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What are the chances of falling and turning upside down, with your head down. Is the gear special from preventing such falls?

  • @ldgorman I saw with my own eyes a guy do a full somersault in a gym on top rope. His hands slipped on overhang, but feet (unfortunately) held for a while. Luckily, he never hit anything while doing this. – IMil Jun 12 at 1:28
16

It happened to me. I was the belayer, and it was a slab.

The leader panicked before reaching the next bolt and started to walk backwards, pushing her shoulders back, out of control. When the rope finally pulled, most weight was on the upper part of the harness and she flipped down.

She hit a spike with the bottom of her head. She had a bad injury despite the helmet, which very likely saved her life.

So to sum it up:

  • Learn how to fall in control. That is something that is hardly taught, and requires practice.
  • Wear a helmet

For what matters the gear

If you climb with a chest harness along with a regular one, then falling upside-down is just not going to happen. So that is a surefire way not to fall head down; but it's more weight and cumbersome to carry.

It is especially recommended to wear a chest harness when climbing with an heavy backpack, typically - but not necessarily - on via ferratas. Climbing with an heavy pack significantly increases the chances of falling head down.

  • The heavy backpack point is very relevant actually. – user2766 Dec 1 '14 at 15:00
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    Yes, it is. She walked backwards on the slab, while falling. Did you read my answer? – Dakatine Jan 12 '15 at 14:04
  • Also, it does answer the question because it mentions the chest harness, that would totally impede any head-first fall. I guess you should read an answer before downvoting it. – Dakatine Jan 12 '15 at 14:05
  • @ldgorman Chest harnesses are e.g. worn by children or pregnant women. Simply because of the low centre of gravity which increases the chance of turning upside down while falling. For the same reason you will find people wearing an additional chest harness while ice climbing. It is more likely to turn upside down there compared to rock climbing. – Wills Feb 19 '15 at 18:55
  • @Wills - not because of a "low centre of gravity" (which, if anything, reduces the risk of inversion), but because those groups of people don't have sufficient hips to prevent them falling out of the harness once inverted. – Toby Speight Jun 11 at 16:41
18

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Having the rope behind your leg massively increases the chance of being turned upside down when falling, this is quite dangerous but is avoidable with care!

Perhaps to answer your question more specifically the proper use of normal gear prevents such incidents and a helmet can add protection if the worst does happen.

This link contains a video showing bad practice and a diagram illustrating the likely outcome.

http://www.mountaineeringmethodology.com/belaying-the-leader/

Another video where the climber finds the rope behind their leg and takes the time to reposition it to increase their safety margin, though the rest of the climbs is still pretty unsafe for other reasons....

http://youtu.be/U7dPa2MGqhE

  • this seems like the only accurate and relevant answer – ldgorman Jan 12 '15 at 13:56
  • This! Even doing something so desperate as wearing a chest harness isn't going to stop you from flipping over if your foot's behind the rope. – Joe Manlove Feb 20 '15 at 15:32
8

It can happen, sure, but because of the way a climbing harness fits (you sit in it) and because of the way falls typically happen (you fall straight down from an upright position in many cases) it is generally very easy to remain upright.

There are various pros and cons on holding the rope when you fall (the main problem being grabbing the wrong rope and getting your fingers crushed) but most climbers agree that in the event of a fall grabbing the rope immediately in front of your waist point gives you a safe point (which also keeps your hands away from gear.)

If you are deep under an overhang and your hands slip you could drop head down, but that would be a rare case - and hopefully your belay point will keep you away from hitting the wall head down anyway.

Benedikt did point out a rare, but dangerous issue - catching a foot in a loop of rope on your way down, this flipping you upside-down. An argument for always handling your ropes carefully - as your health and life do depend on them!

  • 1
    You forgot the bad practice of hooking your foot into the rope due to bad rope handling. – Benedikt Bauer Dec 1 '14 at 13:00
  • Luckily never seen that happen, and hopefully I never will. But yeah - I'll add it in to the question – Rory Alsop Dec 1 '14 at 13:21
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    Children under 30Kg's can also have this issue. There lower weight means their centre of gravity can be different in a fall. That's why they make 6 point children's harnesses with shoulder straps. – user2766 Dec 1 '14 at 13:52
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    Yeah - I had my kids in them from 18 months. Mostly so they couldn't get out, rather than worrying about being upside-down – Rory Alsop Dec 1 '14 at 13:54
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    Here is someone making said mistake...shudder – user2766 Dec 1 '14 at 13:57
8

When climbing wearing a heavy rucksack (such as Alpine climbing), it is quite possible to end upside-down after a fall.

This is why many European alpinists favour a full body harness or a separate chest harness worn in addition to a typical sit harness.

This raises the tie-in point on the harness and therefore raises the centre of gravity to help prevent turning upside-down in a fall.

  • 2
    As a European, who has climbed in the Alps, I have to say I've never encountered anyone wearing a full body harness. – aaaaargZombies Jan 7 '15 at 15:06

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