Broke my heel--help me learn


Original Post
Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5

Howdy MP.

I broke my heel over the weekend while belaying, and I'm hoping to turn it into a learning experience in case I made any avoidable mistakes during the process. It happened last Saturday on JewJew Fruit at Fruit Wall in MFRP.

So, my climber was going for a flash, and had gotten to what I believe would have been the 7th bolt of the climb. The bolt was near his head when he clipped the quickdraw and tried to clip. He pulled up slack, fumbled around a couple of times and dropped the rope a couple of times. I could tell he was getting close to that failure point and saw the rope in his hand and heard him yell "take!" I took in an armfull of slack and saw a bunch more come down from the first ledge on the climb (which is about 10ft high I think). Thinking/hoping he had made the clip, I started running backwards to take in the rest quickly (he sounded a bit shaken) and found myself about 10ft away from the wall and he still wasn't tight. At that point he fell, I got pulled straight into the base of the climb and impacted the wall with my heel.

Now, I understand why the horizontal dragging happened--my distance from the wall when he fell was obviously going to pull me forward and not up, and in the split second before he fell, I braced a little and thought to myself "fuck this might not end well". I'm a lighter guy so I'm used to getting pulled around/lifted a bit while belaying, but he had probably 40lbs on me and there was no way I could control being dragged.

What could I have done differently in this situation? Obviously, not running backwards and trying to take in as much slack as possible with my hands while maintaining my closeness to the wall might have prevented my broken heel, but how do I determine that's the correct thing to do, if it is? When he yelled "take!", my reaction was more instinctive than actually thought out. Hindsight's 20/20 but there was really zero potential to deck. He was roughtly 60ft up the climb I'd guess, and between the extra rope from the high clip and distance to his last clip, he probably fell somewhere between 20-25ft.

The other side of this is: what could my climber have done differently? I've got some ideas but I'd like to hear what you all have to say first.

Thanks! And if you were at Fruit Wall when this happened, thanks everyone for the support, and big shoutout to my fellow WI buddy who had the tequila. It really helped! :)

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 15
Apsu wrote:

Howdy MP.

heard him yell "take!" I took in an armfull of slack and saw a bunch more come down from the first ledge on the climb (which is about 10ft high I think). 

Is it possible you had too much slack out? How far above his last clip was he?  Where do you think the "bunch more" slack came from?

Edit: Why did you run backwards? Was there danger of the climber hitting a ledge? If not, maybe running backwards was a mistake.

caughtinside · · Oakland CA · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,415

Never say take when you are above a bolt, it will guarantee a hard catch. 

Although I have never heard of a situation quite like the one you describe. Were you wearing real shoes?

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
FrankPS wrote:

Is it possible you had too much slack out? How far above his last clip was he?  Where do you think the "bunch more" slack came from?

Edit: Why did you run backwards? Was there danger of the climber hitting a ledge? If not, maybe running backwards was a mistake.

It's certainly possible I had too much slack out, but I think the amount out was appropriate given the height of the bolt he was trying to clip. I try to maintain I gentle "J" shape, where the lower dip doesn't sag more than an inch or two. If I had to guess, he was maybe 6 or 7 feet above the last clip (from his tie-in point), and clipping a draw at his head. It's also possible that after he dropped the rope and went to grab it again, I interpreted that as trying to pull up more slack and fed him more. I'm fairly confident I didn't do this because after feeding out slack quickly, I went back to the "standard" belaying position (I was using a GriGri).

And yeah, I'm pretty confident running backwards was a mistake. He wasn't in danger of hitting the ledge, but the tone of his voice well he yelled "take!" gave me the impression that he needed it done as quickly as possible. I was thinking (again, hoping) that he had clipped the draw and that I would only run a few feet because none of my regular partners would have called "take" in that situation (getting spiked into the wall is no fun).

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
caughtinside wrote:

Never say take when you are above a bolt, it will guarantee a hard catch. 

Although I have never heard of a situation quite like the one you describe. Were you wearing real shoes?

Yep, calling "take" is really what led me to believe he had clipped the draw and not dropped the rope again. Taught rope = bad catch.

I was wearing a pair of fairly well cushioned North Face hiking shoes. I hit that sucker hard.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 0

JewJew Fruit is slightly overhanging, you should have done nothing - this would be my first reaction, especially if the climber was that high up. Take in as much slack as you can without pulling climber off the wall and get ready to catch air. 40lb difference is getting close to making catches Fun Type.2, consider getting Edelrid Ohm to mitigate weight disparity. 

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Apsu wrote:

found myself about 10ft away from the wall and he still wasn't tight. At that point he fell, I got pulled straight into the base of the climb and impacted the wall with my heel.

Now, I understand why the horizontal dragging happened--my distance from the wall when he fell was obviously going to pull me forward and not up,

I don't know, unless the first bolt is only a few feet off the ground, how did you get dragged horizontally into the wall? If there's that much weight difference between you and the climber, you'll get pulled up toward the first bolt, then swung into the wall. Swinging from 10 feet away into the wall shouldn't break your heel.

