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Practice falls on gear


Original Post
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Just hypothetical question here. Thought of this while belaying my trad leader today.

So, I was thinking about how gear placements don't get tested much, beyond bouncing on them, or, hoping you aren't about to die.

On a single pitch vertical route with clean falls, I was thinking the placements could all be tried with a fall, as an exercise, just before cleaning them, if the climber is being lowered and is on top rope belay, the belayer is patient, and no one is in a hurry. The climber could unclip the rope from the piece, clip back into it with a loop tied from dynamic cord, attached to the belay loop with a locker. They could then climb up a bit, leaving the slack in the climbing rope, and take their fall. If the gear holds, great, if not, the top rope fall would be pretty minimal.

I realize the aim in trad is to not fall, but I know from my own experience that trust in the systems is partly from having falls, and knowing the stuff works. What you know is less worrying than the pure trust in the unknown. I'm assuming it could be the same for those new to gear, also.

Like I said, just pondering out at the cliff today. Not a trad climber, just a belayer!

And I managed to climb today! Yay!

Best, Helen

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

H, this would be a poor model for an actual leader fall. Nylon cord, while more dynamic than dyneema, is still much more static than climbing rope. You would also be creating a fixed point, very different from a rope that slips through the belay device to give a softer catch. Finally, and most importantly, what you are describing amounts to a Factor 1 fall (at minimum), which will introduce tremendous amounts of force. It will most likely hurt like hell and wedge your gear in, making it a pain to remove.

If you want to practice falls, get a third person to give you a toprope belay on a second rope with slack (so that the lead rope still catches the fall). That way, if the gear pops, the second belayer can catch you. Or, do what I did and slip on a slick greasy slab and take your first trad fall by accident. ;) No terrifying anticipation!

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,610
Ted Pinson wrote:H, this would be a poor model for an actual leader fall. Nylon cord, while more dynamic than dyneema, is still much more static than climbing rope. You would also be creating a fixed point, very different from a rope that slips through the belay device to give a softer catch. Finally, and most importantly, what you are describing amounts to a Factor 1 fall (at minimum), which will introduce tremendous amounts of force. It will most likely hurt like hell and wedge your gear in, making it a pain to remove. If you want to practice falls, get a third person to give you a toprope belay on a second rope with slack (so that the lead rope still catches the fall). That way, if the gear pops, the second belayer can catch you. Or, do what I did and slip on a slick greasy slab and take your first trad fall by accident. ;) No terrifying anticipation!
Yes to all of this.
The best is to just go push the grades, trust me, you will fall!
And fall
and fall
and f....
(And climb harder too!)
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Thanks, guys! Dumb me knows it would not be a pleasant fall, ah well! And I've climbed (in a class indoors) with the two belays, so I know that too!

Brain on vacation.

Thanks for the soft catch, gents!

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456
Muscrat wrote: Yes to all of this. The best is to just go push the grades, trust me, you will fall! And fall and fall and f.... (And climb harder too!)
this. if you really are pushing your limits, you will accumulate falls on gear and learn to trust it. Obviously, have someone to teach you to place gear so you aren't falling on badly placed gear. This will be safer if you sew it up and also if you climb on solid rock that won't crumble around your gear.
Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,610
eli poss wrote: this. if you really are pushing your limits, you will accumulate falls on gear and learn to trust it. Obviously, have someone to teach you to place gear so you aren't falling on badly placed gear. This will be safer if you sew it up and also if you climb on solid rock that won't crumble around your gear.
In addition, the most comfortable way to do this is to find a climb with a 'soft' start, which has clean falls in difficult territory. I am surprised at how many people really don't like to fall, or void it at all costs. It really is the way you push the grades, if that is your thing.
;)
eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

also, aid climbing helps you improve your weak spots in placing good gear, as well as providing tactile proof that gear holds. Taking a fall aid climbing shows you what is good and what isn't.

Kevin MP · · Redmond, OR · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 203

If the goal is to be comfortable with lead falls on gear, I would forgo the toprope(assuming the leader can make and evaluate good placements), just back up the piece with a bomber one (or two) right below it and whip away. In fact, as I have pushed my trad climbing limits this has been a useful strategy for me on sections where I know I will have to go for it: to double up on gear right before to give me the extra confidence that I can climb hard and not worry about the fall.

