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CMC / Denver Group


Risk Management

Risk Management is an area that can be both obvious and elusive. It might seem obvious that students be warned not to fall off the cliff with the 60ft drop. But it might not be so obvious that the students at the base of the cliff be warned that rockfall from above is a danger or that the student who is rappelling could get rope burns because they don't have gloves, or that the student who is rappelling must negotiate a steep overhang and could swing violently into the wall, or that the students who are waiting to rappel are sitting in an area where rattlesnakes like to lounge, or that the next student up is about to walk into a low-hanging tree branch, or that the next student up is walking downhill on loose ground toward the rappel anchor without a safety.

As we mentioned on the Safety page, you want to have your Safety radar on every second of every minue and scanning 360 degrees. What are the areas on which you need to focus? You can attend any number of seminars devoted to this topic. NOLS offers a seminar that lasts a full two days. Rather than get into some of the technical details of Risk Management, let's boil it down to more practical terms.

Always be asking:
What is the probability of a fall? and
What are the consequences of a fall?

The more severe the consequences, the more mitigation you want to employ.

And I think we can also boil down our assessment for Risk into four categories during a class:

The Nature of the Environment

What is the nature of the Weather and what is the nature of the Terrain?
Is the weather more likely to raise the risk of injury due to exposure or to insecure footing or to lack of visibility (e.g. fog) or lack of communication (e.g wind) or to lack of dexterity (e.g. ineffective belay) or due to equipment failure (e.g. icy rope)? Can you mitigate the risk by using more appropriate clothing or gear? Can you mitigate the risk by choosing an alternate location or time?
Is the terrain more likely to raise the risk of injury due to falling rock or due to crumbling rock or due to or due to slippery rock (e.g. lichen) or due to a sharp rock edge (that could cut a rope) or due to ticks and rattlesnakes or due to bullet ice or due to target shooters or due to falling gumbies (viz. Vertical Limit)? Can you mitigate the risk by using appropriate gear or choosing an alternate location?

The Nature of the Equipment

Take a close look at the gear the students are using. Is it in good repair and fitted well? Look at everything. For example, don't just assume the harness is doubled back and his partner double checked; examine it closely on triple check. The more severe the consequences of a fall, the more closely you want to inspect all gear. Safety, Tie in, Belay/Rappel Device, Locking Carabiners, Anchor, Prusiks, Backups, Redundancies. Again: Are the Safeties Redundant? Run through some exercises on less demanding terrain before getting on the challenging terrain. Use Ground School liberally. Don't just jump right into the deep water. Mitigation here is focused on Inspection and Practice.

The Nature of the Activity

In the Technical Climbing School, most activities run an elevated risk of injury. Even in Navigation, there is the risk of someone slipping and breaking a wrist. One year, I had a student slip and gash his shin very badly against a sharp rock durinng Nav2. I had a student gash a knee very badly while rappelling at Maxwell.
But you will probably need less mitigation during a ground school activity that when the student actually goes over the edge of the cliff.

And going over the edge of a cliff is probably the time when you most want to increase the intensity of your examinations and triple checks.

The Nature of the Individual

Be aware of the proficiency level of the student. Does he grasp all the training quickly and deeply? Or does he struggle to get the basics? Or does he seem to get the training TOO quickly? Thinks he knows it but does not. Mitigate the risk by practicing and have the student demonstrate to you they are ready to take the next step.


Be aware of all the risks all the time. Is there a bike race or parade that will prevent uninformed students from arriving at the meeting point in time? Is the parking lot icy? Are the proposed roads to the Trail Head clear of traffic, ice, and accidents? Is there a plan in case one of the cars needs to stop? Does the approach present any risks? Does the return/descent present any risks?

Think about assigning Mitigtion Roles to Studetns and Instructors. This will have more eyes on the potentials for danger and also raise awareness.