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soft catch
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By Greg D
From Here
Nov 30, 2012
Out of the blue.  Photo by Mike W. <br />

michaeltarne wrote:
Hey Greg, have you ever tried it in real life? It's not that hard and it does make a difference, at least based upon my years of experience.


Yes I have. And it does feel a little nicer. But what are you trying to accomplish? Many people believe they are reducing the force on the top piece when in fact they aren't.

Perhaps there are some other benefits and I'm not saying don't do it.


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By kennoyce
From Layton, UT
Nov 30, 2012
Climbing at the Gallery in Red Rocks

Greg D wrote:
Yes I have. And it does feel a little nicer. But what are you trying to accomplish? Many people believe they are reducing the force on the top piece when in fact they aren't. Perhaps there are some other benefits and I'm not saying don't do it.


I don't think this is necessarily true. Generally soft catches are given in sport climbing where reducing the force on that bomber 3/8" or 1/2" bolt really doesn't matter at all. A soft catch just makes the fall more comfortable for the faller.

If you are worried about the forces on the top piece, a soft catch certainly won't hurt anything, and you might just get lucky and get that timing just right thereby reducing the peak force.

Personally I'd like to see some data on this because having received many hard and soft catches I know that the soft catches feel much softer (imagine that) which to me seems to indicate a reduction in the peak force.


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By michaeltarne
Nov 30, 2012

I've never done it in a trad setting; soft catches are great when you're doing steeper sport stuff and your belayer is heavier than you are (which is most of the time for me.)


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By Jon Zucco
From Denver, CO
Nov 30, 2012
yaak crack Red Rock Canyon, NV

Just soak your rope in a bucket of bleach for a couple of hours to soften it up.

disclaimer: don't do this.


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By rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 30, 2012
The traverse out to the Yellow Ridge on the Dogstick Ridge link-up.  Photo by Myriam Bouchard

As is typical for many terms in the climbing world, "soft catch" is not well-defined. Usually, the goal is to reduce the peak load on the leader in a sport-climbing context, and I think nowadays the most common method is the one referred to on UK climbng: stand far away from the cliff and step, walk, or jog forward as the fall happens.

Presumably, this allows some rope to run through the system with some resistance from the belayer (although not enough to lift the belayer). Friction in the system then dissipates some fall energy, requiring the rope to stretch a little less and so impart lower peak impact loads. In sport climbing, the strength of the anchors is not in question and the soft catch is meant to be more comfortable for the falling leader. It may be that the subjective experience of "more comfort" is related to the time-attenuation of the fall arrest rather than a change in the peak load.

It should be obvious that the amount of fall energy actually dissipated by this method is going to vary tremendously with the particular circumstances of the climb and the actions of the belayer, which are time-critical. I don't think there is any reasonable hope that you could dial this method (or the hopping method) to any specifics of the climb and climbers; the amount of variation in the system is going to be far greater than any adjustments the belayer tries.

Hopping has also been used. The mechanism is basically the same one as with stepping forward, although the belayer's weight provides more resistance and so higher frictional dissipation of fall energy. The work done is raising the belayer does not seem to be a significant factor, except perhaps for the first foot or so, according to CAI tests.

The timing of the hop is very critical, and mis-timing it can actually lead to higher loads rather than the desired lower ones. I have seen a paper in German on these issues several years ago that documented decreased loads with a well-timed hop and increased loads with some mis-timed hops. (Belayer was using a Grigri.)

It would be interesting to see if belayers can consistently reduce loads by either of these methods. I rather suspect not, but I have no evidence other than a robust faith in human fallibility, especially when split-second timing is required.

There may be occasions, in both sport and trad climbing, to simply add slack to the belay. These have to do with short falls on overhanging rock with nothing to hit below. A short fall can produce a nasty pendulum into the rock face, resulting in a broken ankle or two for the leader. Adding slack produces a longer fall, and with the rock face now further away, the leader is spared the unpleasant pendulum impact. Analogously, a short fall on pro just above the lip of an overhang can pendulum the leader's head into the lip; better to let them fall a little further.

Adding slack in these circumstances increases the peak impact load for sub-fall-factor-1 falls, but the trade-off could be worth it in in terms of what happens to the leader otherwise. However, the jump and step-in methods also introduce extra slack as well as burning off some fall energy, so they would in general be preferable to simply giving extra slack. I'd be inclined to jump to reduce pendulum impact but give extra slack (and jump---the two aren't mutually exclusive) when a fall over a roof threatens a head impact for the leader. The reason for extra slack in the latter case is to make absolutely sure the leader clears the roof. Of course, there can't be anything to hit below with this method.