My guess is that you're much further than 10 feet from the wall, so the answer to your question is: don't get that far from the wall.

Backstep · · Redlands · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 5
Apsu wrote:

I could tell he was getting close to that failure point and saw the rope in his hand and heard him yell "take!" I took in an armfull of slack and saw a bunch more come down from the first ledge on the climb (which is about 10ft high I think). Thinking/hoping he had made the clip, I started running backwards to take in the rest quickly (he sounded a bit shaken) and found myself about 10ft away from the wall and he still wasn't tight. At that point he fell, I got pulled straight into the base of the climb and impacted the wall with my heel.

My first thought is the bunch of slack coming down from the first ledge as you describe is your partner dropping the loop he had pulled to clip; had he clipped, the slack would not have fallen back down. 

I'm not familiar with the route you were on, but in general on vertical to overhanging sport routes. I try to belay relatively close to the face of the rock for exactly the reason you experienced. In retrospect the mistake may have been your partner saying "take" when he really meant "falling," combined with your well intentioned running away from the wall. 

Good luck with the recovery! I'm 6 months out from a bouldering related fractured heel, it's a crappy injury to have. That's a whole other topic though...

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
amarius wrote:

JewJew Fruit is slightly overhanging, you should have done nothing - this would be my first reaction, especially if the climber was that high up. Take in as much slack as you can without pulling climber off the wall and get ready to catch air. 40lb difference is getting close to making catches Fun Type.2, consider getting Edelrid Ohm to mitigate weight disparity. 

Thanks! That's the conclusion I came to as well. And yeah, I've read a lot about the Ohm over the past few months and have definitely considered picking one up. Once I'm back on both feet I just might grab one.

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
aikibujin wrote:

I don't know, unless the first bolt is only a few feet off the ground, how did you get dragged horizontally into the wall? If there's that much weight difference between you and the climber, you'll get pulled up toward the first bolt, then swung into the wall. Swinging from 10 feet away into the wall shouldn't break your heel.

My guess is that you're much further than 10 feet from the wall, so the answer to your question is: don't get that far from the wall.

You're probably right that I was more than 10ft away from the wall--I ended up running back about 10ft, and was probably 5 or 6ft from the wall when I started. Either way, it couldn't have been too much more than that distance, as there's a large boulder and small dropoff at the edge of the trail. But yeah, my distance from the wall was clearly the reason I ended up being pulled forward, and not up.

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
Backstep wrote:

My first thought is the bunch of slack coming down from the first ledge as you describe is your partner dropping the loop he had pulled to clip; had he clipped, the slack would not have fallen back down. 

I'm not familiar with the route you were on, but in general on vertical to overhanging sport routes. I try to belay relatively close to the face of the rock for exactly the reason you experienced. In retrospect the mistake may have been your partner saying "take" when he really meant "falling," combined with your well intentioned running away from the wall. 

Good luck with the recovery! I'm 6 months out from a bouldering related fractured heel, it's a crappy injury to have. That's a whole other topic though...

Yep! Another one of those fleeting thoughts I had in the few seconds between taking in slack and hitting the wall was "there shouldn't be this much slack if he clipped", which was closely followed by the "oh fuck" one :)

In general, I belay pretty close to the wall I think. I'm used to being noticeably lighter than my climbers, so I try to stay pretty tight up against the wall, but at least a few feet away on one side of the first bolt. This time, I had chosen my belaying position after seeing another party on the climb just before us, which was admittedly a much more appropriate spot for them given their sizes relative to one another. I hope your heel is all better and you've gotten back to climbing again!

Thanks for the responses so far! I realized I left out another detail that may or may not be relevant: because of the first ledge on the climb, my climber clipped the first two bolts using pretty long alpine draws rather than his normal 18cm quickdraws in an effort to prevent rope drag. These draws were somewhere between a foot or two long. Given that my climber fell and was caught by (I think) the 6th bolt, would those longer draws have affected the distance my climber fell, and thus how far I was pulled?

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120

So sorry about your injury!

I think you get this now, but the belayer has to consider their trajectory once airborne, even with a similar size climber. If they blow a clip with a fat armload of rope, or run it out, or have to whip for some reason, you may be flying.

On the ohm, a couple days ago a few of us had a chance to talk with the rep, who was making the rounds through gyms in several states. It should be showing up for rent soon, I expect, and will be a great addition. 

If you have a chance to try one, I'd suggest getting a variety of weights on the climbers end. Some have expressed concerns about spiking the climber if the weight difference is too small. This came up after the rep left, though, so we weren't able to ask.

Hope you heal up quickly, sorry there's a pun in there. Best, Helen

Mike Womack · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 1,297

I know one thing I do to avoid being pulled into the wall like that is by standing right at the base of the climb (after they're up a few bolts) so when I do what you do and step away to pull in slack fast, I'm still not very far from the base of the climb and won't get dragged in. 

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,037
Apsu wrote:

Howdy MP.

....

The other side of this is: what could my climber have done differently? I've got some ideas but I'd like to hear what you all have to say first.


