Unbelayvable: The Unwilling Leader

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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.

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Climbing is scary, especially for new climbers. Give them a break. Photo: ruthanddave/Flickr; http://ow.ly/FbZbh

>>I was climbing at a local crag when another group arrived. We could tell right away that they were ambitious beyond their skill and ability levels. We kept a close eye on them to try and offer any help should they need it. One guy was leading a route while teaching his belayer how to belay. The route was clearly at the upper end of his skill level. We offered some pointers, but got sideways glances of disdain for offering safety advice. Then the next couple started up. The girl had no outdoor experience but went up a 5.7 on lead at the coaxing of her boyfriend. She cruxed out partway up, but her boyfriend refused to lower her. He just kept yelling that she could do it. She then down-climbed to a very small ledge, untied from the rope, gave it to the guy giving a live belay lesson, and asked him to clip it above the crux for her then throw it back so she could tie back in. We pleaded for her to  remain tied in but got more sideways glances. At that point we cut our session short because we didn’t want to see the outcome of the possible disaster developing in front of our eyes.—Colin, via Climbing.com

LESSON: There are a whole lot of problems here. Obviously teaching someone to lead belay while you're leading a difficult route is a terrible idea, so I'm going to focus on the unwilling leader. The climber is the boss in the climber-belayer relationship. A little encouragement is OK, but if the climber actively asks to be lowered, and then begins downclimbing, then lower them already! The belayer here is doing nothing but making an already stressful situation worse for the climber, and violating the trust in the climber-belayer relationship. This could very well lead to the climber being more timid and fearful in the future, because she won't believe that her belayer has her back. In this instance, it lead to the dangerous situation of the climber sitting on a small ledge untethered to anything. Stay safe and keep it fun by toproping a route if you're unwilling to lead it. You could also find a new boyfriend.

>>I made a pretty big mistake when I was starting to learn to climb multi-pitch sport. I got to the top of a pitch and set up a sliding x anchor with a Petzl Reverso in guide mode, but added a sling to the carabiner holding the rope in the belay device. I clipped that sling to an anchor bolt. My partner was 40 meters below me, with another 240 meters to the ground. He fell on the pitch. His direction of pull caused the sling to straighten, which prevented the device from blocking automatically. The rope started rapidly sliding through my hands. I yanked the brake strand into the sling carabiner on the bolt, allowing me to brake and burning the palms of my hands.—Daniel, via Email

LESSON: We don't get many emails from people admitting to their own mistakes. Good job Daniel for recognizing what you did wrong (though bad job for dropping your partner a bit). For those of you that are unfamiliar, auto-blocking tube-style belay devices (also known as Plaquette devices) can be set up to brake automatically when belaying from above. This is called belaying in guide mode. Read Essential Skills: Auto-Blocking Belay Devices for a primer. Basically, when the climber falls, the climber's side of the rope pins the brake side in place, preventing it from moving, and arresting the fall. For this to work, the device must be oriented properly. That extra sling forced the device into the wrong position, preventing it from locking. This problem could have been avoided entirely if Daniel had read Petzl's instructions (see the technical notice pdf) before using the device, which explicitly state that the carabiner which attaches the rope must always be able to move freely. It never hurts to practice these skills on the ground, either.

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What’s wrong with this anchor? Would you climb on it? Tell us in the comments, then see an assessment and more awful anchors at the Dumb Anchors blog. Photo: John Gregory/Dumb Anchors. (Click for full size.)

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.