There's so much emphasis on climbing technique these days that the art of belaying is often on the lower end of skills climbers want to be good at. All the action happens on the wall right? Is it really that important to be awesome at it anyway?
Belaying is the technique used to keep a climber safe as they climb. Using a belay device, friction is applied by keeping the rope in a downward position so that when a climber falls, the friction stops the rope running through uncontrollably, thereby catching a fall.
When you belay someone on top rope, the process is fairly simple and is easily learnt at the indoor climbing gym.
But for lead belaying, that is, belaying a climber as they clip either bolts or protection as they move up, it is important to keep the climber safe as falls can sometimes be quite big, and factors come into play that the belayer is also responsible for.
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So being a good belayer is not just great to help a climber, it also keeps them safe! You are, after all, literally holding the climbers life in your hands!
And to be the ultimate belayer, here are 10 tips to make you awesome at it!
10 TIPS TO BE A GOOD BELAYER!
1 ► Double Check
Before the climber even leaves the ground, your task as a good belayer is to double check yourself and the climber that the climbers knot and your belay device is all done correctly. This cross check happens each and every time you climb a route, no exceptions! Its easy to fall in the habit of skipping this, so if you find you do, get in the habit again.
2 ► Pay Attention
A good belayer pays attention to the climber and notes how they are going (physically and mentally) and what’s around them. Know when they are about to clip and need rope. Watching the climber is the only thing you should be doing. This means spotting them before they clip their first piece of protection or bolt as well.
3 ► Communication
Good communication is essential to keeping the atmosphere stress free while climbing. It is also important for safety. Discuss your calls and procedures before beginning the climb and always communicate what you are doing.
4 ► Give a Soft Catch (Dynamic Belay)
A soft catch helps the climber by absorbing some of the force of the fall. A hard catch can potentially injure the climber whereby they swing into the wall too hard and can sprain an ankle. To give a soft catch, don’t resist the pull of the leaders fall, rather, go with it. A dynamic belay can also be given when the belayer has room to move and can step forward with a fall. Note: watch that the ‘soft catch’ doesn’t land them in a tree or on a ledge however! This technique should be supervised by someone with experience if you have not learnt it.
5 ► Don’t Short Rope
A number one pet hate of climbers is short roping. Short roping is where the climber goes to clip the rope through the quickdraw and has resistance from either the belayer not giving enough rope, or not providing it quickly enough. This really sucks when you are pumping out and really want to clip the rope quickly! To avoid short roping, anticipate the clip and be just ahead of when the climber needs the rope while still being safe (so don't leave all that slack rope out for long).
6 ► Watch the Leg!
If the rope is behind the climbers leg it can potentially result in a flipped fall for the climber. This is why we wear helmets, but even with one, these can be nasty falls. Call out if the rope lingers behind the climbers leg to make the climber aware.
7 ► Encouragement
A great belayer gives the right kind of encouragement at the right time. I often ask beforehand if the climber prefers certain motivation phrases, and the amount of it, to help them. Giving encouragement is key in helping the climber and is a good way to directly help them to send their climb. Some climbers prefer no encouragement at all and want silence. Find out what they prefer and you'll be someone they want to climb with again and again.
8 ► Keep an Eye on the Rope
If it’s a long climbing route, a good belayer watches the middle marker of the rope and calls out when the rope is nearly out. They also make sure they always have a knot in the end of the rope (or are tied in on a multipitch climb) and get into action when the rope is nearly out or its time for them to move/climb so as not to waste time.
9 ► Watch Out for Hazards
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for potential hazards like loose rocks above, changing weather, other climbers/people/animals above, the climber going off route, or that big hornets nest to their left. You never know what you might encounter, so communicate any issues to keep the climber informed and aware if they need to be.
10 ► Lower Like a Boss
Lowering should always be done in a smooth, controlled manner. That means not too fast! If the climber is collecting the quickdraws or protection, stop long enough for them to collect them before lowering again to the next one. Always lower at a speed that you are comfortable with and not what you see others doing. Loss of control is not pretty so keep both hands on the rope and let it slide through your hands. Never go hand over hand. If the friction irritates your hands, go slower, use gloves, or you can even use your shirt or a sock in a pinch.
Being a great belayer should be a skill every climber aims for. Like the saying goes: Belay others like you want to be belayed yourself!
Important: You should always receive instruction from a guide, instructor or experienced individual before attempting anything climbing related.