Unbelayvable: Overhand Knots and Little Girls Don't Mix


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An overhand knot. Don't tie in with this. Photo: scienceatlife/Flickr; http://ow.ly/IMqpk

>>I was at the local climbing gym when I heard a little girl talking to her dad behind me. "But dad this knot don't look like the one the guy showed us," she said. I turned around to see her dad assuring her that it was fine. He told her that she shouldn't worry, and that she should start climbing. He had threaded the rope through her harness and made an overhand knot. It was their first day climbing. The instructor had showed them how to tie a figure eight then walked away. I offered my help, and thankfully the dad was responsible enough to take my advice. After that I notified the staff.—Malek Alshayeb, via email

LESSON: It's always nice when an Unbelayvable story has a happy ending. On the other hand, it's unfortunate that this small child had more concern for her safety than her father. Parents are supposed to be the ones that make sure we reach adulthood. That's their number one job.

To be clear, it sounds like this dad took the end of the rope, passed it through both of his daughter's tie-in points, then tied a single overhand around the rope running from the harness to the toprope anchor with the end. The problem with this is how easy single-overhand knots can untie themselves. If you ever tie single overhand knots as back-up knots, you've probably noticed how they sometimes slide around and work themselves loose. As a tie-in knot, a single overhand knot will likely slide toward the harness when weighted, then the tail will pull through the knot, untying it completely. A single overhand knot is not a suitable tie-in knot.

That's not to say all overhand knots are death sentences. A well-tied double over hand knot can be secure, but it will always be vastly inferior to a figure-eight follow through for two reasons. First, it reduces the strength of the rope about 20% more than a figure eight. The sharper the bends in a knot, the more it weakens the rope. Second, it can be nearly impossible to untie after being weighted. The figure eight is the preferred knot for tying in because it's strong, easy to tie, easy enough to untie (though sometimes a challenge), and easy to inspect. The latter quality gives it an edge over the bowline.

Kudos to Malek for stepping in and preventing a dangerous situation.

Dumb Anchor of the Week


What’s wrong with this anchor? Would you climb on it? Tell us in the comments, then see more awful anchors at the Dumb Anchors blog. Photo: John Gregory/Dumb Anchors. (Click for full size.)

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