SCARY ( AND TRUE) TALES FROM A CRAG NEAR YOU
I was projecting a sport route outside and had just reached the crux. I was preparing for the move—a dyno around the lip of a roof to a bad hold—when I heard a cheerful “Hello!” I looked down and saw that someone was climbing underneath me on an adjacent route. The climber was so close that I could touch her, but had no idea that this was unsafe. I was looking at a 15-foot fall, landing on her and taking her with me. My arms were so close to giving out that I didn’t have time to think. It probably wasn’t the best idea, but I was panicking: I went for the dyno. By some miracle, I stuck it. Meanwhile, the climber continued her route, none the wiser.
As climbers, we should always be aware of our surroundings—including other people. Before starting up a route, take note of where the line goes. Some crags make use of every square inch of rock, and as a result, some routes are bolted so close together that it makes you wonder if they’re even separate lines. In the event that you can’t climb an adjacent route without interfering with someone climbing above you, or without entering her fall line, then you need to wait until she finishes her route before starting yours. It’s safety, but it’s also basic crag etiquette. Don’t crowd that crux!™ It was the best day of the Irish summer so far. I was tackling the longest HVS (5.8) I’d done in a long time, a pumpy but well-protected layback aptly named Exertion. As I approached the crux, I placed a cam and called down to my belayer that I was taking a short rest at this stance before the committing finish. My belayer called back up, “Take all the time you need, man!” I looked down to thank him only to see him head down with both hands buried in his pack, digging out a chocolate bar. He had no assisted-braking device, and no locked-off belay. When I called him out after the route for his lax belay, he defended himself by saying I was being overly cautious and that I “probably would have been fine.”
Unless the climber asks the belayer to take him off belay, the belayer should never take him off belay. Never, as in not ever. It doesn’t matter if the climber is on a big ol’ ledge—he has to be the one to make that call every time if there’s going to be any trust in the belaytionship. Meanwhile, as a climber, if you are going to take a long rest, you can give your belayer a break by clipping in direct to a bolt or solid piece of gear. And belayers, if you simpy must go hands-free at any point, always tie a stopper knot below your belay device. A quick overhand on a bight with a carabiner clipped through the loop should do.