/ decking it on rope stretch
It was a promising Spring day at Swanage, the first of a week long tour of the S and SW coasts. Time for an enjoyable classic 3 star and much travelled pitch, Elysium at Boulder Ruckle. I climbed up, savouring the wave washed clean and pocketed rock, placing a nut then carrying on higher aiming for a thin crack. But with no protection there I stepped back down, placed a Friend in a horizontal, moved back up and right a little, then …
A hold had just broken without warning, I was in the air, falling a long, long way, then feeling the rope beginning to tighten but too late, crunch, onto my chest, into a boulder at the bottom. I had been about 10m up, having moved about 2m from my runner. Decking from that height, even on rope stretch, was not pleasant and given there was no way out other than climbing or helicopter I had to resort to the latter. This was done expertly and efficiently by Swanage Coastguards, and great thanks to all rescuers and climbers (especially Ben from Nottingham) who helped, and to the thorough attention of the emergency staff at Poole hospital. Extremely fortunately nothing was broken, I was just very sore. But that is not the point of this post.
The question I kept thinking about was how could it happen? After almost 50 years of climbing I thought I’d be experienced enough to avoid the consequences of unexpected events. Lying on the ground awaiting rescue, looking up at the wall, my runners, and the spot I’d fallen from, I had plenty of time to ponder the question ‘how on earth could I deck it from there?’
I think it goes like this. Assuming I was 10m up, and the last runner was at 8m, immediately ones falls 4m (6m to go), then there’s the natural slack in the system, say 2m (4m to go), then there’s rope stretch (say 2m, that ground is getting mighty close), then perhaps there’s those extra little bits of slack in the system, nothing obvious, nothing forgetful or negligent, then bang, the extent of the inevitable injury will be a matter of luck. One metre less and this wouldn’t be a story, one metre more and perhaps I wouldn’t be telling it. Sometimes the margins are very fine.
What could have been done differently to avoid this? After being on the wrong end of a ground fall I’m keen to avoid a repetition, so I’ve been thinking about what to do in the future. Perhaps the following may be of interest. Apologies to all those for whom all this is all too obvious, and who do it all anyway, but there may be the odd occasion when not all goes to plan …
1. When low down on routes place plenty of runners. Try to avoid a situation when the failure of one runner puts you on the ground (not that the runner failed in this case).
2. You will always fall much further than you think, even if you feel close to your last runner.
3. Try to place runners such that both ropes come into play. This will reduce rope stretch. On this occasion, I could have placed two runners in the horizontal, one for each rope, and perhaps have avoided the deck as a result.
4. Most accidents are just that, unexpected accidents. When the climbing is hard everyone is fully alert and aware, so all the extra little precautions are taken. A fall may actually be more dangerous when it’s unexpected, and on relatively easy ground. So when the leader is close to the ground, even on easy climbing, both leader and belayer should be as attentive as when the chances of a fall are more obvious on the harder climbing. Expect the unexpected, think what would happen should a hold break or foot slip.
5. When the leader is low down, stand up to belay, stand close to the rock, and minimise slack in the system. An extra unseen metre or so of slack can make all the difference. This is as true outdoors as it is at a climbing wall.
Any suggestions on anything I may have missed would be most welcome.
In the end, it all turned out OK. A few mental scars are healing, and I’m back on the rock, taking that extra bit more care when there’s any chance of ground fall, taking the time to put in those extra runners. Take care.
Two more possibilities/things to be aware of...
Perhaps there was more slack in the system - your belayer had too much rope out.
Your belayer was standing too far out from the base of the crag & was pulled in when you fell.
I'd say your belayer owes you a few beers... There's no way you should have decked from 10m with a runner at 8m, rope stretch or not.
Your points 4 and 5 are spot on and the cause of 99% of such deckings.
> Two more possibilities/things to be aware of...
> Perhaps there was more slack in the system - your belayer had too much rope out.
