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Climber takes a whip, has a close call....and, a newish belayer


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

I'm the newish climber who was belaying.

Giant wall of text to follow, no apologies, if that bugs you, get over it, some of you armchair quarterbacks will want details, I know that. And, this is, after all, how I have learned a great deal, “wasting” time on these forums, and being the pest who will always ask questions.

“Stems and Jammies” is special to me. It is the route I am climbing in my profile pic, literally about the third time my hands touched rock as a very, very, new climber. This is in the Beginner forum, because, barely two calendar years in, and less than that actually doing much, I am definitely a beginner.

To you noobs out there: You can die or kill someone at any moment, no matter how conscientious you are, or how much effort you put into mitigating the risks. If you don’t get that, take up knitting. End of very short lecture.
Know and trust your partner as well as humanly possible, even if you have never met them (seriously).

The Story:

Nate, a badass climber and mountaineer who loves icy, alpine sufferfests, is in Boise for business, never in Idaho before, and yesterday was the single day to climb.

So, that’s what we did. We hit a lovely weather window, were absolutely the only ones out at our area, until the gist of our story, and had a good time.
Because Nate’s a big guy, 195ish, and I am only 135, the very first thing we did was a sport climb, to test out the weight thing. I am quite used to heavier climbers, and that is not an issue for me.

Nate, who is serious about anchors, built an anchor for an aircraft carrier, on the wall just off to the side of his first climb, I had it unweighted while belaying, and, as it turned out, he took a pretty decent, normal, sport fall. Didn’t pull me up a bit. Ditto on lowering, no problem.

Plenty of climbing fun followed, although, because of something that had happened the weekend before, I was downish and dragging all week. Seriously stoked to be out with Nate, but, just didn’t have the juice for climbing. I gave whatever he had a rope on a shot, but it wasn’t happening for me. Hence, zero ticks to mark what will be a highlight of my climbing “career” for a loonnnng time. Noobs, ticks mean close to diddly squat.

Now, it’s Nate’s time for the trad lead he wants, on, Stems and Jammies. Here’s the photo from when I was first on it:

Stems and Jammies and me

Here are the grinning fools who are amazed we are both mostly unscathed:

Almost unscathed, except the cam

In the pic, we are standing on a block that is only about 2-2 ½ feet high. I was standing where Nate is, to belay, unanchored. The block beside me tops off just out of the frame, so about 8-9ish feet high. Stems and Jammies proceeds right up the dihedral above that taller column. And yes, some of our route names are painted at the base, have been for decades. The columns are only about 2 ½-3 feet wide, at most. Stems is a 60 foot climb, about.

Nate gets his trad lead at least 2/3 up there, I’m not sure where he ended up, because, most of it was out of sight for me. I belay by feel a lot, I’m good with that, nothing unusual there. I also like being an active belayer, with the goal of a belay that is what the climber needs and wants, almost “invisible” to them, yet, as safe as I can keep it at any given moment. Therefore, I don’t leave slack laying around. I gather back the slack dropped after a clip, and the slack that comes back as the lead climbs up to the clip. Obviously, when the climber needs/wants slack, that’s what happens.

I wear a helmet, wear belay gloves, and belay with an ATC. This works for me, I use grigris regularly for setting, not for belaying, that is addressed in an entirely different thread.

So. Nate is maybe 10 feet up from his last piece, not exactly running it out, not totally sewing it up (no apparent reason too). Contemplating the next placement, and, the unexpected fall. Fine, no problem. But, the top piece blows.

I’m going up, fine so far, but feel the pop through the rope. WHY am I still going up? WHY is this man still going down? Did the whole thing blow?
As fast as it happened, it is over. We are both hanging, from the piece that held. I am not sure how high up I am, but not hugely far. I am, however, looking down at Nate, beside me. Who, thank God, is looking up at me. The dudes next to us, are also astounded.

“Are you okay?” I was sooo expecting very broken bones as my best case scenario, and already not looking forward to it, but thinking how to proceed. At least he is alive, at this point.

“Yeah”

Holy crap.

I am sorta stuck, however, as the finger of my belay glove is understandably sucked into the ATC. My hand is still in the glove, holding the brake, but I don’t really want to lower, without knowing quite what will happen with my hand stuck there. I am up high enough, if I drop now, I will get hurt for sure.

Nate? Nate. Nate is an effing three stinking feet off the ground. Pretty much unharmed. He has miraculously avoided that tall column on a very, very fast ride to the deck, a fortyish foot whip.

