Monday, December 21, 2009

"Secure" vs. OFF!

"Secure." This is a common word here in Canada meaning some version of "off belay." Or it can mean, "keep me on belay here, but I'm OK for now." Or maybe it can mean, "I don't have a clue what I'm doing and neither do you so let's both be confused about what we're doing/not doing." I've seen it used for all three of these scenarios and a few where I had no idea what was going on at all. Now let's contrast this with the command, "OFF!' I don't think I've ever seen the meaning of that one screwed up.

To me belaying is binary. On/off. Black and white. I much, much prefer the words "ON!" and "OFF!" to this "Secure..." business, and I really wish Canadian climbing schools and guides would stop using "Secure." I have simply seen too many climbers arrive at a belay, clip into it, say "Secure" and then expect to be lowered off while their belayers are off having a smoke or whatever. "Secure" also sounds a lot like "need beer," "send gear," "Oh Dear," "Can't hear," etc. etc. "OFF!" is a terse, single-word sound that's hard to confuse with anything, and has only one meaning, ever.

"Secure" has an implied meaning; the belayer has to figure out what the climber means. "OFF!" from the climber means he's OFF, no more belay required. The meaning is clear in the word. Saying "Secure" is like yelling, "Falling Object!" Yelling, "ROCK!" makes a hell of a lot more sense, and that's why we use it. "OFF!" is like "ROCK!" The meaning is clear in the word, you don't have to ponder what is meant (unless you're a linguistics nerd or philosopher).

Safe climbing with a partner is often about communication, and many climbing accidents occur because of poor communication. Why use a vague word when there is a concise alternative?

"Secure" is also rather wussy, a sort of Morrisey-style word that sounds kinda whiny and unsure of itself, like a self-help session for insecure leaders. I mean, if you're "secure" now then you must have been "insecure" earlier, yeah? Sorry about that, get over it and use "ON!" and "OFF!" for god's sake.

I'm on a mission to get this word chucked out of our Canadian climbing lexicon. "Secure" is a word thought up by an verbally insecure desk-riding bureaucrat. "OFF!" is a word thought up by a climber 'cause it works.


PS--and, if in doubt, always leave the climber on belay. Worst-case scenario you have to feed the entire rope through your belay device. That's a much better worst-case scenario than taking the climber off because he or she uses some BS "secure..." and then gets dropped on his not-so-secure head.


Gordon McArthur said...

well put.

JD LeBlanc said...

Dude what's happened? Are you becoming insecure with with being secure? Not enough single malt or too much? I think if one is trying to rid the community of something it should be SEMPLE's addiction to Sponsorship! Damn it, why does he not just call all he is talking about rather than p'foot around and move the frick on? There's poser out there - i am trying to be one, but i keep failing ... He's just sounding scorned and definitely not Secure! Yes, i went on a tangent ... just old age focus issues.

Here goes ...
Off Belay means off friggin belay and the belayer is likely walking away. Secure means that they are in "hard" and are about to feed the rope to get lowered - otherwise they are yelling off belay and then rap off.
Yes it's a bit implied, but if you and your partner don't have this figured out before hand, then chalk it up to ADD or ADHD.
you forgot another sounds like ... So Queer ...

ok - i hope you are well and i hear you are still Plice'climbing?
i am almost back to full health - that decking in the Haffner cave really knocked the crap out of my back - who'd a thought that a mixed climbing hold could break and you can deck? Sort of like the Slawinski Klacker-ball debacle.

The only time i am really secure is behind my computer in the dark ... well maybe not even that!

Have a good x-mass and good luck on the 24hr thing in Ouray, stay out of them hot tubs with them euros ... 'Cause you'll be yelling insecure all night long!

Anonymous said...

Aha. But rarely do I hear just "Off" or "On" yelled out. Usually it is in combination with "Belay" and hence all you hear is Mumble, mumble "belay" and you are wondering is my partner off belay, am I on belay, what is going on? And "Secure" comes in quite handy when you are climbing with the rest of the zoo on some pleasant outing such as Cathedral Peak (Yosemite). In amongst the multitude of yells of "On", "Off", "Belay", "What the...", you know that the one yell of "Secure" is from your partner. Unless the Canadians have invaded that day for some reason. Plus, no one can ever really hear my high pitched yell, so usually my regular climbing partners and I just go with figuring out what is going on with the rope and go from there. Sometimes this means belaying the anchor being set up, but whatever, we usually don't waste too much extra time...or at least no more than a yelling match of mumble, mumble, what? -M

Luke said...

