Safety Stories: Running a Climbing Field Trip during COVID-19

Learn how a group of climbers managed COVID-19 risks and what they learned in a Rescue Methods field trip at School Rock in June.
David Shema David Shema
Safety Committee Member
September 16, 2020
Safety Stories: Running a Climbing Field Trip during COVID-19

As Mountaineers, we are committed to learning from our experiences. We examine every incident that happens on a Mountaineers trip for opportunities to improve the ways we explore and teach. Our volunteer safety committee reviews every incident report and picks a few each month to share as examples of ‘Lessons Learned’. The trip report below describes what happened on this trip, in the leader’s own words, and outlines the lessons the leader has identified. In some cases, we offer additional key learnings from the incident.

Sharing incidents creates an opportunity to analyze specific incidents and also identify larger incident trends. We appreciate every volunteer trip leader who takes the time to share their incidents and near-misses so that others can benefit. We ask that readers engage critically and respectfully in the spirit of sharing and learning.

School Rock, green Mountain, Olympic Peninsula -  27 June


We executed a Rescue Methods field trip at School Rock on Green Mountain west of Bremerton, WA on June 27. A second iteration was done by a separate half of the class on Sunday, June 28.

  • All participants had and readily donned masks at the trailhead and again at the top of School Rock where we executed the field trip.
  • We could have done a better job of distancing while hiking to School Rock.
  • We put up a tarp to keep gear dry as there was light mist in the morning, and practiced the rescue techniques under this tarp. Masks/face coverings were most definitely required and were used when under the tarp. The tarp was great for staying dry, but likely increased COVID-19 risk as it reduced air flow.
  • All wore masks nearly the entire time when near anchors observing the students work through the rescue scenario, which included: shifting belay from anchor to a counter-balance rappel; lowering subject to an intermediate anchor on counter-balance rappel; connecting to that anchor with load-releasing hitch for the second and PA and tether for the lead climber; pulling rope and setting up tandem rappel; transfer load to the rappel setup; rappelling to the ground.
  • We used sand in an industrial bag to stand in for the second climbers to lower COVID-19 risk. Weight about 80 pounds. Not a bad representation for the second climber as no assist from that climber was possible.
  • We used hand sanitizer at the start of the day, before a lunch break, and again at the end of the day.
  • Had a lengthy discussion of what we did with the second day leader as I could not attend both sessions. He is very experienced, which made this possible. I would say there is some increased risk in the course leader not being able to attend both days, but this was required by COVID-19 precautions. We discussed the day in detail, outside and in masks to lower risk on this.

Lessons Learned

  1. Executing a field trip is possible with some added precautions required due to COVID-19. We could have used a person for the second climber - with masks on - but the sandbag did lower risk, I think.
  2. School Rock is an excellent location for this field trip. 35 minutes from car to crag. Excellent bolted anchor setup conducive to great top-roped climbing practice and to practicing rescue methods. Up to three simultaneous exercises possible. Solid trees available to support backup anchors as needed.
  3. I did not assign someone to specifically to back us up on COVID-19 precautions. This would have been helpful. We did discuss what would be different from a typical field trip at the trailhead. Most participants were more used to wearing a mask for a long period as they all work and are required to wear a mask in the workplace.
Students at Int Rescue Methods at Green Mountain.jpegSetting up the systems on flat ground before practicing on rock. 

Unmasked Student - blurred2.jpegThe lead climber executing the rescue did not wear a mask as exertion was a factor and distances between individuals was greater than 6 feet during this time. 

Lead image of climbers on the field trip practicing safety systems. 

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