I think the "leader never falls" mentality is a bit obsolete these days, although falling on ledgy moderate terrain is a bad idea, usually steeper 5.8 and up is fine. Once you develop trust in your gear and try harder routes, falls will happen, and they're usually over so quickly there's no time to stress.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Did any of you do some falls for practice, or just let them show up? Did you have to learn to trust all over again, going from sport lead to trad? Just conversation, since I'm just a top roper. And the only time I've worried about falling is when I'm not on a rope!

Kevin MP · · Redmond, OR · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 203

I started trad climbing very easy and slowly progressed. It wasn't until the last few years sport climbing more where I became comfortable falling. I never had much luck with practice falls....something about anticipating the fall causes this anxiety to build up and make it scarier than it really is. What works for me is being aware in a clear, rational way of the safety of danger of a situation considering protection, terrain and length of the fall, and beyond that ignoring irrational fear and focusing 100% on the movement. It's still a work in progress...

khalifornia · · Colorado · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

OLH, as others have said, your idea is good in theory but wouldn't be great in practice. Even if the tied loop was dynamic, it's still a short length. You want as much rope in the system as possible if it's in your control. That being said, it took me a long time to get comfortable falling on trad. What helped me was doing something very similar to what you suggested. I basically used two ropes...one to have a super loose TR, and lead on the other one. Had two belayers too. Whipped on gear. Not the most efficient or pretty thing in the world but it helped me.

Ryan Arnold · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 513

I used to want to only get on trad routes I knew I could onsight... mostly out of fear of falling on gear. This year I've made progress by thinking of gear falls as a huge bonus, even better than an onsight in some cases. I say to myself, I sent the 10+ pitch and more importantly I TOOK A GEAR FALL on the 11a WOOT WOOT!! As I log more falls my courage grows that the gear will indeed hold. I also double place before most cruxes for extra security and confidence.

bkozak · · Sterling, VA · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 70

Just looking at the force ratings on gear eases my mind. Most leader falls don't exceed 4 to 5 Kn, so a nut or cam rated to 12 Kn is SUPER bomber. As long as you place your gear correctly and extend pieces when needed, there is nothing to worry about. As long as the rock is good, they will hold any fall you can take. Watch some gear testing videos if you want to see how bomber they are. DMM has some great videos on that subject. You'll see that there isn't this "pure trust in the unknown" in terms of how strong they are. They put them through some serious testing to make sure they are safe to use. Save the wear on your gear and take falls on bolts instead to learn how to fall, then just trust the gear to catch you when you do.

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

Uh...not to burst your bubble, but the gear ratings are for absolute mechanical failure. This does NOT mean that the pieces will absorb this much force and you'll be fine, as the biggest concern is gear pulling, not breaking.

Bill M · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 321

Be careful. I would get a few beyond a doubt pieces in between you and the ground before you start screwing around. Every couple of years there seems to a post where someone rips a whole string of pieces and decks.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Khalifornia, credit Ted for the top rope and lead belay technique. As I said, I've even done that, and it didn't come to mind!

Ryan, I love that! Great attitude.

All the rest, good stuff. Stupid ideas can still net good information.

And, regarding ripping gear, my favorite fall video ever on here is the Hamish what's is name one, with the nose hooked biner and, well. Someone pop up a link, eh? Funniest bit is him asking if they got it on camera!

Best, Helen

JulianG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 130

Pushing grades and falling is nice but you might find it the hard way that on harder trad routes gear is not necessary every foot or ten. If it was the climb would be easier. Unless you climb splitter cracks at Moab, than you can place gear every foot.

