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For Safety’s Sake Don’t Do This: Belay With a Knife

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The Worst Belayer Of The Year, so far. Photo: Dylan Kunkel

I witnessed this mess at Poke-O-Moonshine in the Adirondacks. The guy was belaying his presumed wife up the first pitch of Gamesmanship (5.8+). He had a block of cheese in one hand and Opinel knife in the other. The knife was pointed at him, and he was cutting toward himselfat least it wasn’t toward the rope! Belay device was upside down, no eyes on the climber. The moment he put the knife down, she fell past her last three placements. She proceeded to explain that her foot slipped and it was very unexpected.—Dylan Kunkel, via email

LESSON: Repeat after me: No sharp objects near your climbing rope. Ever. This is such an important rule that rope manufacturers recommend you don’t use scissors to open the packaging of a new rope. Your rope is your life line. You should take every precaution to keep it intact. This means extending protection and anchors to keep it from running over sharp edges, using a tarp to keep abrasive dirt out of the sheath when belaying, and keeping knives away from it, no matter how hungry you are. A rope under tension can be cut fairly easily. But even if you didn’t care about your climber’s safety, this scenario also presents significant danger to the belayer. Lead belayers experience fairly chaotic jolts during a fall. If you’re holding a knife, you may not be happy with where it ends up after a catch. Beyond that, this belayer needs to relearn the basics. Always pay full attention to your climber. Use gear as the manufacturer recommends. And NEVER take your hand off the brake strand. Most falls are unexpected. If you don’t have a hand on the brake strand, you’re not belaying; you’re watching your climber free solo.

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