Unbelayvable: A PAS Freeloader

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Red Rock Unbelayvable

Red Rock, Nevada. Photo: Forest and Kim Starr/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

My friends were at the pitch two belay station of a three-pitch route at Red Rock. As they prepared to begin the last pitch, a guy arrived at the anchor from below. He said, "I just ran my gear out 60 feet. Mind if I clip into your PAS?" Without waiting for an answer, he clipped directly into my friend's PAS. Not the anchor. Not a bolt. Her PAS. She was too shocked to speak, but her partner quickly told him to get on the anchor instead. The guy didn't understand why she practically had smoke coming out of her ears as she said it. It made for an awkward belay, to say the least.
—Mel, via email

LESSON: You might expect someone to make a hasty decision while 60-feet run out. That said, this situation wouldn't have happened in the first place without some questionable decision making. Don't start a pitch unless you know the party above you will be clear of the anchor by the time you get there. That's just good etiquette. Two can be a crowd at a multipitch anchor if it's not on a big ledge.

Now let's talk about the PAS. This is a PAS. The acronym stands for Personal Anchor System. The PAS is a variation of a daisy chain. It's essentially a chain of small beefy slings. The climber girth hitches it through her tie-in points and uses it to go in direct to an anchor. The different loops allow for a custom tether length. Clip a closer loop for a shorter tether, further loop for longer. Simple, right? The PAS does have a limitation. Like with all static tethers, even short falls will put huge forces on the anchor and climber. They simply don't absorb force. The way to mitigate this is by keeping your tether taught and not climbing above your anchor while clipped in with a PAS. Hopefully you can see why clipping an extra climber to a PAS in a small awkward space would be a bad idea. This inconsiderate fellow should've just clipped himself into the anchor shelf. While still rude to show up announced halfway up a cliff, it would have been more polite than going on someone else's lifeline without permission.

And if you're going to be so gripped after a 60-foot runout that you need to pull something like this, then you either didn't come prepared with the proper gear, you didn't come prepared with the proper skills, or both. That's a massive runout. Do your research. Read a guidebook. Check Mountain Project. Bring a proper rack.

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