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Signs a route may have no-fall zones (before getting on it - based on books, MP, visual inspection from base)


Original Post
Serge Smirnov · · Seattle, WA · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 262

Here are the ones I can think of:

1) Words "alpine" / "bold" / "adventurous" / "serious"

2) Non-blank safety rating (e.g. PG13)

3) MP comments suggesting a non-blank safety rating

4) a "trad" route that doesn't take gear (means sparse bolts)

5) Low-angle

6) Multipitch

7) Unpopular (little traffic, no stars)

8) "trad" in any sense

I've listed these roughly in the order of decreasing conclusiveness - the top ones pretty much guarantee the existence of no-fall zones, the bottom ones increase their probability slightly).

Comments / additions ?

(purpose: identifying routes to avoid for people who don't trust themselves to make the right choice when a no-fall zone becomes apparent mid-route)

(EDIT: the term "no-fall zone" might have a range of meanings; I intended roughly "guaranteed hospital trip")

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 748

If a traverse or diagonal route is involved, that would catch my attention. Doesn't make it a no fall zone of course, but it could be.

A "spicy" first bolt, perhaps? That can usually be remedied with a stick clip, if you aren't comfortable soloing.

Best, Helen

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 569

9) large blood stains

Jordan W · · NC · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 30

10) if there are one of these at the base

Kyle Elliott · · Everett, WA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 775

I would add climbs above or next to a corner/arete/overhang where falling would mean either substantial difficulty getting back on route (usually for the follower), or possibly the rope cutting on an edge.

Jordan W · · NC · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 30
Kyle Elliott wrote:

I would add climbs above or next to a corner/arete/overhang where falling would mean either substantial difficulty getting back on route (usually for the follower), or possibly the rope cutting on an edge.

^ or ledges

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 430

Your average easy trad route is utterly "no-fall zone" and often the easier the more route the more hazardous due to a preponderance of ledges or other features to hit on the way down.

Your average 5.10 is safer to fall off of than 4th Class. 4th Class is by definition usually "X" and so is some 3rd....

So, pretty hard to define.

will ar · · San Antonio, TX · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 270

There are plenty of climbs that have places you shouldn't fall, but they don't deserve mentioning because those sections are considerably easier than the rest of the pitch.

I don't feel that all "multipitch" and "trad" climbs deserve to be generally characterized as having no fall zones, there's just so many that are easily protectable or well within a beginner climber's ability. I realize there is potential to fall anywhere on a route, but that doesn't mean it's likely.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 748
will ar wrote:

There are plenty of climbs that have places you shouldn't fall, but they don't deserve mentioning because those sections are considerably easier than the rest of the pitch.

I don't feel that all "multipitch" and "trad" climbs deserve to be generally characterized as having no fall zones, there's just so many that are easily protectable or well within a beginner climber's ability. I realize there is potential to fall anywhere on a route, but that doesn't mean it's likely.

They may not need "special mention", but a beginner is even more likely to discover a no fall situation the hard way.

"Easy" simply does not equate to a beginner route. I have run into these multiple times, where a fall would be serious or fatal.

Transitioning to trade can mean dropping down a few grades, back into those climbs. At the very least, many will be a trad follower long before leading, and need to educate themselves on what could go wrong, to keep both parties safe.

That's where threads like this can help, crowd sourcing the thought process.

I did not take the OP to mean a bunch of safety bells and whistles tacked on all over everything, just a list for folks to consider.

Best, OLH

will ar · · San Antonio, TX · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 270
Old lady H wrote:

They may not need "special mention"

I interpreted the OPs post to be a discussion about factors that do deserve special mention. Highlighting every climb that has a point at which a fall would result in a hospital visit has minimal benefits because those situations are so common. On the other hand pointing out situations in which a climber who is leading (or in some cases following) at their limit might be likely to fall and would result in injury is useful. 

In general (and as the OP already stated) I think things like safety ratings, guidebook descriptions, and MP descriptions/comments are good indicators for whether or not a route may have bad fall potential if one is trying to make this determination before getting to a climb. If you told everyone who wanted to avoid getting in dangerous situations on lead not to get on any multipitch, trad, or low angle route (after re-reading my first post I'll add this in there as I can think of a lot of slab routes that have safe, although not fun, falls) they would not get on a lot of routes.

I guess the gray area when using some of these indicators occurs when no runout is mentioned in a description. Are runouts mentioned on other climbs in the same guidebook? Do other descriptions in the same book mention key pieces of gear to make the climb safe? How does the MP description compare to other routes that the same user has submitted. If so you can be a little more confidant that the climb in question is reasonably safe. How is the area in general in terms of gear, rock quality, or bolting ethics? If the guidebook has minimal descriptions be ready for some adventure.

Something not mentioned already that you can sometimes see at the base that I always take as a bad omen is bail anchors. Things usually have to be pretty bad for someone to cut off a section of climbing rope to tie around a chockstone/tree. Fixed removable gear may not be a bad sign, but you should be cautious about placing gear in the same spot or not extending it.

