Mountain Project Logo

Giving slack to a falling leader


Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,460
Jaren Watson wrote:

Not true, good sir. Last summer I was belaying a partner on a less than vertical, blocky single-pitch trad route. The crux was about ten feet above a small but not insignificant ledge. The climber fell as he was five feet above his last piece. Rather than let him hit the ledge, I stepped forward and jumped, allowing him to fall almost twenty feet but entirely missing the ledge.


Climber’s response—Oh, thank god! I thought for sure I was going to hit the ledge. 

You would have been better off, statistically speaking, pulling him tight. Sounds like he could have easily slammed in the ledge with no tightness on the rope at all.

Sure, there will be exceptions but most of the time belayors get the soft catch wrong.

You got lucky.
Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,395
Tradiban wrote:

You would have been better off, statistically speaking, pulling him tight. Sounds like he could have easily slammed in the ledge with no tightness on the rope at all.

Sure, there will be exceptions but most of the time belayors get the soft catch wrong.

You got lucky.

I have nothing less than total esteem for your many gifts, but you weren’t there. 

I didn’t get lucky. I recognized the objective hazards and belayed in the way that seemed best for the situation. 

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

It's been said once, but I'm gonna say it again... This thread is a perfect example as to why i have gotten extremely picky about who I tie into a rope with. I wouldn't let half the people here catch me in the gym. 

Redyns · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 80

never listen to any climbing pointers given in a gym beyond, "Don't waste your money on Friction Labs".

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 311
Jake   Never heard of giving the leader slack WHILE falling.  If any gym employee ever told me this was good practice, I'd tell them as tactfully as possible that they're full of shit and ask them to execute that as an example with another gym employee.  

Jake I have let go completely from the rope before and let rope rip through an ATC.

Kris and I have this little project up at the Rincon. The climb starts from a ledge about 300 feet up and goes out over nothing but air, angling right ward. Kris pops off and is spinning in the air. This made the cord wrap around him and his legs. Because we had nothing but air below us I just let go.... the friction of the ATC alone was enuf to let him slowly “unwind”. If I had just locked down I think he might have lost his Junk or smacked his head. Letting him get to clean air saved his bacon. I got control of the rope by pushing my hand down so the ATC could engage some then grabbed it.... got a pretty good rope burn on my hand, Kris took good care of me that evening and cooked and cleaned up because my hand was on fire. It was about 80 feet of flying as he unwinded and went head over heels. He said it was like a good chiropractor worked on him! I have found that a never this or always that mentality will get you hurt or worse. 
Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0
Guy Keesee wrote:

Jake I have let go completely from the rope before and let rope rip through an ATC.

Kris and I have this little project up at the Rincon. The climb starts from a ledge about 300 feet up and goes out over nothing but air, angling right ward. Kris pops off and is spinning in the air. This made the cord wrap around him and his legs. Because we had nothing but air below us I just let go.... the friction of the ATC alone was enuf to let him slowly “unwind”. If I had just locked down I think he might have lost his Junk or smacked his head. Letting him get to clean air saved his bacon. I got control of the rope by pushing my hand down so the ATC could engage some then grabbed it.... got a pretty good rope burn on my hand, Kris took good care of me that evening and cooked and cleaned up because my hand was on fire. It was about 80 feet of flying as he unwinded and went head over heels. He said it was like a good chiropractor worked on him! I have found that a never this or always that mentality will get you hurt or worse. 

That is not generally advised, even with a Gri-gri. What would have happened if you weren't able to re-establish control of the belay? Kris gets his wings, or goes to (hopefully) the stopper knot?

Sloppy Second · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2018 · Points: 0
Jaren Watson wrote:

Not true, good sir. Last summer I was belaying a partner on a less than vertical, blocky single-pitch trad route. The crux was about ten feet above a small but not insignificant ledge. The climber fell as he was five feet above his last piece. Rather than let him hit the ledge, I stepped forward and jumped, allowing him to fall almost twenty feet but entirely missing the ledge.

Huh?

Sloppy Second · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2018 · Points: 0
Jaren Watson wrote:

Imagine my post was written in all caps. Does that help?

No need, I completely understand your story about missing a ledge by falling farther.

SOFT CATCHES MAKE LEDGES DISAPPEAR
Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,734
Guy Keesee wrote:

Jake I have let go completely from the rope before and let rope rip through an ATC.

Kris and I have this little project up at the Rincon. The climb starts from a ledge about 300 feet up and goes out over nothing but air, angling right ward. Kris pops off and is spinning in the air. This made the cord wrap around him and his legs. Because we had nothing but air below us I just let go.... the friction of the ATC alone was enuf to let him slowly “unwind”. If I had just locked down I think he might have lost his Junk or smacked his head. Letting him get to clean air saved his bacon. I got control of the rope by pushing my hand down so the ATC could engage some then grabbed it.... got a pretty good rope burn on my hand, Kris took good care of me that evening and cooked and cleaned up because my hand was on fire. It was about 80 feet of flying as he unwinded and went head over heels. He said it was like a good chiropractor worked on him! I have found that a never this or always that mentality will get you hurt or worse. 

Right, I understand what you're saying Guy, but you're a climber with years of experience on varied terrain and have undoubtedly reacted differently in different circumstances.  This is quite different than a gym employee (btw, I worked in a gym for five years, so I feel somewhat qualified to say this) giving bad general belaying advice.  I have to assume that there are very rare circumstances if any in a gym that would warrant feeding slack to a leader while plummeting.  So, while in your rare set of circumstances a "never" mentality may have prevented what sounds like was a quick and appropriate and unorthodox reaction that probably prevented injury, I think I'll stay in the "never" camp on this one, with the confidence that should that policy be breached for good reason, I'll have the experience to make that call.  Generally though I agree with you.  Absolutes aren't a good idea for a lot of things.  But they do work for some.  Always tie in.  Never forget.  Things like that.  

csproul · · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 325
Sloppy Second wrote:

No need, I completely understand your story about missing a ledge by falling farther.

SOFT CATCHES MAKE LEDGES DISAPPEAR

You do realize that people don’t really fall in a straight line, right? If they did they’d never get spiked into the wall on vertical or overhanging terrain and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Think of a fall more like a pendulum. Lengthen the pendulum so the arc misses the ledge entirely. 

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,460
Jaren Watson wrote:

I have nothing less than total esteem for your many gifts, but you weren’t there. 

I didn’t get lucky. I recognized the objective hazards and belayed in the way that seemed best for the situation. 


The fact that you don't believe that you got lucky only proves that you got lucky.

If your buddy's arc was outside of the ledge then he would have missed the ledge no matter how short or long his fall was. It was HIM who missed the ledge, probably by pushing off the wall as he fell.
John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,084
Tradiban wrote:

The fact that you don't believe that you got lucky only proves that you got lucky.

If your buddy's arc was outside of the ledge then he would have missed the ledge no matter how short or long his fall was. It was HIM who missed the ledge, probably by pushing off the wall as he fell.

And the question is.......was I lucky?
Mark Frumkin · · Bishop, CA · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 1

Guy, you are the best!
And thanks for the many years of keeping me safe!
+ the dam good cooking.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 137
Russ Keane wrote: "Feeding out slack while the climber is falling sounds like a good way to drop the climber."

I tend to agree with this.  Same goes with taking in slack during a fall.   The time has past when you can fiddle your hands and the rope.  You need to make sure your brake hand is locked off.   Some great advice here about feel, and how to give a catch in ways other than messing with slack during a fall.

I've seen a climber dropped in exactly this way. Sport climbing, climber fell from second clip, belayer tried to take in slack and in the process raised the brake strand. He didn't remove his hand from the brake strand: he just couldn't catch a fall without the brake strand in position. By the time he got his hand in brake position the climber had already bounced.

So yeah, feeding out slack while the climber is falling sounds like a good way to drop the climber. Even if a soft catch is appropriate, whatever, you do, lock off!
bruno-cx · · my sprinter · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 5

A a fat candy cane will do it every time unless they hit a ledge.  

