For Safety’s Sake, Don’t Do This: Text and Belay

Might as well be soloing with this belayer completely out to lunch.

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We spent a long weekend at Bohuslän, one of south Sweden’s best trad destinations. We saw a young climber, 15 or 16 years old, running up a route next to us. He placed little to no protection. He stopped for a quick chat, and we learned it was his first time trad climbing.

The next day, we met him again. I was at the belay above the first pitch, 20 meters from the ground. The young climber was on an adjacent route. His younger sister belayed. I looked down to see her with a cell phone in one hand. The next time I looked down she had no hands on the rope. I kindly let her know that what she was doing wasn’t the best practice. Her brother on lead overheard and started screaming down. She replied along the lines of, “You were looking solid.”
—Jonas, via email

LESSON: So so cringeworthy. She is literally texting and belaying at the same time.

This is a topic that comes up time and time again in this column. Usually, when belayers blatantly disregard the safety of their climber like this, they defend themselves by pointing out that they’re using an assisted braking belay device. That’s still not ideal, but the video here clearly shows a tube style belay device. If that climber slipped, if a hold broke, if anything went wrong, he was hitting the ground. The belayer should always be prepared for anything, even if the climber looks solid. That’s why we have belayers. I might be solid on a route, but that doesn’t mean I want to free solo it.

It seems like the real problem here is that the belayer isn’t treating climbing with the respect it deserves. Climbing is fun. Climbing is a sport. But climbing can kill you. It’s not like baseball where the players can pay less attention than the spectators and still do OK. Climbing is serious. You don’t belay between text messages. You give your partner your full attention. If you’re not willing to do that, then don’t climb.


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