I was in the Ouray Ice Park and stumbled upon two toprope climbers that had me cringing. At this particular area (South Park) the belay is across the Uncompahgre River from the ice. The pair made their way down to the base, and the first climber crossed a snow bridge to reach the route. There, he placed an ice screw. He clipped a quickdraw to the screw, then clipped the belay side of the rope through it. His belayer was on the other side of the river. The rope ran horizontally from her to the screw, then up to the anchor, and back down to the climber. The climber went up the route and then began lowering. Because the rope was running horizontally, it nearly pulled the belayer into the river.
—Chase Hamilton, via email
LESSON: The belayer should always think critically about her own position. In this scenario, a sudden fall could have easily yanked the belayer into the river. Being submerged under the frigid waters while tied to a rope and fighting against the current doesn’t lend itself to a pretty outcome. There’s no reason to redirect the belay side of the rope like this. It puts a lot of outward force on that ice screw, and eliminates the advantage that gravity usually provides to the belayer. Another thing to consider, particularly in this area of the Ouray Ice Park, is that a belay from the anchor above could be the best option. Many routes in the South Park area start climbing right out of the river, and belaying from the other side of the water, even without that redirect, is a hazard that can be avoided by belaying from above. I brought some friends to a popular toprope crag. We met two guys climbing an easy 5.4 and decided to share ropes with them. They described their anchor for me: a sling around a chockstone with lockers. It sounded OK. I frequently solo this route, so I figured anything was better than nothing. When I reached the anchor, I found a single sling around the chockstone with a single locker, and upon closer inspection, I found that the chockstone was quite loose. If the route had been any more committing I would have peed myself right then and there. After building a proper anchor, I rapped back down and asked my new friends if they would appreciate some helpful criticism. Thankfully, my suggestions were accepted graciously.
—Tristan, via email
LESSON: You know that expression about how you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth? That does not apply to climbing anchors. If someone offers you a climbing anchor, you should look it directly in the mouth and inspect it closely. Unless you see an anchor for yourself, you’re taking the anchor builder’s word that their anchor is safe. That doesn’t usually include their experience or the level of risk they’re willing to accept. It can be a great time saver to share ropes, but always examine any anchor before you trust your life or your partner’s to it.