In Australia they use "Safe" in a similar fashion to your "secure".

The part that almost caused disaster for me was saying "take" at the top of a route before being lowered off.

My partner though I said SAFE and took me off belay. Still holding on I leaned back to see the rope hanging freely... Nice moment! I guess I should have said "lower" ...

- Luke

Butch said...

I'm not with you on this one.

a) "Off": what does this mean? "I'm falling", or "Take me off belay," or (from far away) does it sound like "Rock!"?

b) "Secure" has ONE meaning: "I am secure, and you can take me off belay."

c)"Safe" sounds like "take" from far away.

Having climbed with a million random dirtbags over the years, I have found one thing ESSENTIAL: go through the calls before you tie in.

Cully said...

I hear you, Will. OFF! is much better since it has only one meaning.

Kim Graves said...

I always add the persons name when climbing in congested areas. "Will, OFF belay." or "Will, Take.
Ready to lower"

Will Gadd said...

The above set of comments show exactly why "Secure" is junk. JD has been climbing for 20+ years, and thinks "Secure" means, "Hang on a minute while I feed the anchor and smoke." Butch thinks it only ever means "Off."

"Safe" is also ambivalent. Are you on or off belay when yer safe?

Yes, it needs to get sorted among partners for sure as JD says, but the problem is that "OFF" is clear, "Secure" has to be interpreted and explained. Hell, you could say, "Bananas" and as long as you and your partner know what it mean then great, but I don't always climb with the same partner.

Anon, "OFF!" is simple, no need for "Belay." If it's crowded do what Kim says and add the belayer's name.

So far nobody has made a good argument that Secure is more secure than "OFF!" In fact, the above comments reinforce why Secure is not.


Cully said...

Great idea, Will! If you are in Rjukan in a couple of weeks and hear a bunch of "bananas" being bandied about, it will be my partner and I testing it out.

Will Gadd said...

Right on Cully, I'm going to start using, "Pinche!" or something like that. Enjoy Rjukan, great place.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Freedom of the Hills nail this down about 50 years ago?

Anonymous said...

From all the comments, quite honestly, it doesn't sound like the issue is what word you say whether On, Off, Secure, Safe or Bananas. The issue really seems to be communication before you leave the ground. If you are climbing with a lot of different partners, wouldn't it be best to discuss what the plan is on the ground?

Will, I have been out at the crag with you once, though your better half was belaying me ;), and I know y'all are out there all the time. But there was a lot more complacency in communication in general (at least climbing related - socializing was going on fine :)). I know it is easy to fall into this habit with regular partners, I certainly do it too, but that is where some of the "risk" came in, rather than from using Off or Secure or whatever.

So rather than worry about (in)secure Canadians, why not just talk to your partner about the plan before? And trust me - no one can understand what I yell - it could be On, Off, Secure, Safe or Bananas and sounds just about the same. So on those rare occasions when I am doing single pitch stuff and will need to either be lowered or rap or will bring my partner up, we talk about the plan first so I can holler out into the wind whatever command I want when I get to the anchor and it doesn't matter. We sometimes use radios now too...I hate radios though. -M

Laurel said...

Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't be mad if I had to say Off Belay twice. I like going over what's going to happen at the top before starting the first pitch of the day. Single pitch cragging seems simple, but different climbers have different customs (going to rap? retie and lower through the anchors? drag the rope over to the rap station 20 ft away?).

One thing that really annoys me is that Lower and Slower sound the same.

Jason said...

I think maybe the issue here is not the commands used, but vocalization off the words. When 'secure' is e-nun-ci-a-ted on each syllable with a loud clear voice, face pointed towards the belayer, or hands cupped to project, it's pretty easy to understand. If it's absolutely abominable out, other methods may need to be discussed (like climb when the rope comes tight).

