Unbelayvable: No Anchor, No Problem


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.

Unbelayvable Grigri

—Ta Hang, via email

LESSON: Can you spot the problem in the above photo? If you guessed that the belayer has both hands off of her Grigri, then you’re correct. This is becoming a recurring theme in Unbelayvable. The Grigri is an assisted braking device. It’s not an auto-locking device, and it’s not a hands-free device. To quote myself in this column three weeks ago, "Most of the time, the device's built-in cam will stop a fall on it's own, but there are situations when it might not (skinny ropes, light climbers, significant rope drag). Bottom line: Keep your hand on the brake strand. Check out Grigri basics for more tips."

>>I once watched a climber on a sport route that was way above his ability taking falls at every bolt. He got to the third bolt by pulling on draws. Then he started climbing to the fourth, but got nervous about the whip he was about to take. He proceeded to step on the bolt below then reach up and stick both fingers in the bolt above. He then pulled out a draw and clipped the bolt while his fingers were still in it, then held the draw and nervously managed to wriggle his fingers out of the bolt, clip the rope, and take a rest.—Dominic Rickicki via Climbing.com 

LESSON: Give up! It’s OK to admit defeat. There’s no point in committing to an unintentional aid-climbing exercise like this when there are probably perfectly fun routes within your ability nearby. Suck it up, lower off a couple of bail biners, and move on. Furthermore, sticking your fingers through the bolt like this could lead to a nasty injury. If you fall and your fingers get stuck, you could easily break them, or grosser, strip the skin right off. Do a Google search for “degloving” if you have a strong stomach and want to be scared straight.

>>I was soloing Royal Arches a few years back and caught up to a party near one of the last pitches, rated 5.6. I chatted with the second while the leader neared the top of the pitch. He let me pass. When I got to the leader, she was set to "belay" her partner up, but she was just sitting on a sloping ledge not clipped into anything. No anchor at all. I was in shock and politely pointed this out. Her response was, "What are the chances of him falling on something like this?" —Jeff, via Climbing.com

LESSON: What are the chances of the second falling on a 5.6 pitch of a 5.10b route like Royal Arches? Pretty low, but not zero. A hold could break. The climber could get startled by a bird. The climber could get off route. There are dozens of reasons that a simple, easy pitch like this could go wrong, and if it does, it could be catastrophic for both of them. If this climber falls, he's yanking his belayer off that ledge and they're depending on their pro to hold both of them. When he's approaching the top of the pitch, that could be little or none. Royal Arches is a 1,400-foot route. That's a long way to fall. What's most worrying about this situation, is that it sounds like the leader made this decision without informing her climber. It may seem weird for a free-soloist to call out something like this, but at least he knows that he won't be caught if he falls.

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.