Hearing someone above you yell ROCK when climbing is a scary experience because that means that an object (usually a rock) is plummeting down to the route towards you.

Hopefully you are wearing your helmet, are there any actions/steps one should take in this situation?

  • 21
    I would say get close to the wall and don't look up
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 3:13
  • 18
    One obvious thing that I think wasn't mentioned yet but doesn't deserve it's own answer: Relay the call. Unless the caller is very close to you, make sure people further down get to hear a load and clear "rock" call as well by repeating it.
    – imsodin
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 11:02
  • 11
    Do as he says. ROCK
    – dotancohen
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 12:34
  • 12
    As I once heard (when scrambling - no helmets), "Don't look up - protect your arm with both your heads." Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 14:59
  • 31
    Immediately you should yell PAPER back up.
    – f470071
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 16:31

3 Answers 3


How you react will depend on the situation.

If you're climbing and you hear someone yell "ROCK" then your default reaction should be to hug the rock, brace for impact, and hope the rock misses you, or glances off your helmet.

If the call comes from above, you should repeat it in case your belayer didn't hear the person above you. If your belayer makes the call, you can judge the severity of your predicament by their tone. "Roooock..." Is generally the unconscious response to small stuff falling from the rock face, the little stuff that tinkles off your helmet, or a rock that someone kicks loose, but isn't falling in anyone's direction. "ROCK ROCK ROCK ROCK!!!" means that there is real danger of someone getting hurt from a larger rock falling, but those rocks are the ones usually accompanied by loud crashing sound as it bounces off the cliff face.

For the latter situation, your life or limb may depend on a quick reaction and the possibility of having to dodge the rock, even if that means jumping out of the way and taking a whipper. In those situations, it might not make much of a difference if the rock hits you in the helmet or in the face, so look quick and react accordingly. If you can hear the rock coming it's easier to judge how big it is and which way it's falling, and know where to look, but if you can't hear it, you may be safer to go with the default reaction.

Your default reaction should always be to get as close to the wall as possible, preferably under any sort of an overhang, get high on the wall, and brace for impact. You want to get high because you don't want to be straight armed if you get hit in the head. Your arms and legs can soak up some of the impact if your arms are bent and your legs straight at the time of impact, but if your arms are straight, then your neck is going to take all the impact, and likely pop you off the wall, which could result in additional injury as you plummet head first down from whence you came. The only time you would go low is if there was a feature right in front of you that you could duck under.

As a belayer, you should always be watching your climber and be aware of what's going on up above. The only time you shouldn't already be aware of whatever rocks may be falling, is when your leader is climbing out of sight. When a rock comes down, you should already be looking up, so judge its trajectory, and get out of its way if you need to. I've watched people lock off their ropes and just run for their life sideways to get out of the way of falling ice and rocks when belaying from the ground. But I've also seen people run 20 feet to the side just to get hit by the thing they were trying to dodge, so make sure you know which way the rock is falling.

For the small stuff that comes down on dirty routes, you can just tuck in your chin and let it bounce off your helmet. I've seen some people even point their helmet towards the wall to protect their faces from anything that might hit the rock right in front of them and bounce out towards them.

Judge your situation, and react accordingly, not getting hit by rocks will often require a modest dose of common sense, so be smart, and don't set yourself up to get hurt.

  • 4
    Good advice, some additional/expanding points: In multi-pitches avoiding rocks is impossible as you are fixed at the belay. Judging the trajectory of falling rock is extremely difficult as you allude to with your story of people evading and still get struck. Also the time frame is usually very small, so you need to react really fast. In my opinion it is best if you train your reflex to always crouch against the wall, as this is against basic instinct. If the situation arises where it is obvious where the rock will come done, you will run anyway by instinct.
    – imsodin
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 7:51
  • 3
    @imsodin, it's not impossible because hopefully you chose a good safe location to set up your belay that is not directly in the line of fire of rocks falling from above. Granted this isn't always possible, but falling debris is one factor you should be taking into consideration when setting up a belay on multi pitch.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 15:50
  • 1
    Nice answer. I like the fact you are not just repeating the "never look up" mantra. If big rock falls, it's not about your beautiful face, it's about your life. Still, the point "locking the rope and running sideways" is what I can't imagine. I doubt one can be that fast and under control in such a situation?
    – Wills
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 16:02
  • 3
    @Wills, I've seen people do it. I never said they were fast and under control, it looks like more of a panicked scramble with a lot of stumbling and tripping on rocks. I've dodged rocks before just by taking a step or two to the side. If you can catch a baseball then you can be a pretty good judge of where things are going to land. With a fall of only 10m you have a full second to react, that's a lot of time when you're in the moment.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 16:10
  • @ShemSeger Totally agree, this is a very important factor on choosing belay location. However once you set up the belay, you can't change location any more to evade a rock that unfortunately still managed to find its way towards your position (well apart from leaning one way or the other).
    – imsodin
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 19:16

You have no idea how much time you have before you might take an impact, no matter how far above you the call is made because you don't know the delay in calling ROCK. Therefore, I think the answer is always the same, look straight at the rock face so your helmet is pointing up towards the object and hopefully takes the fall. Suck yourself in as close to the rock as you can as long as that is improving your overall stability in the position. Close your eyes so no sand gets blown in them. Count to 10 after you hear the last thing pass you before you move or open your eyes. I wouldn't do anything like change a hand or foothold because you probably don't have time. If you were doing something while the call is made, like a huge dynamic move, I would get secure as quick as possible, but optimizing for time rather than security.

What not to do: look up to see what is falling at you.

I haven't climbed in over two decades, so there may be updated advice, but that is what I learned and did.

(assuming rock, not ice. I have no idea on ice)

  • 12
    I was climbing a few weeks ago when a 100lbs chunk of ice calved off the ice face. Had the belayer followed this advise, he'd be dead. Had he not looked up, he wouldn't have known he needed to run to get out of the way of a spine crushing boulder of frozen waterfall. Your helmet won't even protect you from a fist sized rock or chunk of ice if it falls from high enough.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 4:51
  • Aggree, the question was about the climber, not they belayer. As a belayer, you should be looking up to see what is happening because you do have options since you are not on the rock. You can also help communicate to the climber stuff like "JUMP!" or similar if the situation warrants.
    – David
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 18:24

As climber, your options are usually limited: get close to the wall, grab a good hold and/or a sling/pair when nearby. One possibly bad result of the rockfall might be that you'll be short a rope or belayer, hopefully temporarily. At least temporary rope slack as your belayer saves his beans is to be expected. When things go really bad they might means that you have to solo off, or wait for a rescue party (which may be other climbers).

As a belayer, look what's coming where and take evasive action if necessary. Most of the time, getting close to the rock will work for that. Your belay might be subpar while doing that: in most cases the consequences for your climber will be preferable to you being dead.

That's for big stuff. Are we talking about big stuff? One quick glance should tell you that. A cloud of disintegrated sandstone is better dealt with by ducking and letting the helmet do its job than by large evasive action.

Also for better or worse, if it is your own climber shouting, the rock in question may very well be part of a hold he had been planning to use, so if your part of the danger has been dealt with, there is significantly increased probability of your climber tanking as the next occurence to take care of.

Bad timing, sure, but that's life.

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