Follower falling while simul-climbing / leader consequences


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Trad climber
Long Beach, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 20, 2006 - 03:14am PT
Over the past few years, my partner and I have discovered the beauty of simul-climbing the easier sections of long alpine routes. The subsequent increase in speed and freedom of movement has been totally eye-opening and provided a much larger window for avoiding the Sierra afternoon thunderheads and padding beer-time.

However, I’ve been noodling through the consequences of the follower peeling and have some unsettling thoughts. So here’s my simplified (but fairly realistic) scenario:

> Leader and follower are simul’ing with a 60m (200’) rope and there is minimal slack in the rope between climbers
> Both climbers are equal in body weight
> Leader is 20’ above his last piece which is bomber when the follower peels
> Assuming both climbers fall at the same “rate” (e.g. they’re both on similar terrain with similar steepness, or in other words, one climber doesn’t hit a ledge which decelerates their fall, etc) and the rope slides “frictionlessly” through all the pro, the two climbers will experience the following upon impact:
- The follower will fall 20’, but will have the full 200’ of rope, for a very soft .10 fall factor
- The leader will also fall 20’, but will hit the top biner with zero rope out (e.g. since the follower is falling at the same rate, the follower has effectively “pulled in all the leader’s slack” while he is falling). Thus, the leader’s deceleration will be entirely dependent upon the rope sliding through the top biner at the same instant that the rope is arresting the followers fall). Even though the climbers are the same weight, I can’t imagine that more than a few feet of rope sliding thru the top biner. Optimistically (my conjecture), even if 10’ of rope slid thru, the leader is still looking at a factor 2 fall. Anything less than 10’ means a 2+ fall factor – GRIM!

So, here are my questions:
> Are my assumptions about the leader’s impact experience correct? Am I missing something here? If my assumptions are correct, then the leader is seriously looking at a 2+ fall factor.
> What are your thoughts for mitigating this risk? Some of my thoughts:
- Obvious #1 – you shouldn’t be simul’g if you think your follower may fall
- Obvious #1b- the follower must NOT fall (and yes, the better/more experienced climber should always follow)
- Obvious #2 - don’t simul if you can’t hack the risk
- Use screamers on all protection
- The leader should attach a screamer between the rope tie in point and his harness (e.g. tie rope into one end of screamer, use two opposed biners to attaché the other side of the screamer to his harness)
- Use a low-impact rope
> Does anyone have actual first-hand experience with the follower fallling when simul'g? What was the outcome?

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jan 20, 2006 - 03:53am PT
I suspect we're in for a long and tedious (but interesting to many) physics geeking thread here.

My suspicions:

1. The rope will actually absorb more of the leaders fall than you expect. It will not be a 2+ fall factor.

2. If you are really worried about the follower falling, then either don't simul or use the dangerous and deadly tibloc technique (which is still probably safer than the follower falling without a tibloc in the system)


Michael Hjorth

Trad climber
Copenhagen, Denmark
Jan 20, 2006 - 06:05am PT
Some years back there was a serious accident on a two pitch ice climb in Norway. After simulclimbing the leader reached the top and was just starting to make a three-belay. Follower fell and pulled the leader back over the edge w/axes and all. Icescrews popped, and both fell to the ground (but survived). Many broken bones.

Doug Hemken

Madison, WI
Jan 20, 2006 - 08:42am PT
My experience is with about 130ft between me and the second, on easy terrain, ~5.5. A foothold gave way while he was on steep terrain, and he dragged me down about 25 feet over the ledges I was on. Kind of log-rolled me. Seven broken ribs, a broken collar bone, and a collapsed lung. I was only able to climb another pitch or so before I had to throw in the towel and ask for assistance (rescue).

He *pulled* me, if that helps you with your rope/carabiner question.

Once I started down, I had a bit of momentum.

Theory uninformed by experience would indeed be tedious.

