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Don't get complacent.


Original Post
Blakevan · · Dallas, TX · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 55

I’m sharing the humiliating video below to warn people about complacency.  I have been climbing for a little over two years and feel comfortable on most mid 5.10s and can struggle up a few lower 5.11s.  I have climbed with the person belaying me for about a year and half and we typically read each other’s minds about clipping, taking/falling you name it.  I guess we got too comfortable and it almost caused an accident.

This climb is a simple 80’ 5.8 and I only climbed it to video the nice views it has.  My belayer didn’t climb it and I was the last one up that day.  We didn’t discuss what was up at the top nor did we agree on if I would lower or rap.  Just another easy climb well within my range……

When I got to the top I yelled down to be lowered but with the wind, distance and ledge my belayer assumed I needed slack and was in direct.  Whoops!  I only dropped about 10’ until I landed on the ledge or the rope caught but it could have been much worst.  I didn’t get a scratch and just cleaned the draws on the way down. 

When I got down we had a long discussion and the belayer felt bad about dropping me but it was my fault.  I’m the one on lead and own everything about the climb.  I come from a background of training and lesson learned so I hope you guys can learn from my mistakes. 

Don’t get complacent because the climb is within your range.

Trust but verify everything with your belayer.

Work out a flight plan with your belayer prior to leaving the ground.

Work out communication strategies prior to leaving the ground.

Details, details, details, the little things can get you so never let your guard down.

Edit: spelling

physnchips · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0

Sometimes you don't know what kind of gear is at the top (such as what I assume happened to you as the only person doing the route). My default is to rap. Even if there's some musseys or whatever else at the top that make for easy lowering I will still rap, if nothing about the potential to lower off fixed gear was discussed. If you do discuss, "Hey, if there's some musseys up top I'm going to lower instead of rap," then you need to make super certain you can clearly communicate with your partner to follow the aforementioned plan B.

In a topic somewhat similar, I'm glad you and your belayer start out by giving slack so that what happened to you was a drop on rope rather than a drop off rope. I see a lot of people that go off belay the second they are in direct. Nothing wrong with this if all goes right, of course, but if like happened here there was a miscommunication (e.g. I'm used to hearing off belay, and I think that's what I heard so I'm going off) then the failure can be fatal. As a belayer, if there's no or little slack in the rope I always put more in before taking someone off belay just to make sure their weight really is off, even if they say it is (I consider it a standard check for a responsible belayer, the same as checking a knot etc., because people make mistakes).

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70

Thank you for posting. Definitely can be a dose of reality to see these things.

Phishnchips: MP scientists have discussed rap versus lower at great length. The consensus is that lowering is safer. 

reboot · · . · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 125
grog m aka Greg McKee wrote:

Phishnchips: MP scientists have discussed rap versus lower at great length. The consensus is that lowering is safer. 

I'm not sure there's a consensus, but the safety discussion is making rapping vs lowering the default MO, not the actual act.

To the OP: glad you are OK. One of the things you can do as the climber (which you ended up doing) is grabbing the other end of the rope and self-lower until you are certain the belayer has you.

curt86iroc · · Golden, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 63
grog m aka Greg McKee wrote:

Phishnchips: MP scientists have discussed rap versus lower at great length. The consensus is that lowering is safer. 

i think you meant to say, "the consensus is lowering CAN be safer provided the situation calls for it"

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,122
reboot wrote:

I'm not sure there's a consensus, but the safety discussion is making rapping vs lowering the default MO, not the actual act.

To the OP: glad you are OK. One of the things you can do as the climber (which you ended up doing) is grabbing the other end of the rope and self-lower until you are certain the belayer has you.

Unfortunately, there is not a consensus, however, the safest thing is to always do the same thing.  That is the reason why lowering is preferable, when talking about single pitch climbing, there are very rarely if ever routes that can be rapped but not lowered, there are many routes that can't be rapped which is why lowering should be the standard.  As far as the belayer is concerned, the belayer should always assume that the climber is lowering unless they have a very clear indication from the climber otherwise.  

To the OP, any way you look at it your belayer screwed up, as the climber yes you should have communicated what you were doing with your belayer before leaving the ground, but since that didn't happen, the belayer has the responsibility to keep you safe and should therefor never take you off belay unless absolutely sure that you are off belay which obviously didn't happen in this case.

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Blakevan wrote:

When I got to the top I yelled down to be lowered but with the wind, distance and ledge my belayer assumed I needed slack and was indirect.  Whoops!  I only dropped about 10’ until I landed on the ledge or the rope caught but it could have been much worst.  I didn’t get a scratch and just cleaned the draws on the way down. 

When I got down we had a long discussion and the belayer felt bad about dropping me but it was my fault.  I’m the one on lead and own everything about the climb. 

No, it was your belayer's fault. Doesn't matter what you talked or didn't talk about.  Doesn't matter if you contributed to the accident somehow. It is always the belayer's fault if you are dropped any distance.

BTW,  it's "in direct", not "indirect".

