The other day I did an article on stupid mistakes to avoid when abseiling – today it’s belaying’s turn… With extreme sports such as rock climbing, there are so many things that can go wrong, so it is worth reminding oneself from time to time of some of the basic most logical rules which are all too easy to forget, or neglect to do, in your haste to get up there.
This article will be a bit like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs to some of you, but bear with me… it never hurts to be reminded of a thing or two.
Belaying is, of course, the technique of controlling the rope so that a falling climber does not fall very far. The term belay is also used to mean the place where the belayer is anchored; this would typically be a ledge, but may instead be a hanging belay, where the belayer is suspended from anchors in the rock. Control of the rope is achieved through applying friction, which allows control of the speed at which the rope slides past the belayer.
It is one of the most important of the climbing skills and is absolutely essential to all climbers.
So, enough about what belaying actually is. What are the mistakes to avoid?
- Always pay attention to your climbing partner, and I mean ALWAYS…
- Always double check your harness buckles are double passed
- Check the tie-in knot is properly tied
- Check the belay device is properly rigged
- Check that the locking carabiner is locked
- Check the anchor set-up and tie-ins are rigged correctly
- Check that the free end of the rope is knotted or tied into the belayer
- NEVER take your brake hand off the rope – and don’t hold any other strand other than the brake strand in your brake hand. Thanks to teachmetoclimb for this video.
- Always keep the rope taut when belaying someone – do not let it pass through the belay device while lowering someone. Tie a stopper knot in the end, or even better, get your belayer to tie in to the end.
- Get acknowledgement before taking someone off belay. Don’t rush into things. Always get confirmation when taking someone off belay or committing to being lowered.
- Stand close to the cliff when belaying. Put a helmet on if you’re worried about rock fall. If you are belaying from too far out from the cliff the leader could be slammed into the wall during a fall.
- Forcing your panicked leader to take a fall because, down at the belay, you allowed a knot to creep into the slack rope. Flake the rope out before beginning belay duty, even if it looks neatly coiled.
- Getting hit by loose rock or items dropped by your leader. Wear a helmet. Even something as simple as the movement of the rope above you can cause loose rock to come crashing down.
Then of course, there are the terms that are used between the leader and belayer, thank you to expertvillage for their simple but excellent short video.
Remember: “a bad anchor is a dead climber”. That’s a saying worth remembering wouldn’t you say?! And another thing worth remembering is that learning to belay is one of the most fundamental links to successful climbing, so learn it well, learn it right, and never never rush it.