I have been climbing for six years now and yesterday had my first incident where I was on belay and my climber had a groundfall after clipping one bolt. Fortunately, we were indoors at Cliffs of Id and had thick padding so he was uninjured other than a rope burn. It was embarrassing and I felt really bad though… that should never happen when I am belaying.
What happened? Matt and Max and I were playing a game of trying to finish a climb using the least holds possible. Matt was the climber and I was belaying him. He did an impressive dyno to start the lead, clipped the first bolt, and went for the next highest hold he could reach. He got up about a little past waist height with the second bolt. I should have said something, but Max called it out first to him. Matt started to downclimb a little bit, pulled on the rope to clip, then changed his mind. I pulled back in the slack when suddenly Matt slipped and fell. I didn’t expect the fall but still tried to sit down to remove slack but it wasn’t enough and Matt hit the ground from maybe ten feet up.
What lessons did I learn / relearn?
- Allow absolutely minimum slack between the first and second bolt until that second bolt is clipped
- While I usually need to jump to give my climber a soft catch, I need to back away faster and sit faster on falls on the first bolt
- Don’t allow distractions to keep me from stopping my climber from making unsafe moves. Its easy for the climber to miss a bolt or get the rope around his heel or something or backclip and the belayer needs to call that out.
Thankfully, Matt wasn’t injured other than a rope burn and a sore calf. Could have been worse.
I have high expectations for my belayer when I am climbing, and need to have much higher expectations for myself. How can I expect a good belay if I don’t give one?