> Your belayer was standing too far out from the base of the crag & was pulled in when you fell.
Aren't those his points 4 and 5? ;-)
Oops, forgive me. I hadn't got that far.
I agree that it looks like bad belaying.
Glad to hear that you are OK. This is the second sobering tale I've read on here in as many weeks. A similar incident occured at Shorncliff, where a presumably competant, experienced climber decked out on an E2 from about the same height, in his case the runners pulled. I say competant and experienced because he was on an E2 not because I know him. IMO the particular climb is very well protected, at least where it matters.
I wish some of the climbers on UKC would just shut up about getting comfortable with falling and indeed practicing it. Falling should never be taken lightly especially on trad.
I'm scared of falling and the day I stop being scared is the day I will give up climbing.
easier said than done, but at crags with loose rock, try and avoid moves where a hold coming off will make you fall off
Haha, i did exactly the same... Wrote a mini-monologue on inattentive belaying and excessive slack and then realised he pretty much covered that in his OP.
I wasn't trying to make a hidden point about bad belaying, because I don't think it was that bad. My belayer was sat down close to the foot of the route. My point was more that one may not notice all the little things, that in the end make the difference between deck or not. And if that spares someone else from a similar fate, the point of the post would have been served. But thanks everyone for the comments.
I have no idea how the flip you hit the ground if it wasn't a belaying problem.
Your gear held and you weren't running it out.
Yes it does sound like dodgy belaying to me, the absolute most you would have fallen with a bit of slack and rope stretch is 6 metres.
> My belayer was sat down close to the foot of the route.
He was sat down?? abnd you don't think it was bad belaying?
Okay, may he can sit down once you're pretty far up and away from deck potential but so close to the groud, he should be attentive and ready to move should you pop off
Did any of your runners come out when you fell ?
No, all stayed in, fortunately. If the top one had failed I wouldn't be here (hence point 1 above, and that's a mistake/omission I made - I could have placed another piece at the same point as insurance). I think the point I'm trying to make is that we all see examples of obviously sub-optimal belaying on the crags, and generally it doesn't have consequences because the unexpected rarely happens. But it was a bit of a shock to me that two very experienced climbers could drop their guard just a little bit, with almost disastrous results. We could both have done little things to improve the chances(like the belayer standing up, but I knew he was sitting when I started so I had the chance to correct that). I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we should all be really attentive at all times, no matter how non-serious things seem. There are some less experienced climbers out there who may have no idea how close they could be to a ground fall, even when they think they are safely protected.
I keep an eye on how much slack my belayer is giving me any time I get a chance to look down.
Also I like to place a runner on each half rope, close together, when lower down on the route, or if I get to a less strenuous position and there are two placements.
If you come off, you really want to be loading both half ropes, as I'm sure you know.
The only time I've hit the deck, I also collided with my belayer who passed me on the way up. Fortunately my only runner held and I didn't hit the ground with full force.
Some truth when leading some trad routes. Total bollocks for most sports routes.
Perhaps that would be best.
As a belayer when my leader fell on a sea cliff and I was on a ledge, I was too far away from the cliff. She was high, so it wasn't a problem. But I was shocked that I took a couple of steps towards the cliff before holding her. So that's 2 metres already.
My suggestion: not only get your belayer close, but tie them down to the ledge with a sling plus nut.
I'm glad it all turned out ok.
Out of interest I but your numbers into the force and stretch calculator at www.multipitchclimbing.com
12m of rope
This is fall factor of 0.5, so reasonably aggressive, and not a minor fall. The elongation might have been 1.8m and the force on the top runner 6kN.
Glad you're feeling better, I was climbing with Ben, saw the fall and led Elysium afterwards. From what it looked like, I'd say you where further from the runner than you remember, and the big impact was swinging into the wall... But as above that was only what it looked like, could well be wrong.
Anyway good you're back climbing again.
I stand by what I said. I've seen people deck from 2nd, 3rd, 4th and even 5th bolts and I've seen someone break an ankle by only falling a few feet and hitting the rock badly.
