How to climb frozen waterfalls without getting killed


Basis have recently been working with the Waltham Forest Council Transformation Service

A few weeks ago Nick Harvey, Programme Office Manager shared a presentation with Matt that focused on Risks and Issues from the perspective of Ice Climbing and it's similarities with his work within this local council (not as tenuous as you'd imagine!). 

Nick kindly offered to rework his slides in to a blog post for us. So without further a do... Our first ever guest blogger ... Nick Harvey (he's in the pictures).

‘When I first started at Waltham Forest, I was asked to deliver a presentation on risk and issue management.  Not knowing a lot about these at the time, I turned to the one risky arena I was familiar with – the mountains. 

The more I thought about the process of climbing, the more similarity it seemed to have.  Now, knowing a lot more, the resemblance is even more striking. Ice climbing is perceived to be an ‘extreme sport’, but what it is, is a finely controlled sport in an extreme setting; close to the line of acceptability but never over it (or that is the aim). Most climbers are control freaks. Risk assessments are all well and good (and as an instructor, I do formal risk assessments), but on a cliff, the dynamic risk assessment is king

Plan for difficulties – it is no good waiting until I am on the hardest moves of the route to then think about how to make it safe. By then I should be focused only on the climbing, having done all I can to maximise my chances of success, and minimise my chances of falling. This can comprise of many aspects from seconds to years in advance:

Lesson 1:  Plan ahead and put in place controls when it is easy to do so

I have climbed whole 60 metre pitches without putting in any protection, because sometimes that is the safest thing to do. Sometimes a place is inherently dangerous (i.e. from rock fall above).  How do you minimise risk? Move through quickly as possible! What is likely to kill me on a climbing trip? Probably not the actual climbing! Climbers spend their lives thinking about the risks!

Lesson 2:  Think about risk. A long risk register doesn’t mean a risky project; it means a well-considered project that is likely to avoid many of its risks.

Avalanches scare the bejesus out of me. Paranoia is healthy, but THE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT LOOP ENDS LIVES. The optimum angle for avalanche release is 37%. You cross an avalanche prone slope once, and you survive. You cross a similar slope later, and it doesn’t slide. You cross another one the next day and all is well…. suddenly this type of slope becomes ‘safe’ because you’ve never had an accident…really the statistical likelihood is exactly the same as when you first tentatively crossed that first scary slope. What happened last time, may not happen this time!

Lesson 3:  Don’t prejudice your judgement based on your experience of history – look objectively at the facts.

When assessing snow conditions for avalanches, you seek somewhere safe to do the test but that has experienced the same conditions as the terrain you need to travel over – altitude, aspect, steepness

Lesson 4:  Test where you can, in a safe environment that comes as close to the real thing as possible.

First rule – ‘if you have an accident, you’re pretty much dead anyway, so why carry a first aid kit?’ An exaggeration, but the point is – you can’t afford to have issues! Retreat if you must. Know your skillset and your limits and act accordingly.

Lesson 5:  Don’t let a risk become an issue – that’s just bad management!

A climbing accident is always a failure to perceive or control a risk. Don’t have any accidents!

Lesson 6:  Could you really not have predicted this would happen?

In conclusion, be safe out there!’

Check out Nick’s climbing blog here: the guy knows his stuff!

Thanks Nick!

matt barnaby