"Off" Belay on Overdrive

By Dave Yerian - Co Founder of Jam Walls

Skip Guerin Climbing Barefoot in the 70s

In the early morning shadows Skip Guerin, Mark Wilford, and I rappelled down to the start of a Ron Kauk climb, Overdrive, 5.11a.  The first pitch, a vertical 5.10a hand and fist crack led to the base of the second pitch, the crux. And there we were all snuggled under the big roof on the second pitch waiting for Skip to start up. Guerin wanted to lead the 5.11c pitch barefooted.  One of the world’s best rock climbers, Skip did indeed float the entire pitch barefooted. After Skip said “off belay”, Mark and I looked at each other. We shrugged our shoulders, wide- eyed and wondering just how hard the roof pitch really was.

Mark went next, reaching up for the foot and hand jams as he left the belay.  He climbed upside down and took off on a couple of body lengths of 3” crack. As I looked away I saw we were being watched by friends standing by the Merced River. I turned back around just in time to see Mark’s foot going over the roof.  I heard the “off belay” by Wilford and as I started up the pitch Mark rappelled down and, hanging on jumars, began taking pictures. I was wearing a swami belt with no leg loops as I started the hand jams and finger locks over the roof.

Somehow I didn’t get the lock or jam I wanted and I fell out of the roof into space. In horror I watched my swami come up to my chest. Mark screamed at me while taking pictures watching the swami come near my neck.  I grabbed the rope and hung onto his jumar, pulling myself over the roof as Skip belayed me. Swinging back over into the crack I finished the last few body lengths to the top where Skip and Mark were waiting for me. The “gravity” of the whole situation weighed heavily on our little band as we walked away in silence.


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