Stories of Bad Belays


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Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 12, 2018 - 03:37pm PT
Lets have a little climbing content;

So this was about 40 years ago and Stephen and I wanted to top rope some cracks on the Practice Cliffs in Zion.

Stephen was on top with a rope and rack after I had led Casual Sex and then had rapped off to walk the base and find another crack. Having done so I called to Stephen who positioned himself above me an threw down the end of the rope.

Shortly I was tied in and Stephen yelled "on belay".

What I did not know was that Stephen had assumed that I wouldn't fall, so had merely girth hitched a bush and braced his feet against a large rock.

Twenty feet up I got into trouble and managed to warn Stephen before falling.

With almost no resistance I plummet to the deck and look up in time to see the large rock that had been a foot brace 2' across hurtling right at me. I scramble out of the way and it crashes into my impact point.

"Well I didn't thinkYOU'D fall!" was his excuse

That was my last climb with Stephen.

Last year I had the opposite experience;
I was doing a 5.9 in a party of three that went up, diagnaled, and then went straight up again. Ammon (no not the pirate) led it, and yelled "on belay" after pulling up the slack.

I went second, but got a little crossed up and tried to down climb.
With my foot only inches from the "rest" hold the rope locked up.

I yelled for slack repeatedly attempting to hold onto the rock in the middle of the hard move.

Ammon yelled, "I can't. Its locked up!"

Finally pumped I let go.

It seems that my lazy millennial partner chose to belay off the anchor using an auto-lock system.

Now I should say, BITD the first time I did the Yellow Spur was in a party of three with Antoine leading and Teri and I following 20' apart. Because he was belaying us both with gardas we could fly up the route. in 1:40, but we both KNEW that we couldn't downclimb.

Ammon had made a bad decision on the belay, but he made a worse one in not telling me.
(Then for strike 3 he started to set up the same system for Danielle.)

Putting your life in another's hands is what distinguishes our thing from virtually all other sporting activities.
Belaying is a sacred obligation.

I can't be the only one with a bad belay story,...

Social climber
great white north
Feb 12, 2018 - 03:44pm PT
Where to start? Lots of bomber belays but plenty of times pulling up to the station and immediately grabbing the rack to do a little "fixer-upper". Sometimes with some rather pointed comments along the lines of WTF

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2018 - 03:46pm PT
In the 70's two guys were climbing Cascade waterfall near Banff.
There are 2 roped pitches separated by an easier slope.
The leader is at the belay stance above the first pitch.
The second gets to the steep part near the top of the pitch at the same time the leader takes his hand off the belay rope to light up a smoke.
The second comes off, the leader can't grab the rope, so the second takes a 90 foot fall and lands in soft snow at the base of the pitch.
He is unhurt
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 12, 2018 - 03:51pm PT
THERE'S an awkward conversation.

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
Feb 12, 2018 - 04:31pm PT
In the early 1970's I was climbing in San Ysidro Canyon near Santa Barbara. A friend of mine had established a (hard for the time) 5.9 face climb and a 2 lads were giving it a go. The leader made it to the ledge and anchored in and sat down on the ledge with his legs over the side. The second climbed up, unclipped from the last protection bolt, and just a foot or so from the ledge, he fell off. There was a horrible scream, and i looked over just in time to see both climbers plunge off the climb. There was a huge crashing noise as they impacted the bottom. The climb was at least 75 feet high, and everyone climbing thought for sure that they were dead or horribly injured.

Our sight of the last 15 feet of the fall was blocked by a rib of rock. Someone started running out of the canyon to get help, while the rest of us hot footed it for the base of the climb to render what aid we could. And then from around the back side of the rib came an awful groan and a "weeerrre allllll riiighhhht...", followed by thrashing noises and curses. When we rounded the rib, we saw both climbers embedded in a huge sticker bush, covered in blood. After a bit, we managed to extract them from the "Death by 1000 Thorns" landing pad and they shuffled off down the canyon looking like they had been put through a blender, but with only superficial wounds, although they sure had a lot of them.

