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#19091 - 02/28/17 07:53 AM Re: Will Umbilicals Catch a Fall? [Re: Paul Taylor]
Anton Offline


Registered: 11/09/07
Posts: 310
Loc: Calgary
Remi, it appears you have given this a lot of consideration and practice. What wasn't clear to me when reading this thread was the types of scenarios/risks you hope to mitigate. The scenarios I can think of for your application (i.e. different than dropping a tool in the alpine) are all related to not being able to hold your tools, thus resulting in a fall;
1) too pumped to hold on (either while climbing or putting in a screw)
2) feet cut and unable to hold on
3) being hit by falling object (ice/rock/avi debris), resulting in the inability to hold on

Considering each of these separately;
1) Too pumped: If you're too pumped to hold on, then perhaps leashes are a better option as it allows you to relax your hands to de-pump without shock-loading the umbilicals and possibly popping a tool. Also, getting to that point while on lead normally means suggests you might be pushing your climbing limits too far (as emphasized by Gadd's recent article, rule 10). Overall, I'm not sure umbilicals are the right mitigation for this risk and bring their own risks/consequences if you do fall. One other option I've seen people do when pumped (but too pumped to place a screw) is to clip directly into a secure tool and sit on it (i.e. no doubling of forces and no shock loading).
2) Feet cut out and unable to hold on: For this situation, umbilicals could be nice to have. I wonder though if foot placements are poor, then perhaps tools aren't any better, so they may pop during a fall.
3) Being hit by random object, unable to hold on: assuming the tool(s) are well placed at the moment of impact, then the umbilicals could help mitigate this situation.

What other situations would you see the umbilicals being of use?

Personally, I've never dropped a tool while ice climbing leashless. I don't use umbilicals (except for alpine ice where the risk of losing a tool is different) because I find the distraction and general cluster-f*&k of umbilicals to be a greater risk while leading ice. However, I'm not ashamed to admit that on occasion gotten really pumped (learned my limit) and sat on a screw, or clipped my tool. I wonder if I might have been lulled into a false sense of security had I had umbilical 'backup', resulting in climbing beyond a point where I had any control to place a screw or clip a tool!?


Edited by Anton (02/28/17 07:58 AM)
Edit Reason: clarity

#19092 - 02/28/17 08:55 AM Re: Will Umbilicals Catch a Fall? [Re: Paul Taylor]
Glen Fielhaber Offline

Registered: 12/14/13
Posts: 30
Loc: Airdrie
If point #3 is of real concern there is another point to think about.

While the umbilical's may prevent you from falling very far after getting hit, if you are badly injured or unconscious after being hit now your partner has no way of lowering you back down or safely getting to you.

#19094 - 02/28/17 02:36 PM Re: Will Umbilicals Catch a Fall? [Re: Paul Taylor]
ozman05 Offline

Registered: 09/26/08
Posts: 151
Loc: Canmore
I probably side with the 'umbilicals to prevent the loss of a tool on a 'big' climb' Vs umbilicals as a safety net.

If you are climbing where you think an umbilical (to catch a fall) is necessary, perhaps you need to 'tone down' what you are trying to lead. Very few leader falls on ice have happy endings.

There is only 1 rule to ice climbing & if you hold this rule in the highest esteem you will have a long ice climbing life.

#19096 - 03/01/17 10:44 AM Re: Will Umbilicals Catch a Fall? [Re: Paul Taylor]
Paul Taylor Offline

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 45
Additional scenarios when an umbilical might prevent a fall include:
4. The tool your committing to (perhaps matching) unexpectedly pops, but the other tool is firmly placed in good ice or in a crack either off to the side or below but your not firmly holding it (i.e. common situation in mixed climbing and bulgy funky ice).
5. Combination of point 1 and 2 or 4.

With regards to Remi’s comment: “That said, the tests done by BD are not too reassuring. Even with a screamer, it seems the impact force is, or would be in most cases, too high”

Re-quoting comments from higher in this thread:
The tower drop test was not very representative of real climbing situations, because it used a completely static 80kg free hanging weight. The human body in a harness is not the same as a rigid 80kg test weight. Your harness riding up, your core deflection, your muscles, all absorbs energy from the system. Just partly holding a tool whilst starting to fall, or still having some weight on one or more crampons will all reduce the fall energy and impact. The fact that several alpinists have reported being saved by their umbilical (even without a load limiter) is testimony to the fact that real world fall factors are typically lower than any tower drop test.

Black Diamond’s response to this included:
“I total agree the drop tower test is a very harsh test. The industry tends to use harsh scenarios in testing in order to have some buffer to account for the spectrum of potential use and users. We just had one of our athletes break a Spinner. He was in overhanging terrain when his upper tool, he was matched on, ripped while his lower tool was firmly wedged in a crack. The lower tool held, the leash then broke (webbing at tack), Adding a load limiter to a tether would certainly improve the system, but by how much we are unable to say at this point. please do not count on these systems as a belay (though you might get lucky, and some have). I hope this info is of some use everyone.
climb safe,

Essentially BD agreed that incorporating a screamer is a good idea, but they are not prepared to build one into their spinner leash because it would be hard to certify as 200% reliable without it becoming bulky and heavy like a via ferrata lanyard.

