/ Danger of Falling whilst Indoor Lead Climbing
I'm interested in whether anybody has been injured taking falls indoors. I notice that instructions given when fall training say to use an overhanging wall. I talked to a few people who said that it might not be safe to take falls on a vertical wall in a climbing gym.
I'm wondering what level of 'not safe' it might be and whether anyone has been or knows of anyone injured (not decking) whilst lead climbing and possible scenarios.
I our wall doesn't have overhangs, so falls are practiced on flat walls. It's fine, just need to be aware that you are going to contact the wall so ready with feet out.
I have seen a mildly sprained ankle once, and ropeburn once. Not hugely risky, but like most things there are some risks
I’ve done lots of fall practise on vertical walls indoors, and never hurt myself. I think the main extra risk (compared to sport falls, say) is clipping a large protruding hold and hurting ankles/knees.
Having said that, rope behind knee falls are to be avoided as potentially you could invert and crack your head. Not seen it indoors, but I’ve done this myself in a forty footer outside, the sound of my helmet connecting the rock rang out around the Cromlech (and in the silence a small voice from far below was heard to say “I’m just off to get me helmet”!). Fall practise would probably have prevented this near-accident, through improving my awareness of the importance of rope position. Generally the risk of this is reduced indoors as the bolting is straight up and down, but still it’s a trap for the inexperienced.
Another big issue I see is poor belaying on the early bolts especially by belayers who never fall off on lead themselves (often, but by no means exclusively, the older trad set).
You excluded decking but it’s got the most serious consequences, complacency, distraction, or extreme inexperience seem the most common reasons.
The excellent recent UKC article “10 things to do at a sport crag” covers many risk-mitigating actions worth implementing at the wall.
All this talk of risk shouldn’t dissuade you from taking indoor lead falls, either deliberately as practise or when pushing yourself. Personally it was a key factor in breaking me out of a plateau at ~f6b and getting me onto 6c-7a ground.
A friend once decided (without consulting me) that I needed to take a big whip when we were doing fall practice, and left a lot of slack in the rope... On the way down I connected with a big jug and sprained my ankle pretty badly (couldn't walk on it for a few days, tender for a week, then recovered).
But... I've taken a lot of falls overall on vertical walls, and that's the only time I've been hurt. Most of the time you tend to fall out from the wall enough to dodge the holds, and I think I was just a bit unlucky, plus falling further than was necessary.
The idea is that if you fall from steep ground you'll not hit anything and it's safe. Mainly falls are safe on all ground but occasionally they involve knocks and bangs of a usually mild nature but occasionally more serious - worst held fall injury I've see was a dislocated knee from the mildest of falls (an awkward slump really).
I know of a couple of times that QDs have come unclipped, (once back clipped, once from a freak interaction with a hold, once not properly clipped). Only one of these resulted in an (mild) injury from a ground fall. I've seen several badly bruised limbs from unlucky falls (normally during a max effort move with a lot of explosive force resulting in a big swing).
I know of a least one ground fall (no injury) from bad belaying in fall practise.
Use your loaf, choose your fall zone carefully away from obstructions, have enough space and height, have a reliable belayer and do buddy checks and fall practise is pretty safe.
Most of the serious injuries I've seen have come from bouldering falls.
I have, in the most dumb way possible, a couple of years ago. I was practicing / demonstrating / re-warming belayer's rusty skills (can't remember which), and took an intentional fall on a near vertical indoor wall. My toe caught a protruding very large sloper on my way down and it rotated my foot up sharply - sprained my ankle (~ same degree as C Witter by the sound of it).