Unless you take a lot of falls you're probably not going to be very good at judging whether or not a fall is safe. Being able to judge how far or dangerous a fall is going to be while taking into account things like rope out, your belayer (do they know when to give a soft catch vs take in slack, can they take in slack before the rope comes tight), the horizontal distance from your last piece on a traverse, etc  may help you decide if you need to back off or go for it.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 748

Great, and helpful comments, will!

My first post to this thread, the examples were all from my direct experience, as a pretty new climber. Every one of them was an eyebrow raiser.

I have been disappointed several times, as a not so great climber, to go to an "easy" climb, by rating, and discover it is a no fall situation. 

The most disheartening was an entire "crag" that was... adventurous. Reading up, I was excited at the prospect of actually sending some leads, wirh a number of low ratings close together, but it was not to be. We climbed anyway, myself included, but with a lot of caution and extra effort, even when it simply came time to pull the rope (very, very sharp rock). 

Pendulum falls are the other big deal, to me. With our local climbing being columnar basalt, you can easily set yourself up for a swing right into a column, even on top rope, if you don't pay attention. Any traverse, or diagonal, should get special notice, even without a roof or ledge being involved, IMO.

Best, OLH

Jason Kim · · Encinitas, CA · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 255
King Tut wrote:

Your average trad route is utterly "no-fall zone" often the easier the route due to a preponderance of ledges or other features to hit on the way down.

Your average 5.10 is safer to fall off of than 4th Class. 4th Class is by definition usually "X" and so is some 3rd....

So, pretty hard to define.

Great point. I spent the last few years climbing lots of moderates and focused on building my base (and honestly was just too scared to push myself on harder climbs). Now that I'm finally jumping on harder routes, I'm much more likely to take a fall but I feel so much safer, because as long as the pro is good, it's usually a clean fall. 

Serge Smirnov · · Seattle, WA · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 262

I was basically looking for signals to detect sub-PG safety concerns.  I.e. concerns that don't quite meet the bar for community PG consensus.

It's a good point that easy grades are a good predictor of no-fall zones (ulness labeled "good beginner lead").

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 430
Serge Smirnov wrote:
Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 748
Serge Smirnov wrote:

I was basically looking for signals to detect sub-PG safety concerns.  I.e. concerns that don't quite meet the bar for community PG consensus.

It's a good point that easy grades are a good predictor of no-fall zones (ulness labeled "good beginner lead").

Sorry, all, I completely missed that this was in the trad category, lol!

But, my comments still apply. 

First bolt, no, but first piece? Here, a lot of climbs require first climbing a broken column. Yeah, totally easy, but that puts the first gear where it does nothing at all for a ground fall, and you are then still in "ground fall" territory on to that column even after a few more pieces go in. Figuring rope stretch, etc, you're perhaps fifteen feet or more off the deck before a belay would accomplish much if you slipped.

Sadly, an Idaho fatality was a pendulum swing into a dihedral, on a line running diagonally that the climber misjudged.

The rope cutting rock was sport climbs, but you could have popped pro in all over the place, if you trusted slings not to be sliced... Wildly featured patina type rock, which was poised to eat rope for breakfast. Fun to climb in, but boy, you had to think!

Photos of these on my page, except the fatality.

Best, OLH

Howard · · Costa Mesa, CA · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 2,465
Serge Smirnov wrote:


I personally would switch 7 and 6.  Unpopular stuff in my experience has sometimes made for experiences that may as well be first ascents.  Choss, unreliable beta which can mean you might get into harder and more dangerous terrain than you bargained for, maybe even wrong gear beta which could mean big and dangerous falls, the list goes on.  Having consensus beta can make the difference between knowing what you're getting into and getting into no fall terrain.

Multipitch on the other hand can have clean falls and more parties on route (than you want) to prevent you from going the wrong way into potentially no fall terrain.

Unpopular multipitch, on the other hand, might be more fall risky on average than the two separately.

Jaron a · · SLC · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 60

I've found that the grade 5.9+ in old school areas generally to be more spicy than the average 5.9 climber expected it to be. Tack on an R rating and its pretty full on.

Hobo Greg · · My Van · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 175

Yes, rely on Internet and checklist instead of your own judgement.

Mike Womack · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 1,673

I consider a no-fall zone something that can't be protected.  Where if you're belaying or spotting, there's literally no precaution you can take to keep the climber safe. Two examples:  test tube (V-easy X) in the Malibu tunnels.  The landing is a small sloping ledge above the river meaning any fall would result in a hard bounce on the rock and then into shallow rocky water.  Another example is a J-tree slab where the bolts are spread in a way where for a few difficult moves are unprotectable and all the belayer can do is hope the climber doesn't fall (tip toes, the sound of one shoe tapping). 

In my opinion, anything besides this from your list could be PG-13 or R rated, but it can still accept some kind of a fall (assuming all safety precautions are being taken ex. not soloing). 

Clarke Conant · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 0

Route names like "Ground Zero", 'Friday's Jinx", "Edging Skills or Hospital Bills"...

Hobo Greg · · My Van · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 175
Clarke Conant wrote:

Route names like "Ground Zero", 'Friday's Jinx", "Edging Skills or Hospital Bills"...

The rhyme names are the best! "Make That Move or Six Foot Groove" "Finger Locks or Cedar Box" so many good ones.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Trad Climbing
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