Tip 9: Relaxing with Protection

TOPIC: Relaxing with Protection
By Calvin Landrus

Climbing Physics 101 - Breaking Strengths of Protection

How strong does your climbing gear and its relative holding ability need to be to keep you attached to the rock and prevent you from plummeting to the ground? To answer this question you will need an understanding of gear strength ratings and the basic dynamics of fall factors…in other words - Climbing Physics 101

Stamped on most of your climbing gear is a number followed by “kN”. Do you know what that means and how it might relate to your climbing? Let’s start by defining kN. This symbol stands for “kilo Newton” and is a measure of force in the metric system. In the English system, the measure of force is designated in pounds. I weigh about 180 pounds. If I put on a huge wall rack of 44 pounds (a total of 224 lbs), I would weigh about 1 kN. We will use a climber of that weight in our discussion.

In climbing, force is generated by the pull of gravity on a mass. Most carabiners are rated to break above 20 kN. That means it would take 20 climbers hanging statically from one carabiner before it would break. But in climbing, we are rarely interested in what a static strength is. We are interested in the strength and holding power during a fall.

To discover this, we need to understand the term “fall factor”. Fall factor is the ratio of the distance the falling leader plummets, to the amount of rope between the belayer and the leader. The fall factor can range from a minimum of close to 0.0 to a maximum of 2.0. A factor 2.0 fall can only occur when the belayer is off the ground. One way for this to happen is when a leader falls before placing any gear. If he has climbed 10 feet (rope distance between belayer and leader) and falls, he will fall 20 feet. 20 feet divided by 10 feet equals a fall factor of 2.0. Another example would be when a leader falls 10 feet above his last piece of protection and is 100 feet up from the belayer. 10 feet divided by 100 feet equals a fall factor of 0.1.

Now, the impact force on the top piece of protection (or the belay anchor if no protection is in) is roughly proportional to the fall factor (these details are too complicated for climbing physics 101). As a rough approximation, a fall factor between 1.0 and 2.0 requires anchor strengths above 12 kN; fall factors between 0.2 and 1.0 require anchor strengths between 7 kN and 12 kN; fall factors less than 0.2 may result in forces as low as 3 kN (1).

Let’s tie the impact force to climbing gear. I see five categories of “placed” climbing protection: bomber, solid, adequate, marginal and inadequate. These are similar to the UIAA Safety Commission publicized strength bands of climbing equipment. Study the categories below to see where the gear on your rack falls (no pun intended). It is assumed that the climber has the knowledge to properly use/place the gear. It is also assumed that the belayer is using a friction device of some sort, i.e. munter hitch, figure 8, ATC, etc., or allowing for body movement when using a clamping device like a Gri-Gri.

  • Strength Rating: Greater than 20 kN
  • Gear: Most modern bolts, closed and/or locking gate carabiners
  • Use: Belay anchors and lead protection
  • Strength Rating: 12 to 20 kN
  • Gear: Most cams and nuts
  • Use: Belay anchor and lead protection (assuming a dynamic belay system)
  • Strength Rating: 7 to 12 kN
  • Gear: Small cams and nuts, open gate carabineers
  • Use: Equalized belay anchor and protection with fall factor less than 1
  • Strength Rating: 3 to 7 kN
  • Gear: Micro cams and nuts, larger pieces partial in
  • Use:Not suitable for belay anchor and protection with fall factor less than 0.2
  • Strength Rating: Less than 3 kN
  • Gear: Specialized aid aear, aluminum rappel rings, ice climbing gear
  • Use: Not suited for belay anchor, protect benign falls, body weight aid
Climbing Tips: Bringing climbing physics 101 alive! #1 When starting a pitch, place gear often to keep the fall factor low and thereby reduce the chance of gear breaking or being pulled out of the rock. Failure here will exponentially increase the impact force on lower gear.

#2 An open gate carabiner reduces the strength of the protection to breaking in moderate falls. Watch for gear placements that may force the biner open when loaded, i.e. the side of a crack. Also, make sure the gate snaps closed and is not hanging up on the wire of a nut or webbing of a runner.

#3 When gear becomes marginal, try to down climb below a piece before weight is taken instead of taking a short fall. In a sense your piece will become an aid piece that should hold you. If you don’t, you risking that a short fall may pull or break the piece.

Living Tip: Relax in the Protection of God!

