Unbelayvable: Alan, You're Off Belay

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Every Monday we publish the most unbelievable stories of climbing stupidity submitted by our readers. See something unbelayvable? Email unbelayvable@climbing.com and your story could be featured online or in print. For more Unbelayvable, check out the Unbelayvable Archives.

The gunks NY rock climbing unbelayvable

The Trapps at New York's Shawangunk Ridge. A cool place to have a belay. Photo: Thatcher Clay/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

I climbed Morning After (5.8) in the Gunks with a friend new to multi-pitch climbing. I led pitch two. It’s easy face climbing with one minor crux. I was out of sight of my belayer and about to make the crux move when I heard—from 100 feet off the deck—“Alan, you’re off belay!” A guy on the next route had the same name as my belayer. When my partner heard his own name and “Off belay!” he thought it had been me yelling.
—Alan, via email

LESSON: It’s good to include names in your climbing commands, but this is where the system breaks down. Some people have the same name—especially people named Mike. That’s why it’s important to exercise your judgment in all climbing decisions. Alan suggested a few context clues that should have tipped off his partner: The leader had only been climbing a short time, and not much rope had been paid out. The voice was coming from too far away and didn’t sound like him. And he hadn’t stopped climbing long enough to build an anchor. There are also a few other ways you can mitigate the risk. If the belayer is able to, he can extend his anchor tether via a clove hitch so he can safely move into sight of his climber. He can call up for confirmation. Or if he is unsure, he could have simply left Alan on belay until it was 100 percent clear Alan was yarding in slack to put him on belay. Remember: It’s better to keep someone on belay when they ask to be off belay than it is to take them off belay when they want to be on.

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