Friday, 2 December 2011

In Defence of the Bowline

There has been some criticism of the Bowline as a tie-in knot recently prompted by the sad death of a climber at a climbing wall where what currently seems to be just speculation suggesting that a mistied or partially completed Bowline was to blame.

One climbing wall is now banning use of the Bowline as a tie-in knot, no doubt more will follow. Many walls seem to regard the Bowline as a black art, their employees will look askance at you if you use anything but the "recommended" (by whom?) rethreaded figure of eight. (I've had odd looks for not using a Gri-Gri!!) The main excuse seems to be that the figure of eight is easier to check for correctness by the staff. The argument is that if you mistie the Bowline then it's not easy to spot however if you do mistie the knot then it simply comes undone when you pull the rope leading away from you. A simple check.

I began climbing using the figure of eight as my tie-in knot but after my first leader fall switched to the Bowline and have used it for over thirty years with no issues whatsoever. If I was forced to tie in with the figure of eight I'd probably get it wrong, perhaps even more worrying is that I wouldn't trust it even if I did get it right. I can't remember the last time I tied a rethreaded figure of eight, maybe it was that time in 1981 when I lobbed off a route in Water-cum-Jolly and struggled to undo the welded mass of rope that the knot had become. I may have used a figure of eight on the bight once or twice a couple of years ago but I really can't be sure.

Above and beyond this is a slightly more pernicious creep of there being "one true way" to do things. Climbing just isn't like that, there's too many variables but climbing walls seem increasingly intent on avoiding this variability. Obviously they have a business to run and injuries or worse aren't exactly selling points but promoting the idea that there's only one way to do things is counter-productive. Climbing is about adaptability and if you don't have a variety of techniques to hand then you are severely limiting yourself. Often the "one true way" is so convoluted and time consuming that it just gets in the way of the climbing itself.

I'm more worried that climbing walls are employing staff who aren't able to recognise valid tie-in knots than any risk that I or any one else might tie-in incorrectly.

Phew! On an activity note I enjoyed a very windy day last Sunday walking over the fells to the north of Whinlatter Pass, apart from Whinlatter itself all were on a single walk though with a couple of real outliers in Sale and Ling Fells. I managed to avoid most of the showers and got back to the car about five minutes before a real downpour.

I'm off to Belgium for a week with work so unlikely to get much done this weekend.

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