Mountain Project Logo

"Escaping the Belay" is not a thing


Original Post
Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 138

Let's hear it folks: All kinds of people are contending that the ability for the second to "escape the belay" and (somehow) come to the aid of a fallen and incapacitated leader they cannot lower to the anchor is a "thing" that is a fundamental skill people should learn?

Maybe some one can share their experience with this Unicorn that (while theoretically possible) actually comes up against reality in practice and is so rare as to not be a thing.

GDavis Davis · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 10

Your follower got injured below you and you need to check on them - airway, position, etc. Not to mention stabilizing a musculoskeletal injury. Whether you raise them to the belay or lower them isn't always obvious.

Also a leader stranded and run out may want a line lowered from above - I've actually done this lol.

coppolillo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 70

Took my young buddy Joe top-roping for his first time...he must've been 4 or 5....he loved the up, but froze on the down. Stuck on a ledge, he began counting passing cars on the road below, looking at clouds, but wouldn't answer me and wouldn't come down. So, while I wasn't anchored to the ground, I had to ascend the rope, retrieve my little buddy and come back to earth. The situation mimics a leader who fell above her last piece, is now sitting broken on a ledge, unwilling to be lowered or something....It's sort of escaping the belay, not totally in the sense you describe. You're right, luckily, "escaping the belay" and ascending isn't such a common thing....but it happens for sure....

Of note: Joe is now a national team kid and one of the fastest speed climbers in the US. He doesn't climb with me any more. I'm entitled to half his earnings, I think. He doesn't answer my texts. Damn kid.

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 138
GDavis Davis wrote: Your follower got injured below you and you need to check on them - airway, position, etc. Not to mention stabilizing a musculoskeletal injury. Whether you raise them to the belay or lower them isn't always obvious.

Also a leader stranded and run out may want a line lowered from above - I've actually done this lol.

We are not talking about the second needing an assist but about assisting the leader. 


Edit for clarification.
Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 138
coppolillo wrote: Took my young buddy Joe top-roping for his first time...he must've been 4 or 5....he loved the up, but froze on the down. Stuck on a ledge, he began counting passing cars on the road below, looking at clouds, but wouldn't answer me and wouldn't come down. So, while I wasn't anchored to the ground, I had to ascend the rope, retrieve my little buddy and come back to earth. The situation mimics a leader who fell above her last piece, is now sitting broken on a ledge, unwilling to be lowered or something....It's sort of escaping the belay, not totally in the sense you describe. You're right, luckily, "escaping the belay" and ascending isn't such a common thing....but it happens for sure....

Of note: Joe is now a national team kid and one of the fastest speed climbers in the US. He doesn't climb with me any more. I'm entitled to half his earnings, I think. He doesn't answer my texts. Damn kid.

We are not talking about TRing where there is a bomber anchor above.

And you should have assessed the newbies tolerance and understanding of being lowered before he got stuck and overwhelmed. I do this at like, 10 feet or less before letting them climb higher.
FosterK · · Edmonton, AB · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 60
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote:

We are not talking about the second.

You have essentially asked a two part question: a) who's had to escape the belay (the skill itself), and b) who's had to do it to rescue a leader (the rare situation).

The skill itself may be relevant to a multiple situations, including rescuing a second or on a single pitch climb. The specific situation you're asking about may be exceedingly rare, but the use of the skill itself probably isn't.
Noah R · · VT · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 0
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote:

We are not talking about TRing where there is a bomber anchor above.

"The situation mimics a leader who fell above her last piece, is now sitting broken on a ledge"


Gotta say it. Read much?
Chris Blatchley · · Somerville, MA · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 7
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote:

We are not talking about TRing where there is a bomber anchor above.

isn't this moving the goal post?

i ~can~see~ [edit: have seen] some gumbies at rumney being in the same situation and doing some crazy weird shit to get up to the person.
Greg Dwulet · · Boulder, CO · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 15

Escaping the belay is a tool that you absolutely do need in certain situations. In other situations (and in most situations), you would never do it. Either way, knowing how to do it is good practice and increases the tools you have at your disposal. You're never going to be able to execute any rescue technique "by the book" in the real world, so the more you know, the better you can improvise. The better you can improvise, the better your odds of self-rescue.

