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Soft catch vs. hard catch


Original Post
Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20

Apologies if this video has already been posted in some other thread. It is fairly new so I don't think it has come up yet. I liked the approach they took, being as scientific as they could with somewhat uncontrolled controls. If you don't want to watch 13 min. of video the bottom line is speed hitting the wall is always better with a soft catch. They do show what happens with various fall lengths for hard catches too, which I found interesting. 

 

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

soft catch is over rated. not decking or hitting a ledge is  more important INMOP....


Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20
Nick Goldsmith wrote:

soft catch is over rated. not decking or hitting a ledge is  more important INMOP....


I think everyone understands that, and that is covered in the video too. 

Bryce Adamson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 623
Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20
20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
Nick Goldsmith wrote:

soft catch is over rated. not decking or hitting a ledge is  more important INMOP....


I've seen people break ankles as a result of a hard catch. It almost happened to me more than once and it has happened to two of my partners, both right in front of me where I saw the whole story unravel. I've also seen other people walk away from the wall with twisted ankles or legs after being slammed into the wall by a shitty belayer who gave them an unnecessary hard catch. Slamming into the wall hard because your partner doesent know what he is doing can be almost as serious as hitting a ledge under the right conditions. Soft catches are a part of correct belaying technique, and if you dont know how to perform them correctly then you dont know how to belay correctly, simple as that. Hard catches can and has ripped gear and resulted in broken ankles. It's happened countless times.

You are correct that avoiding the ledge is more important, but in 98% of sport climbing falls a soft catch is the correct choice to make as hitting a ledge or the ground is not a risk at the time of the fall. In the other 2%, the priority is in minimizing fall distance so the climber doesent deck.

Cole Morgan · · Portland,Oregon · Joined Jan 2013 · Points: 0
20 kN wrote:

I've seen people break ankles as a result of a hard catch. It almost happened to me more than once and it has happened to two of my partners, both right in front of me where I saw the whole story unravel. I've also seen other people walk away from the wall with twisted ankles or legs after being slammed into the wall by a shitty belayer who gave them an unnecessary hard catch. Slamming into the wall hard because your partner doesent know what he is doing can be almost as serious as hitting a ledge under the right conditions. Soft catches are a part of correct belaying technique, and if you dont know how to perform them correctly then you dont know how to belay correctly, simple as that. Hard catches can and has ripped gear and resulted in broken ankles. It's happened countless times.

You are correct that avoiding the ledge is more important, but in 98% of sport climbing falls a soft catch is the correct choice to make as hitting a ledge or the ground is not a risk at the time of the fall. In the other 2%, the priority is in minimizing fall distance so the climber doesent deck.

I definitely agree that soft catches are part of correct belay technique, but its hard to say that it is the correct course of action 98% of the time. Arbitrary percentages mean nothing and do not support a discussion. Each belayer should just learn why soft catches and hard catches are given, and decide how to belay for each situation.

Cheers.

Patrik · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 30
20 kN wrote:

Soft catches are a part of correct belaying technique, and if you dont know how to perform them correctly then you dont know how to belay correctly, simple as that. 

An often understated requirement of correct belaying is also to understand Why and When to give a soft catch. Gyms these days are very quick in running "Advanced belay technique" classes, where How is the main point of interest. This of course is somewhat appropriate as basically any fall in a gym (except grounders or hitting people on the floor) benefits from a soft catch. But taking that mentality outdoors is just too big of an assumption. 

20 kN wrote:

Hard catches can and has ripped gear and resulted in broken ankles. It's happened countless times.

How can you possibly present a proof that a soft catch would NOT have ripped that same gear? I would guess the strongest statement you can make is that "A soft catch might not have ripped that gear". 

20 kN wrote:

You are correct that avoiding the ledge is more important, but in 98% of sport climbing falls a soft catch is the correct choice to make as hitting a ledge or the ground is not a risk at the time of the fall. In the other 2%, the priority is in minimizing fall distance so the climber doesent deck.

... and 98% of all trad climbing is done on non-overhanging terrain for which the longer fall distance increases the likelihood of hitting something.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,813
20 kN wrote:

I've seen people break ankles as a result of a hard catch.

Seems to me that (on overhanging rock) ...
If a soft catch would have prevented those ankle injuries, then just as well would have worked for the leader/climber to just pull out some extra slack before making the hard move which has risk of slamming into the wall.

Key advantage of the "soft catch" doctrine is that the ciimber/leader gets to blame the belayer - (instead of taking full responsibility for their own safety).

Ken

Paul Hutton · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 706

Hard catches hurt my feet and ankles.