To wrap it up, I just used my left hand to flip the belay end of the rope over to Nate, who fed a hand over hand backup belay/lower to me, while I slowly lowered.

First time I have ever lowered my climber while I was still in the air!

Nate’s holding the trashed cam that blew, I am sporting my very proud road rash (the left arm was up, on the rope, at the time. The road rash starts at my elbow, and spirals two thirds of the way around my forearm.

Nate. Nate, mountaineer badass, reactivated a football injury on that first fall. He nonchalantly went back up Stems, sewing it up after he was past the piece that held, lowered, and cleaned. Took a bit, but that gear was not left!

On a bad ankle.

Later, he did find a bloodied banged up leg, and I have stupidly minor dings as well.

Melted shirt

Oh. The shirt? Somewhere in here, the vinyl was melted and fused together. Found that when I got home.

Best to all, have FUN, be ALIVE, be SAFE, and climb on, dirtbag scum!

OLH, aka Helen
FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Here's the short version:

You caught a fall.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
FrankPS wrote:Here's the short version: You caught a fall.
No, that would be the Cliff notes back cover, lol, Frank!

And, I forgot a most important detail: a very sweet crag puppy showed up, also!

H.
sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60

Nate is holding the cam like a flower. And he wears a ring while climbing?

Below: Curious too regarding belaying a leader from the block.

Jason Kim · · Encinitas, CA · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 255

Good job on the catch, Helen. It sounds like you taking the belay seriously, as you should, and this experience should make you even better at the task, because anything can happen out there.

I'm curious, why belay from the block unanchored, instead of the ground below? Seems like a slip off that little block would be pretty easy and if it happens at the wrong time, you could easily yank your leader off the rock. I'm sure there's a reason? Is it super steep/angled down below?

Ryan Dirks · · Washington, DC · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 5

That's a pretty big and risky fall to take! I'm glad it worked out ok - sounds like you did everything right. I'd be somewhat concerned about your partner's judgement though. Any time I'm anywhere near the ground or a ledge I want to have total confidence that at least one piece is totally bomber (2 is better). Was the crack wet? Any guess on why the piece didn't hold?

I'm glad to hear there was a crag puppy too.

Aleks Zebastian · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 175

climbing friend,

he cannot place more and/or better gear and avoid near-death scenario because it would be an affront to his manliness, for obvious, yo

JBernard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 25

Glad you two are ok. All's well that end's well, as they say. I am not going to offer an opinion about anchoring a belayer in general or especially when there is a big weight difference but I am curious if you have decided to rethink that position.

Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25

Is the .75 he's holding in that pic the one that got "trashed" or the one that caught him? It looks fine from the pic.

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

Yikes! I saw the topic and the poster and thought you were the one whipping and got a little worried. Nice job! Haven't had the misfortune of catching a gear popper but I did catch a 40' sport fall once...it happens so quick!

Dick Stone · · Boulder · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 200

Great job on the belay and catch!
I really appreciate a "active" belayer who doesn't allow "penalty slack". I can't tell you how many times I've been out on lead to look down and see this big loop of rope hanging off my belayer's ATC...WTF?! It's really upsetting when a there's a potential deck fall.
BTW.. I've done that route and that columnar basalt there always felt a bit slick!

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

He's holding the gear that popped, and the wires are bent all to shit.

Regarding the ring, yes, I know that, honestly wasn't supervising him that tightly, and I have no idea if it was on or off while he was climbing.

Regarding anchoring, I have been prepared to anchor since about day two of climbing, and I always take it into consideration. I also climb almost exclusively locally, and the columns are always considered too.

Such as, if we had anchored, it most likely would have been on the ground. This put me farther out, in the line of fire of anything coming off the cliff, and likely to have been slammed into the rock, and/or filleted by the rock, and/or wearing Nate's ass for a turban now.

Standing on the columns, I do quite often. That is not any problem, I used to stand on ladder planks BITD.

Thanks to the well wishes!

Also, except for whatever small distance my brake hand went, from hip to ATC, it went there braking, and no sliding at all. I checked my gloves, to be sure. The left, non brake hand was above, and must have been loose, because that palm was very slightly chewed up. Not leather, just cheap padded things I bought at the grocery store and chopped the fingers off.

