Climbers Used Ascender For Belay Device—Danger –

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Greetings from the Philippines! I was horrified when I came across these climbers the other day who belayed with an ascender. I gave them my best advice because I thought there was going to be disaster.– Pastor Noel, via email

Climber using the ascender as a belay device.
Ascenders are not belay devices.

LESSON: I can actually understand the logic behind these guys. The ascender slides smoothly up the rope as the belayer relaxes. If the climber falls, the ascender will lock. (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the ascender is attached to the belayer’s harness.) Unfortunately, ascenders are highly specialized devices. They are made for one thing: climbing ropes. Ascenders grip the rope with rows of metal teeth. Google image search “pitch teeth” for an image. These work great under bodyweight loads. With higher loads, such as those caused by a fall, these teeth can tear a rope into pieces. Also, running a rope through an ascender requires you to hold the clamp open. If the hooklink would fall off when the nock is held open… you get the idea.

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Safety issues aside, most ascenders cost around $80. The two most popular tube-style belay devices both cost around $30. A quick hitch is free. Proper belaying is not only safer; it’s cheaper. In short, using an ascender instead of a proper belay device is dangerous and more expensive than actually using a device. The climbers you saw were probably unaware of the risk they were taking. The next time you see this situation again, you might want to step in and show them how to back up with a device.

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