test-falling on trad placements without 2 ropes?


Original Post
Sergey Shelukhin · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 0

Hi, I'm just getting into trad climbing and want to test my placements. I was looking at some people doing a class yday and they would fall on their gear with top-rope backup.

Suppose I set some gear on TR and then want to test my placements without 2 ropes; or e.g. I climb some easy route and want to test them on the way down. Are there any safety drawbacks if, on the way down, I unload the rope, clove hitch to a piece with 3-6ft of rope between it and my harness, pull some slack in the TR above the piece, then fall on it either from being at the piece or below it (to reduce fall factor)? That way if it rips I'd fall on the TR. What would be a reasonable fall factor given that I'm falling on dynamic rope?

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,500

If you really want to test gear placements, I'd recommend ground school and a few pitches of aid climbing.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45
Sergey Shelukhin wrote:

I unload the rope

How is that going to work, exactly?

Fall factor will be negligible, but it will still probably be a rough fall since there'll be no belayer to give you a soft catch and no rope running through the carabiner.  Ok for hanging, but I wouldn't do test falls this way nor extrapolate anything about what it's really like to fall on gear.  People overthink this way too much...just get out there and climb.  Stick to stuff you know you can do without falling and follow the stuff you can't until you feel comfortable pushing your grade.  My first trad fall was unplanned, unexpected, and uneventful.  If you really must practice falling on gear, get a party of 3 and a second rope.  There are many, many factors at play in a lead fall, and stretch of the rope is only one of them.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 770

This is becoming a common thread topic. Not to be an ass (while actually being an ass), but I attribute this to the flood of well educated yuppies dropping a fat load of cash on new trad gear with zero experience and no mentors -- hence the over analysis of absolutely everything climbing related. 

Learn how to place gear by working with an experienced trad climber. Follow many pitches to see what works and what doesn't. Mileage and experience will get you further and faster than bounce testing, placing gear on toprope, taking practice falls with a backup  etc etc etc.

Dave T · · Charlotte · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 0

I follow the adage that: Practice doesn't make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.

Getting mileage in without knowing what you are doing is a dangerous game.

Please find someone to perfect your placements then have at it.

Robert Michael · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 101

Another benefit to taking a trad course or working with an experienced leader is that you will learn to evaluate rock quality. The best placements in the world might mean nothing if they're in rock that's waiting to blow.

I think this is something a lot of trad leaders without proper instruction know little about. All the time, I see people place gear, especially cams, in horrible spots that experienced leaders don't even want to touch, much less stick gear in. 

Optimistic · · New Paltz · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 282

Just bounce test them on TR

Idaho Ian · · Pocatello, ID · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 0

Let us know where you are bounce testing so we can retrieve your stuck gear. 

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 165

Your basically putting a factor 2 fall on your gear (if I understand what you are talking about doing, you are cloving into the piece you are falling on?). It is something in real trad climbing you never want to do. This is going to put alot of force on the gear and could even cause injury to yourself if it holds.

If you wanted to create a less than 2 fall factor you would have to clove into a piece below the piece you want to fall on and run the rope up from there and than fall on it. Still going to be putting pretty high fall factor on the piece and the fall distance would be increased greatly if the piece fails. Not a way most people would recommend testing your gear.

Sergey Shelukhin · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 0

I actually did take a ground course on placements and followed other trad climbers although the latter was some time ago. 

Jon H · · MD/DC · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 13

Cloving into gear and test falling is a bad idea, no matter what your motivations.

If you reaaaally want to test your placements, you can do it with only 1 rope by using both ends as long as the cliff is short enough.  Set up a toprope on a ~15 meter cliff, tie in as normal, and then lead up from the ground tied into the OTHER end of the rope. Practice falling from near the top so you have enough air below you that you don't hit the ground. Preferably on slightly overhanging terrain.  This assumes you have a 60M rope. 70M would be better though, just so you have some cushion. You will need 2 belayers though, one for each end of the rope. And make sure it's sorted out who is belaying from which end - there are lots of ways to screw this up and die.