ViperScale . · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235
Patrik wrote:

An often understated requirement of correct belaying is also to understand Why and When to give a soft catch. Gyms these days are very quick in running "Advanced belay technique" classes, where How is the main point of interest. This of course is somewhat appropriate as basically any fall in a gym (except grounders or hitting people on the floor) benefits from a soft catch. But taking that mentality outdoors is just too big of an assumption. 

How can you possibly present a proof that a soft catch would NOT have ripped that same gear? I would guess the strongest statement you can make is that "A soft catch might not have ripped that gear". 

... and 98% of all trad climbing is done on non-overhanging terrain for which the longer fall distance increases the likelihood of hitting something.

98%... where do you climb trad? I think around 80%+ of the trad climbs I have done had overhangs. Probably average being on overhanging rock around 50% of the time climbing.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
Patrik wrote:

An often understated requirement of correct belaying is also to understand Why and When to give a soft catch.

How can you possibly present a proof that a soft catch would NOT have ripped that same gear? I would guess the strongest statement you can make is that "A soft catch might not have ripped that gear".

... and 98% of all trad climbing is done on non-overhanging terrain for which the longer fall distance increases the likelihood of hitting something.

An often understated requirement of correct belaying is also to understand Why and When to give a soft catch.

Sure, I agree with that. That's probably a correct statement for just about any form of training in any field. Understanding the why is more important than just doing the action.

How can ou possibly present a proof that a soft catch would NOT have ripped that same gear? I would guess the strongest statement you can make is that "A soft catch might not have ripped that gear".

Obviously, no one can guarantee with absolute certainty that the outcome of a particular event would be different if the circumstances were different, but we can be confident enough. There are some things we do know. Soft catches typically reduce the impact force on the top piece, sometime substantially. We also know that the higher the impact force is on the top piece, the more likely it is to rip. Thus, it's an obvious collusion that soft catches are beneficial for gear holding and hard catches are not. Considering that many, many climbers have ripped gear even with soft catches, it's completely logical to reach the conclusion that at least in some instances hard catches have had a direct influence on pieces ripping.

... and 98% of all trad climbing is done on non-overhanging terrain for which the longer fall distance increases the likelihood of hitting something.

So you need to evaluate the risk of the particular climb at the time. I am not saying that soft catches all the time is the answer, but I am saying that never giving soft catches under any circumstance is certainly not the correct approach, and it shows a lack of experience and knowledge in the art of belaying. If you're a fanatic on climbing extremely ledgey, low angle rock, then most of the time a soft catch probably will not be the correct answer. However, for most climbers, soft catches are something that they need to be familiar with if they fall or catch falls with any level of frequency.

Cole Morgan wrote:

I definitely agree that soft catches are part of correct belay technique, but its hard to say that it is the correct course of action 98% of the time. Arbitrary percentages mean nothing and do not support a discussion. Each belayer should just learn why soft catches and hard catches are given, and decide how to belay for each situation.

Cheers.

You're correct, I was just exaggerating. Understating what type of belay is correct based on the circumstances and risk evaluation is the correct way to approach the topic.

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 451
20 kN wrote:

An often understated requirement of correct belaying is also to understand Why and When to give a soft catch.

Back in the Pleistocene Age (aka rec.climbing), we'd just say "It Depends (tm)".    There's no one rule for belaying.  

Each situation, whether sport/trad, overhanging/slab, ledge/no-ledge, et cetera, demands the belayer make a good choice and have the skills to implement that choice.   

Example: trad slab:  No slack, stop 'em asap.   But then, the leader won't get slammed into the wall (because you short-roped them) either 'cause they're already against it!

Patrik · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 30
ViperScale wrote:

98%... where do you climb trad? I think around 80%+ of the trad climbs I have done had overhangs. Probably average being on overhanging rock around 50% of the time climbing.

Gunks, Daks, Delaware, Seneca, JTree, Smith, Eldo, Lumpy, Vedauwoo, SPlatte, Arches ... and a bunch of lesser known areas.

None of these areas have any significant stretches of overhanging terrain. Yes, true even for the Gunks that is famous for its overhangs. The nifty thing is there is only one or two overhangs per pitch at the Gunks with a lot of less-than-vertical terrain (and ugly ledges) in between. The only areas I've climbed continuously steep terrain is Indian Creek and Vantage. Both are dead vertical, not overhanging. 

Where are you climbing? If you are on overhanging terrain 50% of the time climbing, I would think you're on 5.12 and higher. Sounds like a VERY small fraction of trad climbing to me. Note that even if 80% of pitches you have done has a hang on it, it doesn't mean 80% of the terrain you are climbing is overhanging. 

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Here's a question for those of you who climb on gear:

I'm often the light belayer, and it is assumed my heavier climber will then automatically get a soft catch.

But. 