Just since this hasn't really been covered, but if you are having trouble making the clip and are going to fall, you might as well just grab the draw to make the clip.  Also, practice clipping on the ground and get proficient at it.  You shouldn't be dropping the rope and fumbling it multiple times if you know how to clip properly, just look at the pros, for them clipping is a fraction of a second task and is never fumbled, that just comes from tons of experience and practice, so practice it to become efficient.

Ancent · · Reno, NV · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 37

Keep your belaying more simple: (1) stay close to the wall, (2) if there's no imminent danger of a ledge or other feature, do less micromanaging of the slack--it seems like you were trying to take-feed too much that it got over complicated, which wasn't necessary on this nice clean overhanging route, and may have lead you to run way to far from the wall given the situation, and (3) practice catching more falls in a gym or outside. Regarding point (2), on a typical sport route, most of the slack-feeding can be done with ~5  ft movement on the ground and small feeding of the rope. There doesn't need to be so much slack in or out at every moment. A big armfull of taking should get most of it, and at the 7th bolt, you probably shouldn't need to take more. The last point may be most relevant in that being ready, all the time, to catch and get launched may have avoided this injury. For clean-fall sport routes you should identify nice spots that will given you a clean catch-launch, which is almost (but not quite!) as important as making sure the climber has a clear fall. If you were launched and it messed with your ability to hold the fall, that would be dangerous.

sDawg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 0

First of all, appreciation for risking your own injury to prevent another climber from getting hurt. Even if it was clearly the wrong choice, the sentiment as well as the effort to improve should be appreciated.

On what you could have done. It sounds like you have more experience belaying climbers closer to your weight and didn't make many accomodations given this climber's extra weight. If he outweighs you by 40 pounds, you should probably never run backwards and should keep a tighter belay-no "J shape." I believe that's the right thing for some of your lighter partners, but the ideal belay is different for every climber/belayer partnership. That said, if you have little experience belaying someone his size, he shouldn't have been climbing at his level on your belay. If you had simply braked the rope, stayed directly under the clip, and let him take the fall he signed up for, you would have done nothing wrong. You both should get some experience together on chiller routes and in the gym first. Once you both know what to expect in a fall you can protect yourself and he can know how much he can reasonably expect from you.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 0

I just reread you OP, one thing I missed - what FOOTWEAR were you wearing while belaying? - any shoes - hiking, running, are preferable than going barefoot, or wearing flip flops or climbing shoes. Even Crocs are better :)

pat a · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 0
Ancent wrote:

 (2) if there's no imminent danger of a ledge or other feature, do less micromanaging of the slack--it seems like you were trying to take-feed too much that it got over complicated, which wasn't necessary on this nice clean overhanging route, and may have lead you to run way to far from the wall given the situation

I think this is an important part.  Newer belayers tend to exactly this sort of "micromanaging" thing and it takes a little while to learn to slow down and be (appropriately) lazy.  Don't be constantly pulling out rope and taking it back in and all that.  Given them what they need when they need it.  Rarely is there a reason to take it back.  If someone clips way below a bolt, don't bother pulling it back in unless there's a reason.  Just wait for the rope to go tight again.

We teach new belayers to keep a nice "smile" of slack in front of them, which is generally fine, but don't take it too literally.  On a route that isn't dead straight, there's always going to be a lot of slack in the system sitting between the bolts.  You might have a little J of rope in front of you, then tug on the climber's strand and find that there's another five freekin' feet of slack hiding up there.

I usually keep a light hand on the climber's side of the rope, pulling down lightly (and ready to release it if they fall).  Just enough to feel them moving but not enough to hinder them.  That keeps the slack all down at my end and lets me belay by feel more than by sight.   However far below the bolt they are when they go to clip, you need to throw out twice as much rope, so be ready to do that very quickly.  

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
Old lady H wrote:

Hope you heal up quickly, sorry there's a pun in there. Best, Helen

Thanks! And believe me, I've been getting that pun a lot :)

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
Mike Womack wrote:

I know one thing I do to avoid being pulled into the wall like that is by standing right at the base of the climb (after they're up a few bolts) so when I do what you do and step away to pull in slack fast, I'm still not very far from the base of the climb and won't get dragged in. 

Yeah, I definitely do try to do this, but I also try to keep enough distance between me and the wall that I can 'step into' a clip to provide a little more slack when needed. I would never choose to do my belaying from further than about 10ft away, and before I started running backwards, I would say I was roughly 5 or 6ft away.

Apsu · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 5
Ken Noyce wrote:

Just since this hasn't really been covered, but if you are having trouble making the clip and are going to fall, you might as well just grab the draw to make the clip.  Also, practice clipping on the ground and get proficient at it.  You shouldn't be dropping the rope and fumbling it multiple times if you know how to clip properly, just look at the pros, for them clipping is a fraction of a second task and is never fumbled, that just comes from tons of experience and practice, so practice it to become efficient.

Great, that's the advice I was hoping to hear! When I talked to my climber after this happened, he mentioned that just grabbing the draw and clipping had crossed his mind, but he didn't want to lose the flash.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply