel system
• Remember, safety is your responsibility

The Climb Smart! program is a national public awareness campaign designed to promote safe climbing and individual responsibility. The program grew out of the points encompassed by the Universal Warning which developed from years of examination of climbing related accidents and legal actions. It formed as part of the American Standards for Testing of Materials (ASTM) process and has become the basis of the labeling standard. The Climb Smart campaign summarizes the Universal Warning into simple points for individual climbers to remember in order to increase their personal safety. For more information on the Climb Smart! risk awareness program, please contact us at info@azrockclimbing.com.

In a world of growing adventure sports, people are entering the sport of climbing without fully comprehending its true dangers. Climbing has begun to take on a Hollywood image, separating it from a need for practice and instruction, which leads us to the second point. Instruction is Required!

In the past, climbers developed their skills through years of mentoring and exposure to a variety of environments and risks. Today, due to the proliferation of indoor artificial climbing walls, the demographics of climbing are changing. New climbers now rapidly develop the technical expertise to ascend difficult climbs through intensive indoor training. However, they often lack the breadth of experience that builds a foundation to deal with unpredictable outdoor environments.

So please, seek a qualified, experienced and certified climbing instructor if you wish to learn the fine art of rock climbing!

Arizona Climbing and Adventure School has been a supporting partner of the Climb Smart! program for over 10-years.

American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) is a bare bones nonprofit organization of dedicated climbers who replace unsafe anchors and reduce the visual and environmental impacts of climbing.

ASCA returns classic climbing routes to their original danger level by replacing deteriorating old fixed anchors, usually bolts, with modern camouflaged gear. We do not add bolts to make climbs "safer." Climbing is inherently extremely dangerous.

ASCA has replaced over 6000 old bolts to date in Yosemite and many other areas throughout the U.S., mostly in the western states

Rock climbing and rock protection/anchors
Rock climbing in the U.S. began in the 19th century with such prominent figures as John Muir. In that day, climbers attempted to climb every peak they saw, beginning of course with the biggest and most spectacular. Peaks could be climbed with easy walking, or trickier scrambling, or if needed, ropes and rock protection was needed. Rock protection means some means of securing the rope to the rock. A gross generalization of rock climbing is that over time, more and more difficult climbs were sought out, which required more rock protection and anchors. Sometimes this meant leaving nothing in the rock, but often slings, pitons, and small metal bolts were left. Even today, all these are temporary in that they will fall off or rust away within a few decades, but are permanent in that they are left there from year to year. The ASCA mission is to replace deteriorating anchors on classic climbs in the U.S. and educate climbers and the public about climbing safety. See the History essay for a little more background and some good references.

U.S. Rock climbing rating systems
Overall commitment/time rating: the "Grade" system.
Grade I a short climb done in a couple hours
Grade II a short climb done in an afternoon
Grade III a climb which takes most of the day
Grade IV a climb usually done in one very long day
Grade V a climb taking two to three days
Grade VI a climb taking 4 days or more
Grade VII a Grade VI in an extremely remote location

Technical difficulty rating systems
ALL rating systems for climbing are HIGHLY subjective, depending on the skill and experience of the climber. Most climbers will never be able to climb 5.11 crack, yet some do so without ropes. Most climbers will never be able to climb El Capitan, and those that do usually take days to make it up a Grade VI climb, yet several of those climbs have been climbed in less than 4 hours by the worlds' fastest climbers, making them only a Grade II for those few superstar climbers.
Anyone attaching too much importance to any rating should remember that these are subjective, and climbing should be about enjoying the vertical world, not competing with other people over some little silly numbers.

The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS; more properly known as the Tahquitz Decimal System), invented by Don Wilson, Royal Robbins, and Chuck Wilts in 1956, rated all free climbs on an initially closed decimal system:
5.0 easiest 5th class
5.9 hardest 5th class

After many very difficult climbs accumulated in the 5.9 rating, the decimal system was "broken" in that it was no longer a decimal system, and the 5.10 rating came in to existence, followed by 5.11, 5.12, 5.13, 5.14, and now 5.15. These upper grades were further subdivided into 4 "letter grades" to further refine the rating: the suffixes a, b, c, and d were associated with increasing difficulty (i.e. "easy 5.10" = 5.10a or 5.10b, "hard 5.10" = 5.10c or 5.10d). In addition, the popularity of bouldering (very short unroped extremely hard climbs) introduced the current standard "V" scale, which currently ranges from V0-V15. Boulder problems tend to be short and powerful, often requiring different techniques than roped climbing, and a separate rating system makes sense.

The use of outdoor rating systems in gyms is inappropriate and leads to safety issues
Modern climbers learning in a gym are often misled by the use of the YDS in indoor gyms. The use of the YDS inside is entirely inappropriate, as indoor gyms have little relation to outdoor climbing. Most people who learn in a gym and think they "climb 5.11" would likely DIE attempting a 5.0 chimney system first climbed in the 1930s. Because of this new generation of gym-educated climbers, the use of the lower 5th class ratings has fallen by the wayside, and modern climbing guidebooks typically condense all climbs formerly 5.0-5.6 into the 5.6 rating. A large number of accidents are directly attributable to the use of the YDS in climbing gyms.