I still simulclimb regularly, but it sucks being pulled off the rock when the fall isn't clean.

Trad climber
Jan 20, 2006 - 09:36am PT
seems if the follower yelled as he was coming off and the leader jumped both could get a fairly soft catch based on how much rope is out. 200' is a lot of boing.
Nor Cal

Trad climber
San Mateo
Jan 20, 2006 - 09:47am PT
If there is a chance the second may fall while simul-climbing perhaps you should not be simul-climbing.
Karl mantioned the death tibloc, a tibloc can be placed in the "haul" mode on the "top" piece of the leaders pro. Say you are climbing with 100' of rope between you and the leader, the leader would ideally place a tibloc in the haul mode every 100', then if you fall the idea is that the tibloc will lock off on the rope and catch you with out pulling the leader off.

Sport climber
Buschville, TN
Jan 20, 2006 - 11:31am PT
Consequences are dire, any way you cut it, the first rule is 'no one fall'.

The second rule if feasible, is have a way strong leader. Like Rick Lovelace, in the push of the NA Wall. He had a partner fall while simuling 5.10+/11 and caught the fall...
August West

Trad climber
Where the wind blows strange
Jan 20, 2006 - 12:01pm PT
I've simul climbed a great deal with my regular partner and since he climbs a number grade harder than I do, I'm always in the lead and I've thought a lot about the potential falls.

I've experimented with using screamers between my tie in point and the rope. However, I'm not willing to rely on a single screamer to connect me to the rope. Particularly since there is a potential for a very large force. When I've done this, I connect two screamers in parallal. So the force is going to be twice the normal screamer load. I'm ok with this since screamers are designed for low forces, I believe you could double it up and be ok. Furthermore, if the dual screamers deploy, you have got to be in better shape than if you didn't have them. Dual screamers with a couple of lockers is a bit bulky.

I have also toyed with the idea of coiling (or bunching up) ten feet of rope or so and "tieing" to the side of my harness with a piece of velcro. The idea being that if I got "sucked" into the top piece, the ten feet of rope would end up on "my side" of the top biner. However, this is going to cause a ten foot greater fall even if you don't get sucked in and it is going to be awkward/bulky to climb with etc.

Still looking for good ideas...

Trad climber
Jan 20, 2006 - 01:32pm PT
Tie in like normal. Attach screamer to harness. Then clove the rope into the end of the screamer, with ample slack between your tie in point and the clove.

Personally, it seems like a hassle with little gain. Not falling would be much better, and make for a more enjoyable day.

I fell about three feet while simuling once, onto a small ledge when a nubbin broke. Partner didnt see or feel it. Later he said, "you started climbing a little slower there for a second huh?"

I said, "uhhhh, ya"

Jan 20, 2006 - 01:59pm PT
Simul-climbing is very dangerous, one must have good faith.

I felt always comfortable with people like John Bachar, Kauk, Croft etc.

Trad climber
Jan 20, 2006 - 02:02pm PT
Agreed there. I think i can name one or two people i would be comfortable simul-climbing with. You know, people like kenny and jesse.


Social climber
My Subconcious
Jan 20, 2006 - 03:09pm PT
Simul-climbing is dangerous. To try and rationlize ways to make it safe is foolish. Accept the seriousness of the situation and do it in the simplest fashion or don't do it at all.

Trad climber
Arlington, VA
Jan 20, 2006 - 05:58pm PT
There's a great writeup on Andy Kirkpatrick's site: that addresses simuling in which he makes an excellent point regarding the choice to simulclimb. He essentially says you need to understand that it is essentially soloing. The rope is less of a safety net and more of an inattentive guardian angel, it might save you, but you'd better not be counting on it.

