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Last fall, my friends and I were driving out to a cabin in North Georgia. We had no plans to climb that day, but I did have a rope, one harness, a good screw-gate carabiner, and a tube-style belay device. Then we came across a perfect 20-meter face right off the side of the road.
I whipped my car around and pulled up to the face, determined to climb it. I was able to scramble up the side of the wall and set up a poor toprope anchor around the thickest tree. I was ready to climb the most-promising looking line, but we had a problem. We only had one harness. There was no way to attach the belay device to my belayer. That’s when we got creative. I pulled my car up closer, opened the passenger door, and clipped the locker and belay device to the door latch.
I proceeded to climb the route while my friend sat in the passenger seat and belayed. Somehow, the car caught the few falls we had, and we managed to climb the face.
—Thor Karickhöff, via email
LESSON: Thor, since you submitted your own story, I’ll assume you know what you did is sketchy. You may have gotten away with it this time, but here are the reasons that you shouldn’t have climbed at all that day:
1. The Car Latch Belay
I just spent the past five minutes trying to find the breaking strength of a car door latch. I did find numbers, but none that gave me any indication of how a latch would hold up under climbing loads. They’re probably really strong. They’re designed to hold car doors closed when they get smashed by other cars at high speeds. Does that mean they can handle a solid jolt at an odd angle to catch your toprope fall? Maybe. Who knows. Without definitive evidence either way, it’s not worth making yourself the test dummy.
2. The Toprope Anchor
If your gear list is as sparse as you claimed, then you did not build a toprope anchor. You merely ran your rope around the back of a tree. There are a few problems with this: The rope rubbing against the tree could wreck the bark. The tree could fill your rope with sticky sap (very hard to clean). And with no extension, your rope is grinding against every pointy surface it passes over. Best case scenario is that you leave with a really dirty rope.
3. The Carabiner
You called your carabiner a “good screwgate.” The carabiner in the photo is pretty clearly a non-locking wiregate. Whenever one carabiner is the only thing preventing gravity from doing it’s work on a climber, make sure it’s a locker.
Do you know who owns this random, roadside cliff? Do you know if climbing is allowed? Maybe it was perfectly acceptable to climb here. But if it was a gray area, you could damage access for all climbers by making us look bad to the locals. We’re a pretty big tribe now, so it helps to play by the rules.
None of these issues is a guaranteed death sentence, but there are a lot of undesirable variables in the equation. Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the big picture. If you have to rationalize that three different major pieces in your system probably won’t fail, then you probably shouldn’t climb.
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