I think part of the risk was that I was climbing a different line (& colour) from the sloper, so I just wasn't looking at it at all. I think I was unlucky, but I definitely wouldn't jump off a vertical wall indoors again by choice.
had plenty of falls on vertical walls both as practice and genuine falls. if its practice i push off the wall slightly and this keeps me clear of any holds. in genuine falls i always seem to fall away from the wall naturally, might be something to do with weight distribution (oversized noggin) and that the last interaction with the wall generates a force that directs you outwards.
weirdly i find that anticipated falls are generally harsher than unexpected ones. i suspect this is due to the belayer/climber being more tense and overreacting and being hyperaware of the situation. unexpected ones are kind of over and done with before you know about it.
though having said all that i definitely prefer to fall on overhanging ground
Any time you fall you might get hurt, there's quite a lot of energy released and plenty that can go wrong.
That said, with practice and care it should be a non-event. Overhangs mean you hit the wall less hard if at all but falling down a vertical wall generally involves a bit of a push out as you go.
There are a few details that make it all go smoother, make sure your belayer doesn't pay out excess slack, controls the rope properly at all times, stands somewhere sensible and doesn't take in unless necessary to prevent decking during the fall. Give a warning if you can. Jump or fall in control if the fall is a power failure, slips and broken or spinning holds you just have to cope with best you can. Fall upright, feet first in a slightly seated position, push clear of the wall but don't leap backwards, knees bent. Don't grab at anything except perhaps the rope to your harness which can help stabilise you in that seated position as the rope pulls tight and it can help keep/get your feet clear of it. Don't grab the knot which can hurt you, certainly not bolts, quickdraws or holds. Look where you're going, make sure your legs are free of the rope, keep looking, deliberately place your feet shoulder width apart clear of holds as you swing in, if it's a swinging fall be prepared to bounce out again or run sideways, don't let the wall spin you. If it gets messy and you're hitting a feature on the wall just do your best to fend it off, protect your head and torso, try not to snag on anything, try not to hit ledge type features with your feet, you'll still be moving down fast when you hit. Use a belay device and rope combo that makes catching falls easy and foolproof, we all have lapses in concentration.
I've taken countless falls inside and out, I've been knocked about in a few, mainly hitting ledges or swinging in under roof features, vertical indoor walls are fine.
Build your skill and confidence falling and your trust in your partner by working up to it from small slumps to bigger deliberate jumps, a smooth mild overhang makes this nicer. Higher on the wall is safer if you trust your belayer, if you don't that's something you need to work on first!
The key concept of penalty slack!
> The key concept of penalty slack!
For calling "take"? :D :D :D
Exactly. Climb upwards you wimp!
> Another big issue I see is poor belaying on the early bolts especially by belayers who never fall off on lead themselves (often, but by no means exclusively, the older trad set).
Exactly this happened to me some years ago with a die-hard trad climber I met up with ad a climbing wall. It was the first time we'd climbed together, and he got kicked out. of the wall So "die-hard" for him, but "die-somewhat-easier" for me. I described the incident in a UKC thread - let me know if you are interested and I'll try and find it.
I was belaying someone who fell off when going for the 3rd clip on a vertical wall. He inverted a bit (think he must have got caught in a toprope that was up, as the lead rope wasn't behind his leg) and I went for a run. Resulting hard catch and his body position (almost laying horizontally) meant he hit the wall pretty hard leg-first and fractured his ankle.
I guess my takeaway was do not get wrapped up in fixed topropes and you can get awfully close to the ground if you bin it whist clipping anything below the 4th bolt. I did wonder for a while whether there was anything I could have done better but it seemed to me like a choice between a hard catch and a deck.
Here is one I hadn’t really considered too much previously but happened to us earlier this year.
An I door wall with brilliant comp wall. Brilliant angles. They had a route which below the first overhang they put a nice triangular volume which was probably 1st or 2nd clip. I’m not sure if it was my lack of forthought or the fact my climber likes a relatively soft catch but when she went for the 3rd/4th clip and fell off quite aggressively when I caught the catch she swung in head height at the volume. It was a normal fall, normal catch within reason (in hindsight I would have gone super aggressive or super soft catch) Because it was an overhang her feet wouldn’t have stopped her so thankfully she had the quick thinking to protect herself with her hands. I shit myself and questioned wether I should have realised the danger.
