One critical aspect of appropriate decisions is they must create a learning experience and not an injury experience. Many climbers never determine if it’s safe or not to fall on a climb. They engage all climbing situations by doing all they can to avoid falling and don’t push themselves to the point of purposely taking a fall. When they do fall it’s an accident, due to a hold breaking or getting suddenly pumped, and little or nothing is learned. To learn and improve, however, you must intentionally push beyond what your mind thinks you can do. To do this, though, you must learn to distinguish between no-fall zones and yes-fall zones.
Remember, even in “yes-fall” situations you can never make a risk totally safe or eliminate every possible negative consequence. All you can do is diminish the consequences by creating an appropriate risk, meaning one you fully understand and accept. You may be willing to risk a skinned knee from bumping the rock but not a sprained ankle from hitting a ledge. You may be willing to take a clean 15-foot air fall but not a 30-footer. Whatever the specifics, the key point is that you have a clear understanding of what you are committing to.
Yes-fall zones are not just places where it is “safe” to fall. They are places where it is appropriate for you to risk a fall. An appropriate risk pushes you a little outside your previous experience level (with falling) but not too far. You must be able to fully process the experience and learn.
No-fall zones seem self-explanatory: places where you shouldn’t fall because a fall could cause injury. But a no-fall zone might be one where a fall would scare you. Being a little scared is fine—-you can probably process that level of fear and stress. If a fall scares you too much, however, you’ll resist engaging a similar situation, stifling the learning process.
Therefore, don’t just look at the objective consequences of a fall, but weigh the consequences against your experience taking such falls. I suggest practicing falling frequently and intentionally. This will help you distinguish between no-fall and yes-fall zones. The process for doing this will be outlined in future lessons. Only with falling experience can you properly determine no-fall and yes-fall zones. This determination is critical, because you engage these zones differently.
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this lesson just fits like ring on my finger. Yesterday I was climbing with a frind doing some Trad Climbing training, so I lead the first pitch and I placed some nuts. I didn’t fall all the way up but there was a placement that I thought was in a “yes-fall zone” and reliable. My friend then lead it and felt to this specific placement and stopped the fall. Then he tried again and felt again and the placement blew out, and he hit the ground, wasn´t to serious but for him was really scary. And for me was really confusing, when I placed that nut I analyzed the enviroment focusing on the height if the placement fail, the correct nut and perfect position for it.
I read today the article and I was thinking: How I can be really sure where is a “Yes-fall” or “no-fall” zone? And taking a look on my experience, I haven’t really experienced this situation of determine specifically where to or not to fall. Normally, I just see all around and get straigth-headed not to fall when I know I don’t have to fall.
Thank you for shearing this article to analize this important situation.
Hello Roberto, Sometimes a trad placement is solid but it can move. Did your friend just clip into the pieces you left in the rock? Or, did he place his own pieces, just placed that nut in the same place you did?
Your friend may have shifted the piece when he fell on it. Tom, in his post, suggested doubling up in places where a fall is likely. We’ll be getting into how to determine yes- and no-fall zones soon.
I am awaiting lessons on finding out which zone is which. Sometimes its easy to figure out, like an overhang where a fall is into the air from a well placed bolt. But others are harder to spot.
As for falling on trad gear, I double my stuff in a spot I think the fall is likely , even if the fall feels OK. You never know when a single piece might fail and your fall gets a nasty extension.
Hi Tom, In the previous “information gathering” lesson we discussed looking down to evaluate the DAO of the fall: the Distance of the fall, Angle of the rock, and Obstacles. That’s an important first step. To figure out if that DAO is no-fall and yes-fall we need to assess how much experience we have with such falls. We’ll dig into that in eLesson 0705, about a month away.
Been quite some time since our class Arno. Hope life has been treating you well.
I wanted to say this topic was my biggest takeaway from your class. As a born and raised Gunks/Adirondacks climber, I spent hundreds of days climbing in No-Fall territory. Not falling became the framework for my percieved success and a false barometer for how much I was learning. In your class I said that I wanted to onsight every climb and learn as much as possible. Your words verbatim,”Jeff, you cant have it both ways.”
Anyway, theres still room for so much improvement but I can proudly say I’ve changed my perspective on what a falling outcome really means. I love taking trips down to the NRG to get on vertical cracks where theres so much Yes – Fall zone visible from the ground. Now I am trying to bring back that same level of committment to the home crags where the pro is just as plentiful but less visible stance to stance. Loving life on the sharp end.
Hi Jeff, NJ Rock Gym right? In two lessons we’ll get into how to determine what is yes- and no-fall. Glad you are enjoying the sharp end. Arno
Hi Arno, I read the no fall, yes fall article w/great interest. I am a novice climber and recently started learning trad under a very supportive and experienced mentor. On my first trad lead I fell 30+ ft when I got paniced on some chos and lost my footing. When I fell I pulled 2 pcs of gear, the last one I knew was sketchy, a well placed stopper kept me about 15 or 20ft off the deck w/my back against the wall. It didn’t really bother me to much at the time. I accept the possibility of falling as part of climbing. But 2 days later when I tried leading again the chatter in my mind was amazing! All the possibilities and what-ifs playing over and over, trying to talk me into coming down, you name it, it pulled out all the stops. There were several occasions where I had to stop, use good rests, stay focused on my goal, pay attention to my placements and assess what was the real falling danger. Not sure if this is helpful to anyone but thought I’d share w/you and your readers my falling and coping w/it experience. I’m also pleased to say that I completed 2 successful leads that day, my mentor seconded them and said all of my placements were “textbook.” So apparently some learning took place. 🙂 Thanks again, Dennis
Hi Dennis, Thanks for posting your story. When learning trad, I’ve found it helpful to place gear like you vote: early and often. Even double up in places, as Tom suggested in his post. A fall grows dramatically if you pull a piece. It’s imperative that your placements are solid and frequent. A rule of thumb I use is place another piece when my last one is at or just below my feet. This will obviously vary based on the route but if you run it out more than that you’re looking at 20+ footers.
