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Giving slack to a falling leader


Original Post
other · · San Diego, CA · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 15

When I was taught belaying the technique was to immediately lock and arrest the fall. Fast forward to modern times. I’m taking the lead climbing test in a gym and the worker says it’s safer to give rope out before locking for a “soft catch”. My response is that with a stretchy dynamic rope every catch is soft. Who’s righ?

Matt Jones · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 55

You are not correct when saying "with a stretchy dynamic rope every catch is soft."   There exist climbers with broken/sprained ankles that would agree with me.  Being able to give a "soft catch" is a good skill to have (among many) in order to be a desirable belay partner.

csproul · · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 325

And just as important, learn when it is appropriate to give a soft catch and when it is not. And also learn the difference between keeping slack in the system, vs letting some rope through the device, vs letting yourself get pulled up.

Mark Frumkin · · Bishop, CA · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 1

Soft catch WHAT nonsense. The longer your climber falls the more chance to get hurt.  

Russell Bangert · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 52

You were both pretty wrong.

You don't give slack to them while falling really, the correct way is to just not put tension between your brake hand and the device, so that the slack between there will slide out and reduce forces, this also doesn't work with a gri and its why they increase forces in a fall considerably, but you can also soften the fall by not sitting down, and hopping up to allow yourself to be pulled up by the falling climber.

There's times where trying to give a soft catch can get someone hurt, and more commonly there's times where giving someone a hard catch will cause injury, like on any overhanging route. 

csproul · · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 325
Mark Frumkin wrote: Soft catch WHAT nonsense. The longer your climber falls the more chance to get hurt.  

It’s absolutely not nonsense. Spend more time sport climbing, especially on vertical or past vertical terrain and you will learn otherwise. Better yet make sure to take falls on steep terrain with a belayer much heavier than yourself who just locks off.

Zacks · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 65

I would not pay out slack during a fall to give a soft catch.  However I often jump to get my body weight moving up to give a soft  catch.

It's also important to understand your weight difference between you and your partner.  I outweigh my gf who I usually climb with so I have to jump, but she should not jump.  My weight will pull her up just fine.  Fall factor matters too.  If your climber falls near the top there is so much stretchy rope out your usually  fine.  Down low not as much stretchy rope, although you need to be sure to not make a catch so soft at the very bottom to allow your climber to deck.

In my experience taking many lead tests visiting gyms when traveling sometimes the employee testing you just wants to say something.  I don't know if they need to be in charge or what.  Definitely had a few ok whatever you say man moments...

The faster your climber deccelerates the more force applied to them.  And getting swung hard into the wall after stopping abruptly sucks 

Brannen Delker · · Birmingham, AL · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 0

The difference between a soft and hard catch is usually most influenced by the belayer remaining stationary vs allowing themselves to be pulled from their stance (hopefully not directly into the wall or anchor). The amount of rope in the system, belay device, friction from protection biners influence this too but not as much. Like someone already posted... learn when it’s ok and not ok to give a soft catch. And despite your instructor’s well intentioned advice, don’t be the guy that constantly keeps a giant U shaped loop of slack that touches the ground in effort to provide a soft catch. It’s kinda dumb and won’t help that much. 

other · · San Diego, CA · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 15

Can you explain the diff end result between jumping and hopping and leaping which gives a bunch of slack, to yarding out a bunch of slack to the falling leader ?

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
rafael · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 50
other wrote: Can you explain the diff end result between jumping and hopping and leaping which gives a bunch of slack, to yarding out a bunch of slack to the falling leader ?
The little hop must be timed right, you want to be moving upward when the catch begins... then the fall gets stopped over time as instead of an immobile mass its pulling something up that is already moving up, so deceleration happens much slower. 
Russell Bangert · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 52
other wrote: Can you explain the diff end result between jumping and hopping and leaping which gives a bunch of slack, to yarding out a bunch of slack to the falling leader ?

The difference is not ending up with rope burn and dropping your climber because you're trying to feed out slack in the middle of a fall. 


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

Feeding out slack while the climber is falling sounds like a good way to drop the climber.

other · · San Diego, CA · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 15
Brannen Delker · · Birmingham, AL · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 0
other wrote: Can you explain the diff end result between jumping and hopping and leaping which gives a bunch of slack, to yarding out a bunch of slack to the falling leader ?

Leader to belayer: “The moment I begin to fall, start yarding out a ton of slack.”   -said no one ever

Colonel Mustard · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Sep 2005 · Points: 1,186

Paying out slack while you fall sounds asinine. There’s a place for “soft catches” but that’s not how I go about it.

other · · San Diego, CA · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 15

The reality is that leaping, jumping and hopping to pay out rope to a falling leader is the same as paying out rope with your hands. 

Russell Bangert · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 52

no, it's not. 

rafael · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 50
other wrote: The reality is that leaping, jumping and hopping to pay out rope to a falling leader is the same as paying out rope with your hands. 

Lol I needed a dose of stupidity today. I hope for your sake your are trolling

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 436

Soft catches are important.

Nobody in this thread, myself included, has detailed how to give one.  

Russell Bangert · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 52
S2k 4life wrote: I truly feel like the soft catch phenomenom is a gym thing. Blah.
When your outside i think all you care about if you fall is if your caught.. adrenaline pumping you dont even realize whether you just had a hard or soft catch... esp. While trad climbing your only concern is will my piece hold.
You dont really want to fall any fiurther then you have too on a piece and risk it blowing. And alot of the time while tradding you cant even see your climber so your not trying to feed out slack or do anything weird just hold onto that rope..if soneone tried complaining to me about a "soft catch" i would entertain  them N do it but never climb with them again. It just seems dangerous to me


Never trust advice given by someone who uses the word "tradding".

When falling on marginal trad placements, a soft catch can be the difference between taking a chopper ride or not. Hard catches can increase the forces on your top piece by a margin of over 50%.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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