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Do I really know how to belay?
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blueeyedclimber


Jul 5, 2006, 8:14 AM
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Do I really know how to belay?
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With all these threads about gri gri's and atc's, it got me wondering how many people actually try to improve their skill in belaying beyond their five minute gym lesson. In the beginner's forum you will find hundreds of posts with questions like "How do I improve my footwork", "How to climb 5.9, 5.10, 5.etc..?", and "What do I need to know to climb trad?". I don't think I have ever seen a question like "HOw do I become a better belayer?" Belaying is a skill like any other skill. It must be fine-tuned and practiced and improved for the safety of you and your climber. Every situation is different and may call for different considerations. Here is a list of things you need to consider when you put the rope through your belay device (no matter which one you prefer). More experienced climbers, feel free to add any that I forgot.

*Where should I stand? (this will be determined by where the climber is climbing in relation to where the first bolts/protection is).

*What is the weight difference between me and the climber? SHould I anchor in or not? If I do anchor in, what limitations does that put on me?

*What is the terrain like? Is it overhanging? Vertical? Slab? Should I take in slack in a fall? or let some slip through? or just pull the brake hand down and pray?

*What is the size of the rope? Skinnier ropes with low friction devices (i.e Reverso) may provide a very hard fall. Do I need to wear gloves?

*How much rope is out? The more rope out, the more rope to absorb the force of the fall. In which case you may not need to worry about a soft catch.

*What is below my climber? If he/she falls, do they have a chance of hitting anything (the ground, a ledge, a tree, etc.)?

Every year I try to focus on goals to improve my climbing. Now I have the obvious goals, such as specific climbs I want to do, What I need to do to climb the next grade, etc. but I also have technical goals, such as learning self-rescue techniques and climbing on double ropes. My suggestion is two-fold. One, set a goal every year to examine your belaying and think about how to improve it. And, two, do not learn to belay on a Gri-gri. The Gri-gri is a wonderful device but is not for the inexperienced.

Josh


reg


Jul 5, 2006, 8:43 AM
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i have no other input at this time except to say that this is a great topic! i'm glad to see it and hope it goes for many pages. wish i could rate today.


kubi


Jul 5, 2006, 8:53 AM
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In reply to:
*What is the terrain like? Is it overhanging? Vertical? Slab? Should I take in slack in a fall? or let some slip through? or just pull the brake hand down and pray?

IMO, this is one of the the most important items to discuss verbally with your belayer. You can watch them belay and get a pretty general idea about how safe they are, but you never know if they are consious of "special" belay situations without asking. After finding out my belayer didn't relize you had to give slack after roofs to keep my noggin off the rock on a particularly harrowing lead I've made it a point to discuss this with all my belayers before climbs where it could be an issue.


bill413


Jul 5, 2006, 8:59 AM
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Josh - Great post!

It's that "their five minute gym lesson" that is at the root of many of the problems, I think.


devils_advocate


Jul 5, 2006, 9:00 AM
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Well put Blue, to add on to a few of your points:

Where do I stand - and is it still the best place to stand, things change during a climb and sometimes so does the best position.

What is below my climber - this includes the rope. If the climber falls is a taut rope going to create a hazard, especially for the male climber.

What is behind my climber. As in behind the foot, as in rope. As a belayer I take it my duty to make sure the rope doesn't get behind the climbers foot, and if it does I let them know. Sure the climber should be cognizant of that, but when you're climbing at your limit sometimes your head is somewhere else.

General reminder on the obvious - watching that the rope isn't caught on rocks or holds, draws are threaded properly (backclipped, z- etc).


stymingersfink


Jul 5, 2006, 9:13 AM
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Re: Do I really know how to belay? [In reply to]
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done.

Having been frequenting the local (easy to) TR (& dog-friendly) crag here in the SLC area lately, I've noticed many things which have given me pause (and a cause) to speak up.

Good belay skills, or the lack thereof being one of the more noticable things, though by no means the only thing giving me cause to speak up.

