What's your gear placement success rate?

Original Post
Ryan Dirks · · Eugene, OR · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 0

We've all heard the phrase that placing "psychological" pro is generally a bad idea. For me, being a smart trad climber means being either 100% sure the last piece is good (and the fall is clean), or being 100% sure I'm not going to fall (ideally both). Of course things happen (rockfall, rock breaking, etc) so we shouldn't even take that for granted...but for now let's ignore the freak accidents.

Anyway, different climbers have different levels of tolerance to risk. Personally I like to try to keep at least two "100%" pieces between me and the ground. In the last year I've taken roughly 10 falls on gear, mostly very short (longest was 15 feet on a 0.3 C4). So far everything has held beautifully. But after so much time reading about gear failures in accident reports, I can't help but think that some of those people were 100% sure in their gear too.

So here it is: What's your gear placement success rate? Have you ever had a piece pull that you were 100% sure about? Or are you ok with climbing above less-than-optimal gear placements?

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 136

I've never had a gear placement pull but I've only ever fallen once on gear. It was a 15 footer onto a blue alien. I'm okay with climbing above < optimal placements because I consider danger to be part of the game. That being said, I try to get bomber placement as soon as I can, and I may bail if I think I'm likely to fall on a shitty placement.

Matt Carroll · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 5

I would say I've probably fallen ~15 times this season on gear, and they all held. They were all bomber pieces in my mind though. I guess my rule of thumb is to try routes at or above my limit only if they protect well. If they protect well then it wouldn't be a marginal placement and I would be comfortable falling.

Eli Peterson · · Orem · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 225

After a 10 foot traverse from the belay ledge on the final pitch of a route There was a shallow finger crack a little less than vertical. Was not confident on the micro nut I precariously placed so I backed it up with another iffy micro nut. Climbed above it and fell. The first nut pulled, I squealed, the second one held.

Two 50% placements make about an 80% placement in my eyes.

Ryan Hill · · Oakland, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 0

Haha, I pulled the first piece of gear I ever placed at Indian Creek (I had maybe done a dozen leads on gear prior to this). Some 5.10-, stemmed up this wide section and then placed an orange Master Cam in a thin crack above my head. Continued stemming and slipped, fell 10 feet onto a rocky slab and slid to my belayer's feet. Didn't lead and barely climbed the rest of the trip. I'll say I got lucky and then I swore I'd get back on the horse, smarter and stronger.

Did that and have been doing pretty well since then.

mountainhick · · Black Hawk, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 60

I think the whole premise for discussion is "psychological", based on supposition, not quantifiable.

The anecdotal approach is not a valid method of compiling useful data to draw real conclusions.

The closest you could get to real answer would be by falling on every piece of gear you place and recording the data.

Ryan Dirks · · Eugene, OR · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 0

As much as I'd like it, I wasn't expecting any scientific / quantitative information to come out of this. Just stories. I'm mostly wondering if anyone has ever pulled a piece they had total confidence in.

brian burke · · santa monica, ca · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 115

1 piece pulled in 10 or so leader falls. hopefully zero more crappy placements.

generally if placing 'psychological pro' there's good gear below it (tryin to avoid R rated routes)

interesting topic...

Kevin Mokracek · · Burbank · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 50

Psychological pro to me is making the best of a bad situation, getting something in even if it's not great. I have only used it on long alpine routes or big walls where the options run out.

csproul · · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 25
Ryan Dirks wrote:As much as I'd like it, I wasn't expecting any scientific / quantitative information to come out of this. Just stories. I'm mostly wondering if anyone has ever pulled a piece they had total confidence in.
Oddly enough, this has only happened to me once and it happened aid climbing. Granted, it was a small cam (0 or 00 or offset, don't remember) but I bounced it, stood on it and then it blew when I got high up on it. Not expecting it all. For the most part I have only ripped gear that I didn't think was very good to begin with. Conversely, I have definitely had gear hold that I didn't think was very good to begin with.
Thomas Beck · · Las Vegas, Nevada · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 660

ha ha...I've been sticking widgets in cracks and holes for about 40 years; live to tell.

So granite, quartz monzonite, sandstone, limestone, basalt, gneiss...I still...maybe once every couple of years... have a placement come out that I thought was a better placement. Not often, but it has happened.

That's not counting some rotated placement, clipped short, that needed to be extended.

I often ask for feedback from my second: how did the pitch clean? Were the placements solid but easy to clean?

If something's manky...My belayer will mention it after the fact most times: "hey, the blue cam came out"

All things considered, I want that first piece to be good and able to take a multi-direction load. It will help to "hold in" the pieces above.

I think about protecting (if possible) carefully and often above a ledge.

There's times where I'll protect where I don't need to because there is no protection above for a ways. I'm a big guy and I'll double up at times or use some other bits of rock-craft learned over many years; depends on the difficulty and the terrain.

Thinking back...just a few instances...I once took a 35 footer on Moby Dick at the base of El Capitan. I had a good stopper in and placed a questionable hexcentric at the start of the fist crack. Somehow I blew the lieback moves into the wide section and launched for some big air. I remember going so far I thought: "Oh the hex blew", but when I climbed back up the hex was still there. Just an exceedingly long catch from a not totally paying attention belayer.

Another time I was led out about 15 ft on steep slab over a red tricam at Courtright and thinking the tricam was a piece of crap. I came off (not really skidding) and the tricam held.

I once fell on a #2 Lowe ball at the Comic Book in Joshua Tree. It was the only thing I could get in moving out of the bowl at the start of the 2nd pitch. I thought it was a totally bad piece, but it held; that was short brutal load too.