I now pay attention if an overhang is involved when she is a couple of clips further up
Hope this makes sense
When I was first learning the ropes indoors at my local climbing centre yonks ago I remember falling off and hitting someone on another route and feeling really terrible about it and not knowing what to do, say or whether I was rightfully to blame or what as I didn't know I was about to come off I just went.So I just apologised profusely.
Edit: It was overhanging a bit.
I've seen this happen a couple of times. Having looked at the routing at Ratho when we went their last I was surprised to see two lead routes crossing over each other and line of fall on one of the slabs cutting across three routes! I presume this is normal and just something to be wary of but a bit odd when you're pumped and going for a clip and see someone right underneath you doing the same.
Ouch! Quite scary and a bit dodgy - never completely trust the setting seems like a good rule of thumb
I have been clipping the first few bolts from waist level unless I'm 100% certain of the clipping stance. Top ropes can be a right pain sitting along routes - at least you can send autobelays up and out of the way.
> Exactly this happened to me some years ago with a die-hard trad climber I met up with ad a climbing wall. It was the first time we'd climbed together, and he got kicked out. of the wall So "die-hard" for him, but "die-somewhat-easier" for me. I described the incident in a UKC thread - let me know if you are interested and I'll try and find it.
I'd be interested
Cruel - but funny (if safe)
Thanks for the long answer! Swinging falls are the ones that worry me most I think. I've gone for the GriGri/Rhino combo as it seems to mitigate many circumstance problems (even if it is a little painful at times and I wish I still go back to using an ATC now and again so I don't get complacent and remember good technique).
Out of interest, how can the knot hurt you (if it's well dressed etc)?
> I'd be interested
> Out of interest, how can the knot hurt you (if it's well dressed etc)?
Mostly if it's not dressed but there's the risk of pinching between rope and harness.
I generally avoid falling off unnecessarily as it hurts me 'nads.
I remember that post. Your partner sounded like a complete kn*b but no way would I leave a wall in such circumstances as you did. The sympathy votes would have got you a belay for sure and so crowded it's dangerous.... really? I've been in many a rammed wall and sure you need to be patient but that's probably good, to ensure good rests between trying hard.
I'm always aware of the danger to ankles of large protruding holds below my feet. If I think there's a risk of falling I'll frig up to clip the next bolt before coming down for the move.
I'm also concerned if there's a climber struggling on an adjacent route above me who might hit me if he comes off.
But the closest I've come to an indoor injury was on a top rope. Leftmost route on a slabby wall, the line went slightly right, foot slipped unexpectedly and with rope stretch and pendulum I swung off the wall and round the back into the corridor towards the toilets. I was lucky I was quite low down or my head might have smashed into the wall above the corridor.
many years ago I climbed with a partner who was not used to holding falls. I came off unexpectedly on a flat wall, she panicked and yanked in every last vestige of slack, thus neatly inverting me, I contacted the wall full force ankle against a big jug. The 'first aider' at the centre then provided an ice pack straight from the freezer and without any form of cover, from which I also got a nasty ice burn. Not a good experience all round!
> many years ago I climbed with a partner who was not used to holding falls. I came off unexpectedly on a flat wall, she panicked and yanked in every last vestige of slack, thus neatly inverting me, I contacted the wall full force ankle against a big jug. The 'first aider' at the centre then provided an ice pack straight from the freezer and without any form of cover, from which I also got a nasty ice burn. Not a good experience all round!
Cause that's what friends are for!
It's rare but possible to hurt yourself badly indoors. One incident I saw was a big fall with a big swing, the climber hitting the wall feet first with a straight leg and locked knee. Result a broken leg. But that's one incident in 15 years or so of climbing.
Tim Emmett is a top all-round climber. He's climbed 5.14R, 8c+, E10, WI 12, been nominated for the Piolet D'Or and tried his hand at competing. This year, he aimed to complete his first 9a and summit Everest in the tricky Autumn season. We caught up with...