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In my gym, it's common practice to lead a steep route, lower, and let your partner follow on toprope. She unclips the draws as she reaches them. If the second climber falls in the overhang, she won't swing across the entire gym. Last week I watched a pair attempt this. The first climber didn't reach the anchors, but the second climber still gave it a shot on toprope. She unclipped and unclipped and unclipped without much thought. She reached the final clipped draw and began to remove it. Fortunately, an instructor in the gym noticed and yelled for her to stop. Had she unclipped, she would have been free-soloing near the top of the steep gym wall.
—H.H., via email
LESSON: This is one of those mistakes that doesn't have a technical lesson. It's like forgetting to clip in to an autobelay. There's no point in saying, "Always clip in to the autobelay!" Everyone knows that. Climbers don't intentionally climb to the top of a route without clipping in and then lean back and let go. The real issue is a lack of attention. We can spend so much time in the gym that we stop treating our sport with the attention it deserves. Gym climbing feels safe. It feels like a controlled environment. It doesn't feel like a big deal. But accidents can still happen, and falling 30+ feet is a big deal no matter where you are. On the other hand, these things are really easy to avoid. Just be mindful when you climb. Pay attention to what you're doing. Think through every scenario before you start. Double check everything that can be double checked. Don't be casual about safety and you can avoid simple-but-serious mistakes.
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