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Falling when clipping


cyclestupor · · Woodland Park, Colorado · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 91

I've noticed a common behavior among many climbers and belayers which makes falling during a clip more risky than it needs to be.  Especially when trying to rush a clip, a climber may pull up more slack than they need,  and the belayer,  not wanting to short rope the climber,  may feed out more slack than the climber pulls up.  

This can be a good thing when the climber is pumped, trying to make a hard clip, high on a route with a clean fall.  But when the climber is at the 2nd or 3rd bolt, that extra rope could easily add up to 3ft.  By the time you account for the slightly higher fall factor,  and extra rope stretch caused by that factor,  the climber could be in ground fall territory.

Be extra careful both clipping and belaying when the climber is low on a route.  It may be better for the climber to pull up slack slowly and smoothly, pulling only as much as they need.  This will also give the belayer a chance to feed the exact right amount of slack and no more,  without worry of short roping. 

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,187

Years ago I was pushing it on a route. I missed that I should take gear and was merrily clipping bolts. Probably a good 15' out from my last piece. Got the next bolt clipped, pulled up the rope and was about to make the clip when I blew. It was an excellent fall as the route was dead vertical to slightly over hanging. 

As I went down, my belayer went up. When we stopped I was maybe 10' above her. It was a nice smooth catch. Alter she lowered (rappelled) herself back to the ground I went back up. We laughed about it over beers.

Ryan Hill · · Oakland, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 30
Addison Smith wrote:How do you over come that fear or what do you do to prevent those things?

Lots of talk on prevention, which is all well and good.  It sounds as if you have a problem with confidence and are, understandably, nervous about leading at your limit.  

A practical exercise to get beyond this fear (or at least not let it cripple you) is to get on routes (gym or outside) that are safely bolted and within your comfort level.  Take this route and work it slowly.  This means that every time you move your hands/feet you pause above the hold for 3-5 seconds.  When you pause focus on controlling your breathing, your posture, and relaxing your grip as much as you can without falling off.  This can be on lead or TR, I've even used it on bouldering walls, but the focus of the drill is to get yourself comfortable taking a stance and being in control at any point on the wall.  It can look silly, but it is effective in building confidence and moving statically.  It is good to learn how to use a clipping stance to center yourself and to be focused on the task at hand.  Slowing down your climbing, moving statically, and focusing on your points of contact will help you gain confidence in clipping and moving at your limit.

Addison Smith · · Ohio · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0
Ryan Hill wrote:

Lots of talk on prevention, which is all well and good.  It sounds as if you have a problem with confidence and are, understandably, nervous about leading at your limit.  

A practical exercise to get beyond this fear (or at least not let it cripple you) is to get on routes (gym or outside) that are safely bolted and within your comfort level.  Take this route and work it slowly.  This means that every time you move your hands/feet you pause above the hold for 3-5 seconds.  When you pause focus on controlling your breathing, your posture, and relaxing your grip as much as you can without falling off.  This can be on lead or TR, I've even used it on bouldering walls, but the focus of the drill is to get yourself comfortable taking a stance and being in control at any point on the wall.  It can look silly, but it is effective in building confidence and moving statically.  It is good to learn how to use a clipping stance to center yourself and to be focused on the task at hand.  Slowing down your climbing, moving statically, and focusing on your points of contact will help you gain confidence in clipping and moving at your limit.

I am nervous about it for sure somewhat this thread is also for my friend who is incredibly nervous as well he feels really nervous on the wall half the time. My problem is I want to climb higher grades but I don't want to fall on the second bolt or something because of how hard it is. I can climb most 5.11s top rope in our gym and I know lead climbing obviously takes your grades down because it's harder and I'd like to try some easy 5.11s outside but I don't want to screw up with decking or getting hurt 

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

Yep.  High up in the gym or on an overhanging route outside is one thing.  Go for the clip.  It's how you learn just how desperate a clip can get before you actually fall.  

