Scary (and true) tales from a crag near you

Climbing - - THE APPROACH -

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.

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