Kevin Avery taking good care to avoid rope drag on the colossal (50 metre) stamina pitch of Priez Pour Nous (8b), Sector Tennessee, Gorge Du Tarn, France. Note the very long sling with which the bolt on the left has been clipped.
Extending protection correctly on the lead is an absolutely vital skill to both trad and sport climbing. In this article we explain why, where, and how gear should bve extended.
There are three good reasons to extend your runners:
1. Preventing Rope Drag
The obvious reason to extend gear is to prevent the dreaded rope-drag. Even if the rope is rubbing slightly against an edge such as the lip of a roof or arête, add a few such obstacles together and you’ll eventually struggle to move at all. Apart from making upward progress tortuous, it makes bringing up your second really hard work and can easily lead to communication problems.
A less obvious, but more dangerous aspect of rope-drag is the fact that it will increase the impact force on your gear should you fall. It is easy to be lulled into a sense of safety by rope drag in that it makes you feel more connected to the rock, but each rub point reduces the amount of force that can be absorbed by the rope. For example, if you fell 1m, with 50m of unmolested rope out, the fall factor would be a piffling 0.02. Fall factor is a measure of how much force is exerted onto your gear in a fall, it is calculated by taking the distance fallen and divided it by the amount of rope available to absorb that fall. The smaller the number, the safer you are. If you were to take the same fall, but just below the crucial gear there was a point where the rope was rubbing, the fall factor would increase dramatically, as the amount of rope available to take the full impact would be reduced.
2. Preventing Gear Dislodgement
Without basic extenders, piece of gear such as wires and slings over spikes lift out incredibly easily, and they’re not much use if they don’t stay in. Gear doesn't have to lift out for it to be useless, camming devices can easily walk within a crack to positions where they will not hold a fall, and need extending too.
3. Relocating The Pivotal Point
If any of these points are new to you, this will probably be it. First of all, what exactly is meant by the pivotal point? What I’m calling a pivotal point is not really a point, but more accurately a locus or fulcrum. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to treat it like a fixed point. The pivotal point is where your lead rope connects to the top piece of protection; there will of course be movement by the point, but we’re not going to worry about it. The location of this point will determine the angle and path of the fall trajectory, and that’s what’s critical.
Avoiding The Slam
There are no reliable accident statistics to back this up, but it seems likely that the majority of lead climbing injuries are caused not by a climber pulling out all their gear and hitting the ground, but by taking a fall and slamming violently into the rock. This is particularly true in sport climbing. A swing will result when the downward force is converted into a lateral force. Situations where this will result are: falling off on a traverse, or on steep terrain – basically in any situation where the top ‘pivotal point’ is not directly beneath the climber.
Nic Sellars taking the huge fall from the crux of 'Chupacabra' (E8 6c) in Huntsman's Leap, Pembroke. Notice the long extender on the higher of the two runners on the left hand rope (the first to take the load of the fall). This extender has the effect of relocating the pivotal point of the fall away from the rock, thus giving Nic a safe and comfortable catch zone.
Anyone who has used a single karabiner to clip a bolt on a sport route – and fallen off onto it – will testify that even a short quickdraw makes an enormous difference to the amount of force with which you slam into the rock. Clipping in with just a single karabiner should be avoided if at all possible – especially on the first clip where it is most often employed.
The use of extenders will move the pivotal point closer to the falling climber and away from the rock, reducing the force with which the climber impacts the rock. The position of the belayer is critical in this. If the belayer is directly underneath the protection, the extenders will not make any difference. The belayer must be positioned away from the fall trajectory for extension of gear to make a difference to the impact of a fall.
As the belayer will be absorbing some of the fall energy and lateral ‘swing’, it may be a good idea to place a ground anchor to prevent them being dragged off their feet, though the ability to give a dynamic belay will be of crucial importance in reducing the impact force even more.
A wide range of slings (click here for the range of slings available from planetFear) and medium to long quickdraws are essential kit for all but the simplest lines. (Click here to browse the quickdraws available from planetFear). It is also worth considering investing in some DMM Revolver karabiners which are specifically designed to reduce rope drag, and can be used on those 'drag-critical' runners underneath overhangs, or at the beginning of traverses.
Extending gear is well recognised for the benefits of reducing rope-drag and preventing gear from lifting out, but as we have seen, there are more creative ways that extending gear can be used to prevent injuries. The crucial point is to always pay close attention to extending gear, and always extend before making a traverse, or going through a roof.
Three useful related articles on planetFear:
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