Team Singapore Athlete Zhang Bin Bin (Photo Credit: SportSG)
By Isabel Leong
There are 2 kinds of rock climbing: bouldering and lead climbing. There are different techniques used for each type of fall. Boulder falls are rope-free and you fall from a height of 4 to 5 metres on a crash pad. Lead falls are falls from a higher height while being attached to a rope, with the help of a belayer.
Falling is part and parcel of rock climbing. If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying hard enough. To progress, you need to push yourself to the edge, and when you do, you will fall. Below are some tips to conquer falls and overcome the fear of falling.
Before every climb, it is necessary to take note of various things. First, never attempt to boulder without a crash mat to absorb your fall.
Second, ensure you have a spotter to watch your climb. On top of guiding you to reach for your next hold since they have a vantage point of the wall, their primary job is to direct the climber’s body to the ground during the fall so that the climber lands on his feet. To spot, position yourself directly beneath the climber with knees bent slightly and legs apart. Position your arms up with a slight bend at the elbows. Your palms should be facing out, and your fingers must be pointing upward. As the climber begins his climb, raise your arms with your palms near his hips or torso. When he falls, grip his hips and steer him towards the ground.
During the split second of the fall, there are several things to note. First, always fall with your feet first and your knees slightly bent to absorb the impact of your fall. Roll forwards or backwards when you reach the ground to dissipate the impact of the fall. Never try to stop the fall with your hands. They are more susceptible to a fracture than your feet.
Second, fall as far apart from the wall as you can to prevent abrasion by the uneven or sometimes coarse wall surfaces or jutting volumes.
Prevention is the best bet when it comes to preventing a fall. Learn the correct techniques for clipping, tying of knots, caring for the equipment and familiarize yourself with climbing calls such as “squeeze check”, “check”, “climbing”, and “climb on”. Warn your belayer if you think you might fall. Yell “watch me!” Shout “falling!” as you peel off from the wall. Simple as they may sound, you should not scrimp on safety.
Figure 1: Z Clipped Quickdraw. This occurs when the climber incorrectly grabs the rope going to the belayer instead of the rope going to his harness, then pulls it up to the next quickdraw.
Figure 2: Correct clipping. The climber should grab the rope going from the quickdraw to his harness, then pull it up to the next quickdraw. The rope stays free and has the least amount of rope drag.
Again, when you fall, fall away from the wall. Keep your feet down and in front of you so that it is the first to come into contact with the wall when the rope is tight and you swing in at the end of the fall.
Do not fall with the rope behind your leg if you don’t want a nasty rope burn or be flipped upside down. As you’re climbing, stay aware of how the rope is running. Keep it in front of your legs and between them as you climb. If the rope ends up behind your legs or ankles, make the effort to reposition yourself.
Never underestimate the role of a good belayer. An experienced one is one who possesses quick enough reflexes to respond quickly to a fall and looks out for the climber and his surroundings to ensure the climber ascends or falls safely. He also has the requisite knowledge to adjust the belay rope according to the climber’s progress. The rope should not be too tight such that the climber cannot advance, nor too loose such that he will take a huge fall and risking hitting the ground.
Climbing falls are more often than not unpredictable. There is a very narrow window of time to determine how best to take the fall, so practicing how to fall is key to mastering a proper fall. Practicing frequently helps to imprint muscle memory to fall naturally but safely. Practice falls can ease the heebie-jeebies and help overcome the fear of falling. For starters, choose a vertical or gently overhanging face so that when you fall, you fall away from the wall.
Expect the fall, so that you can relax your body as you fall and prepare for it. A tense body will transfer more force to the point of impact—your feet. A relaxed body helps to spread the impact force over a larger area.
Falling is an important skill to learn when it comes to rock climbing. Unless you are living in space, any gravity-defying person will have to fall on way or another. As such, falling safely should not be understated. By falling properly, you can make every rock climbing experience a safe and fun one!
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