Unbelayvable: The Amazing Mom Belay

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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. For more Unbelayvable, check out the Unbelayvable Archives.

>>I was climbing in the gym when I noticed a mom "belaying" her daughter nearby. Mom was holding the rope in her hands and pulling down slack, without any assistance from a tube-style device or Munter hitch, as her daughter ascended the wall. I mentioned that she might consider getting a harness and belaying with a device, she told me she "wasn't tired" and that it was fine. Her kids weren't weightless three-year-olds, so we gave an employee a heads up. He said he disagreed with it, but there was some weird policy that allowed parents to belay how they wish, or something along those lines. A couple minutes later, we saw the same woman belaying both her daughter and her son at the same time with the same technique (see photo). Thankfully, this prompted the employee to rush over and take charge before any accidents could happen.—Submitted by Brighton Kilgore, via email 

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LESSON: What this mom lacks, besides a general concern for the well being of her children, is friction. Belaying is all about friction. When you use any acceptable form of belay, friction locks the rope in place and transfers the force of a fall into your body (or anchor). It's your weight that does the work to hold your climber in place. The force of a falling body accelerates quickly and would be very difficult to catch with arms alone. Even the static weight of a child hanging on the rope would be tough to hold with one hand for much time. Many gyms wrap their topropes around a pipe at the top of the route. This provides extra friction, which absorbs some force in a fall and generally makes the belayer's job easier. While it's a little difficult to see in the submitted photo, it does not appear that this mom was in one of those gyms. She was on her own, or rather, her children were.

>>We took a friend from back east out to climb for her first time. I got whacked with some flu early in the day and went to lay down in my truck. In my absence, my husband decided to give our friend a belay lesson, then up he went. He finished his route then our friend lowered him. He was making big, fun jumps as he descended, and I sat up in the truck to watch. What I witnessed was the end of the rope slipping through the belay device and the belayer's hands, then my husband decking. Thankfully, he wasn't injured.—Submitted by Wendy Costello, via email 

LESSON: New belayer or not, it's always a good idea to check the length of the route before you start. Get a guidebook, or the currently free Mountain Project app. If there's any question about your rope's ability to reach the ground, tie a knot in the end. In fact, even if it's pretty clear your rope will reach the ground, it doesn't hurt to tie a knot in the end. Too many avoidable accidents happen because people lower or rap off the end of their rope. If you make a habit of knotting the end every time, you're less likely to forget the one time it matters. That goes double when working with a new belayer, who may not even be aware that such an accident is possible.

>>I heard a belayer behind me yell up to his climber, "Hey, stop there. Don't let go." The climber was about 20 feet up, and by the time I turned my head to see what the belayer was doing, he had unclipped his belay device and removed the rope. Apparently, he hadn't set it up properly the first time.—Submitted by Kris, via Climbing.com

LESSON: The last thing you ever want to hear from your belayer is the words "Don't let go." That's why these problems should be addressed on the ground. Partner checks go both ways. Your belayer should double-check your knot to make sure you're properly attached, and you should double check your belayer. His device should be oriented correctly. His carabiner should be locked. And he should be attached via his belay loop on his harness. But let's say you do find yourself in the above scenario. The solution is not to tell the climber, "Hey, don't fall for a minute." The climber should find a way to go on direct before he's taken off belay. Bolts (You do know how to tie a clove hitch, right?), trad gear, and natural features are the obvious choices. If that's not possible, lowering may be the safest option.

See something unbelayvable? Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print. Got an unbelayvable photo? Send it to unbelayvable@climbing.com.