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Stupid Mistakes To Avoid
[ Leading | Belaying | Top Roping | Abseiling | General ]

A reminder of some things not to do while climbing, belaying and abseiling. Includes contributions from forum members. To contribute, post to this thread. 

(Chockstone takes no responsibility for the accuracy of this article, or it's suitability for the purpose. Use at your own risk. Chockstone Photography | Landscape Photography Australia | Australian Landscape Photography

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Leading   Push For The Summit

  • Smacking your head during a fall or getting knocked by falling rock. Wear a helmet. What's more fashionable, a helmet or a coma?
  • Leading a new climber up a multi-pitch and getting stuck because they can't second your lead. Learn how to rig an assisted and unassisted hoist. Teach your second how to ascend on prussics before you go up. Read Self Rescue by Fasulo.
  • Taking a factor two directly onto the belay. Remember to clip the highest piece of the belay anchor when leading out on a multi-pitch.
  • Getting benighted, or exposing yourself to unnecessary risk because you left the head torch in your pack. Solution obvious.
  • Flipping upside down during a fall because you led into a traverse with the rope running behind your leg. Watch where that rope is sitting.
  • Increasing your fall factor and making hard work for yourself by allowing rope drag to build up. Extend placements with slings and/or lead on two ropes if it's really zig zaggy.
  • Watching your falling second (or third) pendulum into an arÍte. Leave enough gear in traverses to protect followers. Don't let your second get so carried away with cleaning they forget about your third.
  • Shock loading your belay when one anchor fails. Equalise your anchors with a Cordelette or other means.
  • Trusting a cam placed in a glassy smooth parallel crack, only to have it tear free under less than body weight. Cams need a rough surface to initiate expansion. Treat greasy smooth parallel cracks with the same suspicion as flaring ones.
  • Building a belay with trad placements all in the one crack, block or feature. Said feature fails, resulting in total belay failure. When faced with a "perfect" splitter it can be tempting to stuff it full of cams and shout "on belay". Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Onsighting a route without enough draws or slings resulting in forced run outs, rope drag from hell, walking cams, wiggled out nuts, a scary solo or worse. Consider how much slings weigh. Take them all, even if it looks like a straight line.
  • Failing to incorporate your climbing partner's name into signals. (eg "OK John, I'm safe". Resulting in "OK Harry, off belay?", followed by "Yeah, off belay John!" confirmation). I know of at least one person that was taken off belay, when his belayer responded to the "I'm safe" call of a climbing team nearby (!!!). Additionally, both partners should know an alternative system of communicating if you can't be heard. For example, 3 sharp tugs followed by a pause and 3 more might mean you're on belay, and can climb when ready. Confusing "take" with "safe" can be other source of concern. Consider swapping "safe" with "off belay".
  • Getting off route, or even starting up the wrong climb, resulting an unexpected epic and unnecessary risk taking. Onsighting new routes unintentionally is not for the ill prepared. Read the guide carefully if available, and consider your retreat options before they are required.

Belaying   Push For The Summit

  • Letting the rope pass through the belay device while lowering someone. A miscalculation of the nature of the route and amount of slack rope. Tie a stopper knot in the end, better yet, get your belayer to tie in to the end.
  • Watching your leader deck because either they didn't signal to lower, or the belayer didn't signal, and obtain acknowledgement before taking them off belay. Don't rush into things. Always get confirmation when taking someone off belay or committing to being lowered.
  • Dropping your rap/belay device and not knowing how to rig an alternative. Learn the crab brake rap, and Munter Hitch. It might also be beneficial to learn a waist belay, and classic (Dulfer) abseil for really exceptional circumstances.
  • Watching the end of the rope disappear as your leader, out of ear shot above, quickly sets a belay and takes in rope. Why aren't you tied in to your end? On an overhung or traversing route this could be more than just an inconvenience. Excepting certain circumstances, climbers on a multi-pitch, should not need to untie if they have enough ropes.
  • Belaying the leader, unanchored, too far out from the cliff you are slammed into the wall during a fall, possibly releasing the belay, and, due to the angle created you may rip their first few pieces. Stand close to the rock. Put a helmet on if you're worried about rock fall. Tell your leader to get an omni-directional in first up if you must stand back.
  • Forcing your panicked leader to take a fall because, down at the belay, you allowed a knot to creep into the slack rope. Flake the rope out before commencing belay duty, even if it looks neatly coiled.
  • Getting hit by loose rock or items dropped by your leader. Wear a helmet. Even something as simple as the movement of the rope above you can cause loose rock to come crashing down.