I am not exactly a super-experienced belayer but I have caught people on those bolts (albeit not with 'proper' falls), and (assuming sensible bolt relative spacings) would consider myself to have failed badly if I failed to catch someone on those bolts, or even the first bolt. My first priority is always to keep my climber off the floor, not give them slack... once they are high enough they can take as exciting a fall as they want :P
On the other hand I have seen plenty of belaying where climbers seem to assume that they won't get caught from the first bolt, and either skip it or preclip the second bolt high. This is probably a sensible assumption, since generally in these pairs the belayer has about 8 feet of slack out and is 6 foot from the wall or more...
An unbecoming comment, Sally. GridNorth's been doing hard, bold stuff for a long, long time (maybe before you were born?) - and can still do it.
If he's got a conservative attitude to falling, it probably reflects many lonely leads where falling would have been a really bad option.
This is actually quite reassuring since I also have a terrible fear of falling (but not of doing exposed things within my ability), and this suggests that I might still end up doing worthwhile things :P
"From what it looked like [...] the big impact was swinging into the wall"
To me, that makes much more sense than decking out on rope stretch - at least with those numbers thrown around.
A hard swing-in tends to have significant potential for injury, and does not need mysterious 4m of extra falling distance (on top of rule-of-thumb 6m fall for being 2m above the runner) to explain the hard impact.
@RDE: you're definitely sure you decked, and not swung in violently and then quickly lowered?
Just an idea
If the rope was a thin one, the stretch might have been closer to 2.5m
That was my thinking too. I climb with a heavy climber and we have moved away from my very thin rope (8.2mm I think) to thicker ropes for this reason.
Given the numbers I'd say you're either climbing on a rubber band or it was some combination of to much slack in the system, your belayer getting pulled in / up and likely your distance estimations being out.
It's probable all those factors came into it but still, with only 12m of rope out (assuming 2m of slack which is a fair bit) you shouldn't have decked unless the numbers are wrong or the belaying was bad.
I wouldn't be so hasty in presuming experience. People may have done a lot of climbing, but I would politely suggest that if you're decking out from 10 metres, you either a) are just being lax cause you can't be bothered to protect it properly (nowt wrong with that if that's the way you want to climb), or b) don't quite understand rope systems in trad climbing very well.
You seem to have identified the problem though and seen just how much slack can build up between runners with bad belaying, so that's good.
Broke two ribs and a shoulder blade after an aggressive catch on sport. 1m above 4th bolt, on lip of overhang. Belayer dragged into wall with locked off gri gri as I hit the wall backwards. Simple fall, should have been safe, but (sh)it happens. If I had decked from there I would have stopped allowing that belayer to hold my rope
I avoid falling and certainly, having tried 'practice' falling, where I know I am going to fall, find that a real fall is very different to a 'practice' fall. In the case above, I would have hit the wall feet first on 'practice'. As it was, the slip pushed me into an awkward spin, not something I could plan for!
I climb fairly hard and am pushing my grade up gently. I have patience and do not wish to keep trying to hurt myself by rushing the process. I see so many (friends) who have led a couple of VS and think they are VS leaders and move to HVS, do two of these and then try E1 and have an epic. They tend to not stay the course. It's like learning to drive, passing your test and getting in a high performance car. You mostly get away with it, but when you don't it is a real mess!
I guess part of the difference is between accidental falls, where you aren't expecting it and haven't planned it, and possible falls where you are going for a move you might not stick but you have considered your fall zone and are prepared for it?
Accidental falling is no fun at all :(
were you on terrain are normally comfortable with? so the belayer can be less cautious
my belayers leave much more slack in the system (as do i) if they know I am climbing 1 or 2 grades below the onsight limit (plus place less runners etc), unless being told to 'watch me'
So then a hold snapping (not a normal occurance) can have a much better affect
I once came off the crux of Left Unconquerable at Stange with runners at my feet I was flipped upside down by the ropes and my head kissed the ground: no damage done, 'cept some scratches on my helmet.
