Climbing Falls — What goes up… that’s right — must come down. Whether you are just starting out or you are a pro, you are going to fall off of a route somewhere, sometime (I’m so optimistic).
Psychologists tell us that we are born with two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. It is a very natural thing to not want to fall off a rock climb, but if you climb, you will fall. Falling shows you where you need to improve. It is a great motivator to train harder so you don’t have to take the drop.
Basically, if you climb rocks, you will take a fall sometime and somewhere. Alright, with that out of the way, we can now learn how to fall in a way that you will not likely get injured. First of all, wear a helmet. Second, anticipate when on the route you will most likely fall. As you look up at the route, you can usually tell where the crux will be; a prominent overhang, a spot without many features (climbing holds), etc.
Keep in mind that as you fall you won’t always be traveling straight down. Traversing (moving horizontal to the last place you clipped in the rope) will create a pendulum effect with the fall. Falling on an overhang will send you down and back into the rock. And falling onto a ledge, a bulge in the route or the ground, will be damaging to the feet and legs. So make sure you communicate with your belayer ahead of time so you both understand how much slack to have in the rope at that critical part of the climb.
If you are on a sport climb, most of the time the route developer has engineered the route so a bolt or two will be right at the crux protecting the fall. As long as you don’t have too much slack in the rope, you should be fine. But remember, the more rope you have out the softer the catch will be. Any falls near the first couple of bolts are hard on a rope. So if at all possible, switch ends of the rope after a substantial fall or give the rope a few minutes to recover from the stretch.
Finally, as you fall, stay calm (Yeah right!). Keep your body loose and be ready to absorb the impact. Put your arms in front of you, your palms to the rock and as you connect make sure you don’t hit your head. Your feet should hit the rock first. Keep your knees bent and toes pointed up, move into the fall, and use your legs as a shock absorber. The more you successfully fall the more natural it will get. What a rush!
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