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Here’s A Dangerous Belayer You Won’t Want To Climb With

Violating the rule "never take your brake hand off the rope," is bad enough, but this belayer took it to a whole new level of danger.

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I was leading the last pitch of a multi-pitch sport climb in Boulder Canyon the other day. My belayer was someone I had climbed with a few times before and although he wasn’t an expert, he had a been climbing for a couple of years and is even employed at his Ivy League university’s gym. The route I was trying was far from trivial for me, and I had expressed this to him before leading off. As always, I verified I was on belay before climbing and after passing the second or third bolt, I heard him say “wait, hold on.” By the time I glanced down, he had already completely UNCLIPPED the Grigri he was using to belay me, and was fiddling around with his belay loop. I guess he deemed the slightly annoying positioning of his loop/Grigri relative to the rope he was clove hitched to the anchor with to be an issue of critical importance. After he reattached the device, we completed the route without incident. Maybe it was my brain protecting me from freaking out in a dangerous situation or the casual manner with which he did this, but I didn’t really process what had happened until hours later. He didn’t even think to ask if I was in a secure position first (not that this would make it anywhere near acceptable). The belay was on a very small ledge hundreds of feet off the ground so had my foot slipped or a hold broke during this time, the resulting fall would likely have been fatal. It goes without saying that I won’t be climbing with him again and this experience has me questioning my ability to evaluate anyone as a partner.—Will Scanlon

Gear Guru: The rule of belaying is “never take your brake hand off the rope.” I didn’t realize we also need the rule “never take the leader off belay while they are leading,” but apparently we do. Your partner probably has done this dangerous tactic before and figured he’d get you back on belay before anything could happen, or maybe he could catch you with his bare hands. The situation you were in is more common than you might think. I’ve seen numerous belayers remove their belay devices to unkink the rope or get something else straightened in the system. I’ve done it myself, but … only with a back-up belay in place. This isn’t difficult to do. If you have a second device or can borrow one, you simply put it on the rope below your active device, put the climber on belay on this second device, then, after tying off the second device by knotting the rope that feeds into it, you can remove the top device. Alternately you can tie a figure eight on a bight below the belay device, and clip this with a locking carabiner or two opposed and reversed carabiners to the anchor, and then remove the belay device.

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That your partner at least gave you a heads up was good, but he should have waited until you were close enough to gear or a bolt so you could go in direct with a sling or draw as yet another precaution.

Bottom line, though, the belayer should have everything squared away nice and tidy before the leader takes off, and never be in a situation where he needs to clear the belay device. It sounds like your belayer didn’t even “need” to remove his device, he was just annoyed by a twist in the system. That’s pretty bad. I wouldn’t climb with him again, either, and I’d let my friend know how sketchy that dude is.

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

Climbed On Webbing Instead of Rope

Used Hands for Belay … No Device

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