Anywhere blowing the clip is going to be bad, don't risk blowing a clip.  Grab the draw.  Get a long clip stick and stick clip the 2nd bolt.  Go direct to the previous bolt, haul up a stick clip, and get the next one from safety.  If you can reach the bolt and have a long PAS, go direct to the bolt somehow rather than hauling slack up to clip overhead (bearing in mind you don't want to fall on that PAS!).  There's no reason to risk a broken ankle (or worse) for a 5.11 redpoint, y'know?

Parker Kempf · · atlanta, GA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 210

I haven't seen anyone mention using double ropes...

if you are clipping above your head with rope 1, rope 2 is still at your waist height....problem solved.

that being said.... hard sport with double ropes can kinda suck

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790
Addison Smith wrote:

Yeah I noticed clipping closer to the waist helps a lot with not having a lot of slack in the system for sure. I guess a lot of it just comes with time and experience as well

This is bullshit perpetuated by gym lead classes. You clip where you have a solid and comfortable stance relative to the grade. Sometimes, yes, you clip at your waist. More often than not, stances require you to place the draw and clip at or above your head.

There shouldn't be a difference in the amount of slack needed to clip above your head versus climbing a few feet higher to clip at you waist. Thus "clipping at the waist" is not some magic safety technique - clip where you can when you can.

Jared M · · Oakland, CA · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 100
BrianWS wrote:

There shouldn't be a difference in the amount of slack needed to clip above your head versus climbing a few feet higher to clip at you waist. Thus "clipping at the waist" is not some magic safety technique - clip where you can when you can.

Huh? There is a clear difference - the additional slack is (roughly) the distance from your waist to the bolt overhead, because the rope runs back to your harness tie-in.

Micah Klesick · · Kalamazoo, MI · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 3,958
BrianWS wrote:

This is bullshit perpetuated by gym lead classes. You clip where you have a solid and comfortable stance relative to the grade. Sometimes, yes, you clip at your waist. More often than not, stances require you to place the draw and clip at or above your head.

There shouldn't be a difference in the amount of slack needed to clip above your head versus climbing a few feet higher to clip at you waist. Thus "clipping at the waist" is not some magic safety technique - clip where you can when you can.

That's incorrect. There's actually like a 3-5' difference, because to clip high, you pull out 3' minimum to clip the draw, plus I normally pull out more than I need, so its more like 5' more, vs if you are at your waist and not pulling any out... and not to mention that when you clip at your waist, your belayer doesn't give out slack, so that's taking that out of the equation as well. So its actually probably more than the 3-5' of difference. 

Eric L · · Roseville, CA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 115

Addison, your thread is venturing into the territory of differing opinions, most of which are valid with the experience of the person giving the advice. :)  I'm just ahead of you on the learning curve, just starting trad but fairly confident with sport at my climbing level.  

To me, it sounds like you have a confidence barrier.  My initial advice is mostly addressing that problem because lack confidence can make you unconsciously make errors (increase risk).  Above all, you need a comfortable stance (which I didn't mention) which the route may give you at different points around the clip.  Ultimately, you need to safely clip and when close to the ground you don't want excess rope - thus clipping close to the waist but NOT at the sacrifice of a good stance which includes holding the draw (but NEVER the hanger!) if needed.  When you are higher up, pull the rope to clip above you if you can afford it on a good stance.

Confidence is boosted by having a confident belayer to take that worry off your mind - I've had belayers who ruined my confidence because I spent more time thinking about them than my climb.  (This includes pull-pinch belayers on an ATC, fine on grigri and munter, but that is another explosive discussion we don't need here).  This is why I mention the ground run belay technique for safety and confidence, as a last resort.

Lastly, take some falls.  Get comfortable with that uncertainty/fear, it helps a lot.   Good luck, have fun!!

