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falling on trad gear...
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Jun 5, 2012
leader must not fall, bwahhh hhaaaa haaA. yeah, sounds like a great way to climb 5.5, or maybe 5.6...... slim
Joined Dec 1, 2004
885 points
Jun 5, 2012
Trad climbing is full of no-fall situations; I'd guess that more than half of all trad climbs have sections where the leader better not fall. After those, there are many questionable situations in which falling seems ok but injuries still happen.

People who have taken a lot of falls without ever getting seriously hurt tend to view the situation differently from those who have paid a substantial price for a fall. Not unsurprisingly, the former group is a lot more vocal in recommending falling than the latter. Moreover, recommendations from people who are climbing trad 5.12 and beyond are very poorly adapted to a progressing 5.6 leader.

When people speak of not attaining "your full potential," I think they are speaking from a sport-climbing mentality that defines potential solely in terms of the highest grade you've managed to redpoint. A trad climber reaches full potential when they can operate with confidence and control in a full spectrum of situations, including ones in which the protection is either expectedly or unexepectedly inadequate. Pushing yourself through trad grades by falling when non-falling strategies are more appropriate develops habits of "going for it" that will ultimately make you a scary, even if accomplished, trad climber.

Here are some guidelines and observations I think make sense.

1. Learn to climb up and down, to rest and recover, to protect from strenuous and/or tenuous stances, to read the rock, to arrange your rope paths, to protect your second, and to retreat and/or aid through before you even think about falling as part of a process of getting up routes. Remember that you are developing an entire spectrum of skills, and that difficulty is only a part of the package.

2. The history of climbing is replete with ascents well into the 5.10 range accomplished with minimal protection, totally primitive equipment, and, of course, no falls. The message is that the progressing trad climber ought to be able to work their way up through the 5.9 grade without using falling as a method of progression. Think of any fall taken on climbs 5.9 or under as a serious failure of trad technique requiring careful introspection about what went wrong and how to fix it in the future. Don't expect to blast through this stage as you may have done with grades in the gym. There is a lot to learn. Several years is an appropriate time frame.

3. When you're ready to onsight trad 5.10's (especially face-climbing ones, which are considerably more demanding of protection skills and strategies than pure crack climbs), that is, for most people, the right time to consider falling as part of your climbing strategy. By then you will hopefully have acquired a lot of experience in the large array of techniques that are not directly involved in movement, because it is all these other things that will contribute to your safety.

4. Of course, at some point, the question of trusting gear does come into play. I think a healthy mistrust of gear is a generally good thing, but of course if it paralyzes you than it is no longer useful.

The best way to learn about gear is to practice aid climbing with a top-rope. Vigorous bounce-testing of a piece will develop forces equivalent to those in short falls, you'll get to place and test far more pieces than you can ever test with "practice" falls, and you'll be forced to place less than perfect pieces and will get to test those too, giving you a far better sense of judgement than you could get from falling on bomber backed-up gear. As an extra benefit, you'll learn enough to improvise aiding you way out of a bad situation, such as a crux you really can't pull or one that is unexpectedly wet, either from seepage or because the weather has caught you out.

5. Although this may be a matter of semantics, I don't think fear is something you strive to eliminate. Fear is rational, and it helps to keep you safe if you can manage it. A big if, but that is part of trad climbing: managing fear in a rational way that enables you to stay safe while still pushing limits. The minute you start down the road of eliminating fear, you are, at least in my opinion, heading in the wrong direction.
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Joined Feb 15, 2008
40 points
Jun 5, 2012
Great post. That more or less describes my progression. However I know there are a lot of folks on this site who have pushed into onsighting 11+/12 on gear on a semi-regular basis. I would be interested to hear if their experiences were similar. Charles Vernon
From Tucson, AZ
Joined Jan 1, 2001
2,561 points
Jun 5, 2012
For the record ...
what Dave MacLeod says in his excellent book "9 out of 10 climbers" about falling + fear on Trad routes is complicated and interesting and insightful -- takes up 6 pages in the book. And is offered in the helpful context of an 18-page chapter with a thoughtful learning progression.

Dave MacLeod might be wrong on some points in his book, but he offers a higher density of insights than other books about how to climb, not simplistic and not boring.

