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Scary n00b scenarios - when to intervene?

Original Post
GabeO · · New Haven, CT · Joined May 2006 · Points: 306

The dangerous n00b thread got me thinking about when to intervene when you see something really bad happening.  For example, one poster describes a guy belaying his kid at a climbing wall - kid gets to the top and traverses all along the top of the wall until dad tells him to let go.  Kid lets go, takes a terrible swing and bashes his head.  I wonder, why didn't the observer step in?

Then again, I've seen a lot of scenarios that seem really bad, and in my opinion, you often up your own danger level the minute you get involved.  Case in point:

J-tree a few years back. The couple next to me was a military boy ~19y.o. and his girlfriend. You've all seen the type - he likes climbing, she likes him - that's the only reason she's out here tied in. When I arrive he's preparing to belay her from the top of the climb, and at the same time trying to shout down instructions for her to tie in - she's forgotten how to tie the knot, and he's dumb enough to think he can explain it from up there. Instead, she is just getting more and more confused. I graciously ask if she'd like a hand, and she accepts.

Okay, so it's a typical 5.7 j-tree climb - a combination of smearing on slabs and jams in flaring cracks, and her sneakers just aren't cutting it. She's having a miserable time, and he's trying to convince her that she isn't. Bad scene.

Fast forward 30 minutes... I led my climb, and I'm just scrambling onto the topout looking for something to anchor into. Meanwhile, she's now anchored at the top, belaying him up on the next climb over, maybe ten feet away. He falls, and her belay fails. He slips/backpedals the 15-20 feet back down the slab and slams into my belayer, knocking him over. Only luck kept my belayer from pulling me off the top - and had he done so, it's very unlikely he would have stopped me before I cratered. 

I've also helped out where everything went fine.  But... looking back on most of those, it always would've been safer to have just moved on.

What about you?


Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 125

You intervene when you need to.  You do it nicely and respectfully, and if the party reacts poorly, you walk away and go somewhere else.  I mainly intervene in the gym.  The last time I really took control was when 1 kid was belaying another on TR.  I had seen the kids in the gym before, but did not know them.  I am sure they both had belay cards.  The rope was spun around itself, coupled with the double wrap over the anchor at top, it created a ton of drag.  The belayer could not pull in the slack, and there was probably 5 or more feet of slack.  I yelled at the climber to stop, helped the belayer to pull in the slack, helped him lower the climber, and then got the rope untwisted.  The kid's parent/guardian was there doing nothing.  More often, I will just point out helpful things, or make subtle suggestions and leave it at that.

Where I work, we have a very rigorous safety program.  Three 'rules' are Respect, Comply, and Intervene.  These are simple enough to apply to climbing.  Respect each other, so don't walk into a situation and tell the noobs that they are going to die, or yell at them, or embarrass them by dressing one down in front of the others.  Comply with the minimum safety requirements.  At work, we have rules and regulations we need to follow, but outside, there are still minimum standards - use a safe enough knot, use the belay device as designed, don't put other people in dander...  So you may hate it when someone uses a locking biner on a figure 8 for top roping a group, it is safe enough that I am not going to say something.  In your situation where the girl couldn't tie a figure 8, get in there are help.  As for intervening, are you going to feel bad if something goes wrong and you didn't say something?  If you ignore a situation, is there a good chance of someone getting hurt or dying?  It could be bad belaying technique, an improper knot, a climber getting ready to yard on a block that has been X-ed out...

If you do all that, step in when you really see something that needs to be corected and do it respectfully, and the other party does not want to hear what you are saying, walk away and climb somewhere else.  The best case is that nothing goes wrong and you are standing next to another group where you keep getting annoyed because they are unsafe and they don't like you there because you are some annoying nanny.  Worst case is that you are part of a rescue or their actions get you or your partner hurt.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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