Danger ratings
However, all the various rating systems do not describe the danger level faced by the leader should the leader fall (which is one reason why the YDS should not be used in climbing gyms). Various rating systems were introduced to include some description of the potential falls. These ratings which describe danger and psychological difficulty are not nearly as refined as the ones describing physical difficulty. Currently, the most widely used is the R, R/X, and X ratings. These crudely describe the danger level.

R runout, where a fall would likely result in serious injury
R/X very runout, where a fall at the wrong place will likely result in at least serious injury and possibly death
X extremely runout, where a fall at the wrong place will likely result in death
Some guidebooks also use a PG and PG/R system, in some guidebooks PG means partway runout, and in others means "Protection Good."

These ratings do not describe other hazards such as loose rock, which often can only be negotiated safely with a decade of mountaineering experience, and which regularly kill even the best climbers in the world.

Protection for the leader is a defining element of rock climbing
The amount of protection on a climb is traditionally determined by the first to climb the route, and while climbing is a fairly anarchistic pursuit, the one revered tradition is that later climbers never add additional fixed protection to an existing route. In other words, the addition of bolts or pitons to existing routes is not tolerated unless the first person to do the route adds the bolts to their own route.

Bolts are not regulated or certified and may break
Bolts used for outdoor rock climbing in the U.S. have historically not been regulated or certified in any way. Historical practice is to use bolts which are nowhere near any "reasonable" level of safety compared to the standards of modern society, and even the bolts used now to establish new routes and replace old bolts are not certified or regulated in any way. Limitations due to ease and speed and type mean that even many bolts used by the ASCA are nowhere near what would be considered acceptable safety margins in other walks of life such as the modern construction industry. The ASCA is a bit of a misnomer, because climbing is (obviously) not a "safe" thing to do. Old deteriorating bolts are potential death traps even for experienced climbers, and the ASCA seeks to replace them with well camouflaged stainless steel bolts which will not rust, and are easily removable/replaceable in the future. No bolt is ever guaranteed, and trusting a bolt with your life is always a gamble.

Avalanches, rock fall, incorrect installation, freeze/thaw cycles, manufacturing defects, and climbers attempting to remove the bolt with tools can all be the cause of messed up bolts. Bolts are technically speaking "abandoned property" and not regulated by any government agency or any organization.
Bolts replaced by the
ASCA may break

ASCA is an entirely volunteer effort to do maintenance and the bolts placed by the ASCA are in no way guaranteed and may fail.

If you are seeking security, DO NOT CLIMB. To quote Helen Keller, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." Climbing of any type inherently involves the risk of death. Those hiding their unwillingness to take responsibility for their own actions behind the current legal system of the U.S. should never attempt to climb anything.

Please help support the American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) - click here.

The Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. Founded in 1991, the Access Fund supports and represents over 1.6 million climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing; rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and bouldering. Five core programs support the mission on national and local levels: public policy, stewardship & conservation (including grants), grassroots activism, climber education, and land acquisition.

Access Fund is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open and to conserving the climbing environment.

Partnerships are vital to the
Access Fund. We work closely with land management agencies, environmental organizations, climbing groups, outdoor businesses and guide services on conservation projects, land acquisitions and climbing policy.

Climbing Management Plans have been or will be prepared for most public lands that have recreational climbing. The Access Fund works with federal, state and local officials on climbing policy and supports management based on objective decision making. The Access Fund represents climbers' interests during the planning process while helping agencies to reduce impacts and formulate policy. The Access Fund has helped land managers with trail building, installing parking and waste disposal facilities, and educational and safety signage.

Support for Wilderness preservation and wildlife habitat is crucial to the future of American climbing. The Access Fund collaborates with some of the country's foremost environmental organizations, including the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy, and National Parks and Conservation Association, on issues such as the use of fixed anchors in Wilderness areas, the preservation of lands threatened by development, the role of local stewardship in protecting public lands, and the protection of nesting peregrine falcons and other cliff-dwelling wildlife.

The Corporate Roster is made up of more than 75 outdoor industry members and other businesses that help us to keep climbing areas open and protect the climbing environment. Access Fund Corporate Partners support climbing preservation efforts in numerous ways, including promoting responsible climbing and political activism, contributing funds and gear, and helping with conservation projects.

Comprised of more than 200 climbing gyms and outdoor retailers, these partnerships are a critical link to the broader climbing community. The Access Fund works with over 500 climbing-related events every year sponsored by these members. Community Partners initiate conservation projects, letter-writing campaigns, membership drives and other crucial events. Membership in the Community Partnership Program is simple and reflects the businesses support of the Access Fund.

Regional and local climbing organizations are often formed in response to closures and other access issues. Our organizations program promotes political activism and local stewardship of our climbing resources. The Access Fund also works with numerous guide services as part of this program.

Many high-profile climbers work with us to spread the word, build our membership base, and raise funds at their events and slideshows. This group includes Royal Robbins, Conrad Anker, Lynn Hill, Greg Child, Randy Leavitt and Jon Krakauer and many others who are dedicated to the mission of the
Access Fund.

Please help support the Access Fund - click here.