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Chockstone Forum - Accidents & Injuries

Report Accidents and Injuries

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Factor 2 22-Apr-2010 At 1:23:17 AM stuart h
I have also taken a factor two fall. It was a fall that, although unexpected, should have been reasonably straightforward but I snapped the wires on a nest of RPs that was the only protection and went all the way to fall directly onto the belay. It was certainly dramatic and memorable and I regularly reflect on how grateful I am that Phil was able to maintain the belay and hold the fall, saving me just a few feet from enormous consequences.

I don’t want to enter into the discussion about approaches to coaching or the role of the belayer or the benefits of downclimbing or whether there is really a good, rational reason not to clip a piece of fixed protection on a standard cragging pitch that has unfolded here, but my experience of high impact falls and your description of this fall reinforce my views about a few basic considerations.

Above all else, factor 2 falls are serious events which take the physics of climbing to the limits of equipment and body tolerance and should be avoided at all costs. My fall would have been a high factor fall in any case, but after it broke the RPs and became a factor 2 the section of the rope where the fall was held felt totally ‘gutted’ or ‘crushed’. Even weeks after the event this section was notably thinner and hollow or ‘dead’ – luckily I get lots of use out of short ropes.

Perhaps the single biggest danger of factor 2 falls, especially in Victoria where we tend to have excellent protection available to build bombproof anchors, is that the impact force on the belayer and the belay hand may be so large as to cause enough movement for the belayer to lose control. In my fall the force dragged Phil’s hand hard against the device and the rope ran across the back of his hand leaving a substantial burn scar. This is echoed in descriptions here of nasty rope burns and would be exacerbated if the belayer were not tight beneath the anchor as he or she could be jerked from their stance.

Anything which reduces the fall factor and ensures that the belayer is lifted upwards, resulting in a much more manageable fall than being jerked downwards is a significant improvement in the overall security of the system.

“Bagotup” refers to the “reasons you can read up on” for not “clipping in through a piece of the anchor system,” which presumably refers to the fact that the piece that holds a fall is subject to a greater overall load, relative to an anchor loaded directly downwards, because of a pulley effect. Someone with a greater knowledge of and enthusiasm for physics might be able to explain the difference between tension and impact force, but I think two things are important: one, that an upward force, where everything loads in the direction expected and the belayer’s body is pulled against gravity to dissipate a lot of force, is much easier to hold than a factor 2 fall, however much less tension there might be on the specific component of the anchor in the latter case; and two, that we routinely fall onto individual pieces of protection, which are, on the whole, clearly capable of withstanding these forces (my own snapped RPs notwithstanding), and this revelation, coupled with John Long’s revelations about the relative ineffectiveness of most ‘equalisation’ strategies, highlights that the multiple components in an anchor are really generally functioning for redundancy rather than load sharing.

The upshot of this seems to be that the potential problems of clipping part of the anchor as a runner are far outweighed by the risk of a factor two fall in the ordinary course of events. If a factor two fall is actually a possibility – something which probably should be deliberately and consciously accepted or avoided rather than being the sort of thing that happens by accident – or the anchors are questionable, then strategies for retreat should probably be the climbers’ focus. If you are really going to expose yourself to questionable anchors or high impact falls, incorporating shock absorbing elements (first of all the belayer’s body, then perhaps ‘screamer’ type slings) into the system can help stack the odds in your favour.

All these years later I still say to Phil, as I say to my partners too regularly, “good catch, thankyou.”

Whatever else might have been done differently, good catch – I hope you recover quickly from your injuries.

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