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Partner cracklover


May 18, 2012, 8:53 AM
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Advice to the beginning trad leader around falling - don't
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In another thread, a poster asked this question:

ecade wrote:
I'm very new to trad, i've done 15 leads, I've finally started testing my pieces while on lead with takes and bounce tests and so far its all holding. Was planning on taking a lead fall on a piece (found a route that has bolts and a good crack thought that would be a good testing place, back up placement with bolt... thoughts welcome to this approach)

It's an important topic worth discussing, so rather than burying it on page 4 of a thread about something else, I'm responding here.

Ecade - I know you're working on aid climbing too. My advice is to keep your aid climbing and your free climbing separate. There are a number of reasons I hope you'll consider this.

1 - When trad climbing, the objective is to climb cleanly from bottom to top, placing gear as you go. This is a mindset that requires a great deal of focus, and a number of techniques that are specific to the discipline, as opposed to what you might do when sport climbing. These are habits of mind that need to be trained, just like physical techniques. Get in the habit of falling and weighting pieces, and you're creating the wrong mindset.

2 - As a new leader, some of the gear you think is bomber probably isn't. This is true for *all* trad leaders, but more so for the n00b.

3 - The place to practice bouncing on gear is 1 - On the ground, where you'll fall six inches if the piece blows, or 2 - On an aid climb, where you'll fall six feet in overhanging terrain. On a free climb, where the gear is placed much less frequently than an aid climb, and there is usually much more to hit (all those lovely free-climbing holds and ledges) a fall can be much more dangerous.

4 - There is a trend these days born of the fear than is inherent in trad climbing. I'll see if I can explain it. It goes something like this:
- Leading trad is scary.
- Fear is uncomfortable.
- People don't like being uncomfortable.
- Therefore, people look for techniques to minimize or eliminate the fear.
- New leaders are told to practice falling to gain trust in their gear.
- This does a nice job in minimizing or eliminating the fear of falling on gear.

This is the wrong approach. The whole point of it is wrong. The fear one feels trad climbing is entirely appropriate. Gear fails, and falls have consequences. Not every time, or even most times, but eventually. And some people get unlucky, and that first real fall is the last one they take. Don't test your luck, and don't train yourself to feel that testing your luck is a good thing. An old saying in trad climbing is that you've got to fill up your bag of tricks before your bag of luck runs out.

Instead of training yourself to minimize your fear, you should be training yourself to live with it and manage it. This is a much longer process, and more uncomfortable, so it's kind of out of fashion these days. But it's really not complex, and people have been doing it a long time. The technique is as follows: Work your way up through the grades, placing lots of good gear. And when the opportunity arises, follow more experienced trad leaders. Eventually, you will gain an appropriate level of confidence, know what you can do, and how to do it, and will start pushing your limits. Then falls will start happening, and if you're doing things right, they'll be happening in appropriate circumstances (right gear, right terrain, etc).

Of course you will do what seems best to you, but I hope you'll consider the above.

Cheers!

GO


ecade


May 18, 2012, 9:05 AM
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Re: [cracklover] Advice to the beginning trad leader around falling - don't [In reply to]
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Thank you for this very well reasoned, well articulated and insightful post. I have unpacked my trad rack, it will be a sport only weekend, besides its Rumney this weekend!!!

You hit the nail on the hand with your logical argument for fear, and yes I would say I was looking for the "easier option" of extricating rather than managing fear. And I'd certainly agree much of the mentality is from sport climbing.

If rock climbing.com always had replies like the one you gave it would be an even better website and forum than it currently is.

Thank you for your time and wisdom and of course I'm always interested in other similarly experienced opinions and views


Partner rgold


May 18, 2012, 10:02 AM
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I think Gabe totally nailed it.

The only thing I'd add is that trad climbing is risky in a way that sport and gym climbing are not. When trad climbing was the only form of climbing, those who were put off by the risks never got into it at all. But now we have genres of climbing that have very little risk, and so people are attracted to climbing who wouldn't have been before.