As bearbreeder mentions, using the step-in method in a trad climbing context is potentially disastrous, since it is quite likely to zipper the entire system from the bottom up. I wouldn't even think about doing this unless the first piece was some multi-directional monster that isn't going to come out or even reorient under any circumstances.

The original dynamic belay was invented, studied, and advocated by Arnold Wexlar and Richard Leonard in the late 1940's and early 1950's, and required the belayer to release some rope in a controlled slide through the belay, which in those days was a hip belay. Arnold and Leonard made the first mathematical analysis of belay-chain loads, calculated how much rope should run under tension, and followed up with tests with a 150 pound weight and human belayers. For perhaps fifteen years, most aspiring climbers learned dynamic belaying technique by catching sometimes very high fall-factor drops of a weight. (I learned on a system that was basically the current UIAA standard.)

The idea of purposely allowing the rope to slip has now gone out of fashion, and there is no question that without practice, you stand almost no chance of doing this effectively and are most likely to just lose control. On the other hand, for a belayer on a trad climb who is forced to belay off bad anchors, a dynamic belay in the old-fashioned sense may be the only thing that will save the party if the leader falls without intermediate pro.


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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Nov 30, 2012
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.

So the best method for giving a soft catch is to leave a little slack out. Correct? This doesn't require split second timing and is always there in case of a fall.


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By OldManRiver
From Cottonwood Heights, UT
Nov 30, 2012
Red Rock, Cannibal crag

Greg D wrote:
Yes I have. And it does feel a little nicer. But what are you trying to accomplish? Many people believe they are reducing the force on the top piece when in fact they aren't. Perhaps there are some other benefits and I'm not saying don't do it.


jumping extends the time between fall and peak load. if you don't jump you have quicker peak load and more of a shock to the climber.

like cars with crumple zones.. I'm not sure about peak force but the extension of the time it takes to go from Xmph to 0mph is what saves lives, reduces whiplash severity, etc.

amirite or amirite?


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By kennoyce
From Layton, UT
Nov 30, 2012
Climbing at the Gallery in Red Rocks

Stich wrote:
So the best method for giving a soft catch is to leave a little slack out. Correct? This doesn't require split second timing and is always there in case of a fall.


nope, this doesn't soften the catch at all (in fact it makes the catch harder). This does work if you are just trying to keep a climber from swinging into the wall, but it's not a "soft catch".


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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Nov 30, 2012
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.

kennoyce wrote:
nope, this doesn't soften the catch at all (in fact it makes the catch harder). This does work if you are just trying to keep a climber from swinging into the wall, but it's not a "soft catch".


Uh, no. Having no slack between you and the falling leader makes the catch the hardest.


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By rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 30, 2012
The traverse out to the Yellow Ridge on the Dogstick Ridge link-up.  Photo by Myriam Bouchard

Putting extra slack in the belay rope increases the fall factor for fall factors less than 1 and decreases the fall factor for fall factors greater than 1. So for sub-fall-factor-1 falls the peak load goes up, whereas for above-fall-factor-1 falls the peak load goes down.


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By kennoyce
From Layton, UT
Nov 30, 2012
Climbing at the Gallery in Red Rocks

Stich wrote:
Uh, no. Having no slack between you and the falling leader makes the catch the hardest.


Uh, no. Say you have a leader who is 100 ft up the wall and 10 feet above his last piece of pro, he falls off so he falls 20 feet (ignoring rope stretch) which gives a fall factor of .2. Now take the same scenario, but we'll say that the belayer has a hero loop out with 5 feet of slack added to the system. Now the climber falls 25 feet with 105 feet of rope out which INCREASES the fall factor to .24. Any increase in the fall factor means that the catch will be harder.

edit to add: looks like rgold beat me to it.


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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Nov 30, 2012
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.

kennoyce wrote:
edit to add: looks like rgold beat me to it.


And he explains it more fully. I was only referrring to the situation where you want to avoid an ankle injury.


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By kennoyce
From Layton, UT
Nov 30, 2012
Climbing at the Gallery in Red Rocks

Stich wrote:
And he explains it more fully. I was only referrring to the situation where you want to avoid an ankle injury.


and I'm mearly pointing out that adding slack to the system is not providing a "soft catch". Yes it can be helpful for avoiding slamming into the wall and should be in your bag of tricks, but we should really stop perpetuating the idea that having additional slack in the system will give a soft catch.