Top Roping   Push For The Summit

  • Finding sheath damage or worse, from a top rope over a sharp edge. Extend top rope anchors over the lip, and pad if necessary. Make people walk down or abseil rather than lowering. It also might be necessary to set gear, mid-route, to guide the rope past sharp blocks. Consider if the route lends its self to top roping, and perhaps move on.
  • Top roping off a sling. Are you crazy? The friction of your rope moving against the sling material will slice it like a knife though butter.

Abseiling   Push For The Summit

  • Don't rap off the end of your ropes!Rapping off the end of your rope. Tie stopper knots in each end. Check they make the ground or next anchors if possible. This avoidable mistake still manages to take the lives of even experienced climbers.
  • Loosing control of the abseil and taking the swift way down. Get into the habit of giving a fireman's belay to your mates even if they don't ask for it. Use some form of backup (prussic or otherwise), if you are at all unsure.
  • Attaching your "below the descending device" prussic backup to a non-rated gear loop instead a fully rated leg loop of your harness only to have it snap. Harness gear loops are generally scarily weak and NOT intended to hold any kind of force. You'd be lucky if they can hold 5kg. (Unless your harness is specifically manufactured differently).
  • Deciding that 50m off the deck is the best time to learn how to pass a knot on abseil. Solution obvious.
  • Rapping off a single piece, only to have it pull. Never, never rap off a single piece, unless it's a huge tree or bollard, and even then think carefully. This practice of backing up the single "bomber" piece with other, unweighted, pieces, and then eyeing the loaded piece while the first descender heads off is total myth, and will not guarantee your safety - it's put people in hospital including a climber I know. Donít be cheap with bail gear.
  • Abseiling off a sling, a practice wildly used, can cut the sling material. Consider movement such as swinging into an overhung or traversing route to clean gear, kicking out to avoid an obstruction, or levelling the ropes during the decent. What is this movement doing to that sling?  Beware also ropes of different thicknesses/elasticity, the friction can slice through the sling. Is it worth the cost of a leaver crab?
  • Getting stuck ropes. When abseiling off an anchor get the first guy down to test if the ropes pull through - before you both are on the ground and have to prussic up to fix a stuck rope!
  • Taking a ground fall because the rope you abseiled off was not fixed directly to the anchors, but had slack caught around a hidden feature, which subsequently released when the line was weighted. Don't rush! Make sure there is no slack between you and the anchors.
  • Rapping off an overhang only to pin your guide hand between the rock and the rope. In the case of a beginner, this could be quite serious.
  • Getting hair or loose clothing caught in your abseil device. Tie hair back and tuck clothing in.


General   Push For The Summit

  • Avoid climbing beyond what you consider your acceptable limit due to peer pressure or ego reasons. If you do so, then do it knowingly and accepting of the consequences involved if it goes pear shaped. (Climb for your own reasons not for others).
  • Have self check systems and use them. Avoid being sidetracked while conducting them. (Harness buckle doubled back, helmet on, belay device properly rigged etc). Visually check your partners safety and belay setups also.
  • Don't drop gear! Don't 'clean' climbs with others or gear below which can potentially be injured/damaged. Don't climb behind other parties on loose routes.
  • Suss out your instructor / climbing partner. Don't accept what you are told as necessarily being gospel. Critically evaluate your circumstances and apply your own common sense if needs be. Be aware of your climbing partners limitations and climb accordingly.
  • Don't use gear inappropriately. Double up on critical safety pieces, anchors etc, eg use screw gate krabs or doubled reversed krabs in top rope anchors.
  • Don't go near a cliff top edge to set up a climb / abseil without being tied in to a reliable anchor or belayed.
  • When dealing with newbie's don't assume they will do the right thing! Explain 1st and get them to demonstrate technique back as confirmation of effective communication, prior to the system being relied upon.



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