One more thing Dennis. Your comment: There were several occasions where I had to stop, use good rests, stay focused on my goal, pay attention to my placements and assess what was the real falling danger.
This really demonstrates how you redirected attention to the task at hand. Excellent practice; continue to do that. Arno
I’ve been following this topic with interest too. Over the past few months I’ve slowly been pushing myself on lead, and have starting trying to onsight the grade I’m working and reducing my foreknowledge of the line, whereas before I’d preview in some manner. With practice I’ve gotten more comfortable with this approach but I’m still not quite at the level where the physical demands have exceeded or matched my ability to cope: the level I’m hoping to find. I’d say I’m making tentative forays to the edge of my comfort zone, but so far it’s mostly just been me being worried about either a grade or what others have said about a route/it’s reputation. I’ve been OK with the climbing, although I can definitely tell when I’m doing a move of a difficulty I haven’t experienced on lead before, and at that moment I’m VERY tuned-in and hopefully learning something.
This naturally leads into the topic of fall zones. I still haven’t taken a “real” fall but a couple months back I dropped onto a piece of good gear a short distance (8 feet?) because my hands were numb from cold. This was on a route I was familiar with and I was extremely relaxed about the fall even though the circumstance kind of sucked. This was a definite “yes” fall zone. More recently, I climbed at the New River Gorge and found myself facing a couple of “no” fall zones, some of which I was able to convert into “yes” zones by re-evaluating my protection options (such as an instance where I girth hitched a tree over a knot in the trunk several feet up to keep me off a ledge) but for a couple others I sucked it up and very deliberately climbed through after considering my options and up-and-down climbing a little. In one of these instances I had mixed feelings later about the level of risk I had accepted and felt I should have tried harder to protect the move. I suppose this is the balance of trying to find the “perfect” amount of protection and trying to err on the side of a little too much. On the other side of things I picked up a lead my partner backed off of and did a move in “yes” fall zone that was definitely harder than I had tried before.
Still, I feel like I need to keep pushing myself until I find that line where I start to fall on routes but I do feel like I’m making progress in the meantime.
Hi Matt, Nice to hear from you. TRC right? We’ll be getting into this more in future lessons, but… Yes-fall zones are not just falls with “clean” fall consequences, such as vertical to overhanging, short, no obstacle falls. They are also falls you have some experience with. Keep that in mind as you push that line.
Correct – I was at TRC tonight in fact. I guess I should add that during the short fall I mentioned, I sensed the cold coming on and my control starting to fade. I knew what the moves were ahead of me but the numb hands were making it increasingly difficult and my choice was to either continue through the immediate crux to safe ground but risk a further fall (~10 feet more) or downclimb to my gear and hang. I’d seen others take the longer fall and even caught a friend there but decided I wasn’t comfortable with the distance, even though the gear was bomber. I chose not to push it in that situation but even so I didn’t quite make it all the way back to the gear. Things happened very fast.
I attended a clinic with you at Sportrock Sterling last year and saw you again at the New. I know I’m a few weeks behind in replying to this thread, but I have recently realized my great fear in making any sport lead moves that traverse vertically left or right a few moves from where my bolt/protection line is (which would result in a pendulum type fall). I wondered if you had any suggestions for overcoming this/resources, or how to simulate this fall type in small doses. I find myself freezing up on the wall and refusing to go any further, even if I know very well that I have the capability to complete the moves. It’s terribly frustrating when that nagging voice in my head completely shuts me down from even the process goals, let alone the end goal. Thanks so much!
Hi Katie, Thanks for posting your question. In the exercises (Appendix) section of Espresso Lessons there is a description of how to learn pendulum falls. Look under “Advanced Falling Exercises.” I’ll paste that section below. Let me know if this helps. Arno
Pendulums: This exercise needs to be done on lead. If you climb left or right of your last protection and then fall, you will pendulum across the rock. You may be extremely afraid or dangerously unaware of this type of fall. Both situations can be helped through practice.
Begin by climbing a couple of moves up and to the right or left of your highest clipped bolt. Do the transition and notice how you swing. Repeat the process, but as you let go, step in the direction of your pro. This diminishes the swing. Practice with progressively longer traverse lengths, proportionately increasing your step (or jump) in the direction of the pro.
One special kind of pendulum occurs when a climber falls from a roof with pro in the roof or underneath. From the lip of the roof you can still reduce the pendulum. Once you’ve stepped over the lip, it’s usually not possible to step or jump to avoid swinging in to the wall below the roof.