Bad belaying, could have killed me. Change your partner.
I caught a fall in that exact scario last year. I was expecting a fall so being ultra cautious. I didn't get dragged up much and was standing in an optimal position. Still genuinely surprised how far down the climber came. His feet were only a meter or two above my head. That was on a single rope. I can see if only one strand of a half rope was loaded and the belayer was lighter than the leader how the leader could come down a fair but further. You still should have another meter or two of leeway though however like I said I was being ultra cautious most belayers would have had a little more rope out IMO.
Yep, definitely decked it, onto my chest on a boulder. Most of the force was however taken up by the rope stretch beforehand, just not quite enough. Memories are never exact, so distances may be less precise than I remember, but definitely the runner was high and I hadn't gone very far above it - it was perhaps a metre below foot level, and slightly to the side.
And in response to ashtond6, yes, I was well within my comfort zone grade wise. I agree that one tends to lift one's guard in such situations, but that's the point - don't!
Its easy to point the finger at the belayer in situations like this, but I don't think that is the problem. The 'problem' is that you do go a hell of a lot further on modern 8.5m or 8.2mm ropes than you do on on older 9mm or thicker.
Moving up and down there will be some slack in the system and the belayer will move as a result of the fall - its inevitable.
Lesson is, as you say, more runners on both ropes lower down. Don't move past all the good placements even on easy ground.
You did read the part where the incident happened at Swanage?
Right, we can apply some maths to this!
a = metres to last piece of protection
b = metres you are above your last piece of protection
s = metres extra slack in the system (and any slippage through the belay device, and so on)
e = dynamic elongation factor of rope (maximum 1.4, ie 40%, by UIAA specs)
So after a fall, the rope length goes to e(a+b+s)
To deck, the rope length has to be more than the distance from the belayer to the top piece of protection and back to the ground, ie:
2a > e(a+b+s)
Solving for s gives:
s < (2/e - 1)a - b
If we assume streeeetttchy ropes, and plug the numbers in for your situation:
s < (2/1.4 - 1) x 10 - 2
s < 2.28 m
So just over 2 metres of slack would lead to decking. That's not a huge amount, and is close to the line between good and bad belaying.....
Now the big variable is the value for e - i.e. as this wasn't an FF2 and you probably weren't using an Ice Line, what was the real elongation? If it was only 20%, there would have to be 4.6m of slack out, which is definitely incompetent.
> Its easy to point the finger at the belayer in situations like this, but I don't think that is the problem. The 'problem' is that you do go a hell of a lot further on modern 8.5m or 8.2mm ropes than you do on on older 9mm or thicker.
With 10m of rope out the difference would be noticeable but not significant. Definitely well under a metre.
You would have to be climbing on a bungee to hit the ground in the OP's situation, or have a belayer more worried about buttering his sandwich than holding your ropes...
All said, what you mention is important in longer pitches when hitting a ledge becomes much more likely with the newer skinny ropes.
> So just over 2 metres of slack would lead to decking. That's not a huge amount, and is close to the line between good and bad belaying.....
2 metres of slack IS a huge amount when you are 10m up.
OK, I would be unhappy with 2m of slack out, but it's probably more common than not to see this situation if you look around at a typical crag. Remember if you get pulled in/up 70-80 cm, that counts too...
I may have missed something in the thread, but have you taken into consideration the height of the boulder you smacked into? It could explain an extra half metre or so?
I think you missed your belayer being raised off the ground by the fall. This may either be physically leaving the ground or just moving from sitting to standing or even just standing on tip toe. It all adds up, as you noticed.
I have been very luck once with a similar situation to you where I fell and inverted. I stopped with my head about a metre off the ground and this only because my belayer had wisely attached herself to prevent upwards movement (not something I would have thought of in this situation). This fall really surprised me as given my position and gear I would have guessed I would have stopped a couple of metres up.
