Unbelayvable: Bad Anchors And Bad Parents

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? Email unbelayvable@climbing.com.

Beautiful? Yes. Bomber? No.
Photo: james_mann/Flickr. http://ow.ly/wdv7t

>>I saw someone set up a toprope anchor using a rhododendron bush. It was only about an inch in diameter.
Courtney Garwood, via Facebook

LESSON: Rhododendron: beautiful shrub, terrible climbing anchor. The American Alpine Institute recommends the standard of “five and alive” for natural climbing anchors (trees, bushes). That is, five inches in diameter, five feet tall, solid root base, and alive, though this bush could be ruled out by a more informal test. Ask yourself: “Do I trust this plant with my life?” Don’t underestimate the force generated in a toprope fall. While it may feel like casual climbing, the physics can still be significant.

>>I was with a pretty skilled partner who set up our rappel on a single rope. I didn’t watch him do it. I rapped first. At 30 feet from the ground, I looked down to see the end of one strand inches from my hand. I held the rope in a death grip and threw a piece of gear into the wall to clip into directly. Turned out the rope was so dirty the middle marker was indiscernible.
Alissa Doherty, via Facebook

LESSON: Anyone can make a mistake, no matter how experienced. Don’t be shy about double-checking your partner’s work. If you can’t find the center mark on your rope, don’t just guess! Start at each end and coil until you find the middle. Then go home and clean that filthy rope according to the manufacturer's guidelines. Better yet, prevent it from getting dirty in the first place by using a rope tarp. Beyond just hiding center marks, dirt crystals can work their way into your rope over time and damage the fibers.

>>I work at a climbing gym. The sketchiest thing I’ve seen was a dad “belaying” his kid on a 12-meter wall as if he were raising a flag on a pole. No belay device or harness. Even after doing a rescue and giving the dad a stern warning, he just said, "Oh he's so light, and I don't have my gear anyway." Eventually, he reluctantly went to the rental desk and moved to another wall. A moment later, I asked the rental desk if he rented a harness and a belay device. "Nope, just the harness." I ran upstairs and found him belaying his son through the tie-in loops. Wasn't even a Munter!
Zoé, via Climbing.com

LESSON: If you love your child, consider belaying with the appropriate gear and learning to do so properly. Belay devices use friction to give you a significant mechanical advantage when catching a falling climber. While your 60-pound son may seem light, his force will multiply quickly during even short falls. Also consider that many gyms use semi-static ropes for their toprope setups, which don't absorb as much force. Suddenly that small falling child isn't as easy to stop with your bare hands. And don’t ever belay through your tie-in loops. The friction caused by the nylon rope running across the nylon loops will cause excess wear on both, potentially leading to failure.


Previous Comments

Had 2 guys turn up to the cliff I was at with my brother one day. They place one wire in at top, clipped into it and proceded to throw themselves into a face first rappel off the overhung 100ft face. When politely asked if they were going to put another anchor in they said, "No thats not going anywhere". We quietly left before we had to witness their splatter and report to the coroner"

Matt - 05/21/2014 8:01:08

When doing a regular risk assessment at my climbing facility, I watched a girl reach the top of one of our taller routes (85ft). When she let go to be lowered to the ground something looked very off. She was facing backwards, almost as if she were rappelling aussie style. When she reached the ground, it turned out she was clipped into a gear loop. Luckily for her it was strong to hold her weight.

Morgan Gerville-Reache - 05/02/2014 6:55:26

Saw someone teaching a group of about 8 people at the gym how to setup their grigris and belay. She was teaching them to put the grigris in upside down. Not someone I ever saw work there before or after, and not sure why the staff allowed this to happen but I corrected her for their safety. She said she knew something didn't feel right... why not ask if she knew something wasn't right rather than teach it to others?

Kevin - 04/28/2014 6:25:36

Saw a girl belaying a friend in a rock gym with a gri gri. She was faced away from her partner, talking with a friend with her hand over the locking feature on her gri gri. Partner decked from 20'. They both walked away but neither had any idea how lucky they were.

Rob Aspinwall - 04/28/2014 12:33:56