Scary (and true!) tales from a crag near you.
I was at the Ouray Ice Park. Our group was topping out a route to finish the day. I was the second-to-last climber. At the top, I switched the anchor to a top hanging belay. Being new to ice, I didn’t think about where I’d left my tools. They were stuck in the snow next to me, and I’d piled excess rope on the edge above. A partner pointed out that if the rope slid, it would dislodge my tools, so I clipped them to my harness instead. All I had for my second tool was a tiny, ultra-light micro-biner. I clipped the tool to it and didn’t think anything of it. Thirty seconds later I heard a noise below and looked down to see my tool rocketing down the wall in the direction of my partner. It had unclipped itself. The flying weapon missed him, then bounced into the stream. After I nearly killed my partner, he had to retrieve my tool from the frigid water. Beers were on me that night.
—Mark, Boulder, Colorado LESSON: While some technical skills of rock climbing do translate to ice, ice climbing requires a higher degree of care and awareness. Any part of the climb can break off, and the climber has sharp blades on their hands and feet. These things require special consideration. Stand far from the icefall zone when belaying, avoid stepping on the rope, and always be conscious of where you place your ice tools. Ice clippers on your harness or a locking biner should be fine in this scenario, but the broader advice here is to have a plan before starting up the route. If you know you’ll be building a belay at the top, then have a plan for securing your tools before you leave the ground. My mate brought his girlfriend to the crag. She’d never climbed outside. We decided we’d rappel in from the top. I asked my mate if his girlfriend knew how to rappel. He said she did. She didn’t have a cord for a prusik so I lent her mine. I rapped first, got to the ground, and then started sorting some gear. A moment later, another climber yelled, ran past me, and grabbed the tails of our rope. I looked up to see my mate’s girlfriend rappelling: torso horizontal, legs skywards, and barely in control. When she reached the ground, I saw that not only did she not know how to rappel, she hadn’t used my prusik.
—Tim Jenkin, Auckland, New Zealand
LESSON: It’s always good to be ready with a fireman’s belay, regardless of your partner’s skill. While rappelling seems straightforward, mistakes can have permanent consequences. Always err on the side of caution. When bringing a new climber out for the first time, practice rappelling on or near the ground. Wrap a tree with a sling and biner, then clip a rope through it and help set up your friend’s rappel. Provide instruction and allow them to rappel horizontally by walking backward to get a solid feel for it.