So nowadays when people transition to trad climbing from the gym and sport genres, it is important for them to understand that they are embarking on a more dangerous form of the activity, and that in addition to learning new skills, significant changes in mental attitudes are called for, and nonchalance about falling is most definitely one of them.

I'd also emphasize that this is a transition that does not have to be made, the world is fully supplied with sport climbs, although it is true that the Northeast is not. Making this transition is a choice. Be sure you understand what you are getting into.


billl7


May 18, 2012, 10:03 AM
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Re: [ecade] Advice to the beginning trad leader around falling - don't [In reply to]
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ecade wrote:
... of course I'm always interested in other similarly experienced opinions and views
Not much to add except I agree with Gabe. Fear needs to be accepted and managed for the reality it may reflect, not cajoled out of the picture.


JimTitt


May 18, 2012, 10:24 AM
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Well put.
Nice you also mention the objective is actually to climb to the top, people dogging trad routes gets on my nerves and that includes the stars, ground up onsight all the way!


jomagam


May 18, 2012, 11:43 AM
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Re: [cracklover] Advice to the beginning trad leader around falling - don't [In reply to]
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cracklover wrote:
Instead of training yourself to minimize your fear, you should be training yourself to live with it and manage it. This is a much longer process, and more uncomfortable, so it's kind of out of fashion these days. But it's really not complex, and people have been doing it a long time. The technique is as follows: Work your way up through the grades, placing lots of good gear. And when the opportunity arises, follow more experienced trad leaders. Eventually, you will gain an appropriate level of confidence, know what you can do, and how to do it, and will start pushing your limits. Then falls will start happening, and if you're doing things right, they'll be happening in appropriate circumstances (right gear, right terrain, etc).

Are you arguing that it's wrong to test in a controlled environment if a piece you placed is as bomber as you think ? I'm thinking about both clipping the bolts and placing gear in an unnecessarily bolted route, then taking a fall.


Partner robdotcalm


May 18, 2012, 12:12 PM
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Excellent post. Good advice.

It brings to mind an incident that happened ~30 years ago. A student at a local university was having a hard time learning to lead because of his fear of falling (heights?). He went to the university health center to see a psychologist about it. He told her he got scared when he was 50' up a steep wall looking down. She told him: you're normal; there's nothing I can do to help you overcome this fear; if there were something I could do, I would refuse to do it, since doing so would be unethical.

Cheers,
Rob.calm


patto


May 18, 2012, 12:13 PM
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Fear is good. Fear keeps me alive.


olderic


May 18, 2012, 12:47 PM
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Taking "safe" controlled falls is a fundamental drill emphasized in the Warrior's Way and other things of that ilk. Lots of folds swear by it. Also some (not lots but some) folks get hurt doing it. If it is what floats your boat go for it. Personally I think if your goal is trad then you'd be better off training to not let go and learning how to down climb. If you feel the need to validate your placements just do it close to the ground as has been previously mentioned - safer, quicker and more efficient.


(This post was edited by olderic on May 18, 2012, 1:46 PM)


trenchdigger


May 18, 2012, 1:28 PM
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Nice post. I couldn't agree more.

It bothers me when new leaders tell me they try not to think about falling when they're leading. It's important to ALWAYS think about falling. You need to constantly know the likelihood of a fall and know the consequences should you take one. If that balance of those exceeds what you're willing to accept, it's time to down-climb/bail.

Rational fear is a good thing. It helps keep you safe. Irrational fear that may hold back your climbing progression will fade with experience and knowledge.

Practicing falls as ecade suggests may succeed in reducing his level of fear while climbing. Unfortunately, in the process, he'll also be conditioning himself to believe that falls on gear are safe and OK. That's frequently not the case.

Rather than training yourself to deal with fear, train yourself to recognize fear that's driven by actual risk and fear that is not. Differentiating the two will help minimize the irrational fear while your rational fears keep you safe.


jomagam


May 18, 2012, 1:50 PM
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trenchdigger wrote:
Rather than training yourself to deal with fear, train yourself to recognize fear that's driven by actual risk and fear that is not. Differentiating the two will help minimize the irrational fear while your rational fears keep you safe.

