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For Safety’s Sake, Don’t Do This: Take The Leader Off Belay While Still Climbing

A classic case of miscommunication could have spelled disaster.

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I was at Roadside Crag in the Red with a guy I’d known at the gym for years. It was our first time outside together. I stopped at the last bolt on my route to enjoy the view. Then I finished the route and shouted “Off belay, Jason!” a couple times, but didn’t hear a response. I looked down to find that my belayer was gone. He had heard someone else at the busy crag shout “off belay,” thought it was me, and left to go get a sandwich while I was stopped. The worst part was that he didn’t understand why I was angry.—Submitted by Tim Clark, via Climbing.com

LESSON: There’s nothing worse than a disappearing belayer. While you used the right protocol by including your partner’s name in your commands, you skipped one step that may have helped you avoid this whole sandwich fiasco. Before starting up a route, you and your belayer should agree on what commands you will use, what they mean, and what will happen when you reach the top of the route. Had you informed your belayer that his name would be included in your commands, he may not have made his mistake. As for the belayer, guessing and leaving are inexcusable. If you need to temporarily improve communication, it’s OK to take a step back from the wall to establish visual contact with your climber, then quickly resume your stance near the wall. Also, it doesn’t hurt to hang out nearby until your climber is safely on the ground, just in case.

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