Welcome to the second part of learning how to belay. In this part we will talk about capturing the rope through your belay device as your rock climbing partner climbs. Remember that we are talking about belaying a top rope rock climb with a slot style device, and that you need to do all of your safety checks first.
The basic position that the belayer should take is with one hand above the belay device, on the rope leading to the climber, and another on the trailing rope that has already run through the belay device. Your feet should be about a shoulder width apart, with one foot back for balance, and your knees slightly bent.
The Break Hand
The goal of belaying is to minimize the amount of time that you have your hand outside of the break position. The break position involves holding the trailing end of the rope below your belay device, introducing sharp bends in the rope which increases friction. This ensures that the weight of the climber, in the case of a fall, will be transferred into the belayer’s harness, instead of into their hands.
The default position of your hands should be to return to the break position. If you do not do this, your belay will be useless and likely result in the injury of both belayer and rock climber in the case of a climber fall.
When I am teaching how to belay, I often teach the process as a four step process.
Step 1: Pull
With your break hand you should pull rope through the belay device by pulling straight up through the device. Your top hand will guide rope down into the belay device. Make sure that you keep just a little more force pulling up than you are pulling down, otherwise you will lose tension in your belay device and it can hang loosely, preventing the rope from running through properly. Learn to time your pull with the movement of your climber, so that you keep as little slack in the rope as possible, and it is a smooth ride for both climber and belayer.
Step 2: Lock
You have pulled in the rope, and now we return to the break position. Bring your break hand, which should be above your belay device at this point, back to the break position. We want to pull it all the way down, so there is no slack in your break rope. It will take practice to learn how much rope to take in during the Pull step, because what is comfortable is different for every person. Please note, you should not take your hand out of the break position until you are ready to pull in more rope.
Step 3: Grab
The goal is to now return your hands to the position that you started in. We do not do this by just moving our hands. We need to follow a specific sequence, in order to ensure that control of the break rope is maintained at all time.
Take the hand that is holding the climber rope and place it below your break hand. This will allow your break hand to slide up to the belay device without loosing a grip on the break rope.
Step 4: Slide
You may now slide you break hand up to 4-6 inches below the belay device. We keep a little distance between our hand and the belay device, because during a fall, the rope tends to pull a small amount through the device, even in the break position. If our hand is too close, our hand can get sucked into the belay device. Believe me, this does not tickle. Once you have slid your break hand up, you can return control of the break rope to your break hand, and return your other hand to the climber side of the rope. You are now ready to continue belaying.
That just about covers how to belay a rock climber on a top rope with a slot device. Please remember, reading an online article is not a replacement for training by a skilled individual. Take some lessons from your local climbing gym before attempting this on your own. It is often very difficult to troubleshoot our ourselves if we are doing something wrong. Climb safe.