Audra Sadler | HighPoint Expeditions Rock Climbing Guide

I remember when my granddaddy told me he was just “pulling my leg”. I simply looked under the table puzzled – my legs were fine. Idioms can be tricky little suckers, especially when their meaning changes.

In climbing, you can show up to a climb that has chalk all over it, sometimes even ticked up. These tick marks can often be a guide to the best holds. (I’m not a huge fan of this particular practice, but that’s an entirely different article.) It’s not uncommon to come across a rock marked with an X surrounded by ticked up holds. In this case, X does not mark the spot to grab or use, it means danger.  An X on a rock indicates that it is loose and may completely give way if you pull on it, try to use it as a hand or foothold, or use it to place a piece of gear while trad climbing.

This can often be confusing if you are just starting to climb outside, all these holds are ticked up and you come across a hold marked with an X. X’s can be found on single pitches, perched inside off-widths, multi-pitch routes, and anywhere erosion exists.  

Rock breaks put you and your partner(s) in an immediate potentially dangerous situation. Preventing rock fall is incredibly important. Remember to not step on, grab, or otherwise use these holds.

An X on a rock indicates that it is loose and may completely give way if you pull on it, try to use it as a hand or foothold, or use it to place a piece of gear while trad climbing.

Recommendations for mitigating rock fall danger.

Climbing Helmets: Also known as brain buckets – wear them. 

Stay alert for loose rock: Remember to avoid any holds marked with an X.

Use assisted belay devices: In the event your belayer is impacted by rock fall, the device will work as a backup to protect the climber.

Verbal warnings: Yell ‘rock’ for any loose debris, rock, gear or otherwise falling object when climbing. Avoid trying to name what is falling and instinctively use the climbing term ‘rock’ to announce the fall to your belayer and other climbers. (Remember that pulling a rope can also pull rocks loose – announce ‘rope’ so others don’t get hit by a whipping rope or a renegade rock.)

Hug the wall:  If rock does break while belaying, move closer to the wall for added protection.

Mark loose rock:  If you discover loose rock, draw an X on all visible sides with chalk.

Pay Attention:

Climbers: It’s easy to lose track of the X when you are above the hold or marking.  Be diligent to avoid stepping on the hold as you ascend.

Belayers: Help your climber look for marked loose holds.  Safety increases with team awareness.

Learn more about rock climbing outdoors safely.

Register for one of rock climbing clinics here: Guided Rock Climbing Services

Stay safe out there.


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