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When Inexperience Could Be Deadly

This new climber didn't know how to belay or even lower from a fixed anchor, bungling both in unimaginably awful ways.

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A week back I saw the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. This woman, who said this was her second day climbing, belayed this guy as he led Chid’s Play (5.6) on the Fume Wall outside Durango, Colorado. The guy seemed more experienced and when he called for slack his belayer gave him slack by putting her brake hand above the ATC.  She did this numerous times.

Much worse, when it was her turn to climb she unclipped the draws on the way up, then at the top of the route she unclipped both mussy hooks  and when the guy was trying to “take” her she said, “Something isn’t right.” We yelled up telling her to clip the rope back into the hooks.

After all this my friend offered the guy a belay and he took it. We then showed the woman how to belay, and drilled in the NEVER TAKE YOUR HAND OFF THE BRAKE! She was willing to learn, which was great.  —Samson Drake, via email

Gear Guru: I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff, but nothing that compares to what you witnessed. That gal is lucky she had the sense to notice that she was completely unclipped, or at least that something was amiss in the rope system. Then, of course, she nearly put her partner in equal danger by letting go of the belay rope multiple times, although doing so even once is a no-no.

The underlying issue here is that the climbers weren’t experienced enough to get out on real rock. Even a couple of days in a gym would have sharpened her skills enough to be a safe partner. This is his fault because he knew how to climb and belay and failed to properly instruct her, and he shouldn’t have had her clean the route, rather he should have rigged it for a TR, let her climb, and then clean it himself.

They are both lucky to have survived the day. Climbing gyms are great for numerous reasons besides getting strong as vinegar. You can take lessons from a certified instructor, for one, and gyms at least make you take a belay test before holding the sharp end for anyone. That guy and his partner should enroll in a climbing class at the local gym, or hire a guide for a couple of days, and after that have a competent and very experienced third partner tag along with them until they are certain they now the nuts and bolts of leading, belaying and lowering.

Have an unsafe story to tell? Submit it in no more than 150 words to queries@climbing.com and you could get published. 

The Horror: Accidentally Used A Not-For-Climbing Carabiner For Belay Anchor