There is an interesting video on the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group website on climbing accidents in Boulder County, Colorado (it’s long but I found it worth watching). I’ve not been to Colorado but imagine that the lessons learned there apply generally. “Wear a helmet” is one take away. This was a timely affirmation for a long overdue purchase – Black Diamond Vector climbing helmets for me and a friend.
I never really got into the habit of wearing a helmet rock climbing despite the fact it would seem like a good idea and I always wear a helmet when skiing and mountain biking and when I have gone ice climbing and mountaineering. The main reasons are probably complacency (I generally climb in established areas where any loose rock should be long gone), vanity (I look like an idiot) and peer pressure (perhaps not the right term but no one I know climbs with one and I was mercilessly mocked by friends last time I sported one). Obviously, you never plan to have an accident and vanity and peer pressure are dumb reasons to do anything (especially at my age). I have read an article suggesting that there hasn’t been much done in terms of collating scientific evidence that helmets help (particularly in relation to side impacts) – I guess the worst case is that they do nothing but even a small benefit would seem to make them worthwhile if you do end up in an accident. The Vector and its sister the Vapor seem to be about as stylish as climbing helmets get – also on the short list was the Mammut El Cap. With one eye on a return trip to New Zealand later this year, I chose the Vector over the Vapor because the extra venting makes the Vapor less suited to keeping your head warm when alpine climbing.
The Vectors have arrived in the mail – the on-set of rainy reason in Hong Kong has meant we are yet to take them outdoors – but first impressions from wearing them around the living room are that they are comfortable and provide a snug fit and are very very light. The trigger for getting a helmet was a rock fall at Austin-Powers crag. A rock around half the size of a regular house brick sailed past my friend and I as we were standing at the bottom of a climb after it ricocheted off the face. If you take a rock that size square in the head you’d be in trouble. We don’t know what dislodged it – it wasn’t us – and there was no warning until it hit the face and went past us. There have also been a series of smaller rock showers whilst climbing at Cape Collinson – nothing large enough to do any damage but perhaps a sign to be watchful. The Austin-Powers incident came up in conversation with a climber at an indoor climbing gym who is an outdoor regular and he seemed to think that it was very unlikely that a rock could fall from above given the topography of where we were climbing as there was a gully above the crag that should have caught rocks falling from further up the hill. He seemed to think I was making it up. That’s not a nice feeling but I wasn’t and it did happen. I was thrown enough by his reaction to ask my friend who was there when it happened – he confirmed my recollection. I guess this just goes to show that rock falls are a risk even where you least expect it.
Postscript: I’ve had the Vector for a few months now and this post seems to be getting a bit of traffic from people looking for a review. Since the original post was made, I’ve now had the opportunity to take the Vector outside for a bit of sport climbing. I’m happy with it. No complaints. It’s very light and comfortable (as far as helmets go – don’t really seem to notice it) and fits my head well. I chose the Vector over the Vapor (which has more venting than the Vector) so I could also use the helmet for some planned alpine climbing trips to New Zealand. Despite having less venting than the Vapor I haven’t found getting too hot to be an issue when sport climbing in the Vector even in the hot and humid Hong Kong summer so that has worked out well (I’ve been doing single pitch sport climbs so admittedly don’t have to wear the helmet for all that long).