Category Archives: Belays

Placing Gear Efficiently

Effective placement of gear comes down three things, knowing your racking system, developing a good eye for placements as well as the appropriate size of relative protection, and using rests where possible to place gear whilst in balance.

The first two are down to hands on experience with your rack and gear placements. You might go through you racking system at home, trying to reach straight for the piece of gear you think of and take it off and replace it in the same position in time each time. Getting to know gear placements is down to time spent at the crag.

You can however practice the hands-off rests we cover in hands off rests section. By being in balance you avoid placing gear mid move in a strenuous position. You may often find that the instant you have placed your runner you find a better position to place it from. Try to be relaxed when placing gear and ask yourself whether if you make another half move you will be in a more balanced position?

When at a rest it is sometimes possible to see a gear placement above. You may be able to judge the size from the rest and select the correct wire and clip it to a quickdraw ready to place, saving time and energy. Some people climb up with the gear ready in their mouths. Be aware that it is quite easy to drop the gear, possibly meaning you don’t have anything to place. Besides, metal plays havoc with you tooth enamel!

Placing Gear Efficiently exercise

Rack up ready to climb and walk along the bottom of a cliff playing ‘guess the placement’. Find a crack and guess the best size of gear. Experiment with other sizes to see if you got the best fit. See section on various gear placements.

You may be able to judge the size of a camming device placement in finger widths; one finger = cam 1, two fingers = cam 2 and so on.Try it and see if it works for you.

Placing gear on lead exercise

When you are leading try to place gear only where you can stand in balance or from a hands-off rest. Place the gear from here and before you leave this position take time to look up and spot the next rest and gear placement. Take the time to look at how you might climb the next section.

This can be described as anticipating the next moves and gear. So ask yourself two questions where you can stand next and where you can place the next gear. Until you can answer these two questions don’t move.

WARNING — Lead climbing is dangerous. Before attempting this exercise it is worth practicing placing gear on your route whilst on top rope, trailing a rope to simulate lead climbing. Make sure that your belayer has the neccesary skill to stop you if you fall!

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Single Versus Double Ropes

Many climbers choose to use double or half ropes when trad or multi pitched sport climbing. However the whole single versus double ropes is not necessarily that simple.

Single Versus Double Ropes for climbing

Single Ropes

  • Approximate diameter 9mm to 11mm
  • Easier to belay on one rope
  • Easier to hold a fall so good for beginners
  • More likely to get rope drag
  • Can only retreat half the rope length at a time
  • Can be used on its own
  • easy to use on straight up climbs
  • Harder to managed on wandering lines and traveses
  • High impact force cause by lack of stretch
  • can leave second with nasty pendulums

Double Ropes

  • Approximate diameter 7mm to 9mm
  • harder to belay two rope simultaneously
  • Harder to hold falls on skinny ropes
  • less likely to get rope drag
  • can retreat the whole length of the rope as you have two of them.
  • Have to be used in pairs
  • not good for indoor or single pitch sport climbing
  • Easy to use on a straight up route
  • Easier to managed complex wandering routes
  • lower impact force cause by stretchier thinner ropes
  • can help protect second whilst traversing

Belaying with double rope

Belaying with double rope takes a lot more skill, as effectively you can be taking in on one rope and paying out on the other and vice versa. As such getting sed to belaying on double ropes will take time and most importantly practice.

Belay on double ropes. Here the climber can pay out one or both rope by using his thumb to control the live ropes. They can also take in either by controlling what rope(s) they are using with the dead rope by splitting the ropes. (see next photo)
Belay on double ropes. Here the climber can pay out one or both rope by using his thumb to control the live ropes. They can also take in either by controlling what rope(s) they are using with the dead rope by splitting the ropes. (see next photo)
How the grip the dead rope when double rope belay. Note the split at the ring and middle finger.
How the grip the dead rope when double rope belay. Note the split at the ring and middle finger.

Belaying with a double rope exercise

At the base of the crag or at home have a practice using double ropes by attaching the belay device to both ropes and having a friend randomly ask for slack or to take on both ropes, as well as individual ropes.

once you have the basic then start making it more complex, so to test you ability. The key is throughout the whole exercise to never let go of the dead rope. Can you pay out with one rope and then take in with the other only to reverse the whole thing in a moment?

Once you have master this try using double ropes for real, but on a climb that is really easy for everyone, bit leader and second who is belaying. As this is about both leader and belayer coming to terms with the extra rope.

Why we need to be able to pay out with one rope and take in with the other whilst belaying with double ropes.
Why we need to be able to pay out with one rope and take in with the other whilst belaying with double ropes.

When you are leading with double ropes there instantly become many different ways you can use them. As do you keep one for the left and the other for the right or do you mix it up? Often it is hard to tell what is best unless you look at the route and make a plan to manage the ropes before you leave the ground. You can also ask the belayer for advice as they can sometimes see the bigger picture.