What had happened was that there was a single bolt on the ledge for an anchor (Silly, but those were pretty early days...). The leader had clipped the bolt with the tied off climbing rope to his swami (yes, a swami...) with a single oval carabiner. In those days locking carabiners were rare and very expensive. When the second fell, he pulled the tied-off leader tight onto the anchor and partially off the ledge. By chance, the carabiner had become twisted, and the gate levered against the bolt hanger and unclipped, sending them both on what should have been their final ride. Only pity stayed god's hand. "It's a pity these wretched idiots smell so bad", said the Reaper. And in a fit of pique he deposited them into the middle of the only piece of vegetation for a 100 yards that could have acted as a cushion. They lived to climb again, and I bought my first locking carabiner.

True story.


The Good Places
Feb 12, 2018 - 04:38pm PT
Credit: not my photo

west pawnee butte: "c'mon up and try not to fall plz." my buddy unclipped from this one as I back-aided

Another single-serving partner experience: new partner unclips my tether atop p2......

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2018 - 04:53pm PT
What's the name of the knot used in the above picture for the tieoff? I personally would have done girth, but I like the look of the above knot and would like to look it up.

To be honest, despite the crumbly look of the crud, I don't see anything wrong about the anchor setup if those three spikes are the only "protection" available. In other words, the picture might haven been posed as a joke, but I think the person did everything right and better than most people could have done, assuming the right equalization and redundancy in the part not framed in the picture, given the condition, didn't he/she?

The Good Places
Feb 12, 2018 - 05:13pm PT
not sure what knot dude used. my leader belayed just fine, on his RENE anchor. it's certainly what I'd call a bad belay (anchor), as in, not secure.


Trad climber
Feb 12, 2018 - 05:30pm PT
In the gym many years ago. Two teenagers next to me.
"Got me?"
then i heard zzzzzzzzzz thump
He fell 35 feet and was OK

Trad climber
Upland, CA
Feb 12, 2018 - 06:03pm PT
First (and last) time climbing with a new partner, who I met in an internet Forum:
For our first route I started up something and about 40 feet and a few pieces up, realized I was in the wrong crack system, so I had to downclimb about 25 feet to start up the left crack. I called down to tell the belayer what I was doing, and when I got to my low point, looked down to see that no slack had been taken back in as I was downclimbing, all the extra rope was sitting in a big heap on the ground. I moved very quickly up this crack but higher up, got to a place where there was a long runout, followed by a place that was a bit tricky to pro. I spent a minute or two placing the tricky gear and then started up again. Went about another 30 feet and set up the belay. When I brought the second up, it was explained to me that the belayer thought I was at the anchor during the time of the long pause and had taken me off belay. Without my calling down and saying anything. Without calling up to me and saying what they were doing.

Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
Feb 12, 2018 - 06:06pm PT
I'm leading MC1 at Christmas Tree Pass. Somewhere above the second bolt, which is about 70 feet off the deck, I came off. I slid by the second bolt, which was OK. Then I saw the first bolt go by...

By some miracle the two down at the belay regained control of the rope.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Feb 12, 2018 - 07:01pm PT
Are we talking belays when there are actual anchors? Just want to clarify that.

Ice climber
Feb 12, 2018 - 07:08pm PT
Quite a few years ago I was climbing with a guy who said he guides at a well known shop in Bishop. I'm leading a 160' pitch and at ~100' he's saying the rope is stuck. After waiting about 20 minutes at a piece I put in a belay WTF ? I know I placed runners where they were needed and it was a fairly straight crack. After another 15 minutes of yarding on the rope I fix it and start rapping the single. About 4 pieces down I get to a cam that has my 1st three pieces that were nuts, wedged up against the cam with a knot in the rope under them. What the hell ? I thought about it a bit and realized there was a knot in the rope as he was paying it out, he took me off belay without saying anything and passed the knot. The passed knot got stuck in the 1st nut and as I yarded on the rope it pulled the nut upwards and out, then did the same to the 2nd and 3rd nuts but got stuck on the cam. He led the next pitch taking an hour + and all the gear was crap as well as the belay; 3 cams under a flake leaning against the wall and I let him know. If he weighted it the cams would push the flake and all 3 would fall out. After putting in a new belay I weighted his and it pulled. Told him he had no business climbing. I gunned the next 2 pitches climbing as if I was soloing as I had no faith in the belayer, then blasted for the car, no words the whole time. Got to the car and was exchanging gear I set some of his cams/slings on the pavement and he harps about petroleum damaging them...."Seriously ?? Your poor placements are going to kill you before any supposed oil"
Never again.