Have you ever run it out a ways, perhaps placing a marginal piece or two, then getting into a zone where a fall would be very hazardous to your health? What are you feeling? I’m in full panic mode. The adrenaline is running and I’m working hard to keep it together. What happens when you finally get to a stance where you can get a solid piece in? For me, it is an overwhelming feeling of relaxation. I can rest (hanging on the rope if necessary), regain my composure and get ready to move on.

I find the same feeling of relaxation as I rest under the protection of God’s directions for my life. Contrary to the popular view that God’s plan is a restricting force, God’s rules give me the freedom to live abundantly. Commands for living found in the Bible protect me and keep me from engaging in stupid actions that are harmful. The relaxed abundant living is summed up in these verses from the Bible: He holds victory in store for the upright; He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones (Proverbs 2:7-8).

Let me close with a story of survival on Everest from Himalayan climber, Gary Scott.

    “It became impossible to see through the blowing snow, and I realized that one misplaced step would send me 5,000 feet into oblivion. I had to keep moving but I had slowed down to barely a crawl. I knew something was wrong with me—beyond the effects of being at 26,000 feet, in the death zone—but I didn’t know what. I didn’t know which way to go, so I just followed my instincts as best I could.

    The wind seemed to suck the life from me. I couldn’t even see my feet because of the blinding snow. The bleakness of my situation overwhelmed me as I dragged my weary, oxygen-depleted body over yet another cliff. The effort caused me to breathe so heavily, so deeply, that I felt as if I was drowning in the darkness of the night—there was simply no air to breathe. With every step I was acutely aware of the mile-long drop beneath my feet. The gale-force wind continued to batter me against the cliff as I fought to find a better way—any way—over or around the wall. Even in my thick down suit I was shivering from the -100° wind-chill. The narrow beam from my headlamp hardly pierced the thick blowing snow, but it was all I had. I climbed up several vertical sections of rock, and then back down a few steep snow-filled gullies, desperately trying to find a way that made sense, that actually led somewhere.

    Minutes passed like hours, and each hour felt like a day. I thought I was going to die. Earlier on the trip, I had been so excited to be on Everest; now I felt incredibly lonely and isolated, as if I was the only person on earth. I was tempted to sit down and give up, but I wouldn’t let myself rest, since I knew stopping would mean freezing and no doubt losing fingers and toes. Worse yet, I would drift off to sleep and never wake up, though that thought seemed an almost appealing way to escape the nightmare. I desperately wanted to close my eyes and wake up back home. Just then, I came across footprints in the snow, and for a minute thought that someone else was out here looking for me, that I was saved. Then I realized—they were my footprints. I’d been walking around in a circle on this huge face.

    I leaned against the rock wall, put my head in my hands and cried out: “God help me! I don’t know which way to go.” I didn’t hear a deep heavenly voice telling me which way to go—I simply saw Diane’s face, smiling. I remember thinking, “She’s not going to dig a guy without fingers or toes, and I’m not much good to her dead.” It was not my life I was worried about losing; it was the thought of losing the opportunity to spend the rest of my life with Diane. She was counting on me to come home, and I didn’t want to let her down! Everything became clear. Surviving was my only option—surviving and returning home to my soul mate was my only dream. I knew I had to keep moving. “You’ve got to get back to Diane,” played in my head, over and over. And that alone gave me the power to turn from the cliff and push into the wind, more determined than ever to forge on to Camp Four and safety.

    Soon after, the storm mysteriously calmed down and the clouds parted. Weeks later I learned that back home in the United States something very extraordinary was happening. Diane was on her knees praying for me; at exactly the same time, thousands of miles apart, her twin sister Donna and her older sister Lizabeth both sat up in bed and prayed for me, all three knowing something was terribly wrong. Their prayers obviously helped. Now I could see where I was going. I could just make out the saddle where our camp should be, and I could see the summit of Everest outlined above, seeming so close. I knew now that I would not reach the roof of the world on this expedition, but my goal changed to one that I felt was in my reach: survival. In spite of my weakness and exhaustion, I pushed on toward Camp Four and soon saw something moving in the shadows of the night.”

CLOSING THOUGHT: Relaxing in God’s plan will allow you to rest, regain composure and get ready to move on!

Continue the discussion at the Where Climbers Gather Forums.

Date Posted - 12.26.13

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