There are some ways to accomplish this with only 1 belayer (or even only self-belayed) but that introduces some serious complexities that are definitely not appropriate for this discussion.

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 60
BrianWS wrote:

This is becoming a common thread topic. Not to be an ass (while actually being an ass), but I attribute this to the flood of well educated yuppies dropping a fat load of cash on new trad gear with zero experience and no mentors -- hence the over analysis of absolutely everything climbing related. 

Yup.

The best way to learn gear skills is to aid climb.  I've been trad climbing for 18 years, taken plenty of falls, and never felt the need to take a practice fall for the purpose of testing gear.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 770
Sergey Shelukhin wrote:

I actually did take a ground course on placements and followed other trad climbers although the latter was some time ago. 

Ground school gives you a basic idea of how gear and anchors work, but it's really not much good until you've seen and cleaned a large variety of placements on many actual routes (placed by a competent and experienced leader). 

If you're near any major climbing areas, it can't be hard to find experienced leaders to follow. Ask around your gym, if you go to one.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45
Sergey Shelukhin wrote:

I actually did take a ground course on placements and followed other trad climbers although the latter was some time ago. 

Then you'll be fine.  Don't overthink it.  Just be VERY conservative with the routes you choose;  highly protected, well below your grade.  Lead a 5th class scramble if you have to; just get tons of experience placing gear on lead, and evaluating placements.  Have someone, ideally experienced, follow you and evaluate your gear.  Then, once you feel comfortable pushing your grade and falls become a possibility, do your practice falls if you still feel the need to.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,402

I actually like the Sergey's creative thinking regarding "how can I really test my placements?"  Good, technical problem solvers are folks with whom I like to climb.  And it was after all asked before trying it.  By the way, much of what is below has already been said here and there ...

I have tested gear the other more common ways: aiding on gear with body weight; falling on gear in a lead config while also on a completely independent TR backup.

The drawback with the independent TR backup is if you misjudge.  I mean, either a) you hit something after the piece blows and before the TR catches you or b) both ropes come tight at the same time.  The latter is closer to taking a lead fall on a static rope which can also hurt / injure.

So it seems worthwhile to entertain - at least "on paper" - other alternatives.  Working back towards Sergey's question about tying directly into the piece while on TR ...

Whatever the method involving a falling human, start with small forces meaning falls that are just a few percent of the length of rope between you and its' fixed point.   And then very gradually work your way up ... again, literally adding just a few percentage increase at a time.

The shorter the amount of rope actually in play, the harder it will be to control that percent increase. This becomes even more critical when a belayer and/or belay device is not absorbing some of the force.   The suggested method has both of those involved:  very short amount of rope plus no belayer.  So judging what is a few percent critical.  

And keep in mind that one could be kind of stuck up there if the knot is difficult to untie and the piece - say a nut - becomes firmly wedged in place.  Maybe have a backup plan to just unclip and leave the piece if needed?

My bottom line:  The suggested config isn't something I would recommend since it may be too hard to control.  It also isn't very realistic since no belayer is involved.  More generally, I would say that truly testing gear with fall forces on the high end isn't practical with a falling human body.  That is why the posts here about aiding and about following someone experienced are good advice.

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 60
Ted Pinson wrote:

Then you'll be fine.  Don't overthink it.  Just be VERY conservative with the routes you choose;  highly protected, well below your grade.  Lead a 5th class scramble if you have to; just get tons of experience placing gear on lead, and evaluating placements.  Have someone, ideally experienced, follow you and evaluate your gear.  Then, once you feel comfortable pushing your grade and falls become a possibility, do your practice falls if you still feel the need to.

The thing is, if you're doing routes that are well below your grade, all the way down to low-5th class scrambles, you're really not learning any more than you would by placing gear on the ground.  You are almost never going to fall on that gear, first because the climbing is so easy, and second because any significant whipper on ~5.2 terrain will very likely involve hitting ugly ledges and that sort of thing.  I've met single digit climbers at the Gunks with years of "experience" who proudly proclaim that they've never fallen; this means that they really have never had to evaluate their gear's quality in a real situation.

