In our training, our gym sessions, and in our endeavors outside, our focus is typically on becoming a better climber. Yet, too often we overlook the importance of putting in time, effort, and practice at becoming a better belayer. While becoming a better climber may score you points on 8a.nu, becoming a better belayer can prevent injury and keep your climber safe. One only has to scan the gym or the crag to see that there are far more good climbers than good belayers. For today’s post we turn to one of our local climbing role models and mentors, Hilary, to hear her tips that she’s perfected over the years on giving a better belay.
Giving a good catch requires just as much practice and focus as climbing itself. Sometimes I actually get more nervous getting ready to belay someone than I do getting ready to climb. I find it a bit nerve-wracking to be so responsible for someone else’s safety while also trying not to short rope them on their crux clips. Here are some tips that have helped me with my belaying. I hope you find them helpful too!
- More slack doesn’t necessarily mean a soft catch. Often I find myself watching in horror as a climber barely holds on while their belayer below has loops and loops of slack out. More rope means a longer fall for the climber which isn’t always a good thing especially when ledges are involved or the climber is close to the ground.
- I always try to stand under or as close to the first bolt as I safely can. I find this especially important since I am a lighter belayer. If the belayer is standing far from the wall when the climber falls the belayer can get pulled into the wall and the climber will get more rope and a bigger fall. If I am standing right under the bolt the climber will get less unintended rope from me and I will have better control over the distance the climber falls.
- It should go without saying but sitting while lead belaying is never a good idea. First of all it sets a tone of inattentiveness which should not be the mood when belaying. More importantly if the belayer is sitting they have very limited movement. This means they are less likely to be able to pull in or give out slack quickly. Also if a rock happens to break off from above the belayer will have little chance of moving out of the way. To me, a good belay stance is an active stance, that means that my knees are slightly bent so that I am ready to jump into action at any moment. I can jump forward to give extra rope, jump back to suck up rope or move around if needed.
- Something that I can be guilty of myself is being too chatty during the belay and not giving my partner my full attention. I find sport climbing to be so social at times, it can be difficult not to talk with friends or other climbers. I know that when I’m climbing I can easily get pulled out of focus if I think my belayer is not paying attention to me.
- Check, check, check! As the belayer I consider it my job to make sure the climber is good to go. People who climb with me know that I want to check everything before we begin and if I need to I ask my climber to hold on for a second so that I can check their system and ask them to check mine. It’s so easy to get too comfortable and goof up. A 5 second check is well worth it to avoid an unfortunate mishap.
- Keep an eye on your climber’s body position in regards to the rope. Sometimes a climber may not realize that they have inadvertently put their leg behind a rope which can result in a nasty fall. I try to calmly let my climber know by saying something like “watch your right leg“. This way the climber will know to fix their position.
- When lowering your climber watch the end of rope or tie a knot in it. Climbers getting lowered off the end of their rope happens way too frequently and is completely avoidable. This happens to experienced and novice climbers alike.
A couple final thoughts: Just because someone is a good climber it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good belayer. And although it may be awkward, if you do not feel comfortable belaying or being belayed by someone speak up. Hurt feelings are better than hurt body!
Thanks for the tips Hilary! Climb on! ~Cate