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24 ft ground fall by poor nut placement


Original Post
Lucas De Ridder · · Antwerpen · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
  1. Yesterday, me and three other climbers went climbing at Beez, a Belgian crag. My partner found a 5.6 warmup. We were both taking a course which included an initiaton to trad. We were given a set of stoppers, and with a set of half ropes we started on the route. We were told to clip the bolts and when we found a good place to place a nut, we could do that. The bolts were quite spaced, so when he was close to thee second bolt he made a nut placement he thought was solid. After this he clipped in the blue rope, while i kept the red one tight, into the nut and asked for a hangdog. At the moment he was 24 ft up. While he hung onto the nut, it popped out. He fell backwards, all the way to the ground. His legs, knees, and his pelvis impacted the ground, but the red rope was just short enough for his head and back not to hit the ground. We called the emergency number, and he was transported to the nearest hospital. Conclusion: broken knee and 6 weeks of plaster.

The bolts allowed a 24ft groundfall. He should not have hangdogged onto a marginal nut. I was shocked by this accident, because it was the first time i ever experienced such an accident. I hadn't even seen a outdoor leader fall before.

What is your opinion about this?

Grtz,

Lucas

Bill Czajkowski · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Oct 2008 · Points: 30

If you're just learning how to place gear then your gear is suspect. Don't hang on suspect gear placements.

Sometimes you're taking chances that you don't even know you're taking. That's the nature of being responsible for your own safety. That's climbing.

Lucas De Ridder · · Antwerpen · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0

Since the accident i didn't stop thinking about that. How dumb it was from both me and him. Guess we learned our lesson.

Jason Todd · · Cody, WY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 998
Lucas De Ridder wrote:

The bolts allowed a 24ft groundfall.

Bolts are inanimate objects. They didn't "allow" anything.

The cause of the groundfall was not the bolts, or bad bolting.  Fixed gear does not, in any case, insure safe climbing. 

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Can't blame this accident on the bolting. 

A mixed route requires the leader to be competent at placing protection in between bolts, which clearly wasn't the case here. Pilot error is the culprit. 

stolo · · Shelby, NC · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 110

The nut did not fail, the placement was poor. 

Practice placing trad gear on top rope. You can also aid the climb with gear but on top rope. 

David Bruneau · · St. John · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 1,243

In your situation, better knowledge of how to place gear, and climbing far higher up the route to test gear placements would be advised if you go do a similar type of training again. It's too bad that the accident happened, but good that no worse injuries occurred!

This is how I would recommend learning how to climb: First learn how to lead climb in a gym (more padding to hit if things go wrong). Get a good idea of how far you will fall at different distances from bolts at different heights. Move onto sport climbing outdoors and learn to estimate how far you will fall/whether it is ok to fall on a given route. In general, falling on easier routes is less safe than falling on harder routes. Read a book on climbing anchors to learn which bolts are good and which aren't. Then learn how to trad climb after you are comfortable with sport climbing. Aid climbing on toprope will give you an idea of what can and can't be trusted, but keep in mind that some placements will only hold body weight. Read books on the subject to learn which placements are good. Double check your rappels.

I don't subscribe to the "Leader must not fall" mentality often used in trad climbing. But I advise: knowing that your placements are good and having multiple pieces between yourself and the ground (or a ledge), if there is a possibility of weighting/falling on the gear.

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 125

He had a 24 foot fall, which means the last bolt was at 12 feet and he was 12 feet above that.  As a new trad climber, in an area with poorly spaced bolts, he sould have placed more that just 1 nut in that 12 foot "run out."  Everyone has their own definition of run out, but it sounds like that was definitely run out for you guys.

Also, how was the placement?  Did you ask him.  Nut are very directional.  You can place a nut that is bomber if you take a fall and have a downward pull, but if he placed it and then was even with it when you took in the slack, the pull was more outward than down, and that might have been the problem.

Regardless, for the nut to fail, the wire would have to break.  As other mentioned, the placement was probably suspect, and/or the rock may have pailed (which is again poor placement), but the nut is the only blameless part of the equation.

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

This happened during a course with an instructor?

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

I'm sorry, but this is probably the most preventable accident I've ever heard of.  Was this your first experience placing gear?  That should have been on the ground.  Placing nuts to withstand the upward and/or outward forces that occur when you fall above them is tricky; placing nuts to hold body weight when you're below them is not.  The fact that the nut pulled in this scenario indicates that he was not ready to be weighting gear off the ground.  

When practicing gear placements, you have to treat it like it's not there until you're ready to trust it.  With that in mind, what would possess him to do this test with only 1 bolt below him?  Groundfalls are pretty much expected at the first bolt, and if he climbed up past it to place the nut, then a groundfall was inevitable.  That is literally the worst place to practice gear placements.  Do you two have experience leading sport?

If you're going to do this kind of test, you should be at least above the 2nd bolt, preferably 3rd or 4th depending on the spacing.  Remember: when you take a lead fall, you're going to fall twice the distance between you and the last bolt.

Jon Nelson · · Bellingham, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 4,675

Some good advice above. Another thing to add  - 

In trad, and particularly when the leader is just off the ground or ledge, the belayer may need to reel in the rope or somehow take in rope (e.g., by quickly moving back) when a fall occurs. The catch may be jarring, even damaging, but it can be less worse than hitting an immovable surface like the ground.

