2. Back-up rappels with French Prussik knot. This simple back-up keeps an accidental drop of your brake hand during a rappel from becoming a disaster.
3. Tie knots in the ends of your rappel ropes. Before you set off from the top of a cliff on a rappel, always tie knots in the ends of your rope. Almost all climbers know this rule; however, when I started climbing- I didn’t. I was rappelling down a route I was projecting, and with 10 feet to go before the landing, I almost rappelled off the end of my rope. Luckily, I hit my elbow on the wall and in reaction- I stopped descending and looked down and saw the loose end of my rope just a couple feet below me. Although the rappel would have finished just 10 feet lower, if I had fallen before reaching that point, I likely would have bounced an additional 50 feet down the approach pitch. Luckily, I noticed the end of the rope before sliding off it.
4. Use an Auto-lock belay device. When I first climbed outdoors, I bought a Figure 8 and had my inexperienced friends belay me and each other with it. Later, I moved to an ATC device, which isn’t much better. Why risk user error when you have your choice of various auto-locking devices that will save your life if your belayer drops the brake side of the rope?
Article: Climber injured in belayer failure fall – American Fork Canyon“He slipped and the device was not locked and so he fell…The individual helping him actually received burns to his hand trying to arrest his fall as he came down, but as he came down he actually struck his head on the wall.”
5. Ensure belayer is attentive. I have 2 stories where my belayer continued paying out slack while I was rested before a crux, causing a large fall. The first time, the belayer couldn’t easily see me through the trees high up on a route…as I lead the route, he got into a rhythm of paying out slack, but he did not realize I had found a nice jug to rest on right before climbing the crux. He was chatting with friends at the bottom of the climb, and kept paying out more slack. I didn’t realize I had a bunch of slack under me as I attempted the crux and fell. Falling 15 feet further than I had expected, I was lucky it was a clean fall. Once at the climbing gym…… on a long lead wall, I reached a steep section near the top when I fell. My belayer had been checking out the women nearby, and kept paying out slack without realizing I had paused to chalk up and rest before finishing the route. The catch was much further down the rope than I had expected. Once again, I was lucky that no injury occurred.
6. Ensure belayer knows how to belay. I gave my father a quick tutorial on how to belay, then raced up about 10 bolts of a route. Looking down from up high, I noticed that he was trying to hold me with just the climber side of the rope and did not have his hand on the brake side of the rope. Luckily, I was able to yell down some instructions and explain the proper way to get me back on the ground. A different time, I was climbing at the gym and became friends with a climber who could boulder V7. I asked if he would belay me on a top-rope and assumed he knew how. He used my locking belay device to belay me. After climbing up about 15 feet and not being able to get higher, I told him to lower me. Next thing I know- I hit the floor very hard. He explained that he never climbs, only boulders, and that he didn’t really know how to belay. Luckily I had been only 15 feet off the deck.
7. Tie-in to a separate anchor before setting up a precarious top-rope. When I first began to climb outdoors, I often set up top-ropes by scrambling around to the top of climbs. Sometimes, this meant putting myself in perilous positions to unravel my rope and set up the top-anchor. If you find yourself in a precarious spot on the edge of a cliff to set up a top-rope- back off, put on your harness, set up a separate anchor first and then approach the edge of the cliff once you’re secured.
Article: Man dies setting up top-rope“…as he bent over to attach the rope to the anchor, he either got light-headed and tumbled or the rope shifted and threw off his balance and he stumbled forward. He was on flat ground. It was just a tragic accident. Two of his children were there when he fell.”
8. Don’t assume a route with bolts is a sport route. I once started up an unfamiliar route…after clipping 3-4 bolts, I realized there weren’t any more bolts. I decided to run it out to the chains on top. It was a partial trad route, but I had no trad gear. I was well up the wall, and in a moment of poor judgment, I made the decision to continue upward. A fall would have been ruinous.
9. Don’t trust a top-rope set-up until you inspect it yourself. A group of eager friends and I took turns on a difficult top-rope that had been set up by a friend of a friend- a climber that we all thought knew what he was doing. He worked at a ropes course, so he surely knew how to set up the top-rope. (He actually owns a climbing gym now.) We took turns trying a difficult route using his top-rope set up. None of us could get to the top. After many attempts by all, my friend finally made it up and over the bulging rock to the chains. He quickly discovered that the setup of the top-rope was not good. Just 1 piece of webbing was threaded through both chains and clipped to the rope. The webbing had been rubbing against the rock. By the time my friend made it to the chains, the one piece of 1 inch webbing had sliced halfway through….leaving only ½ inch of webbing holding him. How many more falls would it have held?
How many rubs on the rock will this thin webbing take before snapping? HORRIBLE SETUP!!!!!
Great system using 2 separate, independent anchors.
2 bolts + 2 separate pieces of webbing + 2 carabiners clipped to the climbing rope. Don’t try to combine the 2 separate anchors into 1 system. Keep them separate from each other all the way from the bolt to the rope. If you don’t, then you are relying on 1 element somewhere in the system (instead of 2). Another failure of the 1-webbing scenario is that you’re much more likely to end up using an American Death Triangle; setting up the 2nd bolt for failure by shock-load in the event that the 1st bolt fails.
10. Properly anchor light belayers. I remember reading many years ago about an accident at a popular, local climb. The climber fell, and since his belaying girlfriend weighed a lot less, she was pulled off her stance. She didn’t expect it, and dropped the brake side of the rope. Because she was using an ATC or similar device, the climber fell 40 feet, hitting the ground. There are several things wrong with this scenario: non-locking belay device, lack of belayer knowledge, and an unanchored light belayer.
11. Don’t assume you and your belayer are on the same page when you lean back at the top of the climb. Communicate, even if it is difficult to do so. If your belayer can’t hear you, either wait until he can or setup your descent so you’re in control.
I have posted below a link to a story about a climbing accident. My guess on what happened: belayer thought climber would rappel, but climber thought belayer would lower her. Lack of communication. Climber arrived at chains…eventually leaning back, the belayer was not holding the brake side of the rope. Belay device was non-locking, so the climber fell to the ground. The friction and bend of the rope through the ATC and chains slowed the fall enough to prevent serious injury.
The new standard for cleaning anchors – Stay On-belay
12. Don’t take inexperienced climbers on dangerous approaches. I am unfortunately guilty of this one. Those I took climbing with me were agile and brave, but often were beginner climbers, and were probably not prepared for some of the approaches I took them on. I wish I could go back 15 years and not drag them up those 5.3 free solo approach pitches, or that small path on the edge of a 70 foot cliff, to get to the crag.
13. When multi-pitching, don’t assume that tight feeling is your belay rope. When belaying on the ground…if the rope feels tight, then that usually means there is no slack in the rope. But when multi-pitching, the belayer is anchored to the wall with a separate anchor. This pulls on your harness just like a top-rope, which may deceive you into thinking there’s “no slack.”