Joined Oct 29, 2010
7,283 points
Jun 5, 2012
Amen to every single word rgold wrote. Alex Washburne
Joined Apr 29, 2010
10 points
Jun 26, 2012
I've had a friend have her first fall about a month ago, and its taken a lot of re-education in the mental side of things. Fall practice in safe conditions is probably recommended to get use to the experience. As close to the actual experience of a leader fall the better. She claimed fall practice indoors helped her position properly but didn't help with trusting gear.... 3 pieces ripped.
She blogged the experience and is blogging the retraining here

Another great article is Hazel Findlay's top 10 trad tips here
From Nottingham
Joined Jul 7, 2011
130 points
Jun 26, 2012
If you are really comfortable and confident in your ability to place gear then falling on it should present no problem.

You trust that bolt you fall on when gettin sporty and you probably no nothing of it's history or if it was even placed right.

Seems to me you are not as confident in placing gear as you think you are.
From PS,CO
Joined Dec 1, 2010
1,018 points
Jun 26, 2012
I agree with the do not fall group.

If you want to play with falling 'safely' on gear you can find a sport route that has potential for gear just above a bolt and give it a go. There are plenty of routes around that satisfy this criteria these days.

It is good to know what works and what does not work.
climber pat
From Las Cruces, NM
Joined Feb 5, 2006
185 points
Jun 26, 2012
Personally, it is not about the gear and whether or not it will hold; it is about the possible consequences of falling on the route and if I'm up for dealing with them if shit hits the fan.

If you haven't thought about the consequences of the climb/fall and haven't come to terms with them, then you probably should not be leading the route.

The R-Series
Patrick Betts
Joined May 21, 2008
205 points
Jun 26, 2012
Relatively new climber + Rock Warrior reader here:

Tips for practicing falling:
-bomber placements - make sure at least 4 would have to pull to hit something. I normally put to two cams as the last piece. Never tried it on a nut, but I think it would likely become a fixed nut.
-minimize force on gear - ask for a soft catch, fall high on route to minimize fall factor
-smile, cause your not SCARED of safe falls anymore!
From Sausalito
Joined Oct 8, 2010
0 points
Jun 26, 2012
Awesome video. Nick Stayner
From Billings, MT
Joined Mar 6, 2006
2,260 points
Jun 26, 2012
s.price wrote:
If you are really comfortable and confident in your ability to place gear then falling on it should present no problem. You trust that bolt you fall on when gettin sporty and you probably no nothing of it's history or if it was even placed right. Seems to me you are not as confident in placing gear as you think you are.

I have been out climbing a few days since I posted this, and I am much more comfortable being above my last gear placement. I am quite comfortable with leading in regards to sport climbing, and trad is becoming more "normal" as well.

Honestly, the post was about conquering the irrational fear of gear failure or the "what if". Just like a person on their first climb ever doesn't want to trust a toprope, not because they don't understand the system or how to use it, but because of the irrational fear. Similar to the feeling of going up a sport climb before having ever taken a fall. In theory a quickdraw is strong enough to survive the forces of a leader fall, but somehow knowing this rationally is very different to trusting the shoe-string thick dogbone when you are pumping out, about to whip into space. Then after you fall... laughing at yourself for the experience, suddenly you are much more confident and comfortable.

That was what I was looking to do, or advice on how to get over the irrational fear of the gear.
Joined Apr 15, 2012
20 points
Jun 26, 2012
more experience with using/placing gear while actually on lead seems to have helped alot. Thanks for all the advice... I'm not so sure i'll be taking any "practice" falls. But, if the fall is safe, and I have it well protected, I will try not to shy away from it when the inevitable happens. JEFFisNOTfunny
Joined Apr 15, 2012
20 points
Jun 26, 2012
I think what everyone was trying to tell you is that being afraid to fall above trad gear isn't necessarily irrational. Em Cos
From Boulder, CO
Joined Apr 21, 2010
0 points
Jun 26, 2012
Great video. The first new route I tried to do in my first year of climbing I hung on a number 2 Chouinard stopper and decided it would hold. It didn't and the one and a half (they made that size then)3 feet below it broke and I hit the ground. I was only ten feet off the ground and didn't get hurt. That freaked me out for a long time. Todd Skinner got me into taking whippers on backed up bomber pro and that helped. After years of sport climbing I had to go through the process again but I did it on a trad route I really wanted to climb. 20-30 footers on small gear as long as there is a bomber piece between me and the ground. Now I fail from things other than fear of falling. Just remember you can get hurt then minimize the chance of that happening. 1Eric Rhicard
Joined Feb 15, 2006
7,510 points
Jun 26, 2012
youll fall ... or youll be stuck climbing 5.7/8s all day and talking about how hardcore you are for not falling ;)

most trad leaders fall once they hit the 10s and 11s ... if you cant get rid of unreasonable fear, youll be elvis legging all over the place each time you climb above your gear at yr limit ... which makes it even more dangerous once you get into more serious more committing climbs ...

