Belaying is a crucial element of roped climbing and belayer error is a potential cause of serious accidents. You need to be familiar with ways of belaying and understand the consequences of not doing this properly.
“Belay” is the most important word in the climbing vocabulary. Belaying, or holding the rope to catch any fall by your partner, is the ultimate acceptance of trust: You and your partner literally place your lives in each other’s hands. Don’t screw up!
In the 1970s, many aspirant climbers underwent a brutally primitive belay test. The student belayer was lashed down, and an instructor dropped a concrete bucket from a tower. The student had to stop the bucket with nothing but a rope around his or her waist and bare (trembling) hands. This old way of teaching certainly proved the immense forces that a fall can generate and the necessity for diligence.
Although today many climbers learn belaying in the gym, often using brake-assisted mechanical devices, belaying will always be vulnerable to human error. Gyms and crags are quickly getting busier, and attention suffers as traffic increases. Even in a crowd, you must concentrate on your climber. Do not be distracted by the climber who strolls along and asks you for beta or how your summer is going—don’t talk to anyone when you are belaying.
When you start belaying at the gym, stick with top rope routes until you progress to catching lead falls. When you go outside, know that blinding sunlight, uneven ground, and wind can complicate belaying. Inside and out, belay gloves let you lower your partner without getting a friction burn, plus they prevent the dirty rope from gunking up your hands. And wear a helmet. Falling rocks or dropped gear could hit you on the head.
A sound knowledge of equipment is important for a climber because it is an integral element of climbing safely. Misuse of climbing equipment can have dangerous consequences. Any equipment in a commercial climbing gym should be fit for use and climbing wall managers will appreciate your support if items are starting to look worn. You may also find yourself climbing in non-commercial settings and you will need to have thought about how you are going to make decisions about whether or not the climbing equipment is in good working order.
This lesson covers belay with a tubular device. Belay techniques vary for many reasons. If you choose a different type of device than the one you were originally taught to use, then you must learn and practice techniques with that new device. Though basic top-rope belay is similar on many devices, a few details differ. And belaying a lead climber can be quite different, especially on a brake-assist device.