Honestly, the best way to learn gear placements is to find a STEEP crack climb and aid it.  Even better if you can find a steep bolted crack climb, clip the bolts for pro, and place gear for upward movement.  You'll learn very quickly what is good and what is not.

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 25
Sergey Shelukhin wrote:

 to test my placements without 2 ropes; 

Jump on a very short route. Use one end of your only rope for TR back-up (don't forget about elongation!) and the other end to clip trad pieces and to hang on, to bounce on, and to arrest lead falls.

upd. An important safety warning. When using both ends of a rope tie some knot (e.g. overhand) on a long enough bight (2 feet or so) in the middle of the rope. When (when, not if!) underestimate routes length you will need those extra feet.

turd burglar · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0

I guess I must either be a super genius, or there is something wrong with how I'd do it and I'd like to hear what that super wrong oversight is.

anyhow, just climb a freakin' sport route and place gear a foot or two above the anchor. if the gear blows, you're falling on a bolt anyways. 

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 200

Don't take "practice falls" its just a way to beat up your gear and yourself.

Aid climb a bomber crack with clean gear (nuts and cams) on top rope or lead as needed. After a few pitches standing on bomber stuff, maybe push it a tad to see what holds and what doesn't (bounce testing while on top rope or above many solid placements). You will safely find in time that what you thought was good may not be, but what is text book bomber (perfect cam in good rock) is truly bomber. You can also play with as hard an "aid move" as you want safely on top rope to see how far you can push "sketchy".

Use a helmet and finger-less gloves to save some skin etc. Just cut off the ends of cheap work gloves and tape the stubs to prevent them coming unraveled. Make sure the finger coverage goes at least over the first knuckle.

Mileage is required. The hard part is finding patient partners. :)

Jack Servedio · · Raleigh,NC · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 20
King Tut wrote:Mileage is required. The hard part is finding patient partners. :)

That's what the traxions are for!

kevin deweese · · Oakland, Ca · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 200
BrianWS wrote:

This is becoming a common thread topic. Not to be an ass (while actually being an ass), but I attribute this to the flood of well educated yuppies dropping a fat load of cash on new trad gear with zero experience and no mentors -- hence the over analysis of absolutely everything climbing related. 

Learn how to place gear by working with an experienced trad climber. Follow many pitches to see what works and what doesn't. Mileage and experience will get you further and faster than bounce testing, placing gear on toprope, taking practice falls with a backup  etc etc etc.

Or you can think about the possibility that as more people come into the sport, more creative "out of the old dad box" method are coming into vogue. I've heard the "follow an experienced trad climber and see what works" way too many times. Seems right on the surface but the reality is that it's not really that helpful in terms of maximizing actually learning actionable concepts. When you follow a trad leader, you don't see the thought process of choosing this crack over that crack, this nut over that cam, this placing here in a stressed position versus placing five feet higher in a comfortable position. When you follow a trad leader, how will someone that you've already defined as needing to learn going to know which placements "work" and which placements "don't work?" We're assuming the leader didn't fall on the gear so who is any the wiser?

Following a leader is good for seeing various types of placements and learning how not to screw your second (when you inevitably get screwed) but when you consider what it takes to actually test a placement, you don't fall on it, you don't know. I led trad for years and placed hundreds of pieces. How many did I actually test by falling on them? Less than I was able to test after my first TR aid lead. 

To say that mileage and experience will get you further and faster than bounce testing is the height of ether ignorance or bias. You choose, I could care less. 

I know, I know. That's how we all learned and we're all still here. Don't really have a response for that but I'll think about it when I drive home tonight from work in my horse and buggy and I'll post an update via telegraph tomorrow once the office opens. 

- - -

You want to test gear? Aid climb and bounce test. You'll see what pops and what doesn't. You'll see what shouldn't hold but does. And most importantly, you'll see when something that should hold, pops instead, and you'll be right there to remember the entire process of placing it and to analyze the placement and your thought process immediately so that it won't happen again. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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