Unbelayvable: Swing Potential

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Kevin Corrigan
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Two parents were starting a beginner-friendly multi-pitch with their kids next to us. They told us how their first date had been on that route several years ago, and they were recreating it with their two boys, both a few years under 10. They planned to use three ropes, one between each climber. Mom would belay dad as he lead the pitches, then the children would follow one at a time, and mom would come up last. I didn't think it was the most efficient system, but it seemed safe.

Dad started by traversing the long horizontal crack in the photo without placing any protection. The first tree would act as pro if the second fell. It's a low fifth-class section, and it's common practice to traverse it without placing gear to save time. Still, an early fall by the second would cause a massive cheese grater swing ending on the ground.

The youngest of the boys started followed first and uncomfortably inched his way across. He was clearly scared. Mom was encouraging him along. I realized that, even though he was trailing a rope for his brother, he was only on belay from his dad up ahead, not from mom behind him. If he fell, he would succumb to the above mentioned cheesy ground fall. I was uncomfortable just watching, so I ran up to mom and explained that she should belay from behind as well. That way, if he did fall, he wouldn't take a huge swing and more importantly, wouldn't hit the ground. She was incredibly appreciative and thanked me several times over.

In the end, the little champ made it across with no incident, and the whole family seemed to enjoy the experience.
—Steve, via email

LESSON: Let's talk generally about traverses because this is a common mistake. Traverses are tricky. They need to be approached with a special mindset. If you're leading a pitch that's dead vertical, then your gear protects your follower much like a toprope. When things get horizontal, your gear protects your follower in the opposite direction that it protects you. If you fall on a traverse, you'll swing backwards to your last piece. If your follower falls, she'll swing forwards to the next piece. This isn't a big deal if you place a lot of gear. If you place a piece before a crux, then find yourself on easy terrain and run it out to the anchor, you're creating a dangerous situation. Look at the photo above and imagine falling from where the child is. It wouldn't be fun. The simple solution is to place pro regularly on traverses, and to always place a piece after a crux.

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