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Fell 20' on top rope

Original Post
John Conzone · · Charlotte, NC · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 60

I'm a new climber 5 months or so. Went with very experienced friend whose been climbing 12 years. Although sometimes she doesn't know stuff I would expect her to know. Like SERENE for anchors. I'm newbie but built bomber anchor she says she usually lets guys do that stuff. Anyway achor was not issue and she climbs like a monkey!

I weigh 220, she weighs 120-125.

Did middle route of Davids's Castle Saturday. I'm not sure if I can insert pic in here or not. Looks not but there is a pic on here. I was on top rope, middle route. I had brought 9.7 mm BluWater dynmaic rope cause she was gonna lead a sport route but for whatever reason decided to top rope David's. 3/4 way, working small hand size crack left of middle route and smearing, I slipped and fell.

Now in gym usually I fall a few feet and bang, stop dead. I realize that's static rope probably10+ mm. But here I fell a good 3 count, like free fall, and then rope caught gri gri and stretched a little. Now I know 9.7 mm is not ideal for top rope, but its well within specs and I can't figure out why I fell so far, like 15-20 feet.

Hit ledge hard, broke right tibia in two places, out for 8-12 weeks. Trying to get handle on what went wrong so do not repeat. Thanks.



Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,475

Probably a combination of factors.  Light belayer, heavy climber.  Thin dynamic rope, and not enough awareness of what can happen in that very scenario.

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 653

Super sorry to hear that you got hurt.  With the limited info you have provided, it sounds like the weight difference between you was a big factor.  How far did your belayer get pulled off the ground? Was there slack in the rope in front of you before you fell?

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

Did you ask your belayer?

Everett · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 10
FrankPS wrote:

Did you ask your belayer?

Super important to talk to them, even if you never climb together again.

I usually ask people how much a partner weighs if there's a visible size difference (or just say my weight and ask if they're okay with that.) 

Does your gym have twice-wrapped drums for top rope anchors? That provides way more friction than a locker or two outside.

Creed Archibald · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 868

I'm guessing there was slack somewhere in the system. You aren't traveling at full speed when you lift the belayer off the ground. Their weight at least slows you. For you to hit hard enough to break bones, you had to be free falling, right?

physnchips · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0

How much rope was out at the 3/4 mark? I'm guessing (though far from certain) your belayer messed up, what did they say? Some more detail is required.

Gym rope is not static, or at least it shouldn't be. Some of the workhorse gym ropes do have a bit lower dynamic elongation.

John Conzone · · Charlotte, NC · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 60

Yeah I hit hard for sure. I heard them break. shitty sound. 

When I first started up I had to get her to take since there was slack. She usually uses ATC but for some reason had gri-gri that day. WHich really should helped her. 

I did ask she said the rope stretched.

Then about 8 hours later she called me, crying saying she thought her belaying was the reason. She wouldn't come out and say there was slack but when I started to fall I counted and got a good 3 count in. 

I am not wanting to place blame. Looking for explanations but my first, and still primary theory was she was a little lazy in belay. I was making really quick progress up that crack so maybe she couldn't keep up.

I just don't think the rope would switch that month. But looking for alternate explanations. 

I told her it wasn't her fault it was ACCIDENT. Hey, 3 feet to the right I would have been dean nice pointed rock there. Shit happens. Honstely I've looked down a few times and she is gazing off somewhere and I have to yell down to pay attention, lol.

Anyway since I'm down 8-12 weeks I doubt we'll climb together again.

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053

Bad belay. Three guesses. Way too much slack out (a little is nice), wasn't locked off after taking, wasn't anchored.  

Edit to add, gri gri use may have been an issue too.

In math form, (slack , plus rope stretch, plus time it takes belay to lock, multiplied by distance unanchored light belayer travels during fall equals 20') (a + b + c x d = 20') 

If she attempted a gym/sport-style "soft catch" intentionally she should pay the hospital bill.

Best of luck and speedy recovery . JB

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 310

What was top anchor? The extension? Did you put weight on the rope before you started climbing? (pull out the stretch?) How much rope was involved? 

You can fall like 20-30 feet on a relaxed rope at its full length.

With no belayer error at all. 

heal up.

John Conzone · · Charlotte, NC · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 60

Luckily no hospital bill went to urgent care. Naw, I'm not gonna ask her for $$ she'd never give it up and she is too stubborn to admit she may have made mistake. She is super climber, lol. Hated it when I built anchor in front of her. 

She's a good girl we were about at the end of our time anyway. Hey, maybe a life insurance deal? But in the end I agree it had to be bad belay. I'll be back come August. No worries.