Matt Westlake · · Durham, NC · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 588

I think the above folks have mostly nailed the key points (don't have a single piece between climber and groundfall or bad landing, know your gear before fully trusting it, etc) but another thing that bothers me here is that you were learning to lead and were given half ropes to use. Double rope technique is not really the first thing I'd recommend starting out with as it's not easy to manage two ropes at once. This could have contributed to having so much rope out on one side that it wasn't enough to keep your partner off the deck. It can be easy to get distracted from how much the first rope is out versus the one that is being pulled up for clipping. Double ropes also tend to be skinnier and stretchier which means a longer fall. 

This next bit may be unnecessary as it is just good belaying but... I don't know if you are experienced with lead belaying but I've found among sport climbers, particularly among my Euro friends, that there is more of a tendency to put out a LOT of slack for a soft catch, more so than my trad partners. I go for a slight dip in the rope, not a giant loop bending down towards the ground. There's no excuse for more than that as it's just lazy belaying with a higher potential for injury, particularly if your leader is on easier trad terrain, which is typically less steep and ledgier.

Anyway, good luck on your friends recovery. Remember trad gear is great but it isn't the same as bolts! Experience, understanding, and redundancy are key!

Lucas De Ridder · · Antwerpen · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 0
Matt Westlake wrote:

I think the above folks have mostly nailed the key points (don't have a single piece between climber and groundfall or bad landing, know your gear before fully trusting it, etc) but another thing that bothers me here is that you were learning to lead and were given half ropes to use. Double rope technique is not really the first thing I'd recommend starting out with as it's not easy to manage two ropes at once. This could have contributed to having so much rope out on one side that it wasn't enough to keep your partner off the deck. It can be easy to get distracted from how much the first rope is out versus the one that is being pulled up for clipping. Double ropes also tend to be skinnier and stretchier which means a longer fall. 

This next bit may be unnecessary as it is just good belaying but... I don't know if you are experienced with lead belaying but I've found among sport climbers, particularly among my Euro friends, that there is more of a tendency to put out a LOT of slack for a soft catch, more so than my trad partners. I go for a slight dip in the rope, not a giant loop bending down towards the ground. There's no excuse for more than that as it's just lazy belaying with a higher potential for injury, particularly if your leader is on easier trad terrain, which is typically less steep and ledgier.

Anyway, good luck on your friends recovery. Remember trad gear is great but it isn't the same as bolts! Experience, understanding, and redundancy are key!

Hello, thank you for your ideas. We weren't learning to lead, we both have lot of experience with single rope leading. I think the fact that we were using half ropes saved him, because the red rope was taut during the clip, and catched the last 4 inches of the fall, preventing him to fall on his head.

Greets,

Lucas

JSH · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 960

One aspect of double rope technique that is not as obvious is that both ropes have to have a multi-directional, zipper-preventing first piece.  So in this situation, clip both ropes into that first bolt (with separate draws/biners).  That will keep the force on the nut closer to downward, which may have prevented it pulling, if direction of pull was an issue.

Lucas, it sounds like your belay was as good as possible, and your friend was lucky, all things told.  But some old-bold climber once said:  keep two pieces between yourself and the ground. That is even more true when you are learning whether your placements are good are not.

Politically Correct Ball · · From WA to AZ · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 5
David Bruneau wrote:

First learn how to lead climb in a gym

David Kerkeslager · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 55

Geez. Keeping the red rope tight probably prevented a worse injury, but it should have been very obvious that the red rope would still allow a ground fall if the nut failed. Why didn't he clip the second bolt with the red rope before weighting the nut on the blue rope?

Tom Sherman · · Bristol, RI · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 416

I can't imagine many scenarios where falling just before the second bolt is good. Now add to that half ropes. Not good.

David Bruneau · · St. John · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 1,243
Politically Correct Ball wrote:

Thanks for the reply Mr. Ball! Please elaborate so we can leave a useful forum thread behind. I knew I'd catch flack for advising learning to lead in the gym, but it's honestly the best way to go if you don't have a decent mentor who will teach you how to lead outside. A decent mentor wouldn't have students placing dodgy nuts in ground fall territory, while cruxing out, as in the scenario described here. Maybe my experience with gym instructors has been better than your own. I acknowledge that gym climbing doesn't prepare you for a lot of the risks one sees outside.

Politically Correct Ball · · From WA to AZ · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 5

OK, here's some real advice: if you want to learn how to place gear, aid some pitches.

As for this jim fellow, I've never met him and people who climb with him frequently can't seem to climb for whatever reason. I'm not going to pretend to know why that is exactly, but I do find the idea that someone can prepare for a trad climb indoors quite preposterous. 

Old way is best: get a mentor. Climb something you can solo. Place a ton of gear. Your mentor will rate your pieces. There are no short-cuts. 

T Roper · · DC,VA,NM,UT,CT,MA · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 860
Politically Correct Ball wrote:

There are no short-cuts. 

Youtube is right?

Robert Michael · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 156
Lucas De Ridder wrote:We were both taking a course which included an initiaton to trad. We were given a set of stoppers, and with a set of half ropes we started on the route. We were told to clip the bolts and when we found a good place to place a nut, we could do that.

As described, this course almost seems designed for accidents. I can't imagine any responsible guide or company handing you pro and a rope and telling you to go for it unless maybe the route were bolted much more closely than the one you describe.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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