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Near misses and lessons learned

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T Bloodstone · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 75

I just got my American Alpine Club's Accident Journal report. I look forward to reading these reports because I learned so much from them, and I hope not to make the same and similar mistakes. There are many little mistakes that are within my control, but there are other mistakes that will be out of my control, and that is a scary thought, especially when it involves another person.

A couple years ago, I took a group of climbers up to the north shore, a popular climbing destination in Minnesota. We were climbing at a place called Palisade Head, a cliff on Lake Superior. A few climbers were waiting to climb a route called Rapprochement, 10b, it was right in the amphitheater, behind a three feet tall retaining wall. After another group of climbers finished climbing and cleaned out their anchor,  they were not with us, so we didn't each other, I talked to the person cleaning the anchor and made sure that they were done and  he confirmed is, so I swooped in and got an anchor in and a climber on the rope, and lowed  my climber down the cliff. A few moments later, a young woman I did not know, walked behind me, crouched between me and the retaining wall, over my right, shoulder, and reached for my anchor and unscrewed my PAS from the anchor. She said, "This is ours." And for a second in my head, I was confused, because I knew that everything on that anchor was mine, and that biner she was unscrewing was my safety. She had taken me off the anchor. I must've said something like, "This is my anchor. That's my safety." The shock and confusion in my tone must've shocked her too, because she froze while pulling on my PAS.  I pushed the pile of rope on my lap aside, followed the PAS from my harness to the biner that she was holding as if to prove to her that this PAS was really mine. We both put the biner back on the anchor, screwed it tight, and tested it.  "I'm so sorry. I thought it was outs. It looks like ours," she said, and she back away,  and disappeared into the crowds of tourists. At that moment I didn't know what to say. I was shocked and confused. Then I felt a wave of anger hit me like the wind. I wanted to get off belay duty and go after her and confront her. I looked over my shoulder again, and she was gone. Another wave of anger hit me again. I started to shake. The space between the cliff and the retaining wall was about three feet, and it was slanted so it was an uncomfortable spot to sit anyway, but without a safety in, you could slip off easily. Luckily I had a shoulder sling as a second PAS to keep me closer to the anchor that was clipped to the shelf of the anchor. I was not endangered, but if I didn't have that second safety, it could've been a different story. In that afterward moment, the shock, the anger, the fear, it all hit me pretty hard. And I didn't need to feel that way because I was safe, I had a second safety in, but it was all natural biological reaction to feel that way in that situation.

Over the years, this experience had the most impact on me as a climber even though I've had my share of other experiences that are sketchier. What I learned from this experience is that as a climber, one should never go to another climber's anchor and take things from it.  I think like a lot of other activities, some things are taught and some things you'll just have to learn it the hard way. I never got to talk to that young lady. I hope that she's learned some lessons on her own, and is a safety-conscious climber now.

Literally A Communist · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2019 · Points: 0

>I must've said something like, "This is my anchor. That's my safety."

You remembered the golden rule: check your safety!

rob.calm · · Loveland, CO · Joined May 2002 · Points: 630

That's the worst and scariest behavior I've ever heard of in over 40 years of climbing--untying you from your anchor without speaking to you--just touching the anchor is unacceptable. Thank goodness nothing really bad happened. 

Noah R · · Burlington, VT · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 0

I am angry for you. That is absurd. Too bad you could not read her the riot act. 

Steve R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2013 · Points: 309

Of course nobody should be touching your anchor and gear, especially your PAS.

That said, perhaps your use of two PAS's confused her--i.e., she noted your 1st PAS, then started to remove the redundant PAS because it looked like hers.

It's my personal opinion that using two PAS systems is more likely to cause an accident than using one (preferably the same one every time). I occasionally see folks using both a commercial PAS as well as clove-hitching into the anchor--I feel that I may eventually forget to clove hitch in when I don't have my commercial PAS, being that I usually consider it redundant, and vice versa.

Paradoxically, I feel like the learning point here is not to use two PASs.

(I'm glad you're safe and I believe discussing and talking about these near-misses are very helpful, especially right after the incident occurs. I assume it may help reduce PTSD)

shredward · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 0

Weird story.  Obviously the other party is in the wrong, but how did you let someone walk over and unscrew and remove your tether without saying something?  I think If i saw someone even looking at an anchor I was trusting my life to, I would say  something before they got close enough to touch it.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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