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Unbelayvable: A Belay Too Comfortable

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


I’m an expat living in Korea and thought I would share this image. It was taken in southern Korea in a city called Busan. There is a huge difference in the standard of belaying between the expats and the majority of Koreans, much to our horror. It has been the discussion around many a campfire.

There is a weird dynamic in the culture here that impedes learning. You must be respectful to your elders. So when a new climber heads out and decks from three bolts up because her belayer wasn’t paying attention (this happened), he didn’t take responsibility for it. Ultimately, she never learned what went wrong and certainly couldn’t blame her belayer.
—Matthew, via email

LESSON: While I’m not qualified to comment on all of Korean culture (I prefer to believe most problems are the result of just a few assholes in any given country), I can certainly give the pictured belayer a few pointers. First, let’s acknowledge that he’s belaying a sport leader from that chair. You can see the rope running up through the first few draws. With that in mind, here’s what this lounging fellow could improve:

• The most major issue I see is that he’s way too far away from the wall. There are two problems with this. First, that distance creates a lot of potential slack. If the leader takes a fall powerful enough to pull the belayer toward the first bolt, all that slack becomes extra fall distance. If the leader is low enough to the ground and/or far enough above her last bolt, she could deck. The other problem is that a leader fall will be more chaotic for the belayer. If the belayer was positioned close to the wall, below the first bolt, a fall would pull him straight up into the air. Not a big deal. In his current position, a fall will pull him across the ground, into that stone step, then into the wall. You’re more likely to lose control of the rope if you’re sliding across the ground and smashing into rocks.

• A standing belayer can do a lot more for a leader than a sitting one. If this fellow was standing with his knees slightly bent, he’d be ready to move with a fall, providing a soft catch. If his leader was in danger of hitting a ledge, he could step back to take in slack quickly. All he can do in that chair is hold on and hope for the best.

• Perhaps more for his own benefit, this belayer should put on a pair of shoes. Sure, he has his feet pushed into a pair of climbing shoes like they’re slippers. But a secure pair of closed-toe shoes will protect your feet if a leader fall pulls you into unexpected terrain.

For more ways to be the best climbing partner ever, check out 25+ Ways to Be a Better Belayer. If you’re a great belayer, you’ll never have to worry about climbing alone. Also, if you carry summit beers.

We want to hear your Unbelayvable stories!
Email and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print. Unbelayvable photos are welcome, too.