Vantage - A big loop of slack

Participant: I fell. And I just kept going.
David Shema David Shema
Safety Chair
October 10, 2016

Vantage, RiverView Wall -  October 24

Leader Incident Report


I was climbing a 35' sport route at River View wall in Echo Basin (Vantage). The route was within, but towards the top range of, my ability. So falling was a definite possibility.

At the second bolt, I noticed my belayer had a big loop of slack out. I asked them to take in some slack, and I described how much slack was appropriate. A few feet below the last bolt, maybe three feet above my last clip, I fell. And I just kept going. The rope didn't catch me until I was 5 feet off the ground. What should have been a short fall had turned into a 20 footer. I had almost gone all the way to the ground. Fortunately, the route was vertical to slightly overhung, so the fall was clean. I sustained no injuries.

I was not sufficiently aware of my belayer's skill level. I thought she had taken the Introduction to Rock class, but I did not know when she had learned to lead-belay (it turns out she had taken the Leading on Bolts class). After the incident, she mentioned that she was out of practice.

If I had asked her a few questions before climbing, I might known about her rusty skills before I was depending on them.

I ignored warning signs. She had a big loop of slack out very shortly after I started climbing. I should have taken this as a sign that she wasn't ready to lead belay, and lowered off the climb rather than continuing.

I gave in to self-imposed social pressure. The belayer and I were with a group of five Adventure Club kids. I was over-eager to get top-ropes set up for the kids to climb. This caused me to rush my decision-making (I should note that the kids and the other leader did not pressure me - it was all in my own head).



I talked to the belayer about the incident. She admitted that she had not caught a fallen leader prior to this fall. Her quote was, "It's much different in practice then in theory."

Going forward I will introduce a process to check in with each participant that might lead belay to assess their skills and comfort level catching a fall.

I will also encourage climbers to check in with their belayers, if they haven't climbed with their partner before, to assess each others comfort level with the consequences of a fall on the selected climbing route.

I am not familiar with the curriculum of the leading on bolts course, but I would encourage all courses issuing a lead belay certification to make sure that all students receiving the badge have caught at least a simulated fall prior to being certified.

Catching a simulated fall is part of the process that all of the area rock gyms make climbers go through to earn a lead certification at their gyms.