Is it necessarily? Imagine a slightly wandering line with long extenders. When the rope goes tight, the extenders will move from being vertical to roughly horizontal. This will change the length of the rope path significantly. Add in the rope path changing from gentle curves to straight lines between extenders and I think you will get to 2m "slack" pretty quickly.
The most important thing is that you are ok. I'm in no position to offer any advice (with only a couple of years climbing under my belt).
I think that although we all try to be as safe as we can most of the time it's human nature to sometimes take familiar situations for granted. Also some things are totally unpredictable (i.e. a hold snapping on a well used route like Elysium). Also if it was super safe and totally predictable would we want to do it ?? Surely it's that slight anticipation when stepping of the deck that fuels a lot of us (although it always feels better when it's over and we are safely in the pub ;-)
Most of my climbing is done at my lowly onsight limit so I tend to be really focused/crapping myself most all of the time I'm on lead. Elysium is on my list and I'm saving it until I'm good enough - but I'm sure that when I do it I'll be in a super heightened state of fear and panic.
I think that every time something like you've experienced happens you learn from it - and you lived to tell the tale (glad you're ok)
Again, not too experienced on trad falls here but decking in that senario sounds like too much slack to me.
Glad you're ok. Agree it's likely a combination of little things adding up. As someone who has taken & held a fair number of falls on trad I never ceased to be amazed at how far you go. There's always way more slack in the system than you think and keeping it any tighter introduces other problems like inhibiting the climber and pulling out runners.
You just gotta be careful & as a belayer understand that doing it well, particularly at the start is bloody hard.
If you believe that decking from the 4th/5th clip height is always bad belaying try this (ideally with a top rope too): climb up an easy route to the 5th clip. Go to clip it at full stretch but dont. Get the belayer to lock at that moment and carefully down climb and see when the rope goes tight. Of course clipping at full stretch isn't usually a good idea but we all do it sometimes!
What we need is a graphical reconstruction of the events to visualise, luckily the UIAA has already put out an incident analysis compiled by the professional experts in the field.
- An example of what such situation would look like (10m up, 2 runners, last one at 8m)
- What should have happened with competent belaying
- What actually happened
- What 2/3 metres slack look like
Err, yes :-)
Ok, imagine abseiling on a single 8.2 or 8.5mm rope. Not a lot of fun in my opinion, quite slippy.
So then your trying to hold a fall with that same skinny rope and
quite a high fall factor.
You say "Most of the force was however taken up by the rope stretch beforehand", maybe that was rope slippage. (It was when similar happened to me). Some plates are worse than others. I'd say your second did a pretty good job. It is very difficult to hold a fall in these circumstances.
So not crap belaying. just a mixture of ordinary belaying, a lack of knowledge about falling and probably not quite exact metrics.
1. Belayer stand well in at start of route with little slack, super attentivety and maybe gloves.(My belayer burnt his hand quite badly)
2. Be very afraid in first 10 metres or so.
Is that belaying by some kind of weird umbilical cord method?!
The rope is tied round the nuts. That's how real men climb hard routes, soloing is for pansies.
Firstly, glad you weren't badly injured and I hope there is no lasting damage to your mojo.
Similarly to you, I decked on rope stretch from c.10m up Centotaph Corner. I was bridged out a couple of moves above the 'wally stopper' move fiddling a runner in and my right foot slipped off its hold. Next thing I've thumped onto my belayer's lap. Physically I was unhurt, but it was the first leader fall I'd ever taken where I wasn't contemplating the possibilty of falling off (as in 'watch me here' momennts) and as near to the full Desmond as I'd experienced. I never really got my cool back for leading routes.
