Unbelayvable: 5 Photos of Absolutely Awful Belayers


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.

Belaying should be a lifelong pursuit, a skill that we are always striving to improve and perfect. It should be done consciously, and with great care. Unfortunately, the world is full of people that think clipping a rope to their belay device is enough to ensure the safety of their partner or, worse yet, that they can figure out how to belay on their own. Here is a collection of those dangerous people, captured in the wild by our readers.


—Submitted by Kristaps, via email

LESSON: This belayer is standing too far from the wall. She has slack between her brake hand and the belay device. But her worst problem is obscured because we chose to blur her face: she's staring at the ground. This belayer is completely inattentive. If her leader falls she's going to be yanked into the wall while the rope tries to rip itself out of her hand. All of this will come as a surprise to her because she's not paying attention. Hopefully she won't let go of the rope as a result. On the other hand, if she kept the brake strand tight and watched her climber, she'd be able to provide a nice soft catch without much effort.


—Submitted by Kristaps, via email

LESSON: Just so we're clear on what's happening here, this child is leading and this man thinks he's belaying with his bare hands. It doesn't matter how light this child is. If he falls above a bolt, he will have a considerable amount of inertia by the time the rope catches him. This is not OK. It would be difficult or impossible to catch him with human arms alone. It's especially inexcusable because the belayer is wearing a harness and has a carabiner. He could easily use a Munter hitch if he had no belay device. For more advice from a surprisingly similar scenario see The Amazing Mom Belay.


—Submitted by Gerry Egbalic, via email

LESSON: This climber is essentially off belay. There's nothing wrong with locking off the brake strand and using your free hand to take a photo for the ol' Instagram feed (if the climber is in a safe position). The problem here is that the brake strand is not locked off. It is the opposite of locked off, held high to the heavens, minimizing the friction of the belay device which, according to the submitter, is a tube-style device. If the climber falls that rope is going to whip right through the device as if it's not there. I would also like to point out that, in the unblurred version of this photo, the belayer can be seen to be wearing a "YOLO" hat.


—Submitted by Eugene, via email

LESSON: Another case of bad belaying caused by a butt shot opportunity too good to pass up. The problem here is that the belayer has both hands off his assisted braking device. Assisted braking devices are not automatic braking devices. I've covered this in depth in this column before. While some of our commenters will debate this, the bottom line is that it's against the manufacturer's instructions to take your hand off the brake strand. If you don't use climbing gear based on the manufacturer's instructions, then you can't rely on it to perform as the manufacturer intends.


 —Submitted by Dan A., via email

LESSON: You may want to look at the full size version of this photo to fully appreciate it. This man is belaying off a leather belt, which is backed up by a cord that may be or may not be properly anchored off camera, but is also tied to his belt loop. He also does not appear to know how to belay. There's so much wrong here that the only advice I can give is to use appropriate gear rated for climbing, and seek proper instruction. The best case scenario in a fall is that this guy's pants are ruined.

We want to hear your unbelayvable stories! 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.