Consider a vertical rock face with clip-ins 3 meters apart, dynamic rope, no more than 15 meters ascent.

I guess most probable and dangerous is to fall just as one is clipping in. This way the rope is overextended, plus one i holding with only one hand.

How dangerous is it for a for a beginner climber to fall? What protection equipment should be used. What training exercises should be completed beforehand?

  • 4
    Note: when you fall while clipping in, you fall 3m to the previous anchor + 3m to the lower anchor because you have 3m of "free" rope + some distance due to rope elasticity.
    – Steed
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:00
  • 1
    Is this trad, or sport?
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:12
  • There are anchors, but no carabiners (I am not sure for the term.)
    – Vorac
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:34
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    can I ask, are you asking this question in general, or are you personally trying to get into lead climbing yourself? The answer is (I don't mean to be rude), it could be VERY dangerous (bordering on stupid) for a total beginning climber to try and take a lead fall, or it could be fine. An actual beginning climber should be learning how to toprope first, probably. Do you mean to ask how a climber who had never lead before would get into leading?
    – DavidR
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 18:10
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    @Vorac: There are anchors, but no carabiners. Meaning it's got bolts but you're bringing your own quickdraws? That would be sport. Reading between the lines here, the mistake pointed out by Steed plus your uncertainty about terminology and types of climbing suggests to me that you may getting in over your head. Usually people do a lot of climbing on top-rope, then learn to lead belay, then try lead climbing on routes that are many grades below what they climb on top-rope. (E.g., my current level on top-rope in the gym is 5.9-10, but I've never led outdoors over 5.3.)
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


How dangerous is it to fall 3 meters when lead climbing?

This depends a lot on the fall factor. Counterintuitively, the fall factor is higher, indicating a more dangerous fall, when you are near the beginning of a pitch. This is because there's less rope out, so there's less stretchiness.

As Steed's comment points out, you're going to fall more than 6 m in this situation, not 3 m. After you get your first clip in, you may have a false sense of security; by the time you're reaching for the second clip (which is 6 m up in the situation you've described), you have enough rope out so that if you miss the clip and fall, you're going to hit the deck.

Different falls can have different run-outs. A fall from an overhang is actually the safest, since you can't hit anything. Depending on the route, you could swing like a pendulum, or slide down a slab and get cheese-grater injuries.

What protection equipment should be used.

A helmet. If you're trad climbing, that's a whole different thing -- we'd be talking about a trad rack.

What training exercises should be completed beforehand?

Start by learning to give a lead belay, and practice doing that enough times so that you understand the whole process well. Learn by watching your climber while belaying. Discuss things verbally with your climber. Help your climber catch mistakes.

Learn not to back-clip, z-clip, put your thumb through the biner, or back-step the rope. Spend some time at home practicing clipping efficiently in a variety of positions with a quickdraw hanging on a doorknob.

If you do fall, absorb the impact against the wall with your legs, and don't grab the rope.

Learn the steps involved when you get to the top of a sport climb. This is actually pretty complicated.

There are some advantages to learning to lead in a gym. For example, the routes tend to be constructed so that the run-outs are very safe, there is no danger from rock-fall, and you don't have to worry about the quality of your anchors.

  • +1 for mentioning different scenarios. Only injure I've ever had was a pendulum swing where my ankle got stuck in the belayer's rope.
    – Roflo
    Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 20:31
  • Can you please describe what you mean by "put your thumb through the biner"?
    – devth
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 23:47
  • OP mentions 15m ascent (meaning they fall from 15m above the ground, I assume). If they fall 6m I fail to see how they’re going to deck.
    – Darren
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 3:32
  • Regarding "training exercises": you missed the most obvious one, - deliberate falling while leading in the gym.
    – anatolyg
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 8:02

I wanted to mention two additional scenarios not covered by Ben Crowell's great answer.

  • When it is possible to fall past the belayer (on a multi-pitch climb, or when getting to the start of a climb involves a scramble or stepping out onto the face,) the fall factor is the greatest. In those cases the old mantra "the leader must not fall" still very much applies. If you fall past your belayer without having clipped any protection yet, you are experiencing a factor 2 fall (falling twice the distance of the length of rope out), which can create enough force to break climbing equipment, rip bolts or protection out of the wall, and cause serious injuries or death to you and your climbing partner, even if you fall for just a very short distance.
    (To prevent this scenario, place a piece of protection as soon as possible. Until then, don't fall!)

  • When you are clipping to gear that is above your tie-in-point, you can fall even further than twice the distance to your last piece.

    You clipped the first bolt, which was 15 feet (4.6 m) above ground, now you are standing 4 feet (1.2 m) above the first bolt and within reach of the second bolt, which was only 10 feet (3 m) past the first. Clipping involves lifting the rope 4 feet (1.2m) from your tie-in-point. At first thought you should be fine, right? You are standing just four feet (1.2 m) above your last piece, and the first clip was after 15 feet (4.6m.) In fact this is a very dangerous situation. When you are just about to clip, the actual amount of rope out is: 15 feet to the first bolt, 10 feet to the next bolt, and 4 feet back down to your tie-in-point, totaling 29 feet of rope, plus maybe a foot of rope of slack your belayer is giving you plus rope stretch that will occur during your fall. In this scenario you could fall 14-19 feet (4.2-5.8 m) past your last piece which is going to result in a ground fall !!!
    (To prevent this scenario, avoid clipping to something that is higher than your shoulders, and, whenever possible, clip when your protection is near or past your tie-in-point.)

Climbing is full of little surprises like this (force multiplications, the physics of pendulum falls, the zipper effect, factor 2 falls... to just name a few.) I am all for figuring stuff out myself, but with climbing I highly recommend learning from a climber with several years of experience, or taking a class. Just reading a book or post on a Q&A site is not going to be enough to stay safe until you have a very thorough understanding of everything involved.

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    +1 especially for explaining why it is a bad idea to clip a bolt as soon as you can barely reach it. I see that way too often.
    – Mr.Wizard
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 16:22
  • Very nice example! Also with short distances between bolts (like in the gym) I am always most careful before clipping the second time. Before the first it's like bouldering (and you should spot your partner while he isn't secured to the wall). After that, it's a tricky situation.
    – Wills
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 17:03

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