One thing that has stuck in my mind was that when my belayer set up, I thought there was a little too much slack in the system so I rejigged it 'my way' so that if I fell, they wouldn't be hoiked skywards thus lengthening my fall. This was awkward. My belayer plus our mates who were on Left Wall were all vastly more experienced (and totally sound) rock climbers than me and when I rejigged the belay there were a few raised eyebrows and a comment of 'You learn something new every day.' I'm glad I did anyway as a bit of extra slack in the belay might have equated to a bit of a harder thump for me. Who knows?
One thing about slack in the live rope, while I'd agree that there shouldn't be so much that the belayer can't whip it in if the leader pings off, there's nothing more exasperating than a belayer who pays out rope so sparingly you have to shout for slack every time you make a move.
'2m above my runner' covers a whole variety of very different scenarios so it's not easy to judge whether your decking was in the 'foreseeable' or 'really rather unexpected' category.
Hands 2m above the runner you shouldn't really be anywhere near the floor.
Feet 2m above the runner you'd expect to be at least kicking your belayer as the rope comes tight on a runner at 8m.
Anyway, I'm sure with your experience you have a good idea where the problems were.
There's often a lot of 'hidden' slack/compliance in the system whether it be the motion of a belayer stood/sat out a little from the bottom gear, the belay plate hanging down, a little loop of slack between belayer and wall, straightening the zig-zagging rope in and out past roofs as well as side to side, popping runners (not the top one), rope stretch, rope slippage...
It all adds up very rapidly when you're falling and you almost always go much much further than the simple '2x distance from runner' formula might suggest.
Anyway, glad to hear you're ok,
Firstly glad to hear you are ok. Sounds like you have given this a fair bit of thought and pretty much summed it up, with a few other valid points raised and expanded on by the rest of us. I think rope stretch is something we don't think about enough. I am amazed by how much a skinny half rope can stretch, and in your case 10 m is the danger zone as there is enough line out for it to be able to elongate a significant amount, but you are close enough to the deck to not have much spare height to act as a cushion. Plus as you point out, if you are alternate clipping up a fairly direct crack, the other half is not really contributing much as a brake. More gear lower down will help a bit but if it is steep, you will pay for it in lactic acid and perhaps be more likely to come off later on. An argument to train harder! For me The Ruckle offers loads of gear low down and you usually get to / have to run out the top half of P2 which feels safe vs low down if I am feeling strong and moving quickly , I perhaps don't place enough? Having read your post I am re evaluating my approach, so thanks for sharing this with the rest of us.
Lets be honest: Repetition breeds complacency.
When you have climbed and belayed hundreds or thousands of routes, you know very well the safe ways of doing things, but...
Maybe you stand a bit further out from the base of the climb because standing right next to the wall is awkward.
Maybe you sit down to belay someone on an easy section you assume they will be absolutely fine on.
Maybe you have a little bit more rope out than you should have because your leader keeps clipping gear way above their head and your feeding out is a bit slower than their pulling up rope.
Maybe you are not holding properly onto the ropes and they jump or slip in your hand before you get control of them when the leader falls.
Even the safest climbers are guilty of one of the above every now and again or any number of other little nuances which give extra slack.
Now a load of people on this thread are of the opinion that you should be having words with your belayer and I'd agree with that.
After an accident, you will probably find that your previously lax experienced belayer is now hyperattentive because of the accident that happened.
So you will probably be safer sticking with the same belayer who has been shaken up by this happening than moving to rely more on other climbing partners who have not been shaken up recently.
Ideally the complacency should be headed off before it results in an unnecessary serious fall so I'd suggest that people should infact make sure they fall every now and again outside to ensure their partner is nice and attentive! (I certainly use falling off at easy points indoors to help my climbing partners stay attentive - git that I am).
Final proposition: Don't say "watch me", it might make you feel better but it means your belayer thinks they can relax when you are not on a "watch me" section. Keep em guessing :D
Didn't someone do that once? Sure I've seen it!
> Didn't someone do that once? Sure I've seen it!
I remember reading that John Redhead did it on a slate route.
I've read through the calculations and comments above: Either the measurements are wrong or the belaying was at fault.
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