Scary (and true) tales from a crag near you
I climbed Morning After (5.8) in the Gunks with a friend new to multi-pitch climbing. I led pitch two. It’s easy face climbing with one minor crux. I was out of sight of my belayer and about to make the crux move when I heard—from 100 feet off the deck—“Alan, you’re off belay!” A guy on the next route had the same name as my belayer. When my partner heard his own name and “Off belay!” he thought it had been me yelling.
—Alan, via email
LESSON: It’s good to include names in your climbing commands, but this is where the system breaks down. Some people have the same name— especially people named Mike. That’s why it’s important to exercise your judgment in all climbing decisions. Alan suggested a few context clues that should have tipped off his partner: The leader had only been climbing a short time, and not much rope had been paid out. The voice was coming from too far away and didn’t sound like him. And he hadn’t stopped climbing long enough to build an anchor. There are also a few other ways you can mitigate the risk. If the belayer is able to, he can extend his anchor tether via a clove hitch so he can safely move into sight of his climber. He can call up for confirmation. Or if he is unsure, he could have simply left Alan on belay until it was 100 percent clear Alan was yarding in slack to put him on belay. Remember: It’s better to keep someone on belay when they ask to be off belay than it is to take them off belay when they want to be on. I was climbing at a popular sport crag in Boulder Canyon. When my partner reached the anchor of her route, another belayer startled me. He was desperately trying to get his climber’s attention by shouting her name over and over. Someone in their group chimed in, “She can’t hear you; she has her headphones in.” She was totally oblivious, and her belayer was making it difficult for other parties to communicate over the commotion. When she finally took out her earbuds, the yeller instructed her to set up a toprope anchor using two quickdraws.
—Matt, via email
LESSON: If you want to wear headphones, stick to bouldering or auto-belays in the gym. It’s crucial that you maintain the ability to communicate with your partner. They may have something important to tell you, like, “Fix the rope so it’s not running over that sharp edge” or “You back-clipped the quickdraw, gumbo.” That said, you should also minimize the need for communication. These climbers should have agreed on their anchor and descent strategies before she was on the wall. Miscommunication about rappelling/lowering are one of the most common causes of climbing accidents. Discuss your plan on the ground so you don’t have to hope your partner can hear you from 100 feet below.