One component of actual risk is how much you can trust your pieces. That's why I don't get why many in this thread frown on safe practice falls. Of course you can get overconfident, but that's your problem that you drew the wrong conclusions from your experiment.


redlude97


May 18, 2012, 1:58 PM
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jomagam wrote:
trenchdigger wrote:
Rather than training yourself to deal with fear, train yourself to recognize fear that's driven by actual risk and fear that is not. Differentiating the two will help minimize the irrational fear while your rational fears keep you safe.

One component of actual risk is how much you can trust your pieces. That's why I don't get why many in this thread frown on safe practice falls. Of course you can get overconfident, but that's your problem that you drew the wrong conclusions from your experiment.
I think BD determined that 1/10 "good placements" will still fail. Taking unnecessary falls is up to you, but they aren't required to determine a good piece


bearbreeder


May 18, 2012, 2:06 PM
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Eliminate fear of falling. Fear of falling is a natural instinct. It should remain for
good reason where the fall is genuinely dangerous due to poor gear or other
hazards that make a ground fall possible. But most of us are crippled by a fear
of falling per se, even though many falling situations are very safe. Taking safe
falls because you have pushed yourself to your physical limit is essential if you
want to reach anywhere near your potential. This irrational fear of safe falls
only exists because of unfamiliarity. You must break the cycle by practising
safe falls regularly. Donít shirk form this Ė there is no other way! Start off on
bolts, with progressively bigger falls and then progress to trad climbs where
the gear is unquestionable and backed up. Youíll need to do it often, not as a
once off. The mind needs to be constantly reminded that safe falls are safe to
avoid slipping back into a cycle of fear.


from how to climb hard trad by dave macleod ...


SylviaSmile


May 18, 2012, 2:20 PM
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bearbreeder wrote:
Eliminate fear of falling. Fear of falling is a natural instinct. It should remain for
good reason where the fall is genuinely dangerous due to poor gear or other
hazards that make a ground fall possible. But most of us are crippled by a fear
of falling per se, even though many falling situations are very safe. Taking safe
falls because you have pushed yourself to your physical limit is essential if you
want to reach anywhere near your potential. This irrational fear of safe falls
only exists because of unfamiliarity. You must break the cycle by practising
safe falls regularly. Donít shirk form this Ė there is no other way! Start off on
bolts, with progressively bigger falls and then progress to trad climbs where
the gear is unquestionable and backed up. Youíll need to do it often, not as a
once off. The mind needs to be constantly reminded that safe falls are safe to
avoid slipping back into a cycle of fear.


from how to climb hard trad by dave macleod ...

I could see this being one way to get over the fear, but couldn't another way be simply to take a deep breath and step over the fear as best you can? Because reinforcing "it's safe to take this fall" as a way of managing fear doesn't prepare you for the situations "where the fall is genuinely dangerous"--what do you do if fear strikes then? It seems like you'd be mentally unprepared to deal with "I must not fall but I am not going to freak out about that fact" if you've gotten in the habit of taking practice falls. I obviously speak from zero experience.


notapplicable


May 18, 2012, 2:38 PM
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bearbreeder wrote:
Eliminate fear of falling. Fear of falling is a natural instinct. It should remain for
good reason where the fall is genuinely dangerous due to poor gear or other
hazards that make a ground fall possible. But most of us are crippled by a fear
of falling per se, even though many falling situations are very safe. Taking safe
falls because you have pushed yourself to your physical limit is essential if you
want to reach anywhere near your potential. This irrational fear of safe falls
only exists because of unfamiliarity. You must break the cycle by practising
safe falls regularly. Donít shirk form this Ė there is no other way! Start off on
bolts, with progressively bigger falls and then progress to trad climbs where
the gear is unquestionable and backed up. Youíll need to do it often, not as a
once off. The mind needs to be constantly reminded that safe falls are safe to
avoid slipping back into a cycle of fear.


from how to climb hard trad by dave macleod ...

