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The Guide Who Could Have Killed Them

The guide was right about the loose boulder, but wrong to jiggle it.

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Unbelayvable Boulder Anchor
Some boulders are OK to use in anchors, others are not. Photo: alans1948/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

Last summer I was climbing at Little Tryfan. We were on a two-pitch route. At the top, I built an anchor by slinging a boulder and placing two nuts. The boulder was about the size of three tires and appeared solid. Just as I’d shouted down for my second to start climbing, a guide popped up with two clients. He told them, “If you ever climb here, don’t use that boulder. It moves.” I turned and asked, “The one I’m using?” He said yes, and stressed that you should always test boulders. I wasn’t too concerned because I was confident in my nuts and still thought the boulder was big enough that it wouldn’t go anywhere. I went to check on my partner by peaking over the edge, leaning my weight on the anchor. I felt myself jerk forwards a few inches. I turned to see what had happened and saw the guide jumping on the block, trying with all his might to move it. I was in complete shock. Before I could gather my thoughts, he’d already moved on. When my partner topped out I apologized profusely for using the bad block. I tried to find the guide to confront him, but couldn’t. I still can’t believe what he did.
—Benjamin Steele, via email

LESSON: We can learn a lot from this guide. First, he’s right about boulders. You should always make sure a boulder is completely solid before using it in an anchor. If you can move it at all, even if it’s just a wobble, avoid it. A tank-sized block can skitter off a cliff with little provocation if it’s perched precariously. No matter how many backup nuts you’ve placed, it’s not good for a big block to fall off a cliff while it’s attached to your anchor.

This guide also teaches us what not to do. Don’t mess with the integrity of another climber’s anchor. Ever. This maniac should’ve waited until Benjamin and his partner were both off belay at the top of the cliff before he even touched that boulder. If you think an anchor is unsafe and want to help, talk to the climber using it. You can offer to place another piece, screw an open locker shut, etc. Don’t mess with it without asking. Anchors are too important for that kind of behavior. Proving that a block is unsafe by jumping on it, while a climber is weighting it? That’s completely insane, bordering on attempted murder.

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