Ryan M Moore · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 35

If you were 3/4 up the route and you weren't using a 70 or 80 meter rope for a 100ft + route there is no way rope stretch should account for falling with that much force for 20 feet(assuming your tibia break is a broken leg not a break at the ankle from landing wrong on one foot). The weight difference alone shouldn't cause that either. Too much slack+late catch+weight difference could. Did your belayer have rope burns? If so might have been improper use of gri-gri(trying to catch the fall with climber side hand on rope as well as brake side)

jmmlol · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

It's possible she pulled in slack and had her hand resting on the cam without realizing it, causing it to not lock up as easily as it should.

Mike Slavens · · Houston, TX · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 35


Extremely sorry to hear about your injury.  Best of luck for 100% recovery!

Its hard to determine what was the issue given the information you provided but here are some things to consider.  However it was a combination of a bit of slack in the system, picking up the belayer a bit from the weight difference, and rope stretch.  A couple take-aways:

1) ~100-lbs weight difference is huge.  She should probably anchor down when belaying you.  Even you just sitting on the rope could pull her off the ground.

2) Rope stretch can be substantial (10' - 20') if a lot of rope is out.  Keep this in mind when climbing in bad fall areas (right off the deck or over ledges) especially with that big of a weight difference in climber to belayer.  Your belayer needs to be extra attentive and keep slack out of the system in these areas.

3) Most gyms wrap top ropes around the top bar twice.  This generates a ton more friction than a rope just running through draws.  This will mask issues with big weight differences in climber to belayer that you will experience outside.

4) The physics don't support you free falling for a three count.

5) 9.7mm single rope is great for top roping.  The weight difference and slack in the system seems to be the real culprit here.

Matt Stroebel · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 115

Ask if she was pulled off the ground. If she wasn't, or was only pulled a foot or two, then you have your answer, excessive slack either through negligence or incompetence with an unfamiliar device.

cyclestupor · · Woodland Park, Colorado · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 93

Whenever you are on top rope, or following a climb, and especially if you are moving fast, you need to be paying attention to your slack as you are climbing.  If the belayer did indeed mess up, and didn't stay on top of the slack, then she is only partly to blame.  Yell "UP ROPE!" whenever you notice the rope isn't going up with you.  If your belayer can't hear you, then you have no choice but to wait till the belayer wakes up and pulls in the slack.

Ryan M Moore · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 35

If he fell a substantial way before feeling rope stretch, it's a bad belay. I'm a fatso, I have top roped plenty of 80 foot routes and fell in the first 15 feet and I hit the ground. But not hard. The rope stretch is noticeable after about 5 feet of falling and that's with 140 feet of rope out on a 9.2 rope. Belayer doesn't fly up either because the rope stretch absorbs so much of the initial force. 

John Conzone · · Charlotte, NC · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 60

Hey Ryan. Actually it is a 70m rope. But the break is tibia twp right at bottom. I saw xray. Now how would 70m rope contribute to that much of fall. Asking for real, science question not ingestionn your knowledge in any way. Thanks!

I didnt check for rope burns. I knew it was bad, knew I had to tape it up, but on boot and get hiking out (3 miles) or else whould have been ranger rescue scene. So from time I heard snap, had her lower me, taped up and put on boot was maybe 10-15 minutes. I asked get rope and to clean up gear I had to get goin or I wasn't going.

Ryan M Moore · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 35

Length of the rope does not matter, I was just using the fact that you were 3/4 up the route, and unless it REQUIRED a 70 or 80 meter rope to climb, there should be about 100 feet of rope out at the most. The more rope that is out, the more the rope will stretch. If you're doing multi-pitch and climbing the length of the rope for each pitch you could have 180 feet or more rope out to stretch when you fall. Very easy to have 20+ feet of fall with a perfect right belay when that much rope is out. When you have  substantially less than that out and an anchor involved it's a little suspect that rope stretch and a light belayer alone would result in a 15 foot free fall. How long was the route?

ALEXAOUTDOOR Alexa smit · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2017 · Points: 5

I´m new to the sport also but this is my input:

Is not the girls fault, you were climbing too fast; Climbing is a sport that requires a slow pace in order to do it wright.

-Climb in peace,  Alexa-

Matt Stroebel · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 115
ALEXAOUTDOOR Alexa smit wrote:

I´m new to the sport also but this is my input:

Is not the girls fault, you were climbing too fast; Climbing is a sport that requires a slow pace in order to do it wright.

-Climb in peace,  Alexa-

You're not trolling wright.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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