If you want to test your placements and figure how far you can take it before it fails. Just place the gear an back it up with 2 or 3 other pieces equalized and take the fall. Just be ready to retire gear

will ar · · San Antonio, TX · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 270
Old lady H wrote:Did any of you do some falls for practice, or just let them show up? Did you have to learn to trust all over again, going from sport lead to trad? Just conversation, since I'm just a top roper. And the only time I've worried about falling is when I'm not on a rope!
I haven't spent a lot of time doing falls for practice on gear, but I used to do a lot while sport/gym climbing. I spent many years climbing trad and some aid well within my limit and at some point I decided that I wanted to get on some really cool looking routes that were well above my current limit. Instead of trying harder climbs on gear I spent a lot of time sport climbing and climbing indoors on weekdays. The logistics of getting on a difficult sport climb are easier and afford more practice than gear routes. I felt like falling on well protected routes and then gradually upping the ante gave me a good sense of when a fall might be safe vs risky. Maybe start out with falls just above a clipped bolt and then slowly progress to falling at the next (unclipped bolt). Practice (at a safe distance from the ground) blowing a clip at your waist vs blowing a clip vs at head height. This also gave me a good sense of when I was actually at my physical limit and I became a much more well rounded belayer during this time because I was catching a lot of partners falling as well.

There are a few times when I made an initial attempt at a potential project that I took a fall on gear after a half hearted effort when the climbing got hard. Doing so seems to calm my nerves and reassure me that the gear (often doubled up) is in fact solid right before the crux. Generally though i'd say if gear looks good it probably is.

I've heard it asked in threads before if falling in sport lulls you into a false sense of security, but I feel like myself and most of my partners who climb in many disciplines can quickly realize when we're in a "no fall" situation and climb accordingly. I have a few partners who climb primarily indoors and occasionally make a trip outside-they seem to have a more difficult time distinguishing when it's ok to fall and I've had a few "oh shit" moments belaying them.

Not sure who said it but "climbing and placing gear are two different skill sets, don't push both at the same time."
eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456
will ar wrote: I haven't spent a lot of time doing falls for practice on gear, but I used to do a lot while sport/gym climbing. I spent many years climbing trad and some aid well within my limit and at some point I decided that I wanted to get on some really cool looking routes that were well above my current limit. Instead of trying harder climbs on gear I spent a lot of time sport climbing and climbing indoors on weekdays. The logistics of getting on a difficult sport climb are easier and afford more practice than gear routes. I felt like falling on well protected routes and then gradually upping the ante gave me a good sense of when a fall might be safe vs risky. Maybe start out with falls just above a clipped bolt and then slowly progress to falling at the next (unclipped bolt). Practice (at a safe distance from the ground) blowing a clip at your waist vs blowing a clip vs at head height. This also gave me a good sense of when I was actually at my physical limit and I became a much more well rounded belayer during this time because I was catching a lot of partners falling as well. There are a few times when I made an initial attempt at a potential project that I took a fall on gear after a half hearted effort when the climbing got hard. Doing so seems to calm my nerves and reassure me that the gear (often doubled up) is in fact solid right before the crux. Generally though i'd say if gear looks good it probably is. I've heard it asked in threads before if falling in sport lulls you into a false sense of security, but I feel like myself and most of my partners who climb in many disciplines can quickly realize when we're in a "no fall" situation and climb accordingly. I have a few partners who climb primarily indoors and occasionally make a trip outside-they seem to have a more difficult time distinguishing when it's ok to fall and I've had a few "oh shit" moments belaying them. Not sure who said it but "climbing and placing gear are two different skill sets, don't push both at the same time."
lots of really good info in the post. I attempt to highlight the biggest nuggets in bold. I'll add that, if gear is well placed, it's as bomber as the rock it's placed in. This can mean very different things depending on the quality of the rock, so make sure you understand the rock you're placing gear in.
r m · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 0

I'd rather take a fall backed up underneath by a bolt, or a piece of gear that was certain to hold (like a thread!). I've been meaning to get outside and take some practice falls on gear...One of these days.

As to your idea, it's just a bounce test turned up to 11. If you were careless you might start big and I imagine hurt your back or ankles, or have a hex or cam engage with your face, but I don't think you're careless :). If I walked by someone doing it I might look with interest for a moment, but I wouldn't think them dangerous.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
verticalworldtraveler wrote:I think the "leader never falls" mentality is a bit obsolete these days, although falling on ledgy moderate terrain is a bad idea, usually steeper 5.8 and up is fine. Once you develop trust in your gear and try harder routes, falls will happen, and they're usually over so quickly there's no time to stress.
Indeed, falling on gear is perfectly fine when the placements are good. Go to Indian Creek, it's basically a sport climbing park. People whip all day everyday there. The key with trad is knowing when it is safe to fall and when it is not.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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