You will, of course, notice that the title of his book is not "Advice for new trad leaders"


sandstone


May 18, 2012, 2:41 PM
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bearbreeder wrote:
[..] This irrational fear of safe falls only exists because of unfamiliarity. You must break the cycle by practising safe falls regularly. Donít shirk form this Ė there is no other way! [..] from how to climb hard trad by dave macleod ...

If the context is that of an expert pushing his limits, then that is relevant. In the context of a new trad leader, it's bad advice.


bandycoot


May 18, 2012, 2:48 PM
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notapplicable wrote:
bearbreeder wrote:
Eliminate fear of falling. Fear of falling is a natural instinct. It should remain for
good reason where the fall is genuinely dangerous due to poor gear or other
hazards that make a ground fall possible. But most of us are crippled by a fear
of falling per se, even though many falling situations are very safe. Taking safe
falls because you have pushed yourself to your physical limit is essential if you
want to reach anywhere near your potential. This irrational fear of safe falls
only exists because of unfamiliarity. You must break the cycle by practising
safe falls regularly. Donít shirk form this Ė there is no other way! Start off on
bolts, with progressively bigger falls and then progress to trad climbs where
the gear is unquestionable and backed up. Youíll need to do it often, not as a
once off. The mind needs to be constantly reminded that safe falls are safe to
avoid slipping back into a cycle of fear.


from how to climb hard trad by dave macleod ...

You will, of course, notice that the title of his book is not "Advice for new trad leaders"

Yeah, I totally agree. Hard trad climbing is like hard sport climbing. It's often steep with nothing to hit on the way down. If you have good gear, you place two and running it out isn't dangerous. Dave MacLeod's quote, while insightful and helpful for those trying to climb HARD trad is not necessarily applicable to this thread which does say "beginning trad leader" in the title.

Josh


bearbreeder


May 18, 2012, 3:25 PM
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i am not advocating beginners go out and fall on gear ... but at some point you WILL fall on gear ... and the only way to know if itll hold is experience of previous falls ... even placing "bomber" gear on the ground doesnt mean it or the rock will hold ... its all theoretical till you take an actual fall

the trick IMO for someone who knows what they are doing is knowing where it is safe to fall and where it aint ...

if you dont want to fall ... then dont climb ... anyone, experienced or newbs can fall on even the easiest ground

there are 3 ways around it IMO

- place solid pro ... a lot of pro ... you can still get hurt or die

- become a stronger climber ... mentally and physically ... which you cant really do if you are shaking everytime you get a few feet above yr last piece because you are afraid of falls

- wuss out with yr tail between yr legs ... of which there is nothing wrong with and is sometimes the wise decision

as for beginners ... make sure yr gear is solid (which you wont know unless someone who can hopefully tell follows you up yr climbs and sometimes not even then unless theres a fall), get strong on TR as much as possible on the climbs, and eventually you WILL have to take the risk of leading and falling

fear can kill you as much as lack of fear can ... just watch someone with elvis legs on a lead .. they are more likely to fall and get hurt than someone who climbs it with more confidence


(This post was edited by bearbreeder on May 18, 2012, 3:26 PM)


trenchdigger


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jomagam wrote:
trenchdigger wrote:
Rather than training yourself to deal with fear, train yourself to recognize fear that's driven by actual risk and fear that is not. Differentiating the two will help minimize the irrational fear while your rational fears keep you safe.

One component of actual risk is how much you can trust your pieces. That's why I don't get why many in this thread frown on safe practice falls. Of course you can get overconfident, but that's your problem that you drew the wrong conclusions from your experiment.

Maybe it's the engineer in me, but I've never found it very difficult to assess the quality of a placement. To those that it doesn't come natural to, practice with someone experienced and have them review your placements. Really, the physics is simple.

The most unpredictable factor in the strength of a placement is the rock quality. Still, experience and careful assessment will tell you a lot about that too.

