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Weekend Whipper: New Belayer Serves Up Massive “Practice” Fall

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Practice falls are great. Or they can be, if your belayer doesn’t blow it. Abbi Dingus learned this lesson the hard way.

Abbi was wrapping up a long day of climbing in the Red with her new partner and decided to lob off the route she’d just flashed, Black Powder (5.10a).

“The route is mostly vertical except for a bulge right before the chains,” Abbi wrote to Climbing in an email. Abbi instructed her belayer to leave enough slack out for her to fall past the bulge and onto the vertical slab below. A 10-foot fall at most. But Abbi’s belayer took the creative license to let out spools of rope. “[It was] a lot more than I needed,” she said.

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That little practice fall turned into, well, a Weekend Whipper, and Abbi said she thought she was about to deck. “In the video you can hear my realization that I wasn’t stopping when I should. I really thought I was gonna hit the ground.”

With all that slack out, the belayer still managed to give a hard catch, possibly saving Abbi from eating the lip of the roof, but causing an impact so jolting that it knocked the glasses off her face. “Neither the fall or my foot [pain] stopped me from climbing and I ended up sending my first two 11a’s the next day!” she said.

Going forward, Abbi said she is wary of taking practice falls, especially from new belayers, and hasn’t taken one since. “Fall therapy” can be an effective way to push one’s redpoint grade—or to simply enjoy climbing more—but we recommend following this set of best practices.

Happy Friday, and be safe out there this weekend.

Readers, please send your whipper videos, information, and any lessons learned to Anthony Walsh, awalsh@outsideinc.com.