Every Monday we publish the most unbelievable stories of climbing stupidity submitted by our readers. See something unbelayvable? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courtney Garwood: I saw someone set up a toprope anchor using a rhododendron bush. It was only about an inch in diameter.
LESSON: Rhododendron: beautiful shrub, terrible climbing anchor. The American Alpine Institute recommends the standard of “five and alive” for natural climbing anchors (trees, bushes). That is, five inches in diameter, five feet tall, solid root base, and alive, though this bush could be ruled out by a more informal test. Ask yourself: “Do I trust this plant with my life?” Don’t underestimate the force generated in a toprope fall. While it may feel like casual climbing, the physics can still be significant.
Alissa Doherty: I was with a pretty skilled partner who set up our rappel on a single rope. I didn’t watch him do it. I rapped first. At 30 feet from the ground, I looked down to see the end of one strand inches from my hand. I held the rope in a death grip and threw a piece of gear into the wall to clip into directly. Turned out the rope was so dirty the middle marker was indiscernible.
LESSON: Anyone can make a mistake, no matter how experienced. Don’t be shy about double-checking your partner’s work. If you can’t find the center mark on your rope, don’t just guess! Start at each end and coil until you find the middle. Then go home and clean that filthy rope according to the manufacturer's guidelines. Better yet, prevent it from getting dirty in the first place by using a rope tarp.
Zoé: I work at a climbing gym. The sketchiest thing I’ve seen was a dad “belaying” his kid on a 12-meter wall as if he were raising a flag on a pole. No belay device or harness. Even after doing a rescue and giving the dad a stern warning, he just said, "Oh he's so light, and I don't have my gear anyway." Eventually, he reluctantly went to the rental desk and moved to another wall. A moment later, I asked the rental desk if he rented a harness and a belay device. "Nope, just the harness." I ran upstairs and found him belaying his son through the tie-in loops. Wasn't even a Munter!
Lesson: If you love your child, consider belaying with the appropriate gear and learning to do so properly. Belay devices use friction to give you a significant mechanical advantage when catching a falling climber. While your 60-pound son may seem light, his force will multiply quickly during even short falls. Also consider that many gyms use semi-static ropes for their toprope setups, which don't absorb as much force. Suddenly that small falling child isn't as easy to stop with your bare hands. And don’t ever belay through your tie-in loops. The friction caused by the nylon rope running across the nylon loops will cause excess wear on both, potentially leading to failure.