They have to fall on that top piece first, before I am pulled up.

If I see the fall, should my heavy partner get the little jump?

When this actually happened, a top piece blowing last spring, I felt the pop, and it was a two part process of going airborne, although very fast. 

I couldn't see my climber at that point, so it doesn't matter in that case, but should I consider a tiny hop for the sake of the gear?

If I did that, I would do so tethered, to limit how far I (and the climber went), but leave enough length to get that soft catch in, and a little pull up also. 

What's the opinions? 

And yes, I can deliver the hop. Or not. Or sit fast. Or have slack out for a roof...

I truly enjoy belaying. :-)

Best, Helen

J Achey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 145

One problem is that many people think just standing there with a big loop of slack in the rope has something to do with a soft catch. It doesn't. A "sport loop" simply drops the climber far enough that they don't swing into the overhanging wall, the terrain where this practice was invented. It has nothing to do with a true soft catch. Just the other day I watched a sport climber falling repeatedly, zipping through the 5-foot "sport loop" of slack, then jolting violently to a halt with a super-hard catch. Bad belaying coupled with an old rope, looked like. Worst of both worlds - longer fall, hard catch. A loop does reduce the inward-swing force a bit, but doesn't soften the catch. A true soft catch involves actively moving with the pull of the falling climber's weight, by rising up from a crouch or jumping. It's hard to do this well, requires very careful feel and timing, and is much easier if the climber is heavier than the belayer. Also note that a good soft catch often only adds a few feet to the fall - much more appropriate for many trac scenarios than the "fake" soft catches and longer falls given by a sport loop.  

Patrik · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 30
Old lady H wrote:

Here's a question for those of you who climb on gear:

I'm often the light belayer, and it is assumed my heavier climber will then automatically get a soft catch.

But. 

They have to fall on that top piece first, before I am pulled up.

If I see the fall, should my heavy partner get the little jump?

My suggestion would be to ask the one you are belaying (preferrably before he falls). There are differing (sometimes strong and occasionally unfounded) personal preferences out there. While you're at it, you might as well ask them if they accept your ATC/grigri/cinch, if they would like you to use belay gloves, if it is fine (or preferred) that you tether to ground, and if they have an opinion on palm up vs palm down belaying. 

As belayers, we are truly a "slave" to the leader if the leader has strong opinions about certain styles. 

Patrik · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 30
kenr wrote:

Seems to me that (on overhanging rock) ...
If a soft catch would have prevented those ankle injuries, then just as well would have worked for the leader/climber to just pull out some extra slack before making the hard move which has risk of slamming into the wall.

This myth is EXACTLY what this video wants to show is incorrect. The picture from the OP shows this. The numbers in these graphs are the speeds at which a falling climber hits the wall. For severely overhanging climbs (leftmost graph), the hitting-the-wall speed is lower with more slack (red line is 67 vs blue line is 74). For intermediately steep walls (middle graph), the hitting-the-wall speed is independent of the amount of slack. For barely-overhanging walls, the method of just giving slack makes the hitting-the-wall speed worse than no slack. In this latter case, a true dynamic belay (as shown in the video) is required to reduce the climber splatting energy.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
J Achey wrote:

One problem is that many people think just standing there with a big loop of slack in the rope has something to do with a soft catch. It doesn't. A "sport loop" simply drops the climber far enough that they don't swing into the overhanging wall, the terrain where this practice was invented. It has nothing to do with a true soft catch. Just the other day I watched a sport climber falling repeatedly, zipping through the 5-foot "sport loop" of slack, then jolting violently to a halt with a super-hard catch. Bad belaying coupled with an old rope, looked like. Worst of both worlds - longer fall, hard catch. A loop does reduce the inward-swing force a bit, but doesn't soften the catch. A true soft catch involves actively moving with the pull of the falling climber's weight, by rising up from a crouch or jumping. It's hard to do this well, requires very careful feel and timing, and is much easier if the climber is heavier than the belayer. Also note that a good soft catch often only adds a few feet to the fall - much more appropriate for many trac scenarios than the "fake" soft catches and longer falls given by a sport loop.  

Good point. A lot of climbers misunderstand not only the benefits of a soft catch and when to and when not to provide one, but also how to provide one. I've even seen the suggestion to add slack to provide a soft catch published in instructional books. Adding slack serves mostly to increase the impact force and fall distance. It doesent create a soft catch as you mentioned.

Bill Kirby · · Baltimore Maryland · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480

I liked how they talked about heavier belayers and lighter climbers. I always have work at providing a soft catch but on the other hand most of my partners just have to not let go of the rope to give me a soft catch.

FY · · Boston, MA · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 25

A hard catch hurts my feelings.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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