Unbelayvable: Unnecessary Hip Belays

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.

Proper hip belay

Old timers will recognize this is a proper hip belay. Illustration: Supercorn.

>>Last weekend, I was climbing on a large ledge above the road in Boulder Canyon. A new trad leader started up an easy route. The belayer was not anchored, which is forgivable since it’s quite a large ledge. However, after the leader placed his first piece, he started bounce-testing it!
—Abram Herman, via Climbing.com

LESSON: Leave the bounce-testing to aid climbers unless you down-climb to a safe place first. If the pro failed and the climber were lucky, he’d deck on the ledge. If not, he’d fall past the ledge, yank his belayer off with him, and they’d both plummet down onto the street. If there’s any chance a fall will be bad news for your belayer, then he should be anchored. It’s certainly good to test pro and lock it in place with a solid yank, but don’t put all your weight on it. You don’t want to rip it—and yourself—off the wall.

>>Two climbers were on After Seven (5.8) in Yosemite. The leader started climbing, but the belayer was talking to some girls. When he was 15 feet up, the belayer sauntered over and put the rope around his back. He was attempting to hip belay, but he wasn’t braced against anything. My friend and I asked, “Why are you hip belaying?” He shot back, “Because we’re old!” They were no more than 35. The kicker: he had an ATC hanging from his harness.
—Billy SLC, via Climbing.com

LESSON: Hey, 35 isn’t old! It’s definitely not old enough to use hip belays by default, since the first belay devices came out in 1970. The hip belay is a good technique to know for rolling but still “no-fall zone” alpine terrain. A good hip belay is all about stance; your legs absorb a fall’s impact. If you’re standing casually, a fall would pull you out of your stance and rip the rope from your hands. Sit down, brace your feet against something sturdy, straighten your legs, and prepare to be pulled toward the climber. (Learn more in our guide to hip belays).

>>A party on Black Magic (5.10) in Wadi Rum, Jordan, was recently rescued. They either misread the topo or lost count of the pitches. They thought they were at the base of the last pitch, an easy slab, when, in fact, they were at the base of the second-to-last pitch, a difficult corner. They left their ropes at the rappel station and soloed the pitch, intending to return after the top to rap off. Instead, they found they couldn’t reverse it and were stranded 800 feet above the ground.
—Hanina Kali, via Climbing.com

LESSON: Poor preparation can be just as dangerous as bad practices. Black Magic is a 12-pitch trad route—a serious undertaking. The climb should be planned before leaving the ground. Keep track of the pitches and bring the guidebook (or photocopied page) up the wall in case you find yourself unsure. It’s also a good idea to carry emergency bivy gear on big climbs. You never know when you’ll be benighted. A puffy, emergency blanket, lighter, hand warmers, and some GU packets will make an uncomfortable night on the wall less uncomfortable.

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



Previous Comments

While climbing with my family at Panty Wall in Red Rocks, Nevada, we made friends with a mother/son team from Germany. The son was in his mid-teens and seemed like a squared-away climber. The mother was leading a 5.8 route and I was belaying my son on a different route about 30 feet away. I could see that the son was having trouble letting out rope as his mother climbed because the rope kept curling. Then I noticed that he was letting go with his brake hand to reach down and shake out the curls. He was using an ATC so there was no chance of braking if his mother fell. He kept his guide hand on the rope, which accomplished nothing. After my son lowered I went and explained that he needed to keep his brake hand on the rope. I stayed by him until his mom finished the climb and explained how he could reach around with his guide hand if he needed to shake the rope out. I explained to the mom what I had told him and she was very thankful that I had caught what was going on and offered some advice.

Christine Davies - 07/10/2014 4:09:52

Arriving at Casal Pianos, a trad cliff in Portugal, I meet a group of 4 climbers working the moves, on toprope, of a 6b+. The carabiner of the Grigri, a BD Gridlock was connected to the leg and waist loop instead of the belay loop and unscrewed. The leg loop was jamming/jammed on the inner trigger gate (the metal part that locks the belay loop in place preventing it from moving inside the biner) causing the gate to be on a open position, by miracle the Grigri had not came out. Everybody was chating and no one notice the oddly open biner. I screamed to the belayer to unlock the trigger, close the gate and screw it. And after told in to use only the belay loop in order to prevent crosslaoding the binner and preventing the gate to open if the screw isn't close. And if he needed to connected the carabiner in the leg and waist loops, because he didn't trust the belay loop, time was for him to buy a new harness.

Rui Rosado - 07/08/2014 4:38:23

@Timon @Gert - Fixed! Thanks for the heads up.

Climbing Staff - 07/08/2014 11:49:10

http://www.climbing.com/skill/how-to-hip-belay/ They left a " at the end of the link in the article.

Timon - 07/08/2014 11:43:56

"(Learn more in our guide to hip belays)." I'd like to learn ablut hip belays. But... The link doesn't work. The editors should take an hour just to browse around on this website and they'll notice that a lot of links don't work and images don't appear.

Gert - 07/08/2014 9:35:27