Trad climber
Monterey, CA
Jan 20, 2006 - 06:04pm PT
I have done some testing on the tibloc 'death' set up. I never use this set-up anymore after this testing. I noticed that normally in the hauling mode, the unit requires some gently coaxing to lock up properly. I think that this coaxing will come at a certain point from the rope moving around wildly during the fall but the problem you are looking at then is that the sliding rope will be stopped by a toothed device which is likely to open the sheath. I have resorted to using wild country rop-man devices for this purpose. I think that the fact that they are spring loaded and stay engaged the entire time and that they have no sharp points on the cam make them far preferrable for this application. Normally you need to find a spot to either sling a tree or set a two piece 'anchor' to attach the ropeman to so allow for multidirectionality while preserving the proper direction of pull should the need for it to stop a simul fall exist.
I have actually seen a simul fall on royal arches but it was of little consequence though. The person is a user on here so I wont embarrass him (he might not even know it). His girlfriend and he were climbing a few years ago trying to train for an ascent of CJ and wanted to suss the RA approach. He was climbing the face section just beneath the headwall and she was still traversing to the base of that section. He had placed a tibloc and so the rope never really pulled him at all and she was back on pretty quick. I saw later that they had posed beta on RA to CJ so I think that they made it through both just fine. Also, Hans Florine has a short anectdote on simul climbing in his speed climbing book. I think that he has taken a leader simul fall after being pulled off by his falling follower.

Trad climber
Jan 20, 2006 - 07:12pm PT
"> Leader and follower are simul’ing with a 60m (200’) rope and there is minimal slack in the rope between climbers
> Both climbers are equal in body weight
> Leader is 20’ above his last piece which is bomber when the follower peels"

In this case both climbers will experience about the same fall factor. After all the leader still has 100' of dynamic rope that will stretch and run up over the carabiner, cushioning his fall. The leader will experience somewhat higher forces because of the friction of the rope running over the carabiner. Each climber falls on 1/2 the rope. The middle doesn't move as it's being pulled equally from both ends (not taking the friction into account). The middle of the rope is like the anchor point. That's a fall factor of 0.2 for each climber: 100 feet of rope and a 20 foot fall.

I like ThomasKeefer's advice on the Wild Country Ropeman.

Social climber
The West
Jan 20, 2006 - 07:35pm PT
How hypothetical.

Trad climber
Fort Fun, Colorado
Jan 20, 2006 - 08:09pm PT
I'll second the ropeman. I had a partner fall and it caught them. Keep in mind that it isn't designed for large loads though.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jan 20, 2006 - 11:01pm PT
Ask Hans and Dean - they'll tell you. The Secret Weapon is the Ropeman.

Social climber
The West
Jan 20, 2006 - 11:18pm PT
Keep the rope reasonably taut between the climbers and it's no big deal, especially with a long rope and some twists and turns.
I think you guys are making a bigger deal out of this than it is.

As I have posted at least twice before;
I was the leader when my second fell on the Harding route on Keeler needle. We were simulclimbing on a 60. I was leading one of the 5.10 pitches (at the crux) when he slipped, it felt like a slight tug at my waist, way less then a toprope pull. I held on while he swung back onto the climb; a fifteen second delay with no consequences.

We had the full rope out, there were peices, slings and corners.I wouldn't count on it being that way another time, but it worked for us.

Still, always assume you're soloing when you simu-climb.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 21, 2006 - 08:35am PT
I always consider simulclimbing as soloing with a backup which will possibly prevent a fall to the ground. Generally I've simulclimbed on ground you wouldn't want to fall on, even if you are caught by the rope and anchors... not pretty.

I almost never do it with the full rope length, but more like alpine travel with 1/2 or 1/3 of the rope between the two climbers. Put a lot of pro in so that it you've got a chance. But still, "the leader and the follower must not fall". That being said, you always have to consider soloing instead, it could actually be safer because the consequence of falling is more obvious to both climbers.

Probably simulclimb mostly on relatively easy ground in areas where I haven't climbed before and there may be enough concern of loose rock or snow and ice so that you'd like that "safety net".

Forget the physics, it ain't gonna save you, DFU.
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