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 334
Micah Klesick wrote:

That's incorrect. There's actually like a 3-5' difference, because to clip high, you pull out 3' minimum to clip the draw, plus I normally pull out more than I need, so its more like 5' more, vs if you are at your waist and not pulling any out... and not to mention that when you clip at your waist, your belayer doesn't give out slack, so that's taking that out of the equation as well. So its actually probably more than the 3-5' of difference. 

Yes, clipping above your head results in you being caught lower at the end of your fall, so where there is groundfall or ledge potential, you need to be aware of it.

That said, you need to be certain that you can find a good stance by climbing higher to clip. If I have a super-bomber stance below the clip, and I'm completely comfortable clipping high, I'll do it, but it's something I try to avoid when I'm lower on a route.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
Addison Smith · · Ohio · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0
EricL wrote:

Addison, your thread is venturing into the territory of differing opinions, most of which are valid with the experience of the person giving the advice. :)  I'm just ahead of you on the learning curve, just starting trad but fairly confident with sport at my climbing level.  

To me, it sounds like you have a confidence barrier.  My initial advice is mostly addressing that problem because lack confidence can make you unconsciously make errors (increase risk).  Above all, you need a comfortable stance (which I didn't mention) which the route may give you at different points around the clip.  Ultimately, you need to safely clip and when close to the ground you don't want excess rope - thus clipping close to the waist but NOT at the sacrifice of a good stance which includes holding the draw (but NEVER the hanger!) if needed.  When you are higher up, pull the rope to clip above you if you can afford it on a good stance.

Confidence is boosted by having a confident belayer to take that worry off your mind - I've had belayers who ruined my confidence because I spent more time thinking about them than my climb.  (This includes pull-pinch belayers on an ATC, fine on grigri and munter, but that is another explosive discussion we don't need here).  This is why I mention the ground run belay technique for safety and confidence, as a last resort.

Lastly, take some falls.  Get comfortable with that uncertainty/fear, it helps a lot.   Good luck, have fun!!

Thanks for the advice! Good stuff, I feel great taking falls above the 3rd bolt I don't really worry much about them it's just the bolts that I know I can deck on I worry about some up top though I've taken some decent falls and I feel fine on them. Something about them first 3 bolts though lol

Victor K · · Denver, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 165

I've fallen in the middle of making the third clip in the gym and hit the deck. Luckily, I was completely uninjured. I had so much slack out that there was very little my belayer could do (I think caught about 10% or 20% of the fall), and the fall was a complete surprise. I wasn't sketching, I just f'ed up. What did I learn? First and foremost, I'm very serious about scoping the route before I get on, so I have a plan for making safe clips. I also visualize my sequence through several holds, rather than just the next move. That way, I can move quickly past difficult holds and get to good clipping stances.

Regarding the issue of clipping at the waist, it's best to think of this as desirable, but not mandatory. Having a solid stance is way more important. If you are making a reach to the bolt, be sure that the movement of your body doesn't throw you off balance (that's what happened to me).

Lastly, good belaying is a skill that develops over time. You need to manage the rope like you're dancing with your climbing partner. If the climber makes a high clip, then the belayer will have to take up slack as the climber moves past the draw. Offen, you'll see belayers ignore this huge loop, setting up a big whip if the climber falls.

John Sullivan · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0
Micah Klesick wrote:

That's incorrect. There's actually like a 3-5' difference, because to clip high, you pull out 3' minimum to clip the draw, plus I normally pull out more than I need, so its more like 5' more, vs if you are at your waist and not pulling any out... and not to mention that when you clip at your waist, your belayer doesn't give out slack, so that's taking that out of the equation as well. So its actually probably more than the 3-5' of difference. 

