Unbelayvable: High Slack, Low Ceiling

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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? Email unbelayvable@climbing.com and your story could be featured online or in print. For more Unbelayvable, check out the Unbelayvable Archives.

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My gym has some long, low ceiling routes. I’d say they’re only around 12 feet high. It doesn’t give the belayer much space to catch a fall. One day I saw a guy leading one of the ceilings. His girlfriend wanted to chat with him while he climbed, so she was walking along underneath him as she belayed. When I saw them, she was already standing 15 feet from the start, and had so much slack out the rope was laying on the ground. I stopped and explained why the situation was dangerous. I naively expected her to take in slack and get closer to the wall. Instead, she proudly answered that her boyfriend was a good climber and would not fall.—Michal Vaner, via email

LESSON: This pretend belay isn’t accomplishing anything. If you’re belaying far from the base of a route and your climber falls, his weight will usually pull you into the wall, toward the first bolt. This means that every foot you stand away from the wall is another foot the climber can fall. The same goes for excess slack. If you’re standing 15 feet away from the wall and your climber falls from 12 feet up, they’re going to hit the ground. Furthermore, standing far back from the first piece of protection adds extra outward force on the piece. Get in the habit of belaying directly below the first piece of protection.

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