2 x Kellys
In July 2017, Yosemite Valley, Kelly and I decided to climb a new route we have never climb before. Due to the summer heat we decided to climb Absolutely Free on Lower Brothers. The photo on the new Rock Climbing Yosemite Valley guidebook drew us to the climbing as there is a photo of the splitter 5.9 hand crack on pitch 4 of the route.
We looked at the route from the carpark lot and saw no other climbers on the route. As we hike to the base of the route we also scout around a little for the start of the route as it was not obvious. The first 2 pitches were 5.0 – 5.2 access pitches, we quickly got to the top of pitch 2 in approach shoes and started off with pitch 3. It was my turn to lead and I took a quick glance at the topo and chose the line to climb before shooting off. It was relatively uneventful until about 30m into the pitch, I heard from above another male voice “Kelly! Off Belay!” At this time I was about 5-7m from the next belay ledge, with good hand jams and solid feet, I heard Kelly (my partner) shouted “QX! Off belay!” (5 seconds later) “You are off!”
The pair of climbers above me continued with their climbing commands for the next 2-3 minutes before the commotion died down. At this time, I communicated with Kelly (my partner) to put me back on belay and continued climbing to the belay ledge.
A classic miscommunication incident, where there are 2 pairs of climbers on the same route and coincidentally with the same names. The 2 climbers ahead were communicating with each other and since their belayer had the same name as my belayer, my belayer mistook his climbing commands for mine, hence taking me off belay mid route.
Post incident analysis was my belayer could actually recognise it wasn’t my voice but she thought that I told someone else to shout out to her to go off belay. It did not cross her mind that someone with the same name would be on the same route at the same time.
We reverted to climbing calls in another language to totally advert another similar incident during that climb that day.
It was a classic case of low probability – high consequences risk management matrix. We call out names of our partners before calling out the climbing commands in high use multi pitch as a good habit to avoid acting on another party’s commands.
In this case, we did exactly just that, however the other party has a team member of the same name. Climbers should always look out for parties above and make a decision to climb the route if there are multiple parties ahead.
Whenever one is unsure of the climbing commands given, they should check back. One should never take a climber off belay midway on route if they are unsure of the ‘off belay’ command was given.