Falling leader – the leader must not fall?

Falling leader.

In the old days there was a saying “ the leader must not fall” These were the days before good protection in winter and summer climbing . In these very early days gear was poor and climbers were very bold. Nowadays the gear is so good that climbers can climb so hard and if the protection is good many can take falls and the gear will hold. That is the way standards have improved dramatically

Even when I started climbing we were taught that you must not fall. Belaying was basic there were no belay devices and you practiced falling leader. On our annual summer rock-climbing course we would use a tyre and it was thrown of the crag simulating a climber taking a lead fall.

Looking back it was horrific and as a young 8 stone wimp I was terrified watching the tyre flash past. You held the rope in these days by friction round your body. Often jackets and gloves were ruined by the friction burns. Some failed to hold or stop the tyre and the as the weight hit the body there were more than a few injuries. A few knees were injured and others it put them off of climbing for life. It did make you aware of what may occur and the shock load on a belay.

Thankfully things have moved on! We have belay devices and great gear that will take a fall if placed properly and your belay is strong.

In winter I remember in my early days a gentle “shove” on a snow slope to ensure you knew how to ice axe break. Also we practised ice axe breaking in crampons at one time. That was scary and again injuries were common and it could put you off winter climbing. Thankfully these training methods are long gone. Yet we did learn from them?

Climbing is a lot safer today there are far fewer accidents nowadays. Yet even on the late 70’s and early 80’s we would come across accidents in the big cliffs when we were climbing . Some were serious and we in these days knew most of the climbers. We had to use the gear we had to get a climber to a safer spot and there was a lot of adaptation on a Rescue then.

Looking back we did some big climbing accidents on the North west, Skye, Glencoe, Ben Nevis, Glen Clova, Cairngorms and a few on the smaller cliffs Polldubh Dunkeld and our local sea cliffs. My time in Wales was the same in Ogwen on the Idwal Slabs, Tryfan and Y Lliwedd and Snowdon. We were climbing a lot and seemed to be there or there about’s when accidents happened.

I watch the teams now so organised with all the new gear. Yet how many folk does it take to get all that gear to a big remote cliff when there is limited helicopter support in poor weather? Often we improvised moving casualties especially in winter to safer ground just using out climbing ropes and gear.

Thankfully things have changed I rarely climb nowadays but things seem so much safer. Yet a lot of the old tips are still valid.

Today’s tips – never pass a good runner even on easy ground.

Check your holds tap test.

Abseiling – check belay check each other especially in the dark it’s easy to make a mistake. No matter how much of a rock/ice god you are?

Fingers Ridge Cairngorm

Comments welcome as always !

Pete Kirkpatrick / I recall a poor lad having a spiral leg fracture on falling tyre/leader on the 1966 MR Summer. Those huge leather gauntlets we wore weren’t designed for brain surgery for a reason. I have a memory of ‘Escaping from the System’ JSRCI assessment using body belays and my filed efforts to hold a Navy 15 stone guy who was hanging on the rope. I failed.

Andy Woolstone – I also don’t agree that people claim they need to fall off to progress. I never actually went out to fall off a route, but I got myself into a position where I trusted my gear and ability to be able to progress. That allowed me to climb close to my limit and sometimes i pulled it off and climbed great routes, other times I took big falls but learned a lot.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Falling leader – the leader must not fall?

  1. Thankfully l was never subjected to the “tyre”. The falling leader rig at Plas Y Brenin Outdoor Activites Center was scary enough on RAF MR Summer Courses, as was the sliding leader with the deadman as your belay on Winter Courses. As you say Heavy, things have improved greatly over the years with regards to climbing kit and clothing. I remember absailing down the TD Gap on the Sky Ridge @1978 with the “yellow peril” belt and a sling to form legloops using the semi classic absail. Rope burn on my neck as my jacket moved under the rope. Used the Alpine Hitch after that episode.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting story about the tyre that was thrown of the crag simulating a climber taking a lead fall.

    My motto, in trad climbing is always to make sure i minimise the risk of a fall. I always try to push a bit more, but never far beyond my actual limiti. Step-by-step, I manage to get better, but always with calculated risk.

    Thanks for sharing this very interesting story from the past.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.