Stupid Mistakes To Avoid
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A reminder of some things not to do while climbing, belaying and
abseiling. Includes contributions from forum members. To contribute, post to
(Chockstone takes no
responsibility for the accuracy of this article, or it's suitability for
the purpose. Use at your own risk.
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- 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
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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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