Two ways to use double ropes when climbing. Both work and help reduce rope drag.
Two ways to use double ropes when climbing. Both work and help reduce rope drag.
Other ways to use double ropes to most effect. Left - alternating the rope should make any fall less. Middle - A wander route can have left and right runners as it meanders. Right - When traverse it is often better to have a top and bottom rope to help reduce rope drag.
Other ways to use double ropes to most effect. Left – alternating the rope should make any fall less. Middle – A wander route can have left and right runners as it meanders. Right – When traverse it is often better to have a top and bottom rope to help reduce rope drag.

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Belaying a lead Climber

Your lead climbers life is literally in your hands. There is a big difference between belaying someone on a top rope and belaying a lead climber. When you start to belay a lead climber you need to have someone with experience close at hand, backing you up. A good belayer will pay constant attention to the climber, watching for upward movement so they can pay the rope out at the right time. If the climber is out of sight the belayer has to look at the curve of rope going up the crag and as they see the rope start to straighten or even feel the rope tighten slightly, they need to pay out more rope.

Lead belaying is often a combination between paying out the rope, and then taking the rope back in. This is due to the lead often placing runners above their head meaning that for a moment they are on a mini tope rope, so the belayer need to be able to see or sense this from the movement of the rope in front of them. As well as taking in and paying out the rope either as with top rope belaying or lead belaying the belayer, can help minimise the amount of rope they have to pay out each time by making a step forward or back, it is literally just a step though.

When you are belaying a lead climber you need to pay out the rope as they need it and take it in as well. To aid this you can take a step into and away from the wall when necessary.
When you are belaying a lead climber you need to pay out the rope as they need it and take it in as well. To aid this you can take a step into and away from the wall when necessary.

Attaching the belay device to the rope loop adds a small amount of extra dynamic stretch into the system as the knot tightens. This will reduce the impact force on trad runners or when sport climbing. When belaying a lead climber being tied into the end of the rope makes it impossible to lower the climber of the end of the rope, a common mistake when sport climbing on long routes.

At anytime the belayer needs to be ready to lock the rope off, as the climber could fall off without any warning at all. Although the leader might communicate their situation with a selection of climbing calls, ‘Slack’ – means they want some slack paid out, ‘Watch me’ – means they want you to be really attentive as they are at a tricky move and might fall. ‘Take’ – means that they have either fallen off or are about to, or they are exhausted and unable to go any higher and want to rest on the rope.

The forces involved in a leader fall are far greater than when top rope climbing, as such vigilance is needed at all times. If the climber is a long way above the runner then there is often an opportunity to take in a quick armful of rope and step backwards to take in some rope and reduce the length of fall, however as soon as the weight start to come on the rope the rope needs to be locked off, and the chances are you’ll have to hold on tight and expected to be lifted off your feet.

In terms of positioning yourself it is very important that you stand as close to the bottom of the route as possible. There are two reason for this first if the climber falls off and you are stood a distance from the base of the cliff you will get dragged across the ground, and secondly and more importantly the rope will pull outward and potentially upwards on the first runner out. This can rip the first runner out leading to a cascade effect pulling each runner out until the top one. Not a situation you want to witness.

If you are belaying a lead climber standing too far away from the base of the wall or crag. You will get dragged towards the wall and potentially pull the first runners out.
If you are belaying a lead climber standing too far away from the base of the wall or crag. You will get dragged towards the wall and potentially pull the first runners out.

A further concern for the lead climber is reaching the first gear on a pitch, as such it will be necessary to spot the climber on the first moves until they get a runner in. There is advice on this on the following section on safe bouldering.

Learning to belay a lead climber

There are various way to learn to belay a leader, it is probably best done indoor or on a sport climb as it is a more controlled environment. To start with you can place some slings over some holds on a low level traverse and practice belaying someone close to the ground.

Practising belaying a lead climber close to the ground on an easy traverse in a bouldering wall. This is more about the belayer learning to belay, although the climber can also practice clipping the bolts.
Practising belaying a lead climber close to the ground on an easy traverse in a bouldering wall. This is more about the belayer learning to belay, although the climber can also practice clipping the bolts.

Practicing in a group of three you can have the leader belayed simultaneously on a top rope and on a lead rope ( we call this simulated lead climbing). If your leader is confident in you belaying after completing the simulated lead climb, then move onto belaying the leader for real, but have the person who was belaying the top rope back you up on the dead rope.

To start with the leader should only attempt route that they are confident they can complete without falling, only after a period of consolidation should you consider moving onto harder climbs. A some point it will be bene cial for the belayer to hold a small lead fall. The leader needs to be con dent in the belayer and the belayer needs to be backed up, by practicing indoors you remove the need for the leader to judge whether the runner will hold when they fall.

These progression are also great for the rst time leader as it allows them to progressively understand the added risks of lead climbing. The safety of the leader is mainly reliant on their ability to judge how good the runners are and whether or not they are likely to hold a fall. Judgement which comes with instruction and experience.

Belaying a Lead climber – proceedure

Before leaving the ground it is both the leaders and the belayers respon- sibility to check the both the harnesses are done up correctly, that both leader and belayer and tied into the rope correctly and that the belay plate is threaded correctly and connected to the rope loop made where the belayer has tied in. Attaching the belay to the rope loop rather than the harness belay loop adds a small amount of extra stretch into the system when the knot tightens if the climