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Megajul / Alpine Smart as a soft-catch device for heavy belayers ?


Original Post
Serge Smirnov · · Seattle, WA · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 283
https://cdn-files.apstatic.com/climb/112439161_medium_1494304891.jpg - specifically the way the Megajul and AlpineSmart curves flatten off - got me wondering if these devices, with the right rope diameter (and gloves), could be used by heavy belayers as soft-catch devices.

The traditional soft-catch techniques I'm aware* of are (1) be light, (2) do a well-timed jump, (3) let the rope slip.  (1) is not for everyone, and (2) and (3) seem like they require much practice/skill to avoid doing more harm than good.  But devices that limit the belayer's force on the rope to a predictable value, combined with belay gloves, would seem like exactly the ticket.

Has this been discussed ?  (Google finds https://www.reddit.com/r/climbing/comments/9k5kn7/soft_catch_and_easy_slack_feeding_with_assisted/, but I don't think the commenters there understood what the OP was getting it or have seen the above force graphs)

(note: the 130-140 kg-force value in this 9mm rope graph is probably too high for soft catch, but I'm guessing a lower value can be achieved by using thinner ropes).

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* some also call "soft catch" the practice of giving slack to let the falling leader clear roofs, but I am not talking about that - I am talking about FF<1 situations where we don't want slack, we just want to save the climber's ankles as they hit the wall
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510

Lol, I have hit quite the nerve, haven't I.

I don't know the answer to your question but I'm sure there's a dozen armchair climbers who think they do.

Godspeed.

Caleb Schwarz · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 125
Serge Smirnov wrote: (1) be light, (2) do a well-timed jump


rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 526

Tradiban, there have been discussions about Jim's graphs for years now, although you do get credit for resurrecting them this time!

Here's my armchair-climber opinion: as Serge suggests, the slip-activation thresholds are too high---I think way too high.

Probably the best "soft catch" method we have, and I include the current reliance on jumping, is a Munter hitch on a (solid, directional) belay anchor.  But the criterium for "best" here is obtaining the lowest peak load on the top anchor.  Keeping ankles from breaking is another matter and I don't think it is all that clear what role soft catches have to play, received wisdom nothwithstanding.  The only obvious situation is a short fall on an overhanging wall, where introducing slack makes for a longer pendulum arc at a point where  the wall is further away.  

On the other hand, if some protruding feature is going to break your ankles, you want the hardest effin' catch you can get.  The spectrum of scenarios and the range of appropriate belayer repsonses to them seems to me to argue for belayer control of the level of softness, rather than hoping to automate the response in some way that can't take the environmental configuration into account.

Of course, "automated response" is the organizing theme of contemporary belay technology, the idea being that fallible humans will generally do worse than some mechanical intervention.  This might be so, but an unintended side effect seems to be increasing the fallibility of the humans to the point where the technology seems to be the lesser evil.

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

There's your answer Serge, just use a Munter hitch!

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 496

I'm 155-160 and have climbed with many partners in the 100-120lb range projecting sport routes, a couple hundred lead catches now. I've used an ATC, megajul, jul2, and quickly ended up settling on a grigri. The paying out some slack during the catch is difficult because your brake hand must have just the right amount of slack in it and be in exactly the right position and you're correct that it's damn hard to master.  The jul devices with ropes from 9.1 to 9.8 are actually a poor in between. They do NOT let enough slip through to give a soft catch, but they do let just enough slip through that timing a jump is very hit or miss. I found that I gave very inconsistent catches with them.
The grigris full lockup happening so fast actually makes timing stepping up/jumping into the catch far easier to time and predictable. It also means that your brake hand can be in any position as needed for paying out/taking in slack (unlike the ATC pay out method). To be honest it really only took one evening in the gym having them just take falls out of a roof to dial it in, there isn't much to timing the jump, crouch and wait to feel the tug on your harness and step up into it. There is no need to go jumping off into the air.

The important thing for giving a soft catch in the real world is appropriate length draws to get a straight rope run. If you have much bend in the rope because of short 10-12cm quickdraws that additional friction both effectively takes rope out of the system (it becomes from the draw to climber) and completely cuts off your ability to actually give a soft catch. At least half your draws should be 17-20cm dogbones, it's rare that falling an additional 8" of fall is going to make a difference, but in those cases use your short draw. 