Nonetheless, from my own experiment (see original post in this thread, IMO more realistic than BD’s harsh test) I am confident that even a short screamer will substantially reduce the force in many situations. I have been using this system as shown for 5 years now and like it. I don’t “rely” on my umbilicals as a safety net, but when using them, I see no reason not to clip them to a screamer. No disadvantage, only a potential advantage if I ever fall on them (haven’t done yet).

#19097 - 03/01/17 03:46 PM Re: Will Umbilicals Catch a Fall? [Re: Paul Taylor]
Greg McKee Offline

Registered: 11/19/09
Posts: 42
Loc: Saskatoon
I won't expect you will learn anything from what I say. What I say is only for conversation purposes.

When I started ice climbing I used leashes for a couple of years. The hotshots weren't using leashes anymore, but I wanted the security. I did this till I realized that my hands were never very close to opening up on the tool, in the way I feared. I would get pumped, but it's far easier for me to deal with this by shaking out, on leashless tools. I also found that floppy leashes were a hassle while placing screws, and hooking and unhooking them took time. Leashes were giving me psychological security, but in reality, they reduced my security.

My hands have come open while mixed climbing, but that's different. You can pull till you fall in relative safety, on bolts. But you don't climb ice close to this level of fatigue. I'm not speaking from 20 years of experience here, but I've found that the biggest concern, if feet blow on ice, is that the tool will blow, not that your hand will open. I'm not stating that as a fact. It's just my sense.

In the same vein, I was recently about to climb some steep, sustained (for me) ice, and not feeling rock solid due to few days out. I looked at my harness leash to make sure it was handy if I had to clip a tool. It was hidden behind a couple of screws, so I did something dumb. I made it more accessible by clipping it to my belay loop. It dangled and looked really dumb but I knew it was handy. Half way up the climb I came to a sudden, jarring stop. I had somehow clipped this dangly piece of shite to a draw. Awesome. Nothing like over-thinking things till you have to down climb on your crux pitch to make your day! Complete amateur hour, can't believe I'm admitting it.

All I'm saying, echoing Anton, is that sometimes you think something is adding security, when the added complexity might be reducing it.
Now, using umbilicals exactly as designed and tested, simply to prevent losing tools on a multi pitch route might make very good sense to you, though.

#19125 - 03/18/17 12:10 PM Re: Will Umbilicals Catch a Fall? [Re: Paul Taylor]
Remi Sasseville Offline

Registered: 01/29/17
Posts: 3

Thanks for you feedback! Yes, having the umbilicals is a bit for all what you mentioned. In 28 years of climbing I have not had a bad fall leading. The worst one (3 to 4 m to the ground) I can remember was in Quebec City at the Montmorency Falls in my first year of climbing and I was soloing. The beginner was too confident, and I have learned my lesson; you never know when it is going to happen.
To be on the ‘safer side’ at all the time, I could stick with grade 3, but what is the fun then if someone is not pushing a bit its own limits. That is why we like climbing, isn’t it. What is important I think when stepping out of our comfort zone is staying within what we know we can do. Having one last safety net, if possible, is then nice and I have no problem with that; I have nothing anymore to prove. I just want to avoid being badly injured if I can.

I started climbing with straight shaft tools on which I had made my own leashes. There was no way to hold on these tools without leashes. At that time, we had to put our arm though the leash up to the elbow to be able to hold the screws and hammer them in. I would not go back there! Then 15 years ago, I moved on to Quarks with the DB leashes which were easy to unclip. I resisted for a long time going leash less thinking it was too risky. But then last year, I moved to the X-Dream and would not go back. I do miss occasionally the leashes when I get pumped. With leashes, I could just push it. Now with leash less, I prefer to stop and take a break using a separate harness leash clipped in a tool until I can continue under proper control. Though I try to manage my energy, I sometime burn it too fast on a crew and/or by holding my tool to hard. Still learning and improving after all these years, and climbing is still fun for that… With the better equipment nowadays, I think I am climbing better than in my youth, even with few additional kilos…

To conclude, I fully agree with you that the best practice is to know your limits and select routes in the spirit that you should be able to climb them in full control and without having to hang half way. The umbilical, if used is there as an extra line of safety that ‘could’ prevent a bad fall. With the umbilical clipped on the rope as I suggest, it is not possible to use it to rest and the risk of falling, though over a smaller distance, remains. It keeps me engaged and committed I think.

Glen, I like your point about being able to lower the leader without having to climb. Fully lowering the leader to the ground without having to move up is only possible for half the rope. But even for high climbs, as a belayer I would move up using the counter weight until the leader would be secure on the ground, and rappel from that point; much easier than trying to do a recue on the climb. I like that aspect.

Greg, no shame to share stories so we all learn. I do climb with my harness leash clipped on the side so it is still accessible but not too much in the way. The rope umbilicals I showed in a previous post are problematic for the same reason you mentioned. They hook on icicles a lot because they don’t keep tight with the tools. The BD umbilicals are much better for that aspect. So far, I don’t mind dealing with the umbilicals to have them on, but I am not saying that is the way to go all for all.

Thanks all for your comments. Have fun and do what feels good for you. With all what I have read, there seems to be pros and cons for all approaches, and nothing is 100% without risk. That’s climbing I guess!



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