Falling in Sport Lead Climbing - Inhibitor or Enabler


Note that falling in a climbing gym can be dangerous. Here are some scenarios:
+ we fail our first clip and fall on the ground or on our belayer,
+ we fail our second clip and again, we can fall on the ground or on our belayer. In this scenario the impact force on the first bolt and our gear is highest, with a fall factor (length of fall over length of rope out), close or equal 1, if the climber's fall stops short above the ground. This can happen if the distance between the ground and the first draw is the same as the distance between the first and the second draw, and the climber falls from the second draw close to the ground (length of fall = length of rope out). To mitigate a ground fall or a fall factor of 1, the second draw is placed closer to the first draw, while a belayer's soft catch and the dynamic rope stretch help reducing the impact force (give & flex),
+ we skip to clip the third draw, and fall at the fourth draw. We hit the ground or our belayer and this is going to be very painful!!! This is the case when the distance between the ground and the second draw is the same as the distance between the second and the fourth draw. If the climber's fall stops short above the ground, the fall factor is again close or equal to 1 and the impact force needs to be absorbed by the second bolt, the rope, the climber's and belayer's bodies and harnesses, and the belay system,
+ we can hit a big hold (ledge) and/or fall onto a slab,
+ our fall can turn into a 90° pendulum swing with a hard landing and impact against the wall, e.g. when traversing sideways away from the vertical wall,
+ we need to be aware of the 4 hazards, which materialize during a fall: skipped clip, back clip, Z-clip, rope behind our leg.
+ imagine a straight line down from the first clip. You should stand within a distance of three feet maximum from that line. Standing further away adds more slack and increases the length of a fall,
+ make sure your climber doesn't fall on you,
+ I personally find it an excellent practice to spot my lead climber until the rope is correctly clipped through the first draw,
+ if the climber falls, make a soft catch,
+ be present during the entire climb. If you don't see your climber (lead cave scenario) and your climber falls, feel the pull, go with the fall for a soft catch,
+ remember after a climb with falls to switch the end of the rope for belaying and climbing.
+ don't fall after pulling out rope for clipping!: before you start pulling rope out for clipping, maintain three point contact, maximize the weight on your feet (center of gravity above your feet), with your body perfectly balanced, the draw you clip positioned between your hips and lips,
+ be aware of the 4 hazards at all times,
+ use commands such as "watch me", "falling" to prompt your belayer. Using the signals “clipping” and “clipped” helps the belayer, too,
+ don't force a clip if you are exhausted, arms and/or legs shaking: prompt your belayer, let go and fall,
+ don't force your way up a difficult route. Take breaks, relax. Your falls are better with a relaxed body and mind.

While the situations described above are dramatic, to be safe in rock climbing it is always important to consider the worst case scenario. I personally witnessed in a climbing gym the ground fall of a climber, who failed clipping the fourth draw. I wasn't part of this climbing party, luckily. I could do the math, I was very sorry for the climber and the broken ankle, and, since that day, the rule 'to never skip a clip' became hardwired in my brain.


If I partner up with a person for the first time on a climb, it is in my view important to address and have a conversation about belaying and falling. There might be a significant difference in body weight between me and my belayer. If my belayer is much lighter than I am, I can suggest to practice catching and taking some falls. I can climb an easy route, take some falls by starting below my last clip, then level, then above my last clip. It is in my view an important conversation to have, leaving my belayer the final call.
The conversation can also include a discussion on whether the belayer should use an anchor.
As new climbing partners we need to develop a relationship based on mutual trust.
My new climbing partner should feel confident and comfortable in belaying and catching me when I fall.

I would like to share an excellent REI video and article on falling while lead climbing:
Note that in this video the belayer uses an ATC (Air Traffic Control) tube style belay device. I personally use a GriGri, which is an assisted braking device.
How To Fall | REI Co-op Journal