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Trad catch when ground fall lurks?


Original Post
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 285

Yeah, I was thinking while belaying again.

Our scenario:

Single pitch trad leader, has two small, but good pieces in for the first placement.

Climbs up for second placement, gets a piece in.

Headed for third placement, hmmm.... Has to climb up and over a ways searching.

So, now in ground fall territory. Yeah, don't fall, I get it.

But, if it happens?

For the belayer, is this the dive down the hill/run like mad scenario before that rope comes taut on the top piece? Or would the pressure on the bottom pieces just rip the whole works out on a trad climb? Not just a pull from below, but out away from the cliff?

Thanks! Helen

Eric Stern · · Boulder, CO/ Tacoma Washington · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 45

Ideally, one of the first pieces would be a cam to reduce the risk of reverse zippering of which you are talking about.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Yes, if there is a path the belayer can run to, that's what he/she should do. This should be discussed, beforehand, when possible. Generally, a climb like that would get an R or X rating, and the leader is assuming the risk.

The "running belayer" may not work, if the belayer doesn't start his sprint soon enough or isn't paying close attention. I've never had to do this as a belayer, but I've been asked to if the leader fell at a certain point (he didn't). So I scoped out my path before he left the ground.

Again, the leader should know what he's getting into and, hopefully, the runout is well within his ability. Theoretically.

Edit: This is an example of why the first piece should be a multi-directionally placed cam. So it can take that outward pull.

Jfriday1 · · Conifer, CO · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 40

Stand really close to the wall, and first piece should try and be multi-directional.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Jfriday1 wrote:Stand really close to the wall, and first piece should try and be multi-directional.
Hard to do when you're running away from the wall.
Brett Kitchen · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 10

Exactly why it's important that your first piece be good for multi directional pull.

So you can run back and mitigate as much as possible

Michael89 · · Doylestown, PA · Joined Dec 2015 · Points: 0

I have never had to do it, but I have always thought running along the wall instead of away would partially mitigate the zipper issue. Along the wall is usually a safer path than away (at the Gunks at least).

Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0

Not the place for your gym taught soft catch - that's for sure. You've got to minimize the length of the fall - use what you've got. Yard in an arm load or two if you are coordinated, run if there is a path, at least sink to your knees.

Mike Mu. · · hagerstown · Joined Feb 2007 · Points: 65

I imagine Usain Bolt might be able to run backwards quickly enough to mitigate the ground fall, but not mere mortals such as all of us. Falls happen QUICKLY! The whole running backwards idea isn't that a Stone Mountain, NC thing where you would actually have the time to run as the leader greases down the slab?

Trevor. · · Boise, ID · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 834

Better yet, try to take in an armful of rope while sitting into the catch. A GriGri makes it a whole lot easier to maintain control of the belay when you do this BTW.

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

Gear popping would actually be preferable to a soft catch in this case. Think about it: you're hitting the ground either way, so it doesn't really matter if you have gear in the wall. That said, obviously a hard catch with no gear pulling is obviously the most ideal (you might not crater), but even if the gear pulls, the fall will be better because it will most likely absorb at least some force.

That said, I've got a kid, so no R/X routes for me.

Victor K · · Denver, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 165

I just did a quick calculation. If you fall from 20 feet, it takes about a second to get to the ground. That allows only an immediate reaction on the belayer's part. Maybe standing on something high that you can jump off when you take? Really, a fall on a trad route in the context you describe is really a no go. The belayer might manage a partial catch, but the climber has ventured into no fall territory. Sometimes, there's no good answer.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

Honestly you will not have much of any time to react to something that close to the ground. I have only had 1 person fall on a sport route in that type of area (clipped first bolt and fell trying to clip 2nd) and he barely didn't deck from it. There really is no time to run if it happens. It is best to just try to keep the rope as short as possible without short roping and you may have time to pull a slight bit of slack out if your reaction is fast enough, but you will not really have time to "run".

This is one of those times it is best to stay as close to the wall as possible (especially if you weight less than them to avoid being pulled into the wall and increasing fall distance).

