Steep ground

Rockclimbing using a climbing rope and other equipment requires specialised skills which are beyond the scope of this book. There are many organisations offering courses and training in rockclimbing, mountaineering and caving.

It is rare for bushwalking parties to carry a climbing rope, and this section is confined to describing safe practices on steep ground which do not require the use of a climbing rope. The term ‘beginners’ is used here to denote anyone who is unfamiliar with steep ground or who feels unsure on it.

If steep ground is expected on a trip, the leader should be aware of it beforehand and be sure that all party members can traverse it safely, either with or without assistance. Prudent leaders recognise the importance of teaching beginners how to move safely over the steep ground, without placing them in significant danger. The leader must be in control of the situation, be able to see the beginners moving and be in normal voice communication with them. On a long stretch of steep ground, the leader should be close enough to give advice and encouragement without having to shout.

When a piece of steep ground is approached, leaders should be on the lookout for signs of nervousness among the party. Point out to beginners that everyone can climb rocks, although some may never have tried. Climbing rocks is like climbing a ladder with irregular steps. After each move a pause may be necessary to work out the best next move. However, it is less tiring to use continuous motion as much as possible, within the bounds of safety.

One of the most important principles for beginners to learn is to stand vertically and let their legs take their weight. They should avoid leaning into the rock—not only is this tiring on their arms, but their feet are more likely to slip off. A little practice will overcome the fear of overbalancing. If a move is tricky and there is any danger of falling, they should move only one hand or foot at a time, while retaining the other three on the rock, giving three points of contact. They should always check a foothold or handhold first before trusting their weight to it.

In some situations it may be necessary or helpful for individuals or the whole party to remove packs and haul or lower them separately by a rope, in order to climb or descend a section unhindered. Removing packs can make a great deal of difference to some walkers’ confidence on steep ground. Before hauling or lowering packs, straps and pockets must be securely fastened to avoid catching or loss of contents. If in doubt, up-end the pack first and shake it. Wear gloves, if possible, to avoid rope burns if a slippage occurs. Lower packs gently to minimise damage, and make sure they cannot slip or roll away after the rope has been untied.