Anyone with a Facebook has been subjected, at one point or another, to watching one of Rock and Ice's Weekend Whipper videos. Maybe you were tagged in the video by that one friend, reminding you of that one time you short-roped them, or had it shared on your wall by a non-climbing family member ("OMG WOW, *insert name here*, THINKING OF U") who thinks that you take whips that big on a regular basis. Yes Grandma, this is my life. Everyday. Anyways, big falls are an eventuality in climbing — whether or you're taking a screamer off the top of your lead project or blowing the top-out of that high-ball boulder problem, it's extremely important to know how to handle your body in the event of these, or really any, falls. The best way to learn is, of course, to practice, but here are some basic tips to keep in mind next time you're climbing, so as to best avoid injury.
The Bouldering Fall —
One of the trickier falls to truly master, this fall is basically finding the best way to hit the deck. Because it's going to happen, unless your spotter is The Incredible Hulk and can snatch you out of the air in a sweaty, green bear hug before you hit the ground. The best way to a successful bouldering fall is to first aim for landing on your feet, like a cat — minus the fur and bad attitude. Don't try to stick the landing — this is not gymnastics and there are no points awarded for a nailed landing. As soon as your feet meet the mat, buckle your knees, and roll back to your butt. This insures the force of the landing is absorbed throughout your body, instead of just your fragile little knees. Don't try to arrest your fall at all with your hands or arms at all, and very importantly, stay relaxed! Tensing up increases the amount of force distributed around your body, and doesn't let your muscles absorb the impact as well.
Don't try to control the fall — it's better to deal with the hand you've been dealt than by trying to change it. Don't push back from the wall, just let gravity do it's job and carry you straight down, and focus on landing properly on your feet and rolling back. Don't spin or twist to try to face another way — that's a great way to injure your back.
We realize that boulder problems are not necessarily the most linear lines, and often have your body contorted into some pretty awkward positions, leading to some pretty-more-than-awkward-falls. Be extremely careful when making risky moves, and keep in mind these types of moves are the best ones to have a spotter on. It can be extremely difficult to correct your falling position once in the air, so have a trusted friend spot you into a better falling position after you blow the move, i.e. either push you towards landing on your feet, or at the very least catching your neck and head before they hit the deck.
Even the best falling technique is useless if you're landing on an object, so always scope out the landing before you start a boulder. Are there people milling about underneath? Are there stray shoes or chalkbags hanging out underneath? Is the edge of a crash pad in your potential fall zone? Clear your fall zone of any random crap before you climb, move the crash pad underneath the center of your potential fall zone, and warn any climbers chilling underneath your climb before you begin. As someone who has both landed on someone and been landed on, I can assure you that either option is pretty terrible, painful, and awkward as hell.
The Lead Fall —
A lot of proper lead falling technique comes from confidence and experience — so the best way to learn to nail the landing on lead is to take A LOT of falls until you're comfortable and calm when things get real. You need to keep a cool head when taking a lead fall, and guide yourself through the fall as safely as possible. Lead climbing is not as scary when you know how to fall!
When taking a lead fall, you ideally want to be facing the wall, and be able to plant your feet firmly on the wall once you swing into it. Bend your knees to absorb the impact, much like you would in the case of a bouldering fall. Try to keep your feet a little wide — we're not talking full splits here — so your base is wider and sturdier, and you don't accidentally swing to one side after meeting the wall. Many beginning lead climbers want to yell "Take!" as they're falling, but this is not normally a good idea. Unless you have a lot of slack pulled out — like in the case that you blew while trying to clip — your belayer taking up slack as you fall can actually end up being a worse fall than one with more slack out. Lead climbers who don't absolutely hate their climbers always use a dynamic rope, which is designed to stretch to absorb some of the impact of your fall. This obviously leads to a longer fall, but that's ok! You see, long falls are softer than short ones, — short, abrupt falls lead to a very jarring swing into the wall because the rope does not have space to properly stretch and you have no air cushion to slow your fall as you come down, so short falls can lead to broken and rolled ankles. We're not saying 30-foot whippers need to be your norm, but don't be afraid of a little air time. You'll find that longer falls are the most comfortable —albeit scary — ones to take.
Some lead climbers have a tendency of grabbing the rope when they fall, but we'd advise against that. It's best to keep your hands free, in case your landing on the wall is unstable and you need your hands available to steady you.
Much like in bouldering falls, stay conscious of what's below you while lead falling. Especially while climbing outside, there can be some awkward features that should be avoided falling into at all times. Jutting holds, stalactites, and large ledges are all things to be aware of. I don't even know if there's proper technique for falling into a stalactite besides just resigning yourself to the fact that you're smashing your face into it. Make sure your belayer is aware of these hazards below you as you climb, and has an amount of rope out that will ensure that you don't hit said death-feature. Sometimes pushing off the wall can help you avoid an immediate ledge, but in most cases it's bad to push off the wall while falling on lead, because it can throw off your balance and potentially careen you into falling backwards instead of straight down.
Be very aware of your rope management as you lead climb. Your rope is your lifeline while climbing on lead, but can be your worst enemy if you don't manage it well as you climb. Never stick your leg behind the rope as you climb — falling with your leg behind the rope at the very best leads to a rope burn, at the worst, you may flip upside-down. If this happens, don't panic — lift your head and neck so they don't slam into the wall, and try to right yourself as soon as your fall is over.