Unbelayvable: The Best of the Worst of 2014! (Part 3)


This week we're highlighting some of the most unbelievable Unbelayvable stories of 2014. It's one superlative you don't want to achieve. 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.—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.

>>We passed a guy on the second pitch of his route lead belaying himself with a tube-style belay device. He was free climbing from an anchor he’d built and was placing quite a bit of gear. He told us that he just had to grab the brake strand really quick if he fell. He proudly proclaimed that he’d caught himself this way before (and tore up his hands in the process). At the base, his friend, who was wearing a tree-climbing harness, explained that he would be belaying, but his shoulder was bothering him.—Jason, via Climbing.com

LESSON: This is so crazy that we’re astonished he even caught one fall. Safe rope-soloing requires specific gear and confidence with fairly complicated systems. Seek proper instruction. Counting on yourself to catch the brake strand in mid-air during a fall is like waiting to put on your helmet until you see falling rock. Idiotic. Either the tree-climbing friend should suck it up and give him a belay, or he shouldn’t climb at all. For a primer on solo toproping systems, check out Basic Self-Belay Techniques, but we still recommend that you go out with an experienced buddy or guide before going to solo by yourself.

>>I saw a climber lower from a draw in the middle of a sport route because she couldn't finish it. Then her partner tried the route. Instead of pulling the rope or toproping from the high clip, he tied into what should have been the belay side of the rope. He headed up, cleaning the draws that his rope was running through above him. When he got to the former high clip, he cruised right on past it. That put him back clipped above a single piece of protection 35 feet off the deck. Luckily, he finished the route without any falls. —Tim G., via Climbing.com

LESSON: Well, this defies all logic. The logical thing here would have been to pull the rope or toprope from the high clip and then lead past it. Use common sense when you climb. Normally, if one bolt fails in a sport fall, for whatever reason, you have another one five feet below it to catch you. Unclipping all the draws as you climb removes that redundancy that we climbers value so highly. Furthermore, when a quickdraw is backclipped (rope runs into the front of the carabiner then out the back) it makes it possible that the rope will unclip itself in a fall. Combine that with a lack of protection and you've got the potential for a 35-foot ground fall.

>>Driving up Boulder Canyon in the time before cell phone cameras, I nearly drove into the creek upon seeing this. A"toprope" was being ascended by a corpulent man and his partner, both dressed in jeans and sneakers. They had set it up using several lengths of a bed sheet twisted into a rope, knotted every dozen feet or so, and passing through a large pulley that was draped over the top of the route. We observed nothing of note on our return from Animal World, so the two must have at least escaped with their bodies intact.—Richard Wright, via climbing.com

LESSON: Let's leave the bed sheet ropes to people escaping from prisons, shall we? This is so unsafe that my blanket advice is to go climb with someone that knows what they're doing. But just for fun, here's why this is scenario is so bad. First, a chain of bed sheets is obviously not rated to catch falls, but supposing it didn't tear into pieces at the first sign of a load, you're still not out of the woods. Climbing ropes stretch to absorb impact in a fall. This is why you can take a 20-foot whipper and still have functioning organs. A static rope, which a bed sheet rope presumably is, does not stretch. This means a harsher drop for your climber, but more importantly, it means more force on the anchor and belayer. In a good toprope setup, the anchor provides friction, which keeps some force off the belayer. A pulley, on the other hand, provides very little friction. A real possibility in this scenario is that the climber falls, the belayer is pulled all the way up to the anchor, and the climber decks. Don't use bed sheets for climbing, and don't use pulleys for toprope anchors.


Photo: Dylan Kunkel

>>Witnessed this mess at Poke-O-Moonshine in the Adirondacks. The guy was belaying his presumed wife up the first pitch of Gamesmanship (5.8+). He had a block of cheese in one hand and Opinel knife in the other. The knife was pointed at him, and he was cutting toward himselfat least it wasn't toward the rope! Belay device was upside down, no eyes on the climber. The moment he put the knife down, she fell past her last three placements. She proceeded to explain that her foot slipped and it was very unexpected.—Dylan Kunkel, via email

LESSON: Repeat after me: No sharp objects near your climbing rope. Ever. This is such an important rule that rope manufacturers recommend you don't use scissors to open the packaging of a new rope. Your rope is your life line. You should take every precaution to keep it intact. This means extending protection and anchors to keep it from running over sharp edges, using a tarp to keep abrasive dirt out of the sheath when belaying, and keeping knives away from it, no matter how hungry you are. A rope under tension can be cut fairly easily. But even if you didn't care about your climber's safety, this scenario also presents significant danger to the belayer. Lead belayers experience fairly chaotic jolts during a fall. If you're holding a knife, you may not be happy with where it ends up after a catch. Beyond that, this belayer needs to relearn the basics. Always pay full attention to your climber. Most falls are unexpected.

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.