Unbelayvable: The Case Of The Disappearing Belayer

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.

Providing a safe belay > Eating a sandwich.
Photo: yoppy/Flickr;

>>I was at Roadside Crag in the Red with a guy I’d known at the gym for years. It was our first time outside together. I stopped at the last bolt on my route to enjoy the view. Then I finished the route and shouted “Off belay, Jason!” a couple times, but didn’t hear a response. I looked down to find that my belayer was gone. He had heard someone else at the busy crag shout “off belay,” thought it was me, and left to go get a sandwich while I was stopped. The worst part was that he didn’t understand why I was angry.—Submitted by Tim Clark, via

LESSON: There’s nothing worse than a disappearing belayer. While you used the right protocol by including your partner’s name in your commands, you skipped one step that may have helped you avoid this whole sandwich fiasco. Before starting up a route, you and your belayer should agree on what commands you will use, what they mean, and what will happen when you reach the top of the route. Had you informed your belayer that his name would be included in your commands, he may not have made his mistake. As for the belayer, guessing and leaving are inexcusable. If you need to temporarily improve communication, it’s OK to take a step back from the wall to establish visual contact with your climber, then quickly resume your stance near the wall. Also, it doesn’t hurt to hang out nearby until your climber is safely on the ground, just in case.

>>While climbing in the Black Hills a few years back, we watched while the leader of a party of three made his way up a bolted route. He reached his high point (not the anchors), then lowered from a quickdraw and cleaned all the draws below. The group then toproped off the single draw and bolt.—Submitted by Roadkill Phil, via

LESSON: A good anchor is ERNEST (Equalized, Redundant, Non-Extending, Strong, and Timely). This anchor fails all of those criteria (except timely, which does not contribute to the anchors holding power). Most importantly, this anchor is not redundant. If any single piece fails, the climber will fall. There are a number of reasons that could happen. The quickdraw could bang against a rock, dislodging the rope. The bolt could pull out of the wall if the rock isn’t as solid as it appears. That’s why it’s important that every piece of your anchor be backed up and that the rope runs through a locking carabiner (or two opposite and opposed non-lockers). Check out Bolted Toprope Anchors for a nice primer on building simple, bomber sport anchors.

>>I saw a college kid in Boulder Canyon lowering his friend with an ATC. He had one hand on the brake strand, and he was holding a beer with the other. At one point, he let the dude slip about 10 feet and somehow regained control. They both laughed about it afterward.—Submitted by Jeff M., via

LESSON: According to the American Alpine Club (AAC), lowering is among the most common situations leading to injuries and rescues reported in Accidents in North American Mountaineering, their annual review of climbing accidents. It should be taken seriously. It’s incredibly difficult to regain control while lowering, once you’ve lost it. These two should consider themselves very lucky. When you lower a climber with an ATC, always keep both hands on the brake strand for maximum control. Belay gloves will give you even more holding power. For more tips on proper and safe lowering protocol, Check out the AAC’s Know The Ropes: Lowering. Then, once everyone is safely on the ground, go ahead and have a celebratory beer.

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