It is quite an eye-opener to be faced with the reality of our sport. We always assume that when leading, a fall will stop a little below our nearest piece of protection. Occasionally something brings reality down hard on us and we must take the opportunity to learn from the experience. A video recently appeared on Youtube posted by some climbers who had attempted Kleen Kutter, the excellent 3-star 6a+ route at the start of the bolted crags of Wied Babu’s East face. The leader fell just as he committed to the jammer crack, at least 10m up the climb, yet the fall resulted in his very nearly hitting the ground, head first! Thank goodness he was wearing a helmet. Watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lSPBSpQXMs
How can it be that a fall half way up a 25m climb almost results in a ground fall? Here is the maths: the leader is at least 2.5m above his last piece of gear (I checked today). Add to that the distance from his feet to his waist, where the rope is tied, and that becomes 3.5m. Factor in the length of his quickdraw, say 25cm and you have a 7.5m fall before the rope even begins to engage. Factor in a normal amount of slack in the rope, say 0.5m and rope stretch and you face a fall of 9-9.5m!
This dramatic fall happened because a bolt had been removed (twice!) from the lip of the jammer crack. The MRCC has replaced the bolt and the route is now much safer to lead. We also did similar work on Shredded Tweet, the route adjacent to Kleen Kutter, which also had very bad fall potential and had actually caused a serious injury when one climber fell off onto the third bolt up the climb.
There are a few lessons to be learned from this incident:
- NEVER tamper with bolts, especially on a route that is in a sport climbing area and has a line of bolts leading up the face. A route can either be completely trad, or have just 1-2 bolts at unprotectable cruxes, or else it is a sport route and must be properly equipped to remove the possibility of hitting outcrops or the ground in a fall.
- Never underestimate the length of a fall. It will always be more than you expect and the further you are from your last piece of gear, the length of fall increases more than proportionately, not in linear proportion. The above is a good example of this.
- As a leader, be prepared for a fall at all times and try to prepare yourself to fall in good style: facing the rock, push away from the rock and land with bent knees, legs wide and feet first
- As a belayer, expect a fall without warning at any time and concentrate on the person for whom you have taken responsibility. Keep the rope feeding steadily and minimise slack without holding the leader back, even if he/she is dithering.
- This fall was bad – real bad and the leader is lucky to have escaped injury. Now imagine the same fall on trad gear. We often run out several metres between pieces and it is worth bearing in mind the distance the run-out will translate into in the case of a fall.
As a final note, should you encounter any similar high fall potential on routes, please send me an email or Facebook notification so that we can go out and investigate and correct any anomalies as soon as possible after we become aware of the danger.
Once again, please take in the important message that this video has shown – that falls while lead climbing are much higher than you expect and a miscalculation could result in dire consequences.
Once again everyone, take care and climb safe.
President – MRCC