Jeremy R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 25

It's very critical to learn. Just like every anchor you make has to have 3 pieces. Just like there must be no extension.

Then I actually went climbing...

Ross Ayer · · Southington, CT · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 60

If the leader were to take a fall onto a ledge, and be incapacitated, this is a useful skill.  Most often it ends up being on TR and is just someone scared to come down.  While it is very unlikely, being prepared can save lives.  

Jeremy R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 25

But seriously, what Greg Dwulet said.

I know how to escape the belay, given climbing for almost 20 years and never used it in a real situation, I think I'm lucky to have never needed it. Glad I know how, but honestly never expect to use it.

luke smith · · Salt Lake City, Utah · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 50

Knowing how to effectively triage, stabilize and treat any injury that a leader who CANNOT SELF-RESCUE will always be more important than escaping the belay even if it is desirable.  So you're money is better spent on WEMT/advanced remote medical treatment and practice than any idealized self-rescue skills.  Otherwise you're showing up to a mess that you can't fix.  

coppolillo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 70

No, not a "bomb" anchor above....but a couple thoughts: if the leader fell on the piece, it's been tested, hopefully (probably?!) good. If he can communicate with you, maybe he'll say, "Don't come up the rope, it's a frickin' RP!" But he might say, it's a bomber gold cam, all good! Another technique to manage this: if the leader is conscious/capable, he either places a piece where he is, or lowers to the next piece, attaches a friction hitch from the piece to the belayer's side of the rope and cinches it tight---now the leader is ascending with his weight on that piece backed up by the top piece---not ideal, but it might limit extension/etc if the top piece fails/etc.

Yeah, none of this is super likely, but every so often you hear about it....

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

Isn't being prepared for an unlikely event a good thing? Or is it a complete waste of time because it could never happen? Escaping the belay isn't particularly difficult to learn, doesn't require practice to remember the concept, so why wouldn't you want to know how to do it?

mpech · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 2

maybe we can ask the original question differently-- has the ability to escape the belay and help the incapacitated leader ever occurred in real life incident and led to a dramatically different outcome for the injured party? My guess is no. 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 979

My dear Boondoggle, you are forgetting that the first step of escaping a belay is the all important task of tying off a belay. Critical to taking pics!

I learned side by side with my SAR son, so, I learned, or was the crash test dummy, for all sorts of stuff, most of it not done again, including escaping a belay.

No, I've never escaped a belay at need, but? Learning some things did up my skills. How? Understanding there is more than one way to do something, and the best piece of equipment is your head. Yeah, I bring it up every chance I get, but, learning a prussik hitch ascend, literally first thing I ever did, gave me a really simple tool that can be widely applied, including escaping a belay.

I doubt escaping a belay will ever be needed. But? Thinking a situation through, and having even a few skills? That, I definitely have used, including self rescuing...while routesetting at the gym, lol!

Best, Helen

EDIT to add, on single pitch, aren't you essentially on top rope, wherever you fall off? The top gear or bolt isn't an anchor, true, but it's still the top of the rope between climber and belayer, and maybe okay to lower from. Climber "stuck" up there, somehow, is kinda unlikely. I've climbed, lowered, climbed, with a brassy as the highest bit.

MojoMonkey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 66

Leader should have escaped the belay in this situation, and then walked down the cliff and off to Rock & Snow to sell off his gear. Along with everybody else involved.

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 138
Noah R wrote:

"The situation mimics a leader who fell above her last piece, is now sitting broken on a ledge"


Gotta say it. Read much?

Lol. Do you?

A leader that has fallen is not below a TR anchor but instead may be hanging from marginal protection.
Noah R · · VT · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 0
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote:

Lol. Do you?

A leader that has fallen is not below a TR anchor but instead may be hanging from marginal protection.

No shit... that is why the word mimic was used, rather than equivalent/identical. Situation is still similar (not identical)

GDavis Davis · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 10
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote:

We are not talking about the second.

The plural second person, nice. We went back and read it and we understand it now. We thank you.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
Post a Reply to ""Escaping the Belay" is not a thing"

Log In to Reply