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We were climbing at Chuckwalla in southern Utah when we witnessed a belay accident. My partner had just reached the top of his route. As I started to lower him, I heard a rope zipping freely. I looked to my left, and a climber was in a free fall about 60 feet up. Then he stopped suddenly. His belayer looked astonished. His belay device had somehow come off his harness and was now jammed into the first quickdraw. It was the only thing holding the climber. We quickly had someone put the climber back on belay and removed the jammed device from the rope. The worst part is that the belayer had no idea how it happened.
—Eric Freiberg, via email
LESSON: This one does sound a bit fantastic—how did the quickdraw lock the rope?—but crazy stuff happens all the time, so on that note… Unless the belayer’s harness broke, there’s really only one way this can happen. The belay carabiner had to unclip itself from the harness. That’s only possible if it wasn’t locked. Always check that your belay carabiner is locked, and then have your partner double-check before she starts climbing. For added assurance, use an auto-locking carabiner so it can’t unscrew itself during the climb, and choose an anti-cross-loading design that keeps the harness and carabiner in the proper orientation such as the Metolius Gatekeeper.
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