Unbelayvable: Bed Sheets Aren't UIAA Certified

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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.

Not a climbing rope.

Nothing in this photo is UIAA rated to catch falls. Photo: Joel Kramer/flickr; http://ow.ly/y6m3h

>>A few years ago, I took my dad climbing. It was his first time. Half-way up the first pitch, I looked down and saw him randomly pulling at loose coils of rope with both hands from a giant tangle on the ground.—Submitted by Doug Valverde, via email

LESSON: This one's on you, Doug. When you take a new climber out, it's your responsibility to teach them best practices to ensure both of your safety. While you should've taught your dad never to take his hand off the brake strand (if he loves his son), you could've avoided the issue all together by flaking the rope. You should flake your rope before every route. Simply take one end of the rope and start pulling, untangling knots as you go, and letting the rope fall as it may into a loose pile, ideally on a rope tarp. Continue until you've reached the other end of the rope. This will remove any tangles and make it easy to work with, though if the rope is especially kinked, a good rappel is the quickest way to straighten it out.

>>I saw a pumped guy on toprope chalk up and some flakes fluttered down. Of course, the flakes went into his belayer's eye. She winced and said, "Hold up, I'm going to unclip and give the ATC to Amanda." The climber was about 30 feet up. I stopped her before she could unclip her ATC and helped her lower him to safety.—Submitted by Jason Zodda, via email

LESSON: Good job, Jason. Bad job, belayer who wanted to give her ATC to Amanda. A good belayer should be like the Royal Guards at Buckingham Palace: blind to everything but the task at hand. There is nothing more important than keeping your climber safe. It doesn't matter if you get chalk flakes in your eye. It doesn't matter if you get dirt in your eye. It doesn't matter what you get in your eye. Never take your climber off belay unless your climber tells you to take them off belay. If you absolutely need to transfer the belay (bees in your eye is acceptable), there are ways to do it without taking the climber off belay. Take a self-rescue course to learn those skills before you need them. Check out our own guide for a primer. Also, it's pretty common for stuff to get in your eyes while belaying. Consider sunglasses.

>>Driving up Boulder Canyon in the time before cell phone cameras, I nearly drove into the creek upon seeing this. A"toprope" was being ascended by a corpulent man and his partner, both dressed in jeans and sneakers. They had set it up using several lengths of a bed sheet twisted into a rope, knotted every dozen feet or so, and passing through a large pulley that was draped over the top of the route. We observed nothing of note on our return from Animal World, so the two must have at least escaped with their bodies intact.—Submitted by Richard Wright, via climbing.com

LESSON: Let's leave the bed sheet ropes to people escaping from prisons, shall we? This is so unsafe that my blanket advice is to go climb with someone that knows what they're doing. But just for fun, here's why this is scenario is so bad. First, a chain of bed sheets is obviously not rated to catch falls, but supposing it didn't tear into pieces at the first sign of a load, you're still not out of the woods. Climbing ropes stretch to absorb impact in a fall. This is why you can take a 20-foot whipper and still have functioning organs. A static rope, which a bed sheet rope presumably is, does not stretch. This means a harsher drop for your climber, but more importantly, it means more force on the anchor and belayer. In a good toprope setup, the anchor provides friction, which keeps some force off the belayer. A pulley, on the other hand, provides very little friction. A real possibility in this scenario is that the climber falls, the belayer is pulled all the way up to the anchor, and the climber decks. Don't use bed sheets for climbing, and don't use pulleys for toprope anchors.