A recent mishap has spawned a lot of thought and debate around the house. Yet another drop occurred Tuesday here in the Chattanooga area at Leeda. The climber was more of a rope gun on this particular day as he had taken several, less experienced, people to show them the sport. His belayer claimed to be well versed in knowledge and technique, which he is with an ATC. That may be true, ahghumm, but this accident was 100% belayer error. DROP! The story goes like this....
Before climbing it was understood that a lead fall was going to be demonstrated. The two did their gear check. The knot was good, the grigri was loaded properly, and climbing began. Right around the 25 foot mark the climber "fell" off the wall, but never to be caught. From my understanding, he landed on his back with only the friction of the belayers hand and his own leg slowing the fall. Both have severe burns that tell the story.
It turns out that the belayer was hesitant in using the grigri, but hubristicly carried on to belay with one. When the "fall" happened, it is believed that the belayer SPACED and held the cam down on the grigri, leaving his left hand above the belay device to catch all of the weight. Amazingly, no injuries were sustained and the climber walked away with nothing more than a humbled piece of mind.
So, what can we learn from this? A LOT.
First off, know your climbing partners. Your life is literally in their hands.
Secondly, COMMUNICATION is THE KEY to a safe climbing experience. Never assume anything. I think the mentality of a group can sometimes get in the way of the serious nature of what is actually taking place, which results in leaving things open ended and perhaps unknown. Gear checks and commands may seem cheezy, but they're not. Do it!
Finally, know your gear. The grigri is an assisted braking belay device. To catch a fall the climber is to hold the free end of the rope, like they would an ATC, while the cam pivots to pinch the rope in the grigri. This is not a hands free or dummy proof device. USER ERROR MAY RESLUT IN SEVERE INJURY OR DEATH.
So, how do you hold the grigri? Or better yet what is your instinct when your climber falls? Instinct should be to lower your hands on the free end of the rope to your side or "brake position", like when belaying with an ATC. This is why I think everyone should belay with an ATC for a while when they start climbing. I believe it is more engaging. To be responsible for the braking without any assurance that the belay device will catch them for you is the only way to develop such instincts and avoid lazy habits. As always, practice is crucial in developing your skill and comfort level with any belay device. Therefore, find a correct method that works best for you and stick to what you know.
Check the Video link below.
This was a Public Service Announcement.