Welcome to the next installment of ‘How To Rock Climb’, today we will be talking about belaying. In part one we will talk about how to get ready for the climber to leave the ground, and in part two we will talk about the actual act of capturing rope to keep a climber safe. I understand that many of you will be anxious for part two, but without this critical step of preparation, things can go terribly wrong. Before proceeding, please read the disclaimer on the about page.
So what is belaying?
Well that is a great question. As a nautical term it literally means to tie the rope around a cleat, however this is a blog about rock climbing, not nauticals. Belaying is the act of capturing or releasing rope as your rock climbing partner climbs, so that there is as little slack in the rope as is reasonable to maintain safety of the climber. This also includes arresting a fall.
This means that belaying can look very different in the huge variety of situations out there, so in the interest of making this a post that doesn’t take you five years to read, we will be talking about belaying with a slot style device, while top roping. A slot style device is a device like an ATC, which is Black Diamond’s version of the slot device.
How it works
Belaying in any case is made possible by introducing friction into the rope, thus preventing the rope from ripping out of your hands and causing your partner to plummet. This friction can come from something as simple as having the rope wrapped around your body (as in a body belay), or from a complicated camming mechanism (as in a Gri-Gri). With a slot style device, this friction comes from putting a bend in the rope.
How to get set up
In order to get a slot style device ready to go, you need to have your harness on, a slot style device, and a locking carabiner. You will also need to make sure that your partner is tied in, which if you don’t know how that works, read about it here. You attach the rope to the slot device by taking a bight of rope (that’s the technical term for a bend in the rope where the ends don’t cross) and passing it through one of the slots on the device. Then you clip the carabiner through the rope and the wire loop that is attached to the device. After that you connect the carabiner to your belay loop on your harness, and finally lock the carabiner. You are now ready to belay.
Preparing to leave the ground
The first thing that any belayer should do is make sure that they go through their safety checks first. This means checking their own gear, checking their partner’s gear, and checking to make sure there are no problems with the rope. I have already talked about the importance of safety checks here. A simple way to do this is with some simple climbing commands, and an ABC check.
Before the climber leaves the ground they need to ask if the belayer is ready. The usual way of doing this is by asking the question, “Belay on?” At this point the belayer will do the ABC check. They will check the Anchor, looking for twists and turns in the rope, ensuring that the rope runs cleanly. They will also check the Belayer, or themselves, to ensure that their own gear is loaded properly, that all their straps are doubled back properly, and that they are in a good position to belay. Finally they will check the Climber for the same things, and that their knot is tied properly. Once they are satisfied they will answer “on belay.”
The next command is that the climber will state “climbing!” to let the belayer know that they are leaving the ground. It is important that the belayer acknowledge this with “climb on!” because for any reason, if the belayer is distracted or not ready, this is the last point that you get to say anything about it.
Now that we’ve done the safety checks prior to belaying, next post we will talk about belaying you rock climber safely up the wall and/or rock face.