Another poster mentions an unreferenced "BD study" that claims 1 in 10 "good" placements fail. In 9 years of climbing (mostly gear protected) and probably 2-3 dozen lead falls, probably about the same number of hangs on gear, countless anchors, and even a little simple/basic aid, I've NEVER had a placement fail under load in any of those situations.


patto


May 19, 2012, 7:04 AM
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trenchdigger wrote:
It bothers me when new leaders tell me they try not to think about falling when they're leading. It's important to ALWAYS think about falling.

I think you've hit the nail on the head there on what bothers me about some new leaders. I've seen people take a blase attitude toward leading. One girl I know shattered her ankle in a small trad fall. I doubt that she ever thought about falling and the possible consequences.


trenchdigger wrote:
jomagam wrote:
trenchdigger wrote:
Rather than training yourself to deal with fear, train yourself to recognize fear that's driven by actual risk and fear that is not. Differentiating the two will help minimize the irrational fear while your rational fears keep you safe.

One component of actual risk is how much you can trust your pieces. That's why I don't get why many in this thread frown on safe practice falls. Of course you can get overconfident, but that's your problem that you drew the wrong conclusions from your experiment.

Maybe it's the engineer in me, but I've never found it very difficult to assess the quality of a placement. To those that it doesn't come natural to, practice with someone experienced and have them review your placements. Really, the physics is simple.

The most unpredictable factor in the strength of a placement is the rock quality. Still, experience and careful assessment will tell you a lot about that too.

Another poster mentions an unreferenced "BD study" that claims 1 in 10 "good" placements fail. In 9 years of climbing (mostly gear protected) and probably 2-3 dozen lead falls, probably about the same number of hangs on gear, countless anchors, and even a little simple/basic aid, I've NEVER had a placement fail under load in any of those situations.
Completely agree. Also an engineer.

That BD study worries me, the conclusions that it draws is poor science. Pieces don't fail with a random probability. The physics and engineering of climbing gear is well known and understood. A good piece in good rock won't fail.


Partner rgold


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patto wrote:
That BD study worries me, the conclusions that it draws is poor science. Pieces don't fail with a random probability. The physics and engineering of climbing gear is well known and understood. A good piece in good rock won't fail.

I disagree. Saying a good piece in good rock won't fail is simply offering a definition of a good piece. The issue of failure happens when a human being has to judge whether the piece in question is good, and in that situation there is always a non-zero probability of failure.

Given the fact that extremely long runs of a particular outcome are unlikely but possible, the fact that this or that individual has never experienced a failure means nothing in this context, although of course appropriate skill---which is not necessarily the same as experience---can have a big effect on the probability of failure for an individual placer.

The reference to the BD study is wrong on two accounts. First, the study was done by the developer of Metolius cams. Second, he observed a 1 in 20 failure rate for cams judged to be good, but he did make placements in all types of rock and in various conditions, including wet conditions. The color-coding of Metolius cams to help inexperienced people with placements was one of the outcomes of this study.

In any case, this thread is about advice to the beginning trad leader, who is, by virtue of being a beginner, not going to be anywhere near as good as the designer of Metoiius cams in judging good placements. If there is any one thing those climbers should understand clearly, it is that their judgement skills makes the probability of failure of a piece higher than 1 in 20, and they have to adjust their mental game, and their physical skills to that reality.

Not accounted for in this discussion is the the fact that some gear is never bombproof. I think cams in the finger sizes down fall into this category. There is so little difference between good and bad placements in these small sizes that they can never be viewed as bombproof. The skills and practice involved in climbing over gear that will work under certain conditions but is not bombproof is where trad climbing diverges from sport climbing and comes into its own.

I also disagree with those who say that you can't learn how good gear is until you fall on it. Ground-school bounce-testing can tell you an enormous amount about placements, and top-rope practice aid climbing, which also involves vigorous bounce-testing, but also forces the climber to use what they have when the ideal piece may not be available, can give provide a huge increase in judgement abilities.

A further benefit of top-rope aid climbing is that the climber will learn the skills needed to get out of various jams when they happen, and sooner or later something always does happen.


jt512


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rgold wrote:
The reference to the BD study is wrong on two accounts. First, the study was done by the developer of Metolius cams. Second, he observed a 1 in 20 failure rate for cams judged to be good, but he did make placements in all types of rock and in various conditions, including wet conditions. The color-coding of Metolius cams to help inexperienced people with placements was one of the outcomes of this study.