I'm not an expert, but I have a sneaky suspicion that a two syllable word is more recognizable by the brain than one syllable. If the wind and snow is blowing, you have your hood up, and are fumbling around in you pack for dry gloves, the word 'off' vaguely floating down from above may only be enough for the brain to register that there has been a sound made from may have been 'ahhh', or 'ohhh' or 'fuck!'. Maybe if you have a two syllable word the first of which cues the brain to listen to the sound, and then you only register the rest. Even if your brain doesn't register the 'se' it will the 'cure' and can probably make the connection if all synapses are firing. Kind of like 'on' or 'off' belay, even if you don't register the first syllable, you'll get the belay part and make the connection based on your situation.

I'm not married to the language, hell we should make it different every time we climb, but if you take 20sec to talk about it before you head up, whatever you're saying will probably work fine!


Cully said...

Two words: Walkie talkies.

Then, you could bust out all sorts of freaky, poetic shit.

Lead Climber [in your best French accent]: Jean Claude, I have summited and I feel very secure both mentally and physically. This must be what my therapist meant when she said to find a your "safety place". It feels _that_ good. You may take me off belay and proceed to climb. Over.

Belayer [in your best British Gentleman's accent]: Jolly good ole' boy. This reminds of the time when Nigel and I where pinned down in the Punjab and there was gunfire all around and I could just barely make it to my foxhole. That, my good man, was _my_ "safety place". Shall I bring the tea? I'm getting a bit peckish. Over.

All silliness aside, I think the best advice is to agree on something before you take off and use that.

When the wind is howling or we know that it will be difficult to hear each other, we usually have some rope tricks we use as communication. Three long pulls, for example, means I'm off and ready to belay you. You have a few seconds to get me off of belay and then get ready to go as I pull up the slack.

Gordon McArthur said...

Climbing yesterday in Haffner, I heard a party use the term "Secure". The second i heard it being used, i looked right over. The belayer, after hearing "secure" right away took his partner off-belay. Together, they must have sorted out their own method of communication. If that were me, I would have yelled, "secure", and the proceeded to get lowered, in turn leaving me to fall to the ground. When i think "secure", I think, "ok, i'm through the anchor, go ahead and lower". Yikes. I'm beginning to see the miss-direction with using such a word. There's too many interpretations of it...with no real clarity. Is it possible to implement a word that spreads world wide? Kinda like belaying...there's a right way and a wrong way, yet i've seen millions of "ways". You'd think it would be as simple as driving on the right side of the road (or left for some places), go onto the wrong side and bad things will happen. Use the wrong terminology and bad things can happen. Could be so simple, yet still proceeds to be ill-communicated.

Butch said...

Will-- you've been climbing for God only knows how long; maybe when you learned there were fewer standards regarding teaching of calls.

Pretty much everybody I've ever climbed with in Canada since the mid-90s has been saying "SECURE!" for "I am safe, you can take me off belay, bust out the single-malt and start fantasising about the hot women or men at Zona's who will be all over us 5.17 or M19 climbers tonight," and "TAKE" for "tension" or "I am falling" or "my ass is now ready for your intimate attention in the same way Iraq and Saddam were ready for Uncle Sam and George."

Will Gadd said...

Butch--then why do so many people commenting here and over at gravsports-ice think "secure" means, "I'm OK for now, but keep me on, you might lower me in a bit?" If "secure" is so "standard" then why are people managing to fuck it up so regularly? I'm a damn geriatric because I care about stuff like this, and don't want some youngster dropping me 'cause he thinks "Secure" means, "I'm going to Zonas to drink now, see ya."

I'm a survivor of Zona's, that place is really dangerous, way worse than climbing...

Gordon, yes, that's the sort of stuff I see all the time too. I think I'm going to start Tasering people who use "Secure," simpler. Not really.

See ya out there!

Butch said...

If you think English is ambiguous with belay terms, you should see Mexican and Colombian Spanish.

"Listo" (which in normal speech means either "clever" or "ready") means

a) "you are on belay"
b) (with rising intonation) "am I on belay?"
c)"secure" (or "Off" in Gadd-speak)
d) "I am ready to climb."

But then, in Colombia, you can have a beer and a cigarette with an on-duty cop, his five buddies, and 2000 other Colombians in the main square of a plaza on any given evening, so the Colombian attitudes toward protocol would seem to be somewhat looser than theCanadians.