you just need to recognize where you can or cant fall ... and if yr shaking like a dog with fleas at the later point, yr deader than a dodo ...
Joined Mar 1, 2009
25 points
Jun 27, 2012
In one of the climbing books I read not too long ago, some crusty old hard man said something to the effect of "I've never fallen. If I ever fell, I'd quit climbing."

Anyone know who that was?

I have thought many times since then that that dude is a total bullshitter, a total asshole, or both.
Chris D
From the couch
Joined Apr 14, 2009
2,055 points
Jun 27, 2012
JLP wrote:
I'm thinking films like this are the reason for these questions. It's kind of like watching pornos while you are still in elementary school.

From sf ca
Joined Jan 29, 2007
435 points
Jun 27, 2012
...or maybe they show you the futility of asking such questions on internet forums. Nick Stayner
From Billings, MT
Joined Mar 6, 2006
2,260 points
Jun 27, 2012
The way I look at trad climbing is like chess or pool. You really have to have not only your next moves, but your next gear placements preplanned before you get there. I think this seperates the 5.7 trad climber from the 5.10 trad climber. Down climbing is a mandatory skill to have too. With higher level sport climbing you're obviously looking for the next moves but you aren't worried about protection or safety.

The more you climb the more you learn where you can fall. I took a 20'er on blind faith the other day because I knew the gear was good. I climbed south face on castle rock yesterday and definitely felt like a fall on the 2nd pitch would be really bad.
NickinCO Mardi
From colorado
Joined Sep 17, 2010
40 points
Jul 18, 2012
Think basic physics. With that in mind it is very simple to place good gear. Sometimes, you have no choice but to place what I call a 'slow me down' piece. Read the route! If you see a section that looks thin or chossy, place a couple pieces close together before you progress. You will fall at some time or another. If you're not ready for it, don't trad climb. Most of the time pieces will hold, sometimes they won't. I've personally never had a piece blow that I was confident in. However, when I have blown pieces during a fall, I wasn't surprised. Remember, shit happens. Even the most advanced climber could fall on a 5.6 given the right circumstance. Scatterbrain
Joined Apr 4, 2011
90 points
Jul 19, 2012
I really like to use the term " Gera Soloist " for a lot of " Trad Climbers ". These are the guys out there that climb 5.12 but lead 5.8 over gear. Why even tie in? Dr. Rocktopolus
From Chattanooga, TN
Joined Mar 29, 2012
10 points
Jul 19, 2012
Jeff disregard all the previous posts. It's time to pony up for another guide to take you out for the day one on one. This time tell him/her that your afraid to fall on your gear. After spending a significant amount of cash for them to show you that experience grab somebody and go lead something hard while your good and mad that you spent money on something because you didnt trust yourself even though you have prepared yourself well (in the gym, guides courses, sport leading, leading easy trad routes). Bottom line believe in yourself, sounds like your prepared and can handle what is going to happen when it happens. Eric Coffman
Joined Jun 22, 2009
545 points
Jul 20, 2012
Place thy protection well.
Les the ground rise up and smite thee.
Bill Rusk
From Duluth, MN
Joined Dec 3, 2007
600 points
Jul 26, 2012
The short version:

Practicing falling on trad gear is the stupidest advice I ever see floating around on the net. The only way it makes any sense is to construct a bomber multi-piece anchor, and fall on that - and what does that teach you about trusting individual pieces? Nothing!

If you want to get confident about falling, go fall on bolts or multi-piece bomber anchors, if you must. If you want to get confident about placing gear, go aid climbing. But if you want to get confident about falling on individual pieces of trad gear, DON'T. You _should_ fear falling on individual pieces.


From New Haven, CT
Joined May 13, 2006
286 points

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