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By Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Nov 30, 2012
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.

OldManRiver wrote:
jumping extends the time between fall and peak load. if you don't jump you have quicker peak load and more of a shock to the climber. like cars with crumple zones.. I'm not sure about peak force but the extension of the time it takes to go from Xmph to 0mph is what saves lives, reduces whiplash severity, etc. amirite or amirite?


yurrite.


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By rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 30, 2012
The traverse out to the Yellow Ridge on the Dogstick Ridge link-up.  Photo by Myriam Bouchard

OldManRiver wrote:
jumping extends the time between fall and peak load. if you don't jump you have quicker peak load and more of a shock to the climber...amirite or amirite?


If "time between fall and peak load" was what mattered, then longer falls would result in lower peak loads.


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By bearbreeder
Nov 30, 2012

fellow MPers ... it aint rocket science ... as anyone who falls and gives enough catches in the gym or on sport will know

1. does a "soft catch" reduce the force on gear? ... i dont care at this point .. what i DO care about is me not SLAMMING into a wall .. a hard catch WILL slam you into the wall and not just on overhangs ... a belayer that sits down even on vertical or slightly slabby climbs can SLAM you into the wall ... ive had it happen several times ... and have had friends with broken ankles because of it

hint ... NEVER asks for a "take" if you are more than a foot or two above a bolt unless its a grund/ledge fall ... youll get slammed into the wall

what i CAN say is that a person sitting down giving a HARD catch can blow out gear ...

2. either jump or step in depending on the position of the belayer ... there are many factors such as

... a. obviously the belayer shouldnt jump under an overhang and smack their head

... b. stepping in is useful for giving slack quick for clipping but can be risky for lighter people because they can get pulled in hard and slam into the wall

... c. for trad almost always jump and dont stand far away ... ive had a cam zipper out before because my belayer was standing at a bery bad angle

3. you dont need much slack to give a soft belayer as per the UKC article ... however some slack does allow for reaction time ... no slack might not allow the belayer to jump in time especially of they cant see the climber

4. if you belayer is lighter, just tell em to let themselves get pulled up normally (not sit down unless its the first few bolts and they are much ligher) ... the belay will be dynamic regardless .. no real need to step in or jump very much

5. if you are much heavier, you need to pay very close attention as your climber can get hurt with a "hard catch"

6. if you are on a multi you can still give "dynamic belays" ... it requires you to tie in long so that you can jump, or let yrself get pulled up ... have a good upward piece in this case ... this is a good idea on steep multi pitches ...

7. a gri gri or other such assisted locker makes giving soft catches EASIER IMO ... it allows you to focus on the catch and reduces the chance of you being smacked into the wall or overhang and losing control ... sport climbers use gri gris alot for a reason, and it aint because they arent hardcore 5.7 trad climbers ;)

8. be CERTAIN of your belayer and the catches ... i almost always take a look at the route and tell my belayer what catches i want where ... in the gym its "keep me tight to 3 bolts up, after that if i fall, jump" ... or something similar ...

every good belayer should know how and when to give a "soft catch" .. and when to do the grit thing, pull out on the cleats and run back ...

basically newer belayers fall into 2 types ... 1.those who are so effing scared of dropping their partner that they short rope em and sit down with every catch, trad climbers like this who never take falls can do this for years because they may never even catch/take a real big fall ... 2.or those who develop the bad gym habit of standing very far away from the wall and gives loads of slack even on the first few bolts

like i said ... go to the gym .. and practice falling and catching ... over and over and over again ...


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By camhead
From Vandalia, Appalachia
Nov 30, 2012
You stay away from mah pig!

Greg D wrote:
In order to make any impact reducing the peak load you would have to jump at the precise nano second before the peak load. This would be just as the rope is starting to stretch but before it has come completely taught. So you would have to be starring at the leader ready to react with ninja like reflexes and time the precise moment right before the peak load. To put it in perspective, a free falling body falls 16 feet in one second. So a 16 foot fall from start to finish will only take slightly more than one second because of the deceleration time. If you blink your eyes for a fraction of a second you are too late I believe rgold has done some testing and found little or no evidence jumping does anything to reduce peak loads. The best thing you could do is use ropes with low impact ratings, use atc's vs grigris, give with your body a little, or climb with skinny chicks. Jump on!. Jump on!


I don't think that the purpose of jumping (or soft catches in general) is to "reduce peak loads." It is to prevent the climber from swinging into the wall too violently.

