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It was the best day of the Irish summer so far. I was tackling the longest HVS (5.8) I’d done in a long time, a pumpy but well-protected layback aptly named Exertion. As I approached the crux, I placed a cam and called down to my belayer that I was taking a short rest at this stance before the committing finish. My belayer called back up, “Take all the time you need, man!” I looked down to thank him only to see him head down with both hands buried in his pack, digging out a chocolate bar. He had no assisted-braking device, and no locked-off belay. When I called him out after the route for his lax belay, he defended himself by saying I was being overly cautious and that I “probably would have been fine.”
—Patrick, via email
LESSON: Unless the climber asks the belayer to take him off belay, the belayer should never take him off belay. Never, as in not ever. It doesn’t matter if the climber is on a big ol’ ledge—he has to be the one to make that call every time if there’s going to be any trust in the belaytionship. Meanwhile, as a climber, if you are going to take a long rest, you can give your belayer a break by clipping in direct to a bolt or solid piece of gear. And belayers, if you simpy must go hands-free at any point, always tie a stopper knot below your belay device. A quick overhand on a bight with a carabiner clipped through the loop should do.
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