Unbelayvable: Don't Drown Your Belayer

Scary (and true) tales from a crag near you
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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.

South Park Ouray Ice Park Climbing Colorado

The South Park area of the Ouray Ice Park. Some sections have little or no base to belay from. Note that the climber pictured is not from the story below. Photo: Kevin Corrigan

I was in the Ouray Ice Park and stumbled upon two toprope climbers that had me cringing. At this particular area (South Park) the belay is across the Uncompahgre River from the ice. The pair made their way down to the base, and the first climber crossed a snow bridge to reach the route. There, he placed an ice screw. He clipped a quickdraw to the screw, then clipped the belay side of the rope through it. His belayer was on the other side of the river. The rope ran horizontally from her to the screw, then up to the anchor, and back down to the climber. The climber went up the route and then began lowering. Because the rope was running horizontally, it nearly pulled the belayer into the river.
—Chase Hamilton, via email

LESSON: The belayer should always think critically about her own position. In this scenario, a sudden fall could have easily yanked the belayer into the river. Falling into the frigid waters while tied to a rope and fighting against the current isn't really an ideal scenario. There’s no reason to redirect the belay side of the rope like this. It puts a lot of outward force on that ice screw, and eliminates the advantage that gravity usually provides to the belayer. Another thing to consider, particularly in this area of the Ouray Ice Park, is that a belay from the anchor above could be the best option. Many routes in the South Park area start climbing right out of the river, and belaying from the other side of the water, even without that redirect, is a hazard that can be avoided by belaying from above.

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