And don't automatically assume that just because the belayer is light, it will be a soft catch. I weight about 165; my wife is 115. I recently took a large fall from a vertical section onto a slab which, because I pulled gear, required her to go from soft catch to hard catch in a fraction of a second, which she managed to do (though my foot got broken in the process, ugh).


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By 20 kN
From Hawaii
Dec 1, 2012

csproul wrote:
Introducing extra slack in the rope before the fall is NOT the way to do it. This increases the force (for FF<1) instead of reducing it.

Precisely. I dont know why so many people think this is the route to go, that is complete horse crap, it does nothing useful.

camhead wrote:
I don't think that the purpose of jumping (or soft catches in general) is to "reduce peak loads." It is to prevent the climber from swinging into the wall too violently.


Also correct. A soft belay will reduce the load on the top piece. But in a sport climbing scenario, that doesent really matter. What matters is not breaking your leg when you swing back in to the wall at the end of the fall. A soft catch will help prevent that from happening.


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By OldManRiver
From Cottonwood Heights, UT
Dec 1, 2012
Red Rock, Cannibal crag

rgold wrote:
If "time between fall and peak load" was what mattered, then longer falls would result in lower peak loads.


  • time between initial load and peak load NOT time between fall and peak load.

I'm usually heavier than the climber so this topic is something I have to be careful about.

bearbreeder nails it. The thread is soft catch, not peak load modulation.


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By rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 1, 2012
The traverse out to the Yellow Ridge on the Dogstick Ridge link-up.  Photo by Myriam Bouchard

OldManRiver wrote:
*time between initial load and peak load NOT time between fall and peak load.

If time between initial load and peak load was what mattered, then a long fall at a given fall factor would have a lower peak load than a short fall at the same fall factor, since the time between initial load and peak load is longer for the longer fall.

But falls at a given fall factor result in approximately the same load.

OldManRiver wrote:
The thread is soft catch, not peak load modulation.

Ok, fair enough, so how do you measure the softness of a catch? Why does the falling climber think the catch was "softer?"


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By OldManRiver
From Cottonwood Heights, UT
Dec 1, 2012
Red Rock, Cannibal crag

my eyes are bleeding.


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By Finn the Human
From The Land of Ooo
Dec 2, 2012
Mathematical!

rgold wrote:
Why does the falling climber think the catch was "softer?"


Seems to me that it's all about rate of deceleration. If someone falls and their belayer sits down, the climber is going to swing pretty hard into the rock, decelerating much more quickly than if the belayer gives a soft catch.

By the way, I thought this had already been covered earlier in the thread...


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By Tyson Taylor
Jan 15, 2013
maple canyon climb, first ice climb

Squat down a bit if it feels like they're about to fall, make sure to have enough slack for them to make the next move/piece, and allow them to pull you to a standing position with some assistance, glide into a little hop at the end but not a full on leap to the first bolt like what often happens in the gym... Don't sit down after they fall, but before so there is room to soften the catch, or steer them away from hitting things.

I worry that people who jump with every fall often mistime it and make the fall worse, or unnecessarily far, scaring their poor climber, or decking/ledging them.

Also, if I'm giving them a little bit of slack I'll keep the weight of my feeding hand on it, so I can resist a little when they fall, not gripping the rope, but weighting it downwards until they reach to clip. I imagine that it might reduce the load ~20-30 lbs in addition to squat-rising when appropriate. It's more important to keep them from hitting stuff than it is to give them a soft tug on the harness. Sometimes that means softening the fall, sometimes stiffening. Consider your options(gear/obstacles etc.) before they fall. If they climber is scanning the climb for beta, so should the belayer. I have scars from belayers giving a "soft catch", when it might have been better to have kept me from hitting the ledge. (It's just as important to know how to fall properly)


Wear a glove. Input appreciated.


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By Unassigned User
Jan 15, 2013

Just get a belay girl, they are light enough you pull them in the air everytime. Refuse to belay them because you would "only be able to give them a hard catch". Bam! Free belays!

Disclaimer, this won't work.


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By John Wilder
From Las Vegas, NV
Jan 15, 2013

rgold wrote:
Ok, fair enough, so how do you measure the softness of a catch? Why does the falling climber think the catch was "softer?"


A soft catch feels soft because the climber doesnt suddenly hit the end of the rope and swing into the wall, smashing his/her ankles. Its soft because at the moment you should swing, you go straight down instead.

From a load perspective, i doubt it changes what the bolt sees (but who really cares about that, anyway- its a bolt)- but what the climber feels (landing on the end of a dynamic rope in a straight line vs swinging on a tight line into a wall).


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