Unbelayvable: A Toprope of Dubious Quality

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Gimmer Crag Lake District Rock Climbing

Gimmer Crag, the scene of the climb. Photo: Mike Bean/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

I was at Gimmer Crag in the Lake District, England. I saw a young climber struggling on F Route, a grade VS (~5.7) layback crack that gets steeper and more committing as you go higher. He called up to friends at the top of the cliff to set a toprope. They did, then lowered a pre-knotted rope, which he clipped to his harness. He then climbed quickly and confidently. As he pulled up onto a ledge just below the top, he was surprised to see his end of the rope continue up past his nose without him. Given that he’d just climbed 60 feet on a toprope of dubious quality, his shouted expletive was perhaps understandable.
—Patrick, via email

LESSON: Understandable perhaps, indeed! If I climbed 60 feet and then found out that I was never on belay, I would yell some things. That's the proper way to handle that situation from that point. Of course,  you would be better off if you never got to that point in the first place. I don't know what went wrong here. I suspect a miscommunication. Regardless, the advice is the same. If the climber had double checked the knot before he started climbing, he should have caught the problem, whatever it was. Always double check your knot! Make sure it's properly tied and through both of your tie-in points (or if clipping in with a carabiner like above, that the knot is properly tied with enough tail and that the carabiner is locked). If someone else is around, make them check it too. All human beings make dumb mistakes. If you climb long enough you will probably make a dumb mistake. If you always double check your system, you should catch that mistake before it turns into a dangerous mistake.

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