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While I’m sad to admit I’m actually the culprit in this story, I figured I’d share it anyway. I was at the Ruckman Cave in Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado, at an anchor. I’d gone in hard to thread and clean the draws, and as I was untying and cloving the rope off to a quickdraw on my harness, I accidentally bobbled the draw, which fell 45 feet straight to the deck. It was a busy summer afternoon, so the draw almost hit some people down below—like, it just missed one guy, whizzing by his shoulder. The climber gave me a dirty look, which I can understand: I hadn’t yelled anything when I dropped the draw. But the problem was, my brain froze up. I didn’t know what to yell, since it wasn’t a rock that was dropping, I just said nothing. I know—my bad—but what are you supposed to do in a situation like that where you drop a piece of gear and not a rock?
—Mike W., Colorado
While not saying anything was definitely the wrong call, it’s easy to understand why you froze up. You didn't drop a rock, so, logically speaking, it didn’t make sense to yell “Rock!” Yet in the situation you described, while yelling “Draw!” might have been more accurate, it could also have caused confusion on the ground—like, “Why is someone yelling at me about quickdraws?” or “What does this person want me to ‘draw’?” or “Where should I be looking for this draw to be coming from?” Imagine if you did the same for every possible item that might fall: “Water bottle!” “Chalk sock!” “Belay card!”
Indeed, because there are so many types of things that can either fall off or be dropped from a cliff—draws, cams, rock shoes, chalk bags, nut tools, etc.—the safest, easiest thing to say in all cases is “Rock!” It’s the one universal word that immediately makes all climbers in the vicinity stop what they’re doing and seek shelter or protect themselves accordingly. You might also yell “Heads up!” but at least from the climber’s perspective, it doesn’t have the same immediacy as the tried-and-true “Rock!” So practice with me: Next time you drop something—even a rock—yell “Rock!” Most of the time, it will probably be a rock anyway given how frequently holds and loose blocks shed.