This Belayer Used Just Hands, No Device—And 2 Other Unbelievable Stories

A gym climber needed a belay, so a stranger offered to hold her rope. Literally, just held onto the rope for the belay.

Photo: Getty Photo

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I was in a gym. An impatient woman nearby asked a stranger to belay her. The stranger said sure, and she immediately took off up the wall. She got to the top, yelled “take,” then started to lean back. That’s when I looked over and yelled, “Don’t let go!” The belayer had been pulling down rope, but not through her belay device. Had the impatient woman let go, she would’ve decked. She was never on belay.—Zach Coburn, via Facebook

LESSON: Always vet a new partner’s skill and experience before placing your life in their hands, and, as with any partner, check that her belay device is properly threaded, carabiner is locked, and harness is properly secured. Had impatient woman asked her new partner if she knew how to belay, she likely would have admitted that she did not, and this close call could have been avoided.

Belaying Outside is Different From Belaying in a Gym. You’d Better Know the Difference.

I was belaying from above when another climber topped out and set up next to me. He was braced over a rock with no anchor or belay device, belaying his follower by pulling up rope hand over hand. I offered to let him use my anchor, but he said, “It’s OK. She’s really light.” I did sort of convince him to belay from the anchor. Reluctantly, he clipped a locker in and looped the rope once around it (not a Munter hitch), and then continued pulling up rope. Luckily, his partner did not fall.—Benny Kong, via email

LESSON: Never belay anyone, even a child, skinny girl, or “really light” person, without a mechanical advantage. You may be able to hold their static weight, but the force of a falling body multiplies quickly. That’s why you should always use an anchor and a belay device or Munter hitch. Those two things in combination let the rock hold the weight of your partner instead of your pumped human arms. A single loop around a carabiner won’t cut it because it basically adds no mechanical advantage.

I warned a nearby couple that they’d need a 60-meter rope to get down the route they were planning and told them to knot their rope ends if they were uncertain. I said it four times. When they did lower, I watched and realized they were going to come up short. The belayer was oblivious, and they’d failed to knot the ends. They were 10 meters short without the gear or knowledge to get down. I ended up attaching my rope to theirs with a knot and taking over.—Andrew, via

LESSON: It sounds like this couple lacked a basic understanding of core climbing skills. Maybe they didn’t know the length of their own rope or how to knot rope ends properly. That’s assuming a lot, but it doesn’t hurt to confirm that another party understands you when offering crucial beta. Always knot the end of your rope: A simple double overhand works great. Check guidebooks, Mountain Project, and with locals for a route’s length. There’s no excuse for coming up short on rope, but accidents happen, so it’s good to know what to do, just in case. Take a class or hire a guide to learn some basic climbing and self-rescue skills.

Want more? Check out more installments in our ever-growing hall of dangerous behavior: 

Actually used a Grappling Hook for Climbing

Belay Device Somehow Unclipped Itself, And Leader Fell

Lowered Off Gear Loop

They Used Parachute Cord For Slings

No belay Anchor on Multi Pitch, and Leader Falls

Lucky He Didn’t Die. Lowered From a Toy Carabiner

Unfortunate Groundfall, Fortunate Landing

Leader Decks When Experienced Climber Bungles the Belay

Saw Through Someone Else’s Rope

Belayed With Hands Only—No Device!

Smoke Brick Weed and Go Climbing

Belay With a Knife In Your Hand

Don’t Let a Clueless Dad Take a Kid Climbing

She Got Frustrated and Untied—On Lead

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