A group of climbers were ascending Atenea (4c) to the left of my climbing party. The group contained one (somewhat) experienced climber and three novice climbers. The experienced climber encouraged the novice climbers to lead Atenea without ensuring they understood how to safely manage the anchor.
The first novice climber to reach the anchor became confused and sought advice from the experienced climber who was belaying. The experienced climber offered a generic commentary on how to manage the anchor, although he was unable to observe the novice climber directly. The novice climber stated that she was unclear whether she had successfully dealt with the anchor but the experienced climber assured her all was fine. As he was encouraging her to sit back onto the rope to be lowered off, the novice climber lost her footing and fell from the anchor. (Members of my climbing party attempted to intervene but were ignored.)
First, the experienced climber had left perhaps 4-5m of excess rope in the system to enable him to move freely around the base of the crag. Second, the novice climber had failed to set the anchor properly: her rope did not pass through any secure equipment.
As a result, the novice climber fell from the climb, coming to rest more than halfway to the ground, hitting her head, arms and shoulders in the process. She was extremely distressed and was visibly in a state of shock. The experienced climber lowered her to the ground, at which point she lay on the ground wrapped in a foil blanket shaking severely. Her fellow climbers then continued climbing.
Various lessons can be derived from this incident:
1. Novice climbers should not attempt to lead a route or set any gear unless they hold an absolutely clear understanding of the process. It is not a good idea to learn how to manage an anchor when you depend on the anchor for your safety.
2. Experienced climbers should behave responsibly when taking novice climbers into the mountains. While we all take responsibility for our own actions in climbing, novice climbers may not be sufficiently informed to make appropriate risk-informed decisions.
3. All climbers should respond appropriately to incidents. If no one is hurt, all climbing should cease until the reasons for the incident have been discussed and understood by all members of a group. If a climber is hurt, all climbing should cease and medical assistance should be expeditiously sought.
4. All climbers should feel empowered to identify poor safety practices they observe. Similarly, safety concerns should be treated respectfully, not dismissed out of hand, by all climbers.
Incidents of this kind are extremely common, in my experience. It is not unusual to see novice climbers attempting to manage their own safety ineffectively. While the consequences were ultimately not significant in this case, the frequency of this type of event should make dealing with these kind of incidents a priority for the community as a whole.
Sport rock climbing
Clipping into the lower off
Slip, trip or fall, Belaying failure or error, Lack of understanding
Rescue Services Involved?
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All reports are self-submitted and have not been edited by the BMC in any way, so please keep an open mind regarding the lessons and causes of each incident or near-miss.