As a climber, belaying is one of the early skills I acquired. Belaying is not difficult, especially when current mechanical advantage devices make it more and more like a no-brainer. But why do I climb differently with different belayers? Why do I know I can push myself when I climb with some belayers and not with others?
Belaying is an art. It looks simple but takes efforts to master. Just like Chinese calligraphers consider it a challenge writing a character with three strokes or less; marketers spend more time producing an 8-word tagline than writing an 8-page proposal. Belaying is more than not letting go the brake hand. If you are a belaying artist, your climbers will appreciate you because an excellent belay is the foundation of an unlimited climbing experience.
Below is a compiled list of yeses and noes to belayers based on conversations among climbers, personal experience, and things learned from instructing rock climbing camps. If you have stories about belaying, please share with us by leaving a comment below. Let’s help each other master the art of belaying!
From Top Ropers or Followers:
1. Let me free climb; there is too much tension
It is common for new belayers to keep climbers super tight, especially when nervous new climbers want absolutely no slack. However, there is a difference between no slack and too much tension. Climbers cannot climb freely when they feel tension on the rope. It can mean a false grade boost on a slab route, or a mission impossible straight-up detour climb instead of an on-route traverse.
2. Don’t snap me in the face
A sudden taking in slack can leave some redness on your climber’s face. “S/he snapped me in the face again” can lead to a conflict resolution circle when I instruct climbing camps for middle schoolers. It is also a common scenario when new leaders belay their out-of-sight followers.
1. Don’t short rope me
Short roping can be as small as an interruption of the climbing flow, but it can also be very scary. If I have to constantly request slack to keep leading, how can I not worry that I will be pulled off the wall? It is very frustrating to fight with the belayer for rope especially when the climber is running out of gas making the moves, placing the gear, and all they want to do is to make the freaking clip.
2. How come there is so much slack?
Falling might be scary, but falling and hitting something is horrible. I do not want too much slack if I don’t have enough distance from the ground or the next ledge.
3. I want to land as lightly as a feather
I love soft catches. Finally I realized that falling can be fun and decided to commit to the “whipper school” when I first experienced a soft catch. My belayer jumped when I fell; I fell a longer distance but I did not feel a thing. My super lightweight friend once complained to me that his belayer who was 60 pounds heavier kept giving him hard catches. After a dozen lead falls, he had to call it a day because his back hurt.
4. I know that you have climbed this route before
I appreciate an encouraging belayer but I do not need a belayer volunteers all the beta especially when I try to onsight a route.
5. Please help me get back to the last clip
Yes, I just hang-dogged and now I need to pull on the rope to get back to the next clip. My dear belayer, can you pull in the slack so I do not have to repeat the process. Thank you very much.
6. Are you taking me off belay?
This happened when I guided two kids up Diedre in Squamish. Some place at the fifth pitch, I couldn’t move anymore. I thought, “ah, kids are short roping me again.” I looked down, the ropes were tangled and the ATC was detached from the locking carabiner. “What are you doing?” “We are trying to untangle the ropes!” I waited there, giving them instructions and finally I said “okay, now put me back on belay.” Well, don’t take me off belay until I say so.
Have more suggestions to your belayers? Have any belaying stories to share? Do tell!
Below is a link to a funny video made by Rock and Ice about belaying, and it’s quite hilarious: The Amazing Issue Hits the Crags.