Feb 12, 2018 - 07:44pm PT
I had a partner for a couple years, we did a ton of great routes mostly in Yosemite, especially long ones. He'd be annoyed if I tried to consume food, water, ...other things you take in, ahem, during a climb... except while belaying. "Waste of time! Light up while I'm leading!!" It was a given that you wouldn't let go of the brake hand to do it, but also that taking falls wasn't on our list of activities.
Jolly Roger

Trad climber
here and there
Feb 12, 2018 - 07:56pm PT
One sticks out. We were off to the Grand via Exum ridge. 4 miles into the hike we ask each other who has the lighter? None of us. Then the more important question. Who has the watch/alarm clock? None of us. Well I opted to run back to the truck, and the other two carried on with my pack, and I’d catch them. Well, I ended running to the truck and back, and hit fork in the trail shortly after the point I left them. I sat for 30-45 minutes until someone came along and confirmed the right direction to go. I took off. Along the way asking if anyone had seen my partners. No one. In shorts and shirt, with a nalgene for water I continued. Past the Exum camp to the ridge. No one had seen them and darkness was coming fast. My decision was to haul ass back to the truck. 2 or so miles down I find them. They went the wrong way, and had been alpine lakeside all day. Needless to say we hiked back up and set camp. My legs were so cramped, I didn’t sleep at all. Alarm went off early and we hit it. By the time we got to the black face, I exhaustion was catching up and it happened to be my lead. I took off, and somehow didn’t find the 5.6 climbing.( too far left). Not sure what it was rated but it was thin, and gear was two brass nuts. I reached an alcove and set up a fairly suspect anchor as I recall. As my brother was coming up, fatigue hit full force. I was dozing off in a bad way. Fighting to keep focused. Opening them to find myself pulling in feet of slack. Fighting and fighting, all while listening to the cursing that this wasn’t 5.6. When my brother got up, I told him to go above and set another anchor, and that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. He belayed our 3rd and I napped. That was a scary endeavor.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2018 - 07:58pm PT
Got me ?

Yeah, yeah.

Two minutes later after almost groveling through, I was stopped five feet from contacting a Lighthouse Park slab to the sea while being top roped.

Our eyes met in equal saucer fashion.

Except, what I saw was Craig stopping his post infant child from tumbling into the sea with one hand and trying to brake my fall with the other.

I now know that both young Oliver and old I had a really good belay from one man. It was a bit bumpy though.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Feb 12, 2018 - 10:33pm PT
Bad belays???? So many to remember....

1. Scree bollard on the summit of Cabezon volcanic plug, Rio Puerco, New Mexico, after an unprotected pitch of vertical volcanic ash.

2. Knee jam belay about 5 pitches up on the Shield, Sandia Mountains, New mexico

3. Adding a tied-off knifeblade to greatly enhance the security of a belay on a winter alpine climb on Dana Plateau, California

4. The scariest? Traversing corniced ridges in Alaska with heavy packs and no belays at all.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Feb 12, 2018 - 11:26pm PT
I just related the incident on Swan Slab with Skeeter on The Flames thread.

There was the time Mathis and I climbed Rixon's center. Jeff had the lead off the ground. I belayed him. For some reason I was smoking a cigarette and my attention wavered and I went walkabout for at least 30 seconds and had abandoned the fockin' rope (hip belay days). Jeff saw me out of the corner of his eye as he was looking for a pin on his rack and it really freaked him out.

I got a real ass-chewing over that one and never pulled anything like it ever again. I've only told this to no one I can remember, but it's still fresh in my mind. One of those things you never live down...
dangerous danny

Trad climber
Rifle, CO
Feb 13, 2018 - 08:17am PT
..well put TV, keep this thread rolling folks, chime in with your "bad-belay" stories, I'll share one of mine here soon, gotta run for now..
Ojai Alex

Trad climber
Ojai, CA
Feb 13, 2018 - 09:43am PT
Hey Ferretlegger, which route did those guys pitch off of at San Ysidro? What decade?
Would love to know, I climb there often.
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