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 13,772
Old lady H wrote:Our scenario: Single pitch trad leader, has two small, but good pieces in for the first placement. Climbs up for second placement, gets a piece in. Headed for third placement, hmmm.... Has to climb up and over a ways searching. So, now in ground fall territory. Yeah, don't fall, I get it. But, if it happens? For the belayer, is this the dive down the hill/run like mad scenario before that rope comes taut on the top piece?
Hmm. I think it really depends on the route. Second piece is a small stopper in a thin crack? You might be best to try to shuffle one arm length of slack through your belay device when they pop, then jump up lightly for the soft catch. If you run down hill, might overload the pro.

But, if they really are in the "don't fall" zone past the second piece? And, you're sure they're going to crater? I guess a quick look behind you and a step downhill quickly might soften the landing somewhat. I'd be worried about the rope being out for them to trip on and turn upside down, which, could be bad. Kinda depends on how far up their first gear is too, then.

At the very least...get out of the way so they don't fall on you!

Tough scenario. If you're focused on their lead, and, are really paying attention to the rope in the system, your belay, not so much slack that there's too much rope, but, not any tension to yank them off...then, converting that to a run away from the route will be pretty hard to pull off quickly. By the time you actualize (is that a word? Ha ha) them falling, it'll probably be too late to do much other than take a quick step back or to the side. You might get in a couple feet of slack.

I think for both sports climbs as well as trad, the most important clip is that 3rd piece. Savvy leader hopefully gets that. Going past that second clip, gear or bolt, is the time when folks can hit the ground and my guess its a subtle thing to some/most climbers. Good you recognize the scenario as risky! Sharing that with a partner prior to them leading a climb where you can't see that option from the ground might be beneficial.

Cheers!
Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871
FrankPS wrote: Hard to do when you're running away from the wall.
Nearly impossible to do when you only have a fraction of a second to react.

A leader will fall 16 feet in one second, 64 feet in 2 seconds.

Running away from the wall is practically a mythical solution that is total science fiction when your leader is close to the ground even if you are an olympic sprinter (unless you are on point and ready to react as rgold points out below).

Don't count on this when your leader is very close to the ground. You will not likely improve the situation unless you have lightning fast reaction time and are paying very, very close attention.. And, you will increase the load on the top piece, which may be worthwhile if it doesn't blow the top piece and keeps you off the ground.

Your best option is to pay very, very close attention, keep the belay as close as possible without pulling on the leader and drop to the ground instantly if you feel inches and could make a critical difference.
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

A planned "running belay" is possible; folks have done it on run-out slabs and on extreme grit routes in the UK. "Planned" is the operative word: the belayer is all set to sprint, has cleared a path, and set up a special very low multidirectional anchor so that no gear will be zippered and the maximum amount of rope will be taken in by the run. They can only take in a few feet in a second, but that can be the difference between a soft and hard impact.

As many people have mentioned, an improvised running belay is almost never possible. There isn't enough time for a belayer who is not poised to take off to react, there may not be a good path, and without special preparation of a low directional anchor, the critical gear may be zippered and not much slack taken in.

If the belayer has a bit of warning, they might be able to yard in some rope and also sit down. But this can be dangerous with an ATC, because if the fall impact hits during the yarding process, there will be almost no braking effect from the device, and even if the belayer does lock off, they may not be able to achieve a good braking angle when sitting. A consequence could be the loss of control of the belay (this is not hypothetical).

Sometimes a highly skilled quick-thinking belayer can do something. I've actually taken such a near-grounder, and my belayer (Jim McCarthy) instantly grasped the dire situation and jumped off an eight-foot boulder he was standing on, thereby taking in just barely enough rope to make my impact negligible.

