Safety on Slabby Sport Climbs


Original Post
Brandon Seerup · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 8

My friend and I took a trip out to Rushmore a few weeks ago to enjoy an extended weekend of climbing in a new area, and unfortunately I took a fall on our second day that cut our trip short. Thankfully, I came away with just a severe ankle sprain, and a little over a month later I've been able to return to some mild athletic activity, and still improving daily.

The climb I fell on was Star Dancer (5.8) about 6-8 ft (to my tie in) above either the 5th or 6th bolt. I know, wherever I was, I could not yet even attempt to reach the next bolt. In my head, I still thought this was a very reasonable and safe place to be, but my fall ended up being an estimated 25 ft when I came to rest (I passed 3 bolts on my way down), and due to the slabby nature of the climb, I came into the wall hard. Bone bruise on my right heel, sprained ankle on my left.

I am still a new and learning climber, and while I am not really discouraged by the experience, I would like to calibrate my perception of risk on a climb like this, and understand if I just had a bad stroke of luck, or if this is a typical outcome for a fall as described.

Couple thoughts and questions:
8ft above pro = 16ft + 3ft slack + 3ft stretch + 3ft belayer pulled up = 25ft... that seem about right? The fall was much further than I expected, but my belayer (new to outdoor climbing) did not fess up to anything unusual, such as having me too loose or letting a bunch of rope slip through. Is it possible that I kicked myself away from the wall, since I didn't come back into contact until the rope came tight? If so, is there a "correct" way to fall on a slab to minimize injury?

Thanks in advance for any insight!

Darren Mabe · · Flagstaff, AZ · Joined Dec 2002 · Points: 3,485

Friends dont let friends fall on slab.

Nathan Self · · Louisiana · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 90

Kicking off introduced the swing and slam that probably resulted in your busted ankle, but it likely also reduced the grater effect you get by sliding. Kind of a toss up, but I prefer to kick and swing rather than slide/grate. Split-second decision, either way.

The fall length sounds reasonable.

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 549

If you had been wearing a helmet you wouldn't have sprained your ankle.

Jsimpson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 0

"Run" backwards and pad with your hands.

Maybe some NC climbers can chime in on technique.

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

I'm guessing that this slab was not that low angle ? maybe 70-80 degrees ?

Did you hit a bolt hanger ? 25'seems a bit far to me,,especially if you didn't get a "soft catch"

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 549

Seriously though, the "slabs" at Rushmore are quite a bit steeper than NC slabs.
The pad and run technique isn't as helpful.
Truth is, falling isn't totally risk free, even on reasonably bolted sport routes.

Emil Briggs · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 105

The definition of slab seems to vary widely depending on who you talk to. But if a climb is considerably less than vertical kicking off is usually a bad idea IMO. Because it's less than vertical you will come back to it at some point and be moving faster than you would if you had slid. (I'm sure people can find cases where kicking off would be the best option though).

On a pure friction slab like Stone Mountain NC just sliding on your shoes seems to work pretty well. I've known folks who've taken long falls there with no ill effects other than burnt shoe rubber. It helps to be wearing the right clothing to reduce possible cheese grater effects. My hardest slab leads at Stone were done in cold weather while heavily dressed since not only is the friction better there is more protection in case you do fall.

Jason Todd · · Cody, WY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 953
Emil Briggs wrote:On a pure friction slab like Stone Mountain NC just sliding on your shoes seems to work pretty well.
Not a good option at Rushmore. The faces (slabs) there are covered in crystals of various sizes. The thought of cheese grating down those faces is terrifying.
john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

If you can kick-off..you shouldn't have fallen.

Jsimpson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 0

I probably shouldn't have chimed in since I haven't climbed at Rushmore. However, I have climbed on low angle climbs that would be considered slab with face features. With a fall on this kind of terrain I'd say take a natural fall, don't jump out from the wall, and be prepared to back pedal on the way down. I think jumping out could add a pendulum movement into the wall and increase the force on your feet/ankles.

Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 602

Kick out, and run backwards down the wall, with a similar posture as if you were rapping/lowering. Hands ready to keep you from swinging or twisting but not dragging. Only had to do it once, I fell like two feet above a bolt and ended up about 15ft. Totally unanticipated, my belayer was feeding slack for my next move, otherwise it would've been more of an unanticipated hangdog. I was fine of course.

Edit: I actually thought that the first moment you're gonna get dragged, scraped and twisted if you don't kick out, so kicking gives you the air time to get into the natural falling posture. More of a hop though than a jump but still

Brandon Seerup · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 8

In my head, I thought I took Jsimpson's approach and attempted to fall naturally, but who knows what I may have inadvertently done in the moment. To be clear, all I meant by slab was less than vertical - this route is definitely not pure friction slab, involves mostly edging on crystals, and is reasonably steep as the pictures show. Still a bit curious on the frequency of injury in this type of scenario. Any thoughts? In 2 days of climbing, this was my only lead fall of the trip, so 100% of my falls ended poorly :)

Brandon Seerup · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 8
Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 602
Brandon Seerup wrote:
Sweet looking climb. About the same as the terrain mine was on (below, and I do have other outfits besides that), less than vertical with edges and crystals (but pulling granite out here in the East though). Injuries do happen, I'd say it was a rare occurrence though, just a bad fall. Good falling technique, a good belayer and a helmet will all mitigate (notice I didn't say prevent) the likelihood of injuries. Glad to hear it didn't stop you man! Get back on the rock
Bee Hold- perspective because the cliff wraps around, you can see it is steeper on the face than the aspect in the background
john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

I must say that I am fascinated by this kicking out talk.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

So, you might notice that a lot of sport climbers hate slabs...this is why. The risk for injury is much greater, for the very reasons you experienced. While there are strategies for minimizing injury, it's still likely that you will get at least a bit scraped up. Slab climbing is also very different in terms of technique, so most people find it hard for the grade compared to vertical/overhang. You might want to start with some topropes to get really comfortable with the technique, as falling on slab generally sucks.

Barrett Pauer · · Brevard, NC · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 775

NC climbers tip for falling on slab: don't fall

Barrett Pauer · · Brevard, NC · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 775

Don't fall on 7s and 8s, Skip 5.9, by the time you're climbing 5.10s and .11s the slab is steep enough to minimize the fall danger

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 6

On risk calibration:

Outdoor falls are generally far riskier than indoor falls. Bolts are farther apart, you'll fall farther, there's more to hit.

Falls on easy climbs are generally far riskier than falls on hard climbs. (And, sadly, most people don't bolt with this in mind. They close bolt their 5.hard project, then space the bolts out on the 5.easy climb that's barely a warm-up, cause its easy, so doesn't need many bolts. Grrr.) There's a lot more stuff to hit in a fall on an easy climb -- holds, ledges, etc.

Looking at the climb -- looks to be about 10 bolts, 100', so about 10' between bolts. But that's an average -- they may be closer in a crux section, farther otherwise, so 8' of rope above the last bolt is not unreasonable. With 8' out, falling 25' is pretty reasonable, too. You get just an obvious 16', then there's going to be some slack in the system since your belayer wouldn't be tight-roping you, and then there's rope stretch.

What this all comes down to, is that it is dangerous to push your limits on easy outdoor climbs. The harder the climbing, generally the safer it will become to push your limits. This is not quite as true for trad, as often the harder climbing will, also, result in worse gear availability, but is almost universally true for sport.

Parker Wrozek · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 83
Barrett Pauer wrote:Don't fall on 7s and 8s, Skip 5.9, by the time you're climbing 5.10s and .11s the slab is steep enough to minimize the fall danger
This is probably the best advice but unfortunately stuff happens.

Try to make the falls short, try to absorb the fall. If you don't fall a lot, go fall a lot in the gym (even though it is usually more over hung it will still get you in the right catching mindset for how you absorb and impact a wall). I would say it is more of a bummer accident that happened to the OP then something he did wrong.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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