Same for a blue alien. My first real piece on this thin crack though I had a multi-directional starter piece below it. Good for about 12 feet and lifted my belayer.

I "zippered" on the South Face of Washington Column over 35 years ago, standing in aiders on a #1 Chouniard hex. I was high-stepped when it deformed and oozed through the crack. Subsequently, Chouinard recalled those slung hex's and went to a wire cable design. Too late for me though. That was an epic rescue and long recovery.
I had a good friend deck onto a ledge and crack some vertebra high up on El Capitan when a blue alien he was standing on "blew up"... Conclusion.

Climbing is risky

First time I climbed at Red Rocks we went out to do DOWT and there were multiple parties on it so we did Refried Brains. I was absolutely sure every cam and stopper I placed was crap cause I didn't trust the rock. I know now the sandstone at Red Rocks can be more sound than I originally thought. I still don't have a lot of confidence white sandstone placements; we call it "angel-food" for a reason.

I've had edges or flakes break back and the gear came out as I was testing it before clipping in. I've had cams track down though soft sandstone placements. You can sometimes tell how bad it is if you wiggle the cam lobes so they grind against the sandstone. Probably my least favorite substrate is crumbly exfoliating granite or fractured diorite.

One thing I think about now, which I didn't consider as much in the past, is the brittleness sometimes found inside limestone cracks. I was always cautious placing around calcite.

If I am in a high risk zone and right off the deck, one tactic is to climb up; place and then down climb. Then from the ground, fully body weight the gear; an old school trick. Gives you the assurance the protection probably going to hold.

I agree with you Ryan. It's a little disturbing to see these YouTube clips of leaders blowing out their gear.

aaron hope · · Walnut Creek, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 180


Ryan Dirks wrote: Personally I like to try to keep at least two "100%" pieces between me and the ground.

(ground or ledge)

Ryan Dirks wrote: For me, being a smart trad climber means being either 100% sure the last piece is good (and the fall is clean), or being 100% sure I'm not going to fall (ideally both)

I have a lot of trad experience and some big and small falls and I've spent a lot time learning from others with even more experience from me. You should always adhere to #1 if there's even a small chance you will fall. However it gets hard to start pushing your grade when you adhere to #2 all the time and I think that's where people get in trouble. Knowing when to compromise #2 is where climbing becomes an art...
aaron hope · · Walnut Creek, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 180

Oh and to answer the question. 100% of the pieces I thought were bomber held my falls. 50% of the pieces I thought were mediocre held my fall.

Todd Anderson · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 0

I had one piece pull on when I fell at the crux of Persistence at the Gunks. It was a .3 X4 that I got stuck in a sub-optimal placement in a pod; the two inner lobes were cammed and the outer two were grossly undercammed. Anyway, I greased off when that piece was 1.5-2 ft below my foot, fell, cam blew up, I bounced off that huge block at the base of the route* and came to rest on my next piece. The .3 had worked out into the pod so it was held passively on two lobes, i.e. on the trigger wires, so when I fell I broke a trigger wire and the cam popped. I was shaking from beta-endorphins for a while and I thought I broke my hand, but it ended up being fine after a few days. And BD gave me a new cam for free (no repair kits for the X4s yet), so that was nice.

So, one popped piece in ~4 years of trad leading. Not bad, considering all the psychological pro I've placed. I think the problem here was that I was complacent; I had done the crux moves before, and when couldn't get the cam out and re-positioned I just said "f*ck it" and went for it.

Colonel Mustard · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Sep 2005 · Points: 1,055

I only decked once this year.

Jon Clark · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 381

I've taken in the neighborhood of 150 falls on gear that I've placed from a few feet to as many as 45 feet. I've had two pieces pull and I knew they were trash when I placed them. So, no I've never had a piece pull that I thought was good.

christoph benells · · tahoma · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 55

only had one piece pop,

knew it was not going to hold, fell while trying to re-position it. next one down held just fine. sprained my pinky finger :( oh god

KevinCO · · Loveland, CO · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 55

Only about 5-6 falls, about twice as many weighting gear from 3' or less. Four longer falls, two on small Stoppers and two on Pink Tricams. All were good. Also, an emergency rappel on a #4 Stopper (bounce tested first).

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 136

Only ever had one piece pop, but I knew it was shit when I placed it. I was practicing some aid on a TR solo and I had used up both of my nuts that fit the crack where I could reach. above the nut placement was a bad flare from a blown out pin scar and I tried to place my trusty red tri-cam in it. It held quite a bit of bounce testing only to pop while I was standing on it. I knew it was really bad, though.

It was even worse than this placement

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 0

20 years climbing, until recently, mostly trad.

I can't think of very many failures. One that I stuffed in while stupid pumped and it ripped out. It was a bad placement in bad rock. Another couple that were shallow in flared and slick pods. Really, a nut in the bottom of a pod is almost always better than a cam in the pod.

I have placed plenty of psych pro, but rarely fallen on it.

I did once place a black alien in Wingate and fell, probably 2 body lengths above it. I stopped just off the ground. 25' fall or so, when I climbed back up to the piece, I saw tracks in the crack. It had moved about 1.5" down then stopped.

Another time on granite, after the crack petered out, I found a spot where I could place a nut between two crystals on the face and fell. I was shocked when it held.

The only one that I can think of that looks good but isn't is on Crankenstein at Vedauwoo, the first logical placement after the bolt will fail every time. You have to gun a foot or two higher then it's fine.

Jeremy in Inyokern · · Inyokern · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 3

I don't fall much on trad and have never had a piece "fail". I will place less than perfect pro rather than none if it's all I can find.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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