Unbelayvable: Don't End A First Date By Decking

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.

A good first date. Note that no one's life is in danger. Photo: portobaytrade/flickr; http://ow.ly/yD2Mp

>>I was waiting in line to rappel in Gorges du Verdon, France. There was a party of five in front of me. One guy prepared and I noticed something strange about his ATC. He had clipped the rope through the ATC with a locking biner in the proper place, but instead of clipping that to his belay loop, he clipped a separate biner through the ATC’s wire and secured himself to that. I warned him about the danger, to which he responded, “Thats fine. I always do it like that, never had a problem."
—Submitted by Felipe, via climbing.com

LESSON: The wire on a belay device is called a keeper loop. Its purpose is to keep your device from sliding up the rope. It's not designed to be load bearing. If this climber has been using it to support his weight every time he rappels then he's very lucky, and possibly very skinny. The bottom line is that you can't reliably depend on it to hold you. Besides, you're already using a perfectly good locking carabiner. There's no reason to make the system more complicated (and completely unsafe) by adding another biner. To make it extra safe, extend it, back it up with your favorite friction hitch, and throw knots in the ends of each strand every time. Enough rappel accidents happen when people are using gear properly. Don't tempt the fates and make your raps any more dangerous than they need to be.

>>My partner was getting ready to try to red point his project. He was tying in when I asked him how he was going to handle the crux. He started mimicking the moves with his hands. Then he chalked up and went. He sent the route, clipped the anchor, and called for me to take. As he leaned back to lower, he screamed and grabbed the chains. When he’d started to weight the rope, his knot unraveled and was pulling through his harness. When I had asked him how he was going to do the final section, he stopped tying in and forgot to finish.
—Submitted by Darren Essman, via Facebook

LESSON: This is a fairly common way experienced people get hurt. They get distracted and forget to finish tying in, or locking their belay biner, or passing the strand through both harness loops. We, as climbers, tie in so often that's it's easy to overlook a simple mistake. A good way to avoid this is to make a point to finish what you start before moving on to anything else. Don't tie half your figure eight and stop to put on your shoes. Don't start your figure eight then pause to have a conversation. Don't start your figure eight then take a break to make sure your rack is organized the way you like it. Start your figure eight and finish your figure eight before anything else, every time. Then the belayer should check out the climber's knot and make sure it's up to code, and the climber should check that the belayer is set up properly and their biner is locked. These simple mistakes can be avoided simply by double checking your partner.

>>A couple was on an obvious first date on the route next to us up Rock Canyon. I saw the guy giving the girl a run down on how to belay. She said she understood, and he started climbing. She was quite sketchy. She didn't know when to give slack and when to take. He topped out and then it went from sketchy to scary. She dropped him 10 feet when she tried to lower him. They both freaked out, so I grabbed the rope and brought him down myself while the belay device was still on her harness.
Dustin Tara Hansen, via Facebook

LESSON: There are better ways to impress a girl than by decking. Lead belaying is a complex skill that takes training and practice. It's not the kind of thing you can expect someone to get right after a brief verbal lesson. Remember, you're the one in danger when you climb with an inexperienced belayer. Start by taking your date to a climbing gym and giving her proper instruction. Have someone back up her belay until she has the confidence and ability she needs to belay on her own. Only after she's caught some falls and lowered you without incident a handful of times should you take her to climb outside. Who knows? Maybe she'll turn into the belayer you'll spend the rest of your life with. Better option: Take her out to dinner.

See something unbelayvable?
Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print.



Previous Comments

I once had a very similar first date. She was just learning to climb and we were at the local climbing gym. I remember the blood curdling scream from 40 feet below more than the 8 foot drop I took while she tried to remember what to do. Lesson learned, climbing gyms give out belay certifications and they don't mean much. I have been more careful since then about who I trust.

Rob - 09/12/2014 3:39:36

"These simple mistakes can be avoided simply by double checking your partner." And please don't get bent out of shape when your belay asks to double check you. As someone who has worked at Gyms (or done that "can I make a suggestion" at the local wall), I cannot count how many snotty remarks I have had from these people about "how they know what they are doing, you don't have to check." ---- "A couple was on an obvious first date on the route next to us up"... I have personally seen this several times at The Red. I am always baffled by this and would love anyone's explanation to what possesses someone to do it. "I agree the route should be one you would be happy soloing."... This does not help much when you have someone new short roping you at every clip. We watched this very thing with one of those first dates at Muir Valley's "the practice wall". This guy had brought this woman who was obviously a first timer... gave that 10 minute, here is how to use a gri-gri on lead belay and off he went. Not shockingly, she was fumbling with that gawd-awful thing. I have been climbing for 10 years and still fumble with the bleeping thing and despise them with lead. Anyway, our group "stepped" in to give a bit of assistance which was not in our plans.

Monica - 08/30/2014 5:36:01

If you have to climb with an inexperienced belayer, I agree the route should be one you would be happy soloing. But then you're going to trust them to lower you ? Unless you downclimb, have the belayer unthread the belay device, and haul up the rope for a rappel.

AR - 07/01/2014 8:48:32

"Start by taking your date to a climbing gym and giving her proper instruction." Unnecessary: simply do a 5.0 that you could actually solo and get her to belay you. Before you take off, clip the first bolt, come back down and have her practice giving and taking slack for 20 minutes. Throw in some surprise yanks with all your weight on the rope simulating falls. If she lets go of the rope in fear, then better go bouldering. Show her a good moving-your-hands technique, stress repeatedly the need to NEVER let go of the breaking strand of the rope with both hands, and have tons of fun. :)

RAIV - 07/01/2014 4:51:33

I had someone set up a top rope anchor for me once, to save me the walk around the back. They hauled up some gear and rope, and set the anchor slightly back from the edge. Someone else climbed before me and fell several times before lowering from the top. I went second and (fortunately) didn't fall. As I said "take!" at the top I smelt a burning smell. Before weighting the rope I looked around. Over the lip I saw my rope threaded directly through a 25mm tubular webbing sling. Only it wasn't 25mm think anymore, it was melted back to more like 2mm. If I'd weighted the rope I would've taken a 25m backwards ground fall. Unlike Lynn Hill, there were no trees to break my fall. Let me just say that words were spoken...

Stretch - 06/30/2014 11:52:27

@JM - Excellent point. These mistakes really can happen to anyone, no matter how good you are. Another reason to always check your knot.

Climbing Staff - 06/30/2014 10:52:19

I was at a local crag with some friends - six of whom had never climbed outside before, let alone inside a gym. Tying their figure eights and teaching them proper climbing protocol - They were essentially novices. We took them top-roping to an easier, but chossier part of the crag and they began climbing. I was belaying one as another was speaking with me, when I look up to find a bowling ball sized rock skipping/hurtling at the floor towards us. I yelled "ROCK!" and the bystanders had just enough time to dodge out of its path before It exploded on the ground next to us. The climber knew the rock had fallen, but didn't give any of us a signal. If I hadn't been looking, someone might've been seriously injured. I suppose the fault is our own for not instructing them on the etiquette, but we did so afterwards, and not more than 20 minutes later did another fall on the same route. The next climber called out this time and people were able to escape the blast radius.

Devin - 06/30/2014 9:01:06

The second one sounds just like the Lynn Hill accident in '89. She got distracted by where her shoes were half way into tying in. Her fleece pullover on the chilly morning covered the unfinished tie in knot. It's a miracle she survived the 80 foot free fall from the chains of the easy warm up route, let alone having relatively minor injuries! Don't get distracted when climbing!

JM - 06/30/2014 6:36:37