Unbelayvable: I Can't Belay You Right Now, I'm on the Phone


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


>>I actually saw this happen. A group was at the top of the second pitch of a route. The leader started up while the belayer was still threading his rig. Then the belayer's cell phone went off. He dropped what he was doing and answered the phone.—Submitted by Malcolm Daly, via email

LESSON: Oh boy. Everyone in this submission is in the wrong. Obviously, the belayer should be doing his job and shouldn't be on the phone. But the climber isn't blameless, either. Partner checks are an essential part of safe climbing. You should always check that your belayer's harness is on properly, that his carabiner is locked, and that his belay device is set up correctly before you head up the wall. Your belayer should check that your harness is on properly, that the rope is running through both of your tie in loops, and that your knot is tied correctly. That's all for your own good. You can't ensure that you're on belay if you start climbing before the belayer is ready. This would be bad starting from the ground, but it's inexcusable on a multi-pitch. The momentum of a fall could easily send you over the ledge pictured and to the ground. That's also why it wouldn't hurt to anchor the belayer, but that only helps if you're on belay.

>>Climber: "This is scary! I've never lead before." Belayer: "I know! I've never lead belayed either." Climber: "You just pull rope out, and I'll do the rest." —Submitted by Albert Kim, via Email

LESSON: Like flying a jumbo jet, lead climbing and lead belaying aren't the kind of things you should figure out as you go. There are a lot of nuances to performing each safely, and the consequences of a mistake are high. If it's your first time—no matter how many books you've read or Youtube tutorials you've watched—you should really have someone experienced on hand to supervise. Try bribing a seasoned climber with a six pack of beer or hire a guide. Better yet, most gyms offer lead classes that will provide thorough instruction in a safe environment for a relatively small price. Just be aware that an indoor class may leave out certain skills that are essential outdoors, like route cleaning and rappelling.

>>I almost left my now-wife several hundred feet up at dusk by hurrying through a rappel. She wasn't confident in her abilities, so I was going to rig her, rig me below her device, rappel, maintain a safety on her while she rappelled, and repeat for four pitches. That was the plan, but incoming weather created a sense of urgency. I hurried through it. I rigged her rappel, cleaned myself from the anchor, then started to step off the ledge. Lucky for both us, I looked down and realized I had skipped a step. I quickly secured myself, rigged my own rappel, and resumed, seemingly unphased. I didn't tell her what happened for a couple of years. Two wasn't enough. She was still mad.—Submitted by "Dumb A$$," via climbing.com

LESSON: It's a great idea to pre-rig rappels to ensure that a less-experienced partner raps right. Just don't forget to rig yourself! It's easy to make a mistake like this eventually if you rappel enough, especially when you're in a rush. That's why it's so important to perform safety checks every time. Just like you should perform partner checks before starting a up a cliff, you should always test your rappel setup before throwing yourself off a cliff. Luckily, it's simple and quick. Once your rappel is rigged and ready, pull up slack and weight your rappel device while you're still on direct. Once you've verified that everything is attached and in proper working order, then you can detach yourself from the anchor and descend the rope. And it's usually a good idea to knot the ends before you start. As for your wife, consider an ice cream cake that says, "I'm sorry I nearly abandoned you hundreds of feet in the air."

See something unbelayvable? Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print. Got an unbelayvable photo? Send it to unbelayvable@climbing.com.