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Belaying - Responsibilities of a Belayer

Written by Super Member: bradkillough

I want to talk a little about belaying! The word belay simply means to hold or catch. There are people who can pronounce the word and some even know what the word means and I will say that a lot of people know how to belay. However, there are some people who obviously need some instructions! So for those who don't, "I'm going to give a little hope to you" (as my friends from Third Day would say).

Belaying - Responsibilities of a Belayer First, I want to tell you about a few I have seen people use. I saw two different groups, on the same day, use a tree for the belay by wrapping the rope around a tree several times and a top rope set up (no belay device). Please get some certified instruction on how to belay. That rope they were using is now full of pine sap and not to mention the wear of the rope, and that is so dangerous. Belaying someone takes a lot of concentration and skill, and if you are using an ATC, you can't take your brake hand off while you are lowering your partner, because you will never regain control. Believe me, I've seen it happen and it resulted in ground falls. If you have never experienced it yourself or watched it happen, you certainly don't want to. I have seen several people lose control while lowering their partner and it's not nice!

The best Belay Device I know of is an auto-locking device like the Gri-Gri. This automatically locks when the rope is swiftly pulled on from the climber's end. You will need proper instruction before you use this device.

Remember how important the job of the belayer is. Your partner's life is in your hands! So be smart and live to climb another day!

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Article Comments
Monday 10th March 2008 at 8:06:50 AM  

Gri-gri's are certainly not the be all and end all of belay devices. In spite of their auto-lock breaking system, they are infamous for the number of accidents that have occured because of them. Belayers, even those trained with the device, often get a false sense of security while using it. The most common problem this can lead to is holding the breaking mechanism down permanently with one hand to make it easier to pay out slack when the leader requires. This is NOT just a rookie mistake, I have seen experienced climbers doing it. As the device ages it becomes less reliable, and when used with a slick rope can fail to autolock. That is why the bottom hand musts be kept on the rope at all times- another common mistake.
Gri'gri's are primarily a sport climbing belay device. They add more force to a fall as compared to an ATC. This is because as a belayer arrests a fall with a regular ATC rope slips through the device, significantly extending the time it takes to stop the fall, thus decreasing the force on the rope and the protection. A gri-gri, however, instantly grabs the rope significantly decreasing the stopping time and increasing the force on the rope and protection. It is noticable to an experienced belayer the sharp jerk of a fall with a gri-gri compared to that of an ATC. When traditional climbing this difference in force can be the difference between protection holding and protection popping. Sport bolts, unless particularly dodgy, will be able to take this increased force, that dodgy nut you placed four metres below you may not.

When used correctly they are great for sport climbing, especially when the leader is spending a long time resting on the rope attempting to depump or checkout the next move. Holding a leader with the standard ATC can get mighty tiresome. Gri-gri's MUST be used correctly and be aware if you are using it for any other purpose then sport climbing.

Monday 31st March 2008 at 6:07:53 AM  

Olbert, I have to say I strongly agree with you. As it states in my profile, I am a trad climber in the summer, and a gym rat in the winter. In the gym, I am forced to use a Gri-Gri. I personally can't stand it. I don't trust a Gri-Gri. All it takes is one little worn pin or rivet and the device would fail. However, in a gym, I would say it is the safest belay device. But very often the belayer relies on it too much and mistakes the auto-locking feature for piece-of-mind. Never, under any circumstances should a belayer take that right hand off the life-line. Rescue 8, ATC, Gri-Gri, or the new Trango Cinch. That hand is the only thing your climbing partners life rests in.

The Gri-Gri and the Trango Cinch place much more distress on the gear. I also believe it shortens the life of your rope. Being a trad climber, I hate climbing on a Gri-Gri. The force I feel in the gym on a big fall is not a comfortable one. The gym I frequent has bolts places every 5 feet, so it is never a large fall, so its never too uncomfortable, but its more than I like to feel on a fall.

My advice, practice with all devices. A good belayer will know how to belay with more than one. Some advice though. the first device you should learn with is no device at all. A simple locking caribeaner and a hitch knot should be the first thing any climber learns. It could save your life. As for other devices:

A Rescue 8 - great device. Great for rescue, great for having locking capabilities, horrible for the rope, leads to rope twist and in turn separates the rope from the sheath. The twisting can form coils that will not travel freely through the device and therefore can put your climber at great risk while he waits for you to uncoil the rope.

Hitch Knot - It works great, it's great when other devices become worn or you don't have one, but really wears the sheath on the rope and I find that a its never a consitent belay. You have to vary the pull to get the rope to travel through the knot. It is essential to know this knot and be familiar with it in self resue applications.

The ATC - great belay device. Very easy to use. Easy on the rope. Needs a little more strength in the hands to use, but I find to be the most reliable. Can be used in both double rope and single rope climbs very easily. I recommend the Black Diamond ATC-XP or the Black Diamond ATC Sport Belay Device. It is a typical ATC with a grooved cut out that you can wedge the rope into while your climber is resting. It takes much of the stress out of belaying in a fall and while resting.

The Petzl Gri-Gri & Trango Cinch: Argued to be the safest belay device. It has a camming device that locks against the rope during a fall or any sudden jerk on the rope. When sport climbing or indoor climbing it is the safest, however, the instantanious locking action will place more force on the rope and the climber. In a Trad-Climbing environment, this sudden force may pull gear from the wall and lead to bigger falls. Bigger falls leads to earlier retirement on your rope. I definately do not reccommend either of these devices to anyone who wishes to get into the world of Trad Climbing but would highly recommend it to all sport climbers. Remember though, the locking action does not guarantee the safety of your climber, the responsibilty of safe belaying stills fall on the man on the ground!

Tuesday 8th April 2008 at 6:08:52 PM  

Thank you both for good healthy feedback!!
Great Job!!!

Tuesday 15th April 2008 at 3:52:57 PM  

In a Trad-Climbing environment, this sudden force may pull gear from the wall and lead to bigger falls.
In this case, you should allways equallize the first piece. As I'm a trady also, and to keep the zipper moster at bay, I allways equallize the first piece. It should be second nature.

Friday 15th July 2011 at 11:59:54 PM  

I can only say that the article and the 2 comments are simply great. A lot of people who review articles or gear of any sport or activity forget that quite often newbies (like me) read this information and for us is necessary to know the basic stuff, the difference between techniques or devices. Tips like the effect of the pine on the ropes or the advantages of a basic/simple tool like an ATC Vs. something more sophisticated as a grigri, are the kind of information readers search and value.

Thanks for sharing your experience, please keep doing it!

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