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 13,772
rgold wrote:But this can be dangerous with an ATC, because if the fall impact hits during the yarding process, there will be almost no braking effect from the device, and even if the belayer does lock off, they may not be able to achieve a good braking angle when sitting. A consequence could be the loss of control of the belay (this is not hypothetical).
Very important point!

rgold wrote:I've actually taken such a near-grounder, and my belayer (Jim McCarthy) instantly grasped the dire situation and jumped off an eight-foot boulder he was standing on, thereby taking in just barely enough rope to make my impact negligible.
Welcome to the Gunks?

Classic!
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

No Exit at Skytop on a super humid hot greasy summer day. There is a short off-fingers crack after the crux that my hands just slimed out of as I was moving up. I had a piton in the crack at my waist that came out with almost no resistance. (The crack flares inward and is perfect for nuts, but this was before nuts).

The next piton down was just after the roof and a groundfall was definitely in the offing---even with his jump I still hit the ground, but softly. Since there was a piton at my waist, McCarthy wasn't anticipating anything dramatic and had to react after I fell when the pin pulled. A truly amazing bit of heroics on his part and an indication that sometimes human performance can exceed what seems possible.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348

I've done a running belay on a few occasions. Interestingly enough, it's been on sport climbs when the leader fell while clipping the 2nd or 3rd bolt. I can say you really need to be on it and paying attention, because a fall that close to the ground leaves minimal time for reaction and zero time for a delayed catch. If you dont run as soon as the guy is off, he'll be on the deck before you even knew what happened.

As far as the pieces ripping, that is possible. However, the chance of decking is 100% when you dont provide a running belay and one is needed to keep said climber off the deck, so you dont exactly have anything to lose.

Greg D wrote: Running away from the wall is practically a mythical solution that is total science fiction when your leader is close to the ground even if you are an olympic sprinter (unless you are on point and ready to react as rgold points out below). Don't count on this when your leader is very close to the ground.

While it is true that you are never going to be able to run as fast as the climber will fall, it would be incorrect to say that running cant improve the situation. On more than one occasion I've kept climbers off the deck by running backwards while yanking in an armful of slack and I am not an Olympic sprinter. In one case the climber fell while clipping the 3rd bolt of a classic sport climb. I ran backwards a few feet and yanked in another few feet of slack. He stopped with his feet on the deck. Had I just stood there, he would have decked before the rope even came taught. You might not be able to yank in 20+ feet of slack, but you can certainly get in two or three yards which can make the difference between a trip to the ER and a fun story for Facebook.

You are correct thought that you have to be paying very close attention, which really is something that should be expected of all solid belayers, especially when a fall close to the deck or well past a piece is possible.

If you want to see a running belay performed, advance to 5:18

youtube.com/watch?v=Zh-GYMC…

There is another angle of this video that's not included, but it shows the running belay kept the climber off the deck. Without it he would have kissed the gound.
David Coley · · UK · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 70

I have both kept someone off the deck this way and been kept off the deck by it.

For the former it was easy. I was belaying in a tree as this was the best place to sit and see the climber. It was the fist pitch but with a short scramble below. The leader fell with one low piece in. She was heading for ledges, so I jumped out of the tree. I didn't plan this and it could have gone badly wrong - if piece had blown we would have both been mashed.

For the latter I fell off a classic grit route. The only piece was close to the ground. The belayer yarded in some slack and jumped backwards. I ended up with my waist almost inside the piece, upside down with my head not far off the ground. I couldn't have reacted fast enough. The belayer had done a lot of this type of stuff on very hard routes, and piece had been placed with this in mind. The key is that that specific piece is used for this. It is not the normal first piece on the route. It needs to be very close to the ground. If it is higher then running backwards distance will do little as you will take in very little rope - you might have to draw this on a piece of paper to get this. The other thing is that the piece needs to be able to take the direction of pull it will be exposed to: upwards if it is only designed to increase the amount of rope you can pull through and there is a higher piece. Up and drown if it might be the only piece. And remember, if it blows you will hit the deck, even if you have pieces above, because if it blows with the belayer having run, a monster amount of slack will have just been created.

Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,470

Dr. Kodos would loudly proclaim that it's the leader's responsibility to avoid a ground fall. I think in general that holds true.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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