Helen

Edit to add: anchored, fall would still be the same rope and popped gear, with a pretty darn hard catch. I also have no problem jumping a soft catch, for the climbers who are lighter than Nate, although it hasn't come up much.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
Ryan Dirks wrote:That's a pretty big and risky fall to take! I'm glad it worked out ok - sounds like you did everything right. I'd be somewhat concerned about your partner's judgement though. Any time I'm anywhere near the ground or a ledge I want to have total confidence that at least one piece is totally bomber (2 is better). Was the crack wet? Any guess on why the piece didn't hold? I'm glad to hear there was a crag puppy too.
Ryan, unless you consider the entire route "near the ground", he was far out of reach of ground fall (ledges, columns, etc I consider groundfall), had it been a sport route.

And, only the one piece popped. Everything else was really solid, didn't budge, a d the now-top one took some work to get out. It took that almost 200 hundred pounds wallop, with a fair bit of rope now out, plus my weight on the other end.

Crag puppy was two, and doing pretty good. Although his/her person said pup was in deep doodoo at the moment because they went in the street recently. Good dog dad!

H.
MojoMonkey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 68
Old lady H wrote:I checked my gloves, to be sure. The left, non brake hand was above, and must have been loose, because that palm was very slightly chewed up. Not leather, just cheap padded things I bought at the grocery store and chopped the fingers off.
Commenting only on the above, it may be worth looking into different gloves. The material, thickness, and fit/flexibility of the glove can have a noticeable impact on your grip strength on the rope. Not saying cheap can't be functional, but non-leather and padded don't sound ideal.
SethG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 252

Helen, I mean to be nice, and constructive. I hope you'll take these comments with an open mind.

Any of us may die at any moment, that is certainly true. But when you say that you may die or kill someone "no matter how conscientious you are, or how much effort you put into mitigating the risks," it seems to me that you are falsely ascribing to fate things that are actually within human control.

Your partner could and should have avoided this near-death experience by placing better gear and placing it more often. You describe him as ten feet above his gear. That's rather a lot, if a fall is a real possibility. That is a fall of at least twenty feet right there, and with stretch and slack it is probably closer to thirty. This is a dangerous fall, even if everything holds. When you add into the mix that he did not consider that his top piece was very close to the only piece between him and the ground, well that makes it worse.

You say when he went back up he really sewed it up, which says to me that good gear was available. So on his first trip up he made a serious error in judgment.

The glove getting caught in the device is another red flag. I'm not sure from your description what caused this, but it is not a good situation and you're lucky that your hand didn't get pinched, causing you potentially to lose control of the belay before you even realized what was happening.

I can't really say whether you should have anchored or whether it was a great idea to belay off of that block, but I don't think either of those things were a factor in what happened.

If I were Nate, I would think about understanding my limits and placing more gear.

If I were you, I'd be thinking about how to make sure I am belaying in a way that my glove does not get sucked into the device.

Just my two cents. I'm glad it all worked out ok.

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871
Old lady H wrote:…miraculously, minor injuries. And guess who got the catch??!!
So you did your job: life-death responsibility and kept your hand on the brake? Do you brag when you stop your car when pedestrians are in the cross walk and you don't run them over?!?

Old lady H wrote:You can die or kill someone at any moment, no matter how conscientious you are, or how much effort you put into mitigating the risks. If you don’t get that, take up knitting.
This is almost completely false. Please take up knitting. One cannot mitigate 100% of all risks in climbing. But, knowledge, experience, judgement and, the hard one, long term commitment to safety, every time, every day we climb can play a huge role in one's safety.

Old lady H wrote: Nate, a badass climber and mountaineer
According to whom? Surely subjective. I would disagree. Definitely not so good at math. 10 feet above piece = 20 feet of free fall, another 3 or 4 feet of slack, another 5 feet of stretch, lift belayer off ground if unequal weight another 5 feet or more = 34 foot fall. And only 60 feet to the top! Oops. And, badass climber had a cam fail in what appears to be slippery basalt. Hmm. Suddenly, a 34 foot fall turns to 45 foot fall. Wait. The route is only 60 feet. Eek!

Glad he is ok.

Helen, I know your intensions are great. This situation could have been much worse. The sound a body makes when it hits the ground is truly awful and one you will never forget if you have heard it. Try to avoid it.
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

Seth, tests of high-impact falls by the CAI have shown that the brake hand typically gets pulled right to the belay device. They even have a name for the process; they call it the "inertial" phase of the belay, and they have various videos illustrating it. When the fall factors are higher, the inertial phase is just the first phase, and after that the rope is pulled through the device and the brake hand.

