The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement

An important part of making the transition to climbing outside is developing the art of balancing the skills you have available, against the challenges provided by the environment. That the sport involves risk is obvious to all, and this is an integral part of the activity. It is important for each individual to identify a personally acceptable level of risk.

Minimising risks boils down to having the right level of skill and experience relative to the difficulty and seriousness of a given route. On a climbing wall different routes present a fairly equal level of risk, irrespective of their difficulty. When climbing outside this is not the case, and the potential level of risk to which a climber is exposed does not equate to a route's difficulty. This is one of the biggest differences an indoor climber must understand when climbing outside. Sustaining an injury on an easy sea cliff climb is likely to be more serious than having an accident at a roadside crag, and generally the amount of 'safety' or 'danger' involved comes from the climber, not the rock.

We all have varied perceptions of what risk is and experience taking risks in different ways. When starting out choose the easiest routes available so that you are (hopefully!) still smiling when you finish them. In this way you find your limit by working up to it and so build a clear picture of the perceived and actual risks involved. Accidents often happen when people confuse these two very different concepts.

Managing risk: high runner placement protecting leader Photo - Jon Garside

Imagine walking around at the top of a cliff where a slip over the edge could be fatal -the actual risk - but one can feel safe as the terrain is flat - the perceived risk. Climbing a difficult route with a top rope is very safe -the actual risk - (assuming the anchor is good, the belayer is paying attention etc) but the difficulty of the climb can induce a lot of fear -the perceived risk. Ask yourself lots of 'what if' questions, and in this way you can be objective about the risks to which you are exposed.

Because experienced climbers strive very hard to know their own limitations, the sport enjoys remarkably low accident rates. Incidents that make the headlines often involve individuals operating in environments for which they were ill-prepared, and this can give a somewhat skewed impression of the dangers involved in the sport.

Accidents can happen due to circumstances over which the climber has no control, such as rockfall, and in these events first aid training can make all the difference. As an absolute minimum all climbers should be familiar with

Enjoy adventure at any age Photo - Jon Garside

basic emergency procedures, as outside help will always take time to arrive. Climbers should be especially aware that many serious accidents involve head injuries, and that wearing a helmet has on many occasions saved someone from more serious injury or death.

Hopefully it is obvious that your first outdoor climbs should be very much within your ability, without any unnecessary complications. It would be foolhardy to choose a weather dependent long mountain route with a complicated descent as your first climb!

Think about the type of route you are embarking on. An easy slab may provide fewer runner placements than an overhanging crack, and so a leader may be more likely to sustain an injury falling off the former than the latter - it's not the falling off that's the problem, it's the hitting something on the way down that's going to hurt!

Don't just consider the grade when choosing climbs, identify your strengths and weaknesses and pick routes accordingly.

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