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,122
Marc801 C wrote:

BTW,  it's "in direct", not "indirect".

Thanks Marc,  that's a huge pet peeve of mine!

Alicia Sokolowski · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 1,075
Ken Noyce wrote:

there are many routes that can't be rapped which is why lowering should be the standard.  

I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but in what instance could you be lowered from the top of a pitch, but not be able to rap  it (other than, of course, instances where your belayer is up at the anchor with you, doubling the distance you can descend - a situation that wouldn't really apply because we are talking about communication issues)

I can see it going the other way.  You can rap from the anchor, but you can't be lowered because the route traverses a bunch, eating up rope length.

Blakevan · · Dallas, TX · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 55

There were permadraws at the top of this route so lowering would be a good option.  This place has so many different things at the top you don't know until you get there what is the best way to get down.  

Again the point is I should have asked what was up there and then had a plan before I left the ground.

Vaughn · · Colorado · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 50
Alicia Sokolowski wrote:

I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but in what instance could you be lowered from the top of a pitch, but not be able to rap  it (other than, of course, instances where your belayer is up at the anchor with you, doubling the distance you can descend - a situation that wouldn't really apply because we are talking about communication issues)

I can see it going the other way.  You can rap from the anchor, but you can't be lowered because the route traverses a bunch, eating up rope length.

If the route is severely overhanging it can be really hard or impossible to clean the pro on the way down while rappelling. Same with a traversing route.

Alicia Sokolowski · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 1,075
Vaughn wrote:

If the route is severely overhanging it can be really hard or impossible to clean the pro on the way down while rappelling. Same with a traversing route.

Ah, I'm not used to no one repeating the route (having to clean on rappel).  Thanks for the clarification.

nathanael · · Riverside, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 348

excellent. it has been at least a week since the last 10 page thread on rapping vs lowering so i guess we're overdue.

Blakevan · · Dallas, TX · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 55

I hope not as this was meant to keep people thinking about communication and planning not rap. vs. lowering.   

physnchips · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0
Nathanael wrote:

excellent. it has been at least a week since the last 10 page thread on rapping vs lowering so i guess we're overdue.

Lol, all I did was say that rapping is MY default and it starts.

These debates are so stupid. Different contexts and different areas have different reasons for doing one vs. the other. If you ALWAYS lower and never rap you are doing something wrong. If you ALWAYS rap and never lower, you are doing something wrong.

 As OP said, the most important thing is that both you and your belayer know what you are doing both before leaving the ground and while at the anchors. It's easy to be complacent, start assuming, and cause mistakes. Thanks to OP for the reminder.

GDavis · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 10
Blakevan wrote:

I’m sharing the humiliating video

Immediately scrolled down

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420

Props to you for taking ownership on your end but....the belayer has to take ownership on their end. They should NEVER give you slack or take you off belay until they are CERTAIN they understand the situation. They have your life in their hands. They have to take ownership that they, and only they, have control over what actions they take while belaying you. Its on them as long as you are tied in to keep you safe.

Until they clearly hear "off belay" they should keep you on belay. ALWAYS. Your life depends on it.

And they should never, ever feed out slack unless they understand CLEARLY that is what you need. You easily could have been taken off belay there or the belayer could have lost control as they didn't know what you were doing.

There are many times the leader is pumped and not in perfect control of themselves/being too casual and that is precisely when the belayer has to step up and KNOW what is going on and make the right decisions.

Thanks for posting.

It is the mundane that will kill you now that you are getting comfortable out there. The challenge you face is overcoming complacency in the face of the life threat that is all roped climbing, now that you have some experience.

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

The lesson to learn here is to always make sure that you are weighting the rope on your rappel device or belayer before unclipping from the anchor. Glad you got away with just a few sratches

physnchips · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 0

One last comment from the peanut gallery (you likely already know it so excuse the patronizing): it's nice to take one more quickdraw than you need (mostly because you never know if you counted wrong or the book count is wrong), and if you are lowering you can clip it to your belay loop and to the rope opposite you. If your belayer accidentally gives too much slack (whether slow or, in this case, quick) you won't go past your last bolt as you almost do in video and it will keep you tighter to your cleaning line. 

Again, thanks for the humility and reminding us that fuck ups happen when communication drops (no matter how trivial).

Dustin Stotser · · Springfield, MO · Joined May 2014 · Points: 363
physnchips wrote:

...if you are lowering you can clip it to your belay loop and to the rope opposite you. If your belayer accidentally gives too much slack (whether slow or, in this case, quick) you won't go past your last bolt as you almost do in video and it will keep you tighter to your cleaning line. 

If you did this you could indeed fall past your last bolt, though you will be pulling a bight down and likely falling a little slower at least.

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456
Dustin Stotser wrote:

If you did this you could indeed fall past your last bolt, though you will be pulling a bight down and likely falling a little slower at least.

because you are forming a bight wouldn't you also fall half the distance of the amount of slack from your belayer?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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