What if you drop your belay device?

Hopefully you’ve only wondered about this happening and haven’t had it happen to you.  I’ve dropped a number of things while climbing: a nut, a carabiner, a sling, a whole set of hooks(?!), and I have loaned out my belay device to partners who dropped or forgot to bring theirs.  It’s no big deal to rappel without a belay device if you know the munter hitch.

There are multiple ways to rig a rappel without a belay device, but most climbers don’t know them.  Some climbers carry 2 ATC’s just in case they drop one.  Wouldn’t it be worth taking the time to learn one new knot (the Munter hitch) and not have to carry (and buy) an extra belay device you probably won’t even use?

Someone dropping or forgetting or loaning out a belay device seems to happen a lot out there on the rock, and is bound to happen to you if you climb long enough.  Do you have any interesting stories of people who dropped or did not bring their belay device?  I’d love to hear them.

I worked a 30 day mountaineering course on which the students were not allowed to bring an ATC.  Our course leader decided they were too heavy along with all the ropes, ice axes, 4 season tents, etc. we were already carrying on our backs.  I was shocked by the boldness of not bringing belay devices, but it turned out just fine.

We taught the students how to tie munter hitches and they did all their belaying and lowering and rappelling without a belay device. We even did multi pitch climbs this way.  (Disclaimer: we, the instructors, each brought an ATC to give us more options if we had to self-rescue off of a climb–which I had to do with 2 students halfway up a 1500′ wall in a fierce thunderstorm 15 miles from the nearest road-yikes!)

I know, that sounds radical.  And it was.  It honestly would have been easier for my students to rappel off that face with an ATC.  But they got it done with their munter hitches.  And even though I recommend bringing a belay device with you when you climb, it is probably a good idea to practice without an ATC from time to time.  With a Munter hitch you can belay a leader, belay a follower, rappel, and do cool rescue tricks.

The first objective is to learn how to not drop your belay device.  It’s all about the proper mechanics.  If you handle them in a certain way, it is virtually impossible for the belay device to squirt out of the locker, fly off into space, and head for your friends below taking pictures.

I think the main benefit of learning the munter hitch and learning good mechanics is not having to be stressed out every time you do something with your belay device.  And being stressed makes you more likely to drop things!  Catch-22!

If you stay relaxed then the really stressful things are less likely to happen.  Of course being prepared is a big part of being relaxed.  So if you arrive at the climb prepared,  great things will just naturally unfold.

For the record, my name is Erik Kramer-Webb, not ccsguide.  This is my first blog entry ever and I’m trying to figure out how the whole blog thing works.  I hope this was helpful.

Leave a Reply