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BLOG | TIPS

Partner Check: The Importance of Safety Checks When Climbing

Checking everything is correct before starting a climb may seem obvious, quick and easy, yet it is surprising how many climbers need to be reminded of this issue. We will learn about the safety steps to take before starting a climb from the hand of French climber, Julia Chanourdie.

The partner check, as quick and easy as it is necessary. Photo Petzl

Let's not fool ourselves about climbing – risk attracts. In addition to the endorphins generated during physical exercise, adrenaline is one of the elements that gets us hooked on this seemingly unproductive activity that involves climbing a mountain and then coming down tired, dirty and scratched. But risk becomes even more attractive when it is a risk we can control and when we feel safe from serious damage.

If you are an experienced climber, you will know that climbing is not as crazy as it sounds. First-time climbers tend to talk more about their experience of vertigo or falls than about the enjoyment and challenges involved. Those epic first-person accounts of climbing adventures probably do not help to erase images of horror in the minds of non-climbers.

As soon as the climber leaves the ground, he or she is totally focused on perceiving risk in order to avoid an accident. However, just before leaving the ground, at the foot of the route, is the point where the climber commits the sin of inattention by taking the entire safety ritual for granted, believing it has been done perfectly due to having repeated it a thousand times.

Ever heard of the partner check?

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I'm sure you have. Maybe you call it "double check" or simply "safety check". It doesn't matter, as long as you do it. Most accidents, which are fortunately few, can be avoided simply with a visual check of your partner where you check that everything is in order.

Partner check steps. Petzl graphics.

Let's be honest, can any climber out there say they have never realized something was amiss, once they were already on the wall? Loops in the rope? forgotten equipment? ill-fitting gear? Problems that are easily and completely avoidable at the foot of the climb that can become dramatic just a few meters above the ground. The atmosphere before a climb is usually very relaxed and is used for chatting with other climbers, but this leads to distraction from the importance of safety at this time.

To raise awareness of this problem, Petzl has created tutorials on good climbing habits and this includes the partner check.

Julia Chanourdie, the third woman in the world to climb 9b (Eagle-4, in Saint-Léger-du-Ventoux, in November 2020), explains how to carry out a partner check correctly, in this short video.

What are the steps for a correct partner check?

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The partner check consists of a series of steps that should be absorbed and performed mechanically. These actions are so obvious that they may seem unimportant, but the difference between carrying them out or not can result in enjoying the climb or finding yourself in trouble or, in the worst case scenario, suffering an accident.

We assume you have already checked you have the right equipment for the climb: at least the same number of quickdraws as the maximum number of bolts per route length, descenders for the whole rope if necessary, gear for setting up the belay station, helmets, etc.

Although the list of steps may seem long, the process actually takes just a few seconds to complete. Remember that everything is usually done correctly and therefore any oversight would immediately stand out if you carry out a step incorrectly.

The steps are as follows:

1. The harness is properly adjusted.

Who does it?

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Mutually check between all participants on the roped team. In a two-person team, check each other; in a three-person team, each check the other two partners.

Partner check: revise harness. Petzl graphics.

What are the check points?

  • The harness is not damaged or faulty.
  • The waistbelt is above the hips.
  • The fit is not loose.
  • The buckles are closed correctly.
  • The remainder strap is tucked away.
  • The tie in point is not twisted.

2. The tie-in knot is correct.

Who checks?

All members of the roped team. In a two-person team, check each other; in a three-person rope, each checks the other two partners.

Partner check: revise the knot. Petzl graphics.

What are the check points?

  • The rope is not damaged and has no defects.
  • The knot is through both tie-in loops on the harness.
  • The figure 8 knot is correct, tight, checked and double checked

3. The belay device is working correctly.

Who checks?

All members of the team check the belayer. In a two-person team, the lead checks; in a three-person team the first and second climbers both check

Partner check: revise belay device. Petzl graphics.

What are the check points?

  • The belay device is not damaged or faulty.
  • The rope is installed in the proper direction.
  • The carabiner is connected to the correct place on the harness and the gate is locked.
  • Tug on the rope to check that the device locks it correctly.

4. Tie a knot at the end of the rope.

Who does it?

This is only essential on one-pitch climbs or for a rappel or lowering and is carried out by all members of the team. A knot at the end of the rope prevents the climber from rappelling off the loose ends of the rope in the case that the length of the route was not calculated correctly.

Partner check: revise end of rope. Petzl graphics.

What are the check points?

  • Simply tie a knot in the end of the rope or knot it to the ground mat.

We hope this video will help you become aware of the importance of a partner check and will become a healthy habit on all your future climbs.

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