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Hand caught in ATC while belaying


Original Post
Rares Roman · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2017 · Points: 0

I'm a beginner climber, 3 months in. Last night while lowering someone, due to the speed being a bit to fast i felt that I m about to get burned. Out of instinct, for just a moment i moved my hand up a bit and the skin between my thumb and index finger got sucked in between the ATC and the rope. (I did not let go of my break hand at all ) 

So here I am, in pain, with my partner hanging and my hand stuck in the ATC. I kept my shit together, tried to take it out somehow, saw that there is no way and asked for assistance from someone that was next to me. I told him to pull on the rope so i get some slack in the ATC and I got my hand out (again, did not let go of brake hand). My hand is fine, just a really small are that is sore, even though I expected blood and flaps.


So, assessing the situation I feel stupid that it happened in the first place, but i guess it is one of those things that you think it is not gonna happen to you, until it does. I am glad however that it did happen in this environment, no one got hurt and now i'll definitely be more aware.


I also think I handeled the situation quite good, not panicking, and thinking of my partner's safety first. However, I could've maybe asked for help a bit earlier(note that the whole thing lasted 5-10 seconds before i asked for help).


Did this ever happen to you? What did you do to get your hand out?

What could I have done differently? 

What if this would happen while being alone with your partner? How can i get my hand out without risking the safety of my partner and without fucking up my hand?

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Keep your brake hand about six inches back from the device at all times. 

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 195
Dylan Pike · · Sandy, UT · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 35

I always try to keep my hand low and away from the belay device. Keeping control of the descending climber and not allowing their speed to get too high is very important. If you are having issues with your hand getting hot while belaying, I would suggest ensuring that your brake hand is down low, by your leg, which lets you take full advantage of the device's friction.  Also, you could pick up a pair of well fitting leather gloves. There are climbing specific gloves out there made by Petzl, BD and others, but you could also go to a hardware store and grab a pair of soft leather gloves made out of deerskin or something similar for $15 or $20.

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 341

General suggestions you may or may not already be doing. 

1. Use both hands on the brake when lowering always.  Keep the rope infront of you vs behind around your hip/ behind your butt.

2. Keep your hands atleast 6 inches away from the atc when lowering, you should never put yourself in a situation where you can't completely stop your partner at any time, never exceed a lowering speed you can't stop immediately.  Change the angle of the rope so it creates the greatest bend in the rope, this is where your braking power comes from. 

3. Consider using gloves if your gym allows it, especially when belaying heavier partners. 

4. If you continue to have any problems seek qualified instruction by way of a certified guide or competent instruction from your gym.  

You should be able to get your pinched skin out by maintaining the brake with the unpinched hand and pulling it out. You could have your partner grab back on the wall but you shouldn't have to.  FYI this isn't something that happens to experienced belayers and although it's a common problem amongst beginners you should be able to avoid it by maintaining control and keeping your hands away from the atc at all times.


  P.S. your hands shouldn't be moving jack off style while lowering,  they should remain 6 or more inches away from the atc and the rope should slide through them as they remain a constant distance from the belay device. 

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735

It has never happened to me, but it is definitely one of the hazards to be aware of, when belaying with an ATC.

You got some good suggestions above, regarding gloves and hand positioning.

As to what you could have done if you were alone, with no one to assist you:

Was the climber able to reach the wall? If so, he could have pulled himself in, and climbed up a foot or two to give you enough slack to extricate yourself, depending on where he was and whether he had gear on him, he also could go in direct on a bolt, while you extricate yourself without worrying about holding your partner.

If he wasn't able to reach the wall, then he could pull up on your side of the rope to give you that little bit of slack.

PatMas · · Tulsa, OK · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 0

If your hand does get stuck, pull down on the climbers side of the rope with your free hand, and hop a little. It should give you just enough slack to get your hand unstuck.

Rares Roman · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2017 · Points: 0
Dylan Pike wrote:

I always try to keep my hand low and away from the belay device. Keeping control of the descending climber and not allowing their speed to get too high is very important. If you are having issues with your hand getting hot while belaying, I would suggest ensuring that your brake hand is down low, by your leg, which lets you take full advantage of the device's friction.  Also, you could pick up a pair of well fitting leather gloves. There are climbing specific gloves out there made by Petzl, BD and others, but you could also go to a hardware store and grab a pair of soft leather gloves made out of deerskin or something similar for $15 or $20.

Thanks for the advice, i did not really have any problems with the heat until this time. I'll definitely be more careful about the speed from now on 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 743

As above, lots of good advice.

For gloves, if you choose to go that way, I bought leather weight lifting gloves from a local sporting goods store (the sort of place where you can buy special stuff for team sports, not general). They have no fingertips, Velcro closure, and are even reinforced right where you need it for belaying. Not pricey, either. You can get faux leather even at Walmart, but I prefer the real thing. They last longer, too.

In a gym, if there is no extra friction on their top rope anchors, ask if they have a weight bag you can clip into if your climber outweighs you. That will help keep you close to the ground.

Outside, depending, your climber can help you. Ask them their suggestions, assuming they have more experience, but if they can get back on the rock they can climb and lower you, if needed, still staying on belay.

Be aware that rope can be pulled through an ATC, if the leader takes a big fall, until your hand reaches the belay device. I'm not talking about through your hand, but the device itself, towing your locked hand along. This has happened to me personally, and is backed up by a few others, including rgold. I always wear gloves to belay, but that is a personal choice with pros and cons both ways. There are some good threads on it.

Best to you! Enjoy climbing, I am totally hooked, myself. OLH

@lena, hey, wouldn't that be the climber pulling down on the belayers side, not up? Basically hoisting their own weight?