He's wrong about the amount of rope out but the point about clipping above your head is 100% right. Plenty of routes have bolts in the middle of the crux that can be easily clipped above your head from a stance below. There's absolutely no reason to try to make a sketchy waist clip in the middle of the crux so you can avoid a much easier over head clip 

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 135

One thing I see in the gym quite a bit with new leaders is trying to clip as soon as you can reach the bolt.  Not that they are stretched to the extent, but definitely clipping overhead.  I clip high as well, but only when I have a solid hold.  That drive to get to the next bolt and relatively safety shuts off the exact part of your climbing brain that should be looking for the best hold/stance to clip off.  I see folks over and over again making a despirate move to high clip, then moving up 2 feet and getting a solid rest.  If you are, say 6' above the last draw, and then are reaching up another 4' feet to make a clip, you are looking at a 14' whipper (probably more that that since you are going to grab more slack).  Move up 2' and now you are 8' + 2' + 2' = 12' fall, so by stepping up, you are cutting your fall distance, and you are not going to grab as mch extra slack since ouy only have to pull up once to clip at eye level.

Franck Vee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 70

Lots of good things said here. It seems paradoxical but not really: You should not worry about falling when sport climbing, but you must always know if/when a position has potential for a dangerous fall. You should scout out the route visually when on the ground, try to spot what the spacing of the first couple bolts are and if there seems to be a danger clipping them. You should also watch for a ledge high above and how the route is oriented above it - a biggish ledge with a slabby section above can be almost as bad as a ground fall.

I disagree with one thing though - yes you need a good belayer and a good belayer matters. Not every belayer is a good belayer, assuming all belayer have mastered the "basics", which is not dropping you to your deaths and giving acceptable slack at appropriate time and not letting go ever of the brake strand.  A good belayer goes beyond those basics. There are many special situations in climbing, like ledges and slabs and roofs that require a belayer to understand what he should do at any moment if there's a fall. Sometimes the good thing to do it to take in as much as you can, even if it means a harder catch for the climber. Sometimes it means giving out more slack/belayer much more dynamically than usual even if it means a longer fall. Those things you learn with experience as a belayer. As a climber, I believe your job is to first read the route you're about to get into and know if there are special cases that may require you belayer to be on the ball, and second to know your belayer and his/her capacities as a belayer to ensure he's okay with whatever the root is going to throw out at you.



brian burke · · santa monica, ca · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 120
Aleks Zebastian wrote:

it is the sport climbing, ha ha, not proving your manliness/womanliness on high alpine adventure

so wise...  so sage...

ckersch · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 151

Falling when clipping the first two bolts is not an option. Downclimb if you're not solid, it's better than decking.

Third bolts are tricky. Depending on their placement, they can either be fairly safe or else in decking territory. Be careful, and don't hesitate to grab the sling on your draw to clip if you're uncomfortable and looking at a dangerous fall. I've blown a cruxy third clip on a climb and shrubbed, which is like decking, but when there's a shrub at the base of the climb to cushion your fall. Still not pleasant.

Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0
Matt Himmelstein wrote:

One thing I see in the gym quite a bit with new leaders is trying to clip as soon as you can reach the bolt.  Not that they are stretched to the extent, but definitely clipping overhead.  I clip high as well, but only when I have a solid hold.  That drive to get to the next bolt and relatively safety shuts off the exact part of your climbing brain that should be looking for the best hold/stance to clip off.  I see folks over and over again making a despirate move to high clip, then moving up 2 feet and getting a solid rest.  If you are, say 6' above the last draw, and then are reaching up another 4' feet to make a clip, you are looking at a 14' whipper (probably more that that since you are going to grab more slack).  Move up 2' and now you are 8' + 2' + 2' = 12' fall, so by stepping up, you are cutting your fall distance, and you are not going to grab as mch extra slack since ouy only have to pull up once to clip at eye level.

Redo your math.  In your first case the length of the fall will be 20 feet.  In your second case... 20 feet.  If you suck it up and climb all 10 feet to the next bolt and then wing off the length is... 20 feet.  This idea that you will fall further if you fall from clipping lower is one the most commonly misunderstood falicies that gets perpetuated by even the more experienced climbers.  In the first cases you will stop at a lower spot (usually bad but not always) but the LENGTH of the fall (assuming you have enough rope out to make the clip is awlways 2x the distance between the bolts.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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