Sloppy Second · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2018 · Points: 0
csproul wrote:

You do realize that people don’t really fall in a straight line, right? If they did they’d never get spiked into the wall on vertical or overhanging terrain and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Think of a fall more like a pendulum. Lengthen the pendulum so the arc misses the ledge entirely. 

Cool, except the disappearing ledge story happened on "less than vertical, blocky terrain." This was not a typical example of a good soft catch application. Maybe it worked, but only because it was a very unusual situation combined with some luck.

He's probably talking about a sideways pendulum in this story.  Climber was not directly above the piece, fall resulted in a sideways swing. Make the fall longer and the climber could swing under a ledge if everything was aligned, and timed, just right. And anybody that thinks they have the belaying "skills" to manage a fall with that much precision is just fooling themselves.

Unless the climber is falling through nothing but air, the #1 priority is to stop the fall. On less than vertical terrain, every inch of fall distance increases the odds of hitting something. Hitting even the smallest feature can do harm. I've seen broken ankles caused by glancing off a chickenhead the size of a golf ball.

Advising beginners to give soft catches on anything other then steeper than vertical terrain is going to cause more injures than it will prevent. The OP is is a perfect example of how these magical soft catch anecdotes are proliferating some really bad advice.
jt newgard · · San Diego, CA · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 195

I agree with Sloppy Second. You fall, I catch you................. simple as that. Of course I mostly climb moderate trad at JTree where ground fall is a constant threat........

Also, who are all these people taking "lead" falls. The leader must not fall!!!! I'm over here catching 50-footers on boat rope and hip belays.........

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

Last weekend watched one of my climbing friends whip from anchors. Not quite sure why he skipped clipping the last bolt, but it would've been an epic ride if it wasn't for his belayer - she managed to take in 2-3 armfuls just as he fell. Still was quite a ride - he is ~70lb heavier than her. 

But, yeah, thanks for sharing your valuable wisdom.

Based on all the experts posts here she did it wrong. She should have jumped up and forward. 

Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,395
other wrote:

Based on all the experts posts here she did it wrong. She should have jumped up and forward. 

Point out where someone advocated this with a belayer who is 70 pounds lighter than the climber. I’m quite sure no one did so.

I’m at the post limit, so I’ll reply to Tradiban and Sloppy Second at the same time.

I agree with both you under most situations. My point is that a one-method approach to belaying isn’t warranted in all cases. The experience I shared illustrated one such example. It’s misconstruing my scenario to say I suggest always giving a soft catch on less than vertical terrain because I shared one time I determined it was a good idea. Incidentally, do you need me to draw a diagram illustrating why giving a soft catch allowed my climber to avoid the ledge that he likely would have hit otherwise? I’m surprised at the difficulty you’re having picturing this. (Note that 85 degrees is less than vertical but still steep enough for a falling climber to experience plenty of airtime.)

By the way, can either of you chaps think of why giving a “hard” catch on gear is not advisable, ledge or no ledge?

Don’t infer beyond what was said. 
Paul Hutton · · Kansas City, MO · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 740
other wrote: 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?

That silly theory has caused me to say ouch many times. I've spoken with gym employees that didn't know what I was talking about when I asked them if they've enjoyed any multipitch before, after they corrected my belaying technique. The only thing you should EVER bear in mind when concerned about IS THERE ENOUGH SLACK OUT, is if they're climbing above a roof, or a ledge. A lead belayer is constantly watching and judging the ever-changing dynamic of an actively-leading climber. The reality is that a leader that gets caught above the ground and doesn't intercept this roof or ledge with their face, can still get hurt by a hard catch. Heavy leaders have pulled me into the first draw on sport routes, too, without me providing a dynamic belay. I'm never perfect, over the course of 8-9 years. But I still see people going after things that are way over their heads, and giving erroneous "knowledge" in topics they've had no exposure to. Inexperience needs to pair up with seasoned experience. Gym climbing is comfortable and convenient, but can be made just as Wild and dangerous as navigating over reel rock. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
Post a Reply to "Giving slack to a falling leader "

Log In to Reply