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 743
PatMas wrote:

If your hand does get stuck, pull down on the climbers side of the rope with your free hand, and hop a little. It should give you just enough slack to get your hand unstuck.

Could you explain this more? I'm not picturing how it would work. Wouldn't the climbers side be out of reach of the belayer?

Thanks! Helen

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
Old lady H wrote:

Could you explain this more? I'm not picturing how it would work. Wouldn't the climbers side be out of reach of the belayer?

Thanks! Helen

Climber's side is just above the belay device.


Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735
PatMas wrote:

If your hand does get stuck, pull down on the climbers side of the rope with your free hand, and hop a little. It should give you just enough slack to get your hand unstuck.

That's a better thought than my suggestion!

I immediately pictured myself in this scenario, which meant that i imagined myself hanging in the air with nothing to kick against (that's what happens if I lower someone too fast), and in that case some help pulling from the climber would be good.

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735
Old lady H wrote:


@lena, hey, wouldn't that be the climber pulling down on the belayers side, not up? Basically hoisting their own weight?

Climber would be hoisting himself up (i.e. doing a pull-up) on the belayer's side of the rope -- i.e. pulling the belayer's side of the rope down.

But basically, I didn't think this through-- the climber would have to do this only to get the belayer to the ground. if the belayer is on the ground, the belayer can just hop up and move the hand at the same time.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 743
amarius wrote:

Climber's side is just above the belay device.


Ah! Thanks. Climber's side to me, said the side of the rope the climber was tied into, other side of the anchor. Much clearer, now!

Best, OLH

Hey, OP, yes, good job not letting go when your hand was bitten. Keep that instinct to hang on no matter what! The ones I've seen caught bare handed ended up with blood blisters, painful, but small change compared to what could happen to your climber.

Mae Rae · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 15

Other posters here have suggested some rather expensive belay devices, but there are more economical solutions.  You can carry a knife on your harness. There are knives made specifically for climbers.  This one is only $30 and is nice because you can clip it on the same locking carabiner you use for your belay card:

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/Packs-and-accessories/SPATHA

If your hand gets caught in the ATC, you can simply take the knife in your other hand and cut the line of rope leading up to the anchor.  The rope will be tight due to the weight of the climber, which will be quite helpful.  You'll be surprised how easy it is to cut a tight rope.

Once the rope is cut your hand will free easily.

Ocalslay Onlyyay · · Not That Into Climbing · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 1,170
Dave Kos wrote:

Other posters here have suggested some rather expensive belay devices, but there are more economical solutions.  You can carry a knife on your harness. There are knives made specifically for climbers.  This one is only $30 and is nice because you can clip it on the same locking carabiner you use for your belay card:

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/Packs-and-accessories/SPATHA

If your hand gets caught in the ATC, you can simply take the knife in your other hand and cut the line of rope leading up to the anchor.  The rope will be tight due to the weight of the climber, which will be quite helpful.  You'll be surprised how easy it is to cut a tight rope.

Once the rope is cut your hand will free easily.

Gold, and more useful than 98% of advice on this website.

climberish · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 10
Dave Kos wrote:

Other posters here have suggested some rather expensive belay devices, but there are more economical solutions.  You can carry a knife on your harness. There are knives made specifically for climbers.  This one is only $30 and is nice because you can clip it on the same locking carabiner you use for your belay card:

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/Packs-and-accessories/SPATHA

If your hand gets caught in the ATC, you can simply take the knife in your other hand and cut the line of rope leading up to the anchor.  The rope will be tight due to the weight of the climber, which will be quite helpful.  You'll be surprised how easy it is to cut a tight rope.

Once the rope is cut your hand will free easily.

Seems like solid advice...

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Dave Kos wrote:

Other posters here have suggested some rather expensive belay devices, but there are more economical solutions.  You can carry a knife on your harness. There are knives made specifically for climbers.  This one is only $30 and is nice because you can clip it on the same locking carabiner you use for your belay card:

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/Packs-and-accessories/SPATHA

If your hand gets caught in the ATC, you can simply take the knife in your other hand and cut the line of rope leading up to the anchor.  The rope will be tight due to the weight of the climber, which will be quite helpful.  You'll be surprised how easy it is to cut a tight rope.

Once the rope is cut your hand will free easily.

An alternative to this is to cut your skin/hand off where it is caught in the device. That way, you could avoid cutting a nice rope. One must think outside of the box in these situations. 

Mae Rae · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 15
FrankPS wrote:

An alternative to this is to cut your skin/hand off where it is caught in the device. That way, you could avoid cutting a nice rope. One must think outside of the box in these situations. 

That's a great idea but you'd certainly want to be careful if doing it that way.  The aluminum ATC is much softer than the steel knife blade, so there's the risk of accidentally cutting the ATC in half.  I'd be worried about having any steel that close to my ATC.

But either way, a big reason that the knife is better than other suggestions is that you never take the climber off belay.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Dave Kos wrote:

That's a great idea but you'd certainly want to be careful if doing it that way.  The aluminum ATC is much softer than the steel knife blade, so there's the risk of accidentally cutting the ATC in half.  I'd be worried about having any steel that close to my ATC.

But either way, a big reason that the knife is better than other suggestions is that you never take the climber off belay.

I can see you have thought this through. Nice job, Dave. You're always one step ahead of the pack. Cutting-edge ideas. 

climberish · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 10
bruno-cx wrote:

Let's turn this into a Deadly ATC vs Grigri debate.  

Hip belay for dayzzzzzz

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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