Why are Factor 2 Falls so dangerous?

This is a continuation of our Fall Factor discussion. If you haven’t read it and you’re not sure how to calculate, I would suggest starting there.

If we start doing the math, it becomes really apparent that it’s very challenging to put yourself in a factor-2 fall situation in normal single-pitch environments. There is 1 particularly interesting situation which I talk about in the article “Avoiding the biggest mistakes climbers make – Tether-in Properly” that, as a guide, I see others doing quite often. That said, the most likely situation where you may encounter a factor-2 fall is when you’re in a multi-pitch environment, or when you’re starting your climb in the middle of a cliff, like is often the case at Lion’s Head. First, let’s review the equation for figuring out fall factors.

Fall Fac - 1.png
Fall 2 - 2.png

Here’s how your standard factor 2 happens:

Let’s welcome back C and B, our amazing professional stick figured climbers.

C and B are hanging out on a belay ledge somewhere above the ground. C starts climbing, and climbs 1m when suddenly a swarm of birds fly out of the hole beside C. Obviously startled, C panics and lets go of the rock and takes a fall.

At this point in time, there’s 1m of rope in the system, and C falls 2m and stops falling below B. Throw the numbers into the equation and you get:

Fall Factor = 2m fall/1m of rope = 2/1 = 2

In our last article, we showed how taking 20-foot falls can be softer and less impactful than taking 5-foot falls. This example here illustrates the point even further. C could have taken a 30cm fall, and as long as there was nothing between C and B (as in, nothing like a carabiner, or a redirection of some kind), it would have been a factor-2 fall.

So why are factor-2 falls so dangerous? Essentially, a few things are happening at the same time. Firstly, the climber ends up shock-loading the system. A 2m fall on a nearly static system can generate around 15KN of force into the system. A 3m fall on a nearly static system generates nearly 23KN of force. If you happen to fall 4m, you could generate upwards of 31KN of force. Check your harness. What’s it rated for? Check your nuts and cams. Your slings. What are those rated for? You get what I’m getting at. With very small falls in this nearly static system, you could generate enough force to blow slings, nuts, cams, ropes, etc…

I say nearly static system because we are using dynamic ropes. That said, there’s so little rope in the system at the time of a fall, that there’s exceptionally little rope to stretch and absorb the impact, so it’s almost akin to a static fall. Beyond that, and so little

While you’re shock-loading the system, you’re also in a situation where there’s nothing else to absorb the energy of the fall except your belay device or anchor, so 100% of the force goes there with zero dissipation of energy anywhere else.

Those things combined creates situations where gear has failed and people have died.