Is Back-Clipping a Real Danger?

Mikepowers Small

by Michael Powers, IFMGA
AAI Senior Guide & Director for Staff Development


From the May 2006 edition of AAI's E-newsletter

I have always thought that improperly clipping the rope thru pro (e.g., a rope passing around carabiner) could unclip the rope in the event of a fall. Although this intuitively looks like an obvious threat, I have heard that in practice it has never really happened. Do you have any data to support either argument? If this is a real threat, it seems that spinning the biner "upside-down" after clipping the rope would greatly decrease the possibility of the rope opening, or back clipping, the gate of the biner. Any thoughts?


Dear Climber,

Improperly clipping the rope through pro (often called back clipping) is a real and potential problem. No, I don't have data that confirms this happening, but keep in mind that after a fall it's usually impossible to recreate the exact chain of events.

I suppose that back clipping (the rope from the belayer runs out from the wall and into the carabiner, as opposed to the normal, and preferred style of the rope running close to the wall, through the biner and out and up towards the leader) will often still hold a fall. I also suppose that there have been many times when small mistakes are made with no repercussions either because the forces at work weren't great enough to do damage to the system or simply because the leader did not fall.

Accidents are more likely to occur when a series of small mistakes add up. For example: maybe the leader back clips, then a hold breaks off, then the biner gate gets loaded a little bit differently, and the belayer is using a Gri-Gri, making for a less dynamic belay - the combination of all those occurrences could result in a broken gate.

Spinning the biner upside down might help. Personally, if I'm climbing on a critical piece of protection, I'll either clip an additional draw or put in another piece of gear so that I have redundancy in my system.

- Mike Powers

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