This is applying directly to Serge since we're climbing in the same areas, I see a lot of people that only rack with the shortest draws at the exits on moderates. So many of the routes have small roofs/depressions and in many cases odd bolting, people will put a short little draw in at the depression and force the rope against edges of the rock. They fall further up and get punted into the wall regardless of weight difference, there is simply no way to provide a soft catch when the rope is being ground against the rock during the fall. 

Doug Chism · · Arlington VA · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 5

A friend of mine uses the smart and it seems like a foot or two of slack goes though it before it locks, causing bigger falls.

Serge Smirnov · · Seattle, WA · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 283

I agree the inability to give a hard catch when necessary limits the situations where I would realistically dare use a force-limiting lead belay device.

What about the munter hitch would make it conducive to soft catches ?  I assume on Jim's graph it would be a straight line (like an ATC).  Or is this the concept from that French(?) video where belaying directly off the anchor was found to reduce the peak force on something, compared to belaying off the belayer ?  Did we ever figure out whether they were talking about the force on the top piece of protection or the force on the anchor ?  The latter I can understand, the former I can't.

(thanks Nick for sharing your well-timed jump experience..   Maybe it's easier than I assumed)

Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

I think the only thing that will  save your climber is another graph.

Aaron Nash · · North Bend, WA · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 212

To briefly answer your question: if you're heavier than your climber, a well timed hop/jump will be the ticket barring any other factors (like draw length/rope drag that Nick mentioned). I've personally never intentionally let extra rope slip through the device as it seems like rolling the dice to me, but I could see why you'd want to do that in very specific situations.

A practiced belayer can give a soft catch if they're heavier than their climber easily, regardless of device used. One method could be marginally, slightly, infinitesimally, indiscernibly easier, but not enough to justify the diminishing returns of thinking too hard on this. If you're having issues with softer catches, ask someone who knows what they're doing to show you and then just practice; you'll get the hang of it eventually and it's really not that hard once you see what to do.

Counterpoint: how many falls result in injured climbers due to no other factors other than the catch wasn't soft enough? I'd wager very few if any.

Sloppy Second · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2018 · Points: 0
Aaron Nash wrote:
Counterpoint: how many falls result in injured climbers due to no other factors other than the catch wasn't soft enough? I'd wager very few if any.

Are we counting the falls that resulted in ground impact?

Matt N · · Santa Barbara, CA · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 338
Sloppy Second wrote:

Are we counting the falls that resulted in ground impact?

Belayer gives soft-catch, ground gives hard-catch - who's to blame on that one?

Serge Smirnov · · Seattle, WA · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 283
Aaron Nash wrote: Counterpoint: how many falls result in injured climbers due to no other factors other than the catch wasn't soft enough? I'd wager very few if any.

That was my intuition initially, but 1 of my ~10 frequent partners claims this happened to them.

Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10
Serge Smirnov wrote:

That was my intuition initially, but 1 of my ~10 frequent partners claims this happened to them.

Always easier to blame the belayer rather than, you know, just your own fall. 

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 496

From the lighter climbing partners a few did suffer minor sprained ankles from being punted into the wall with a hard catch from inattentive heavy belayers (or worse novice heavy belayers sitting back doing that stupid drop knee thing right when the rope was going taught).  I think the real injury in those cases was to their confidence. Honestly it's hard to make yourself go for a low percentage move on lead once you've been punted like that.

If someone is complaining about a fall on a route under 10+ though the answer most of the time is just the terrain. By it's nature easy climbing means big features and no sustained overhang, neither of which are conducive to nice falls. Only lead fall injury I had was a heel bruise, popped on a 5.9 and managed to land with my heel dead center on a spike of rock. Good times. 

Matt N · · Santa Barbara, CA · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 338
Nick Drake wrote: If someone is complaining about a fall on a route under 10+ though the answer most of the time is just the terrain. By it's nature easy climbing means big features and no sustained overhang, neither of which are conducive to nice falls.  

Which is why I was perplexed by: https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/117103296/outer-space-whipper-in-eldo-yesterday 

Alex Holmann · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 6
Aaron Nash wrote:Counterpoint: how many falls result in injured climbers due to no other factors other than the catch wasn't soft enough? I'd wager very few if any.

Like someone previously mentioned, I have definitely seen a few cases where the climber gets slammed into the wall and hurts their ankle soley due to the belayer giving a hard catch. While this type of injury is generally pretty minor compared to other possibilities, I just wanted to point out that hard catches do not come without their consequences.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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