Does anybody here have a copy of this study or know where one can be obtained? These statistics are useless if we can't evaluate how they were produced.

Jay


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Unfortunately, no. I'm reporting the results of a private communication from a third party. The chance that the study met any standard conditions for statistical validity are, I suspect, small. For all I know, he made twenty placements and one pulled, although the impression I got from the letter is that far more placements than that were involved.

I wouldn't ascribe much significance to the 1 in 20 number, although it is nice to have something to wave around when people speak about bombproof cam placements. I wouldn't be even a little surprised if 1 in 20 was right for small cams.

What is significant is that someone with enormous expertise finds, on experimenting, that he cannot always predict that a cam placement is good. That is all any beginner (or any expert, for that matter) needs to know in terms of calibrating their own approach to safety questions.


(This post was edited by rgold on May 19, 2012, 12:03 PM)


bandycoot


May 19, 2012, 12:29 PM
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Re: [rgold] Advice to the beginning trad leader around falling - don't [In reply to]
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I wouldn't ascribe much significance to the 1 in 20 number, although it is nice to have something to wave around when people speak about bombproof cam placements.

So.... if I've had less than 1/20 fail in many many more falls than 20, is my judgement better than average? Wink

Did that study make it in one of the magazines at some point? Those results seem familiar, and I seem to remember being skeptical of them then. I understand the point for new leaders: gear will pull sometimes when you least expect it. I've had it happen to me exactly once. But, if someone has sound judgement then "good" gear will not be pulling 5% of the time...

From my experience, and my friend's, that's a very inflated number. I've climbed/fallen a lot on all rock types, dry, wet, have whipped on 00 TCU's, taken 40' falls on less than optimal placements, and I've only had 3 pieces pull on me ever in a lead fall:

1. A piton on Romantic Warrior, it was somewhat expected that if i fell the thing would pull.
2. A #2 TCU under that same piton on Romantic Warrior (It was a good fall!). I placed it blind at my ankle quickly on the onsight attempt and inspecting the placement on the way back up I saw it was totally bunk. I in no way judged it to be "good," I was just trying to get anything at that point.
3. A "perfectly" placed #3 TCU in Arapiles. Wow was that a surprise. My one and only "factor 2" fall in my climbing career and it wasn't fun.

My friends who also fall on gear, although possibly less than I do, have had even fewer pieces fail on them and most of those were probably known to be marginal when they went in.

If you throw around statistics that aren't scientifically gathered (I know, essentially impossible to gather real experimental data in climbing) then it might hurt your argument as opposed to strengthen it.

I completely agree with your last paragraph, and think that's a much better argument when trying to convince a new trad climber to be careful than the number.

Josh


(This post was edited by bandycoot on May 19, 2012, 12:30 PM)


patto


May 19, 2012, 3:01 PM
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Re: [rgold] Advice to the beginning trad leader around falling - don't [In reply to]
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rgold wrote:
What is significant is that someone with enormous expertise finds, on experimenting, that he cannot always predict that a cam placement is good.

Then the most relevant conclusions to draw here aren't about cam failure, it is about ONE individual's ability to assess gear.

I believe I could place and test 100 pieces and all 100 pieces would hold. A bomber piece WILL hold. It is all about your ability to asses pieces. At least 50% of my gear I place on lead would ft into this category. But it really is climb and rock dependent.

That is not to say every piece I place on a climb will hold. I lead an 'X' rated route a couple months ago which I felt was safer than indicated. Even still my first 3 pieces over 10m off the belay were small, I would give them 80% chance of holding. It wasn't until I placed a "big" 0.3 C4 that I felt I could breath easy.


I've fallen on and weighted gear many dozens of times. I've NEVER had gear pull. Also I pretty much don't climb sport, only trad.


(This post was edited by patto on May 19, 2012, 3:36 PM)

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