Unbelayvable: A Scary Noob Moment

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Kevin Corrigan
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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. For more Unbelayvable, check out the Unbelayvable Archives.

—Amanda Smith, Certified AMGA Single Pitch Instructor and guide for Arkansas Climbing Services

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LESSON: I can barely wrap my head around what's going on here. It's not worth trying to parse out all of this pair's perils. Instead I'll say this: If the belayer can be pulled off a cliff, then the belayer needs to be anchored. If the first pitch of a route starts on a precarious ledge, anchor your belayer. If you're lowering from the top of a cliff, anchor your belayer. It's important to remember that the belayer is tied to the climber, and that if the climber has a catastrophic fall without any protection, the belayer is going with them.

Some anchors are difficult to access from above. Climbers have been gravely injured trying to setup topropes over cliff edges. I give these two credit for realizing they should rope up. Unfortunately, they went about it all wrong. Like getting to the ground after finishing a sport route, you can access hard-to-reach anchors by rappelling or lowering. Either one requires a solid anchor. Rappelling will be the most straightforward. Just set up a rappel on a bomber tree or anchor, and go. If lowering, the simplest option is to build an anchor, clip your belay device to it like you would attach it to your harness, then lower as normal. If you really want to lower off your harness, you can, but you still need to build an anchor to clip yourself to. This version makes the system more complicated and less comfortable, so I don't recommend it.

Above all, use common sense. This pair should've been able to see the potential disaster they were creating if they thought it through. You won't always be lucky enough to have a mountain guide like Amanda nearby to help.

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