That being the case, I think Helen's experience with the brake hand is in some sense normal and to be expected. Moreover, it is actually a good thing and a source of the dynamism that lowers peak impact forces with ATC's. The fact that it doesn't always happen is just a reflection of the fact that most falls are pretty trivial to hold because of system friction.

The only odd part was having a glove finger pulled into the device. The fall does illustrate the importance of gloves for the belayer, as that might well have been skin and not cloth if her hands had been bare.

Over the years, I've read a number of reports of cams pulling in basalt, at least one with fatal effect. You don't have to work too hard to find videos illustrating this on the internet. I think this means that "sewing up" basalt cracks when cams are used, testing those cams with vigorous jerks whenever possible, and using nuts when the constrictions for them are available, is far more important than it might be, say, on granite, especially for climbers who aren't experienced with how basalt can behave.

Glad everyone is ok.

Paul Hutton · · Dirtbaggin · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 706

I was there, and saw the whole thing. Good thing he placed gear that held, because his technique going up that route had me wondering if he was in his first season of climbing. I imagine most people understand how bodybuilders fare when trying rock climbing. Flailing everywhere. I could hear his feet slapping against the rock. I saw him beginning the climb, and thought "he's gonna make poor contact and slip right off somewhere". My partner and I both climbed it after y'all had left--all of the 5.7 movement is solid. Nothing awkward and challenging about it. I then see him arcing away from the wall, about 3/4 of the way up, slow motion, slowly rotating upside down, heading right for a small, pointy boulder. I tensed as the rope FINALLY pulled tight, Helen gets pulled up, and he arcs very smoothly back toward the wall, the rope stretch taking the hit and smoothing everything out.

THANK

GOD!

Scared the fuck outta me. It's one thing to fall on gear that zippers out, and you hit a ledge. I was thinking about my accident and how I felt when I hit. It's another thing to see it happen to someone else. This dude whipped down 25' and was dangling upside down next to his belayer. One of my happiest moments in climbing. Please be witty enough to take slack out of a huge fall when your leader is placing gear.

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 266

This whole thing kind of sounds like poor climbing safety. Every now and then people are going to fall, it shouldn't be a stroke of luck that they don't get seriously injured.

Anyways, I'm glad nobody got hurt.

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

Rgold and Seth, these were quickie, hack job gloves. I grabbed them at lunch, to have one day for an evening at a gym with cinches for belay. I have dinky hands, so I chopped off the fingertips with scissors. That, and being loose, is probably what let the ATC grab that bit of fabric.

I've had my thumb webbing in there, once is enough. I also know I want the webbing and palm protected, and crappy as they were, these at least had that.

As soon as Nate and I started the cautious lower, the fabric came out.

Seth, I can't speak to any of what you said about the climbers decisions, except to try to pass on my understanding of what happened. He was also out of my sight for a good part of this.

I can say, he did not immediately realize the one piece popped, I actually felt that, or at least felt something dumping more slack in, my thought being also a rope caught in/on something, then released suddenly. That's when I was hoping the whole works wasn't going. And, once we were both standing,that piece was hanging right there on his end of the rope.

I would like to add, I did not get pulled to the first piece, nor did it pop, also a reason I chose to be on the little column, to make the line as optimal as I could, and not pull on his gear from my side. I have yet to need to do it, but that extra bit can also be used to step down, if you need that. So far, knees have been enough.

Seth, anybody, for that matter, I totally get how this all adds up to a lot more than the sum of the parts, and you are incredibly quickly rocketing into a crater.

But there's a huge difference between knowing that intellectually, and having it impressed indelibly. The real thing.

I have eyeballed how far up over these columns folks are, and said something about getting into "ground fall range". This is sometimes welcome, sometimes not, climbers call on that.

In this case, I could only do what I could do. Just hang on. I made my calls for where to stand, to not be anchored, etc. I am more than good with your feedback, on my end. That's how I made most of the decisions for this belay, from lots of previous input. I have asked questions, whole threads worth before, and do read your debates of everything that can possibly be argued (lol), listen and try to learn. And yes, not just the internet.

Sorry the "ur gunna die" bit came out so badly.

Best, Helen

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 290
Old lady H wrote:…miraculously, minor injuries. And guess who got the catch??!!
Glad you're ok.

rgold wrote:Seth, tests of high-impact falls by the CAI have shown that the brake hand typically gets pulled right to the belay device.
You're always posting about this, but I've never experienced it, ever. Don't know how to account for the difference, but it's clearly something.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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