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Why Do Knots Keep Coming Untied?

Here we have two tales of not paying enough attention to climbing's most critical tasks: tying in and belaying.

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Forgot To Finish Knot

My partner was getting ready to try to red point his project. He was tying in when I asked him how he was going to handle the crux. He started mimicking the moves with his hands. Then he chalked up and went. He sent the route, clipped the anchor, and called for me to take. As he leaned back to lower, he screamed and grabbed the chains. When he’d started to weight the rope, his knot unraveled and was pulling through his harness. When I had asked him how he was going to do the final section, he stopped tying in and forgot to finish.
—Darren Essman, via Facebook

LESSON: This is a fairly common way experienced people get hurt. They get distracted and forget to finish tying in, or locking their belay biner, or passing the strand through both harness loops. We, as climbers, tie in so often that’s it’s easy to overlook a simple mistake. A good way to avoid this is to make a point to finish what you start before moving on to anything else. Don’t tie half your figure eight and stop to put on your shoes. Don’t start your figure eight then pause to have a conversation. Don’t start your figure eight then take a break to make sure your rack is organized the way you like it. Start your figure eight and finish your figure eight before anything else, every time. Then the belayer shouldn’t distract the climber when they are tying in, and should check out the climber’s knot and make sure it’s up to code, and the climber should check that the belayer is set up properly and their biner is locked. These simple mistakes can be avoided simply by double checking your partner.

They Climbed On a Home Depot Rope—Thought A Real Rope Was Too Expensive

Inexperienced, Untrained Belayer

A couple was on an obvious first date on the route next to us up Rock Canyon. I saw the guy giving the girl a run down on how to belay. She said she understood, and he started climbing. She was quite sketchy. She didn’t know when to give slack and when to take. He topped out and then it went from sketchy to scary. She dropped him 10 feet when she tried to lower him. They both freaked out, so I grabbed the rope and brought him down myself while the belay device was still on her harness.
Dustin Tara Hansen, via Facebook

LESSON: There are better ways to impress a girl than by decking. Lead belaying is a complex skill that takes training and practice. It’s not the kind of thing you can expect someone to get right after a brief verbal lesson. Remember, you’re the one in danger when you climb with an inexperienced belayer. Start by taking your date to a climbing gym and giving her proper instruction. Have someone back up her belay until she has the confidence and ability she needs to belay on her own. Only after she’s caught some falls and lowered you without incident a handful of times should you take her to climb outside. Who knows? Maybe she’ll turn into the belayer you’ll spend the rest of your life with. Better option: Take her out to dinner.

Belaying rock climber with an ATC.
Belaying is a skill learned not by intuition or chance, but by taking expert instruction and practicing in a controlled, safe environment.

Want more horror stories? Check out these installments in our ever-growing climbing hall of shame: 

Used parachute cord for slings, Said They Learned It In the Boy Scouts

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