As many climbers know, a good belayer is hard to come by. Sure, most climbers know how to belay, but few actually do it right. Most of the time the climber just assumes that their partner has the skills to keep them off of the ground. No one wants to look down while climbing a crux sequence close to an obstacle to see the belayer daydreaming and not paying attention. Here are a few tips to help you be a better belayer.
Stack the rope
Start at one end of the rope and flake it onto a rope tarp. This will help keep your belay area neat and orderly, and allow you to pay out slack smoothly. By flaking the rope, you take the time to eliminate knots and kinks in the rope. Using a ground cloth of some sort will keep the rope from catching on roots or around rocks.
Stand up and stand close
When belaying, most of the time you should remain standing. If your stance is precarious, perhaps a seated stance or using an anchor point would be more acceptable. Be sure you stand in a balanced athletic position to allow for taking and giving slack smoothly. By standing close to the route you can avoid being slammed into the wall if the climber falls. Oftentimes, standing below the first bolt will also help keep the climber from hitting the ground.
This is a photo of what NOT to do. This woman is standing way too far away from the route. She will get pulled forward very quickly when the climber falls. Also, she needs to keep her hand in the brake position when the climber is not moving.
Pay attention and watch the climber
When belaying, limit your talking to others and ask others to limit talking to you. Too much chatting can be distracting and you may miss communications with the climber. Stay focused on the task of belaying. This is not the time to be reading guide books or checking your phone. If you cannot see the climber, you may try a pair of belay glasses to help. When you give your full attention to the climber, confidence is provided to make the scary moves.
Give them some slack
Belaying is a give and take relationship. You must be on your game when you have another person’s life in your hands. Avoid giving huge loops of slack. The “sport” loop is not always acceptable. Keep enough slack so that the climber can move freely without being tugged on. However, adjust your slack if the climber is close to the ground or a ledge. Keeping the climber close, or with little slack, will keep them from hitting the obstacle. If the climber is moving over a ledge or is on a very overhanging route, more slack is needed to keep the climber from slamming into the roof or overhang in the case of a fall. You must constantly adjust the loop of slack for the terrain the climber faces.
Use the right tools for the job
When belaying, use the tools available to help make your job more efficient. Wearing gloves will protect your hands and reduces the friction you feel as the rope slides through the device. Many people complain about neck pain. Belay glasses can be used to help alleviate neck pain and help you see the climber. If sport climbing or top roping, consider using a lock assisted device such as a Petzl GRIGRI or a Mammut Smart. These devices have a lock assisting design to make it much easier to catch and hold falls.
In this photo Dawn demonstrates the proper stance, hand position and provides an adequate loop of slack.
You can learn these and many other techniques at our upcoming Rock Clinics.
Dawn Glanc is a certified guide, sponsored athlete, avid climber, and an awesome belayer. When not belaying, Dawn likes to send.