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I was climbing at a local crag when another group arrived. We could tell right away that they were ambitious beyond their skill and ability levels. We kept a close eye on them to try and offer any help should they need it. One guy was leading a route while teaching his belayer how to belay. The route was clearly at the upper end of his skill level. We offered some pointers, but got sideways glances of disdain for offering safety advice. Then the next couple started up. The girl had no outdoor experience but went up a 5.7 on lead at the coaxing of
her boyfriend. She cruxed out partway up, but her boyfriend refused to lower her. He just kept yelling that she could do it. She then down-climbed to a very small ledge, untied from the rope, gave it to the guy giving a live belay lesson, and asked him to clip it above the crux for her then throw it back so she could tie back in. We pleaded for her to remain tied in but got more sideways glances. At that point we cut our session short because we didn’t want to see the outcome of the possible disaster developing in front of our eyes.
—Colin, via Climbing.com
LESSON: There are a whole lot of problems here. Obviously teaching someone to lead belay while you’re leading a difficult route is a terrible idea, so I’m going to focus on the unwilling leader. The climber is the boss in the climber-belayer relationship. A little encouragement is OK, but if the climber asks to be lowered, and then begins downclimbing, then lower them already! The belayer here is doing nothing but making an already stressful situation worse for the climber, and violating the trust in the climber-belayer relationship. This could very well lead to the climber being more timid and fearful in the future, because she won’t believe that her belayer has her back. In this instance, it lead to the dangerous situation of the climber sitting on a small ledge untethered to anything. Stay safe and keep it fun by toproping a route if you’re unwilling to lead it. You could also find a new boyfriend.