Unbelayvable: Quickdraws Aren't Decorative

Scary (and true) tales from a crag near you

Every Monday we publish the most unbelievable stories of climbing stupidity submitted by our readers. See something unbelayvable? Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print.

More than just a shiny, dangly rock ornament. Photo: CGehlen/Flickr; http://ow.ly/zGf51

>>I saw a climber lower from a draw in the middle of a sport route because she couldn't finish it. Then her partner tried the route. Instead of pulling the rope or toproping from the high clip, he tied into what should have been the belay side of the rope. He headed up, cleaning the draws that his rope was running through above him. When he got to the former high clip, he cruised right on past it. That put him back clipped above a single piece of protection 35 feet off the deck. Luckily, he finished the route without any falls.
—Submitted by Tim G., via Climbing.com

LESSON: Well, this defies all logic. The logical thing here would have been to pull the rope or toprope from the high clip and then lead past it. Use common sense when you climb. Normally, if one bolt fails in a sport fall, for whatever reason, you have another one five feet below it to catch you. Unclipping all the draws as you climb removes that redundancy that we climbers value so highly. Furthermore, when a quickdraw is backclipped (rope runs into the front of the carabiner then out the back) it makes it possible that the rope will unclip itself in a fall. Combine that with a lack of protection and you've got the potential for a 35-foot ground fall.

>>A guy next to us was belaying a leader off of his gear loop. Worried, I ran over yelling, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" The belayer turned to me with a lot of attitude and yelled, "What?" I told him to check his belay. He looked down, checked the gate, and said it was fine in a very mind-your-own-business tone. The climber clipped in direct to a bolt, started yelling at the belayer, and an argument ensued.
—Submitted by Randall Chapman via Climbing.com

LESSON: We covered gear loops in this column quite recently, but the short of it is that most of them aren't designed to bear loads. When you catch a lead fall, the force is transferred into the belayers body via their harness, so it's nice to belay from the strongest section: the belay loop. Instead, let's talk about advice. It's easy to get riled up when you see something unsafe, but the last thing you want is for the culprit to feel like he's in a confrontation. If he gets defensive, he's not going to listen to you. The best way to go about this is to calmly approach him, stand by side-by-side, and offer your advice in a friendly, helpful tone. Something along the lines of, "Hey, you might want to try ______. I noticed you were doing ______, but actually in some situations that can lead to ______." If it's not an urgent error, wait till the climber is back on the ground first. Hopefully, they'll appreciate the tip. If not, the climber can take it up with the belayer himself, like above.

>>I saw a girl belaying in a rock gym with a Grigri. She was faced away from her partner, talking to a friend, with her hand over the locking feature on her Grigri. Her partner decked from 20 feet. They both walked away, but neither had any idea what went wrong.
—Submitted by Rob Aspinwall, via Climbing.com

LESSON: There are two big problems here, and both of them are pretty common. First, the Grigri is not an auto-locking device, it's an assisted braking device. Most of the time, the device's built-in cam will stop a fall on it's own, but there are situations when it might not (skinny ropes, light climbers, significant rope drag). Bottom line: Keep your hand on the brake strand. Also, gripping the device can lock it in the open position, negating it's braking capabilities. That's what happened here. Check out Grigri basics for more tips. The other major problem above is the inattentive belayer. When you're belaying, your full attention should be on your climber. It's not the time to socialize. You never know when you're going to need to feed out slack, reel it in, or catch a fall. Had the belayer here been watching, she may have had time to lock off the rope before the climber decked.

See something unbelayvable? Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print. Got an unbelayvable photo? Send it to unbelayvable@climbing.com.

 


Comments

>>"A guy next to us was belaying a leader off of his gear loop." Lesson: "The best way to go about this is to calmly approach him.." With respect to the author, I disagree, your advice does not apply to this situation. The climber was in imminent danger, and an urgent and loud warning was necessary to alert both the belayer and the climber. In this case, while the belayer was clueless, the climber was able to quickly protect himself thanks to the warning. The only thing I would have done differently is to crab the slack from below the belayer, and immediately clip into my own harness (probably with a munter hitch for speed), so that I'm putting the climber on belay as I'm warning the belayer of the situation. I wouldn't give a damn about insulting or embarrassing the belayer, his emotions are secondary to the life of the climber, and after being so irresponsible, he deserves a little embarrassment to let the seriousness sink in, and hopefully prevent that in the future. However I do agree that if the situation is less urgent, a gentler approach will be more effective at preventing the defensive reaction.

Dan A - 08/26/2014 11:51:40

A couple weeks ago, I was at our local gym toproping. Someone was taking their lead test and had just taken their "unannounced" fall. He was beginning to do his belay portion of his test. He chose to use a GriGri but seemed to have a lot of trouble with it. The examiner didn't say anything to him and the climber was about to take his "unannounced" fall after the 4th bolt. When he took the fall, the rope slid through the GriGri and the climber landed flat on his back after about a 25 foot fall. Come to find out, the belayer was having so much trouble because he had fed the device backwards. Luckily, the climber was fine but it was a scary situation... Check your partners!

Trevor - 08/10/2014 3:22:45

A few years back I was setting new routes in our gym. From the top of the wall I saw a belayer struggling with a sturdy rope. (Un)Fortunately the belayer a couple of routes next to him came and assisted. In order to have both hands free he unclipped his own belay device WHILE his partner was leading 30 ft off the ground! Luckily one of the bystanders realized what happened and took the solo climber on belay again!!!

Felix - 07/29/2014 10:12:33

A few years back I was setting new routes in our gym. From the top of the wall I saw a belayer struggling with a sturdy rope. (Un)Fortunately the belayer a couple of routes next to him came and assisted. In order to have both hands free he unclipped his own belay device WHILE his partner was leading 30 ft off the ground! Luckily one of the bystanders realized what happened and took the leader on belay again!!!

Felix - 07/29/2014 10:11:24

When you're climbing, your belayer should have your full attention.

Spencer - 07/28/2014 9:14:24

I went climbing not too long ago and my friend lead a sport route. We usually use an ATC guide in guide mode so it auto blocks a follow on climber. When he made it to the top I called to my friend to check his anchor set up and make sure everything is locked off. When he called "climb on" after confirming my commands I started to climb. When I got to the top he had the ATC clipped to the chains only by the wire at the base of the device, it would have not given any more braking power than a rope over a caribiener IF the wire had held, realistically it wouldn't have and I would have fell 40+ feet to my death. Needless to say I wont be trusting him to set anchors for a good while.

Cody - 07/28/2014 5:54:56

I was belaying someone and noticed the climbing on the route next to is yelling at his partner about slack repeatedly. I turned I look, and his partner was flustered and attempting to give him slack my pulling up the lever on the grigri with one hand and using her other hand to pull up on the climber side of the rope! It became clear very quickly that she had never belayed with a grigri before- and never lead belayed period. Her partner would yell at her but refused to be lowered down or clip in direct so I could try to help his belayer. I couldn't give hands-on help because I was belaying someone so I had to give a couple of tips and hope it was enough to get her partner up. Thankfully he made it up without falling!

Nicole - 07/28/2014 5:05:55

I once watched a climber on a sport route that was way above his ability keep taking falls at every bolt. After pulling on draws to get up about three bolts high he started climbing to the next bolt, he got nervous about the ensuing whip he was about to take and proceeded to step on the bolt below himself then reach up and stick both fingers in the bolt above. He then pulled out a draw and clipped the bolt while his fingers were still in it, then held the draw and nervously managed to wriggle his fingers out of the bolt, clip the rope and take a rest.

Dominic RIckicki - 07/28/2014 4:44:01

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