Frustrating, to say the least. Especially when the someone in one particular episode tries to lay blame for their own ignorance on their "instructors", while resisting the opportunity to remedy said ignorance in the moment at hand.


blueeyedclimber


Jul 5, 2006, 10:18 AM
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Re: Do I really know how to belay? [In reply to]
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Thanks, everyone. I would like to add another question to ask that I forgot.

*As my climber is climbing, how much slack should i give him/her? Generally speaking, as little as possible. Sometimes, that's less, sometimes more. Lower to the ground you want to give less. You need to keep them off the deck if they fall. Higher up, then you can give a little more. Over a roof, you need to give more to soften the catch so that they don't pendulum into the wall.

Josh


Partner csgambill


Jul 5, 2006, 10:22 AM
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In reply to:
...do not learn to belay on a Gri-gri. The Gri-gri is a wonderful device but is not for the inexperienced.

I couldn't agree more with this statement!


jmeizis


Jul 5, 2006, 10:30 AM
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Sometimes the fundementals need to be explained because bad habits can develop early. I had to explain to someone that I've been climbing with for nearly a year that they would not be able to hold my weight and the forces of the fall without holding on to the brake side of the rope. Things like brake hand down and never taking your hand off the rope, even for a second, should be greatly stressed to all beginners and anyone with a lazy attitude. I took my mom on her first climbing outing this weekend and she noticed that I'm very serious about my belaying and I am because while climbing is fun it is also serious business. The belayer is one link in a life saving chain and that needs to be stressed.


sonso45


Jul 5, 2006, 11:09 AM
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Stress continuous communication between leader and belayer. When the leader is climbing up and down, moving thru a difficult/scary part, the belayer should be extra attentive to the vocal and physical cues. I hear "watch me" constantly and I think this desensitizes the belayer. I tend to be more quiet, but when I do worry, I let my belayer know. M


sidepull


Jul 5, 2006, 11:11 AM
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In reply to:
done.

Having been frequenting the local (easy to) TR (& dog-friendly) crag here in the SLC area lately, I've noticed many things which have given me pause (and a cause) to speak up.

Good belay skills, or the lack thereof being one of the more noticable things, though by no means the only thing giving me cause to speak up.

Frustrating, to say the least. Especially when the someone in one particular episode tries to lay blame for their own ignorance on their "instructors", while resisting the opportunity to remedy said ignorance in the moment at hand.

off topic:

could you be any more vague? so we know that you were at a crag around SLC (wow, that's really limiting) and you saw some stuff that made you say some things. Excellent, I have a crystal clear visual of the problem . . . [visualizing] . . . [still visualizing] . . . [hit ctrl/alt/del, re-boot, still visualizing] . . . crash.

just curious, where is the dog friendly crag around SLC? both BCC and LCC are watershed areas and dogs are off limits.

on topic:

Josh, I think that you left out something really important in your list - talking with the person you're belaying, particularly if this is a hard redpoint attempt. The reason is that a redpoint is generally very well planned out and you need to be aware of where and when you'll need to provide more or less slack. In other words, it's a bit of a team effort, and bad belaying can quickly lead to lost concentration, doubt, a bit too much tension, etc.


golsen


Jul 5, 2006, 12:19 PM
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Good thread topic. I do have a suggestion though. If it is filled with pages of dos and donts the inexperienced among us may lose sight of their priorities as a belayer. In general terms and prioritized this is what I think a belayer's job is:

1. Catch any Fall - If they fail here then nothing else matters.

2. Dont make the leader fall - a no no that can be prevented by leaving sufficient slack, being observant and anticipating clips and movements. This is also aided by ensuring that the rope will feed out.

3. Soften Certain falls - There are times when letting a bit of slack either through hopping or otherwise may make the fall more safe for the leader. If this jeapordizes #1 then don't do it (ie: for beginners this may take some time to get). There may also be situations where ledges and the gound prohibit this one.

4. Offer encouragement - dont just tell the climber they are the sh&&, if they are sketched and you are BSing with the babe next to you, then you are not providing the proper encouragement.

If you fail at #1, you suck and may kill your partner. This cannot be stressed enough for new climbers. Seems like I have read about a couple accidents over the weekend (not belaying) and nobody wants to be in an article like that.

There are always threads about what belay device is best. One thing to keep in mind is that in general, the more high tech the belay device, the less dynamic it is. For example, a proper hip belay may be more dynamic than virtually anything else while a grigri has the potential for being the least dynamic. Any belay device is simply a tool and it is the operator that is the most important part of the belay.

Hope this helps. If there are other actions for the belayer such as take verbal abuse, etc. please feel free to offer those up.


blueeyedclimber


Jul 5, 2006, 12:29 PM
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In reply to:
on topic:

Josh, I think that you left out something really important in your list - talking with the person you're belaying, particularly if this is a hard redpoint attempt. The reason is that a redpoint is generally very well planned out and you need to be aware of where and when you'll need to provide more or less slack. In other words, it's a bit of a team effort, and bad belaying can quickly lead to lost concentration, doubt, a bit too much tension, etc.

Yes, communication is key. I guess I was concentrating on the actual physical act of belaying, but you must communicate effectively with your climber.

Another thing that I did not have on there is knowing your climber. What I mean by that is that different climbers will have different habits. For example, some climbers will confidently go to the best hold to clip from whereas some climbers will try to clip as soon as a bolt/piece is within reach.

Josh


vector


Jul 5, 2006, 12:50 PM
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Great post Josh. Wish I could rate today.

Here is another basic to add to the list: double check your climber before they go up. When setting off on a lead, especially a challenging one, we can all get distracted by the challenge ahead. The belayer can provide a second head that is not clouded by stress.

Always the basics--look at their knot and buckles (better climbers than most of us have screwed up their knots). On trad/multi-pitch, help them make sure they have got everything they need on their rack (especially if you have just swapped), unload extra stuff off their harness (water, shoes, guides, etc.), discuss any potential issues with the gear that might affect the belay, etc.

Of course these things are ultimately the responsibility of the leader, but if your goal is to be a better belayer (as the OP suggests) helping with these things will contribute to the ultimate safety of the climbing (which should be on the mind of any blayer).


sidepull


Jul 5, 2006, 1:09 PM
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In reply to:
For example, some climbers will confidently go to the best hold to clip from whereas some climbers will try to clip as soon as a bolt/piece is within reach.

[half tongue in cheek] that's when the belayer is more like a person walking a dog, if the dog is doing the wrong thing, give it a little yank and it will learn really quickly. In other words, i realize people often want protection as soon as possible but if they're going to be a good climber then that's a pretty limiting way to climb so I'd try to wean them off that habit (hopefully just by talking and providing feedback - I think if you pulled someone off the wall they'd never trust you again).


nthusiastj


Jul 5, 2006, 1:38 PM
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Re: Do I really know how to belay? [In reply to]
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I posted these up in another thread, and they seem applicable here too.
They are GriGri specific but a good resource nonetheless.

http://en.petzl.com/...GRI%20experience.pdf

http://en.petzl.com/.../GRIGRI_D14601-I.pdf

You can poke around the site and get the manuals for other atc's too.
Many sites have How to's on them. A little research goes a long way.


jt512


Jul 5, 2006, 2:03 PM
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Hopefully this will be useful to some:

Correcting Belay Errors

Jay


sbaclimber


Jul 5, 2006, 2:23 PM
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Great OP, and good responses :D

Many beat me to the punch, so the only other thing I have to add is:
"learn how to belay properly with different belay devices"

I have see quite a few people now who learned to belay with an ATC or fig. 8, and have absolutely no concept how to use a gri-gri (this discovery is normally made once the climber has reached the top and wants to come down). I have also seen just as many people who learned with a Munter Hitch, who then have no clue what they are doing with any belay device at all.

If you are about to use an unknown (to you) belay device, make sure you know how to use it properly before the climber starts climbing!

Same principle as finding out where all the essential knobs and switches are in a car before driving off down the road 8^)


climberboy193838


Jul 5, 2006, 3:33 PM
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when i was taught to lead belay i was told to stand where you can see your climber but not get hit or hinder their climbing. when they are closer to the ground dont give a lot of slack and sit harder when they fall, as they get higher or into overhanging features give more slack and dont sit as hard, let them pull you up. know the full extent of what your belay device can do, i.e. all the buttons and switches on a gri-gri, or how to put the rope in an atc-xp. hopefully this helped
-parker
or you can just start bouldering only and stop worrying about belaying


c-money
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Jul 5, 2006, 3:50 PM
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In reply to:
Great OP, and good responses :D

Many beat me to the punch, so the only other thing I have to add is:
"learn how to belay properly with different belay devices"

I have see quite a few people now who learned to belay with an ATC or fig. 8, and have absolutely no concept how to use a gri-gri (this discovery is normally made once the climber has reached the top and wants to come down). I have also seen just as many people who learned with a Munter Hitch, who then have no clue what they are doing with any belay device at all.

If you are about to use an unknown (to you) belay device, make sure you know how to use it properly before the climber starts climbing!

Same principle as finding out where all the essential knobs and switches are in a car before driving off down the road 8^)

Exactly what I was thinking as I was reading through the postings here.

"Can I belay with more than 1 device?"

I might add:
"Can I demonstrate more than 1 safe hand-sequence for belaying?"


Partner neuroshock


Jul 5, 2006, 4:25 PM
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depending on what kind of climbing you're doing some other questions may be applicable, though they are not specifc to the act of belaying.

for example, if you're in a rockfall prone area (like the end of a freeze-thaw cycle) or if there's a roof that you didn't judge correctly.

* do i know what to do if the shit hits the fan?

even if you "know how to belay" and make every decision with sound, correct judgement it's still a possibility.

don't forget that the answers can be crag and situation specific. popular crag w/ other people around versus more remote and isolated climbing. cell phone signal versus no signal. midday on pitch 2 versus twilight on pitch 12.


c-money
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Jul 5, 2006, 4:39 PM
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In reply to:
In reply to:
...do not learn to belay on a Gri-gri. The Gri-gri is a wonderful device but is not for the inexperienced.

I couldn't agree more with this statement!

I can't really agree at all.

An autolocking device can be a great device for teaching/learning with, so long as an appropriate hand-sequence is taught and an opportunity is provided to belay with a non-locking device also. The differences between the two styles of devices can be made clear and new climbers can get a better understanding of how the devices that they might come across work. This experience can be a real benefit, but it does take some time...

If you took a five minute lesson with an auto-locking device, you probably don't really know how to belay. The issue is the often with the lesson/instruction, not the device...


jt512


Jul 5, 2006, 5:21 PM
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In reply to:
when i was taught to lead belay i was told to stand where you can see your climber but not get hit or hinder their climbing. when they are closer to the ground dont give a lot of slack and sit harder when they fall, as they get higher or into overhanging features give more slack and dont sit as hard, let them pull you up. know the full extent of what your belay device can do, i.e. all the buttons and switches on a gri-gri, or how to put the rope in an atc-xp. hopefully this helped
-parker
or you can just start bouldering only and stop worrying about belaying

That sounds like good advice for you.

Jay


acacongua


Jul 5, 2006, 6:18 PM
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As the late and great Terry Kindred said, "you gotta do the math." Practice geometry and physics problems in your head consistently!!

More than anything, it takes practice. When errors occur, whether you're responsible or not, learn from them.


rockguide


Jul 5, 2006, 9:42 PM
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Advice to beginners scoping these forums? Beware of the absolutes.

There are many tools and techniques in climbing. There are many situations as well, and matching tools/techniques to what is really happening is important. The political discussions of our times are descending to binaries of right/wrong - and so are many of the climbing debates on this site.

Almost all techniques are ideal in some situation, acceptible in others, dangerous in others. Use this as a guide to the flame threads such as

Gri gris are the best/ Belay tubes are the best.
Daisy chains are the best/ daisy chains kill (although daisies do have more limited applications than they are commonly used for)
Must rappel from anchors/must lower from anchors
Stick clipping is for weenies/stick clipping is a modern technique
Self equalizing anchors are the only way/cordalette style anchors are the only way
Dogs must be kept away from all things climbing/dogs should never be restricted

Having warned against absolutes, I will break my own rule. Ya, call me a hypocrite.

Read, learn, ask, look, judge, THINK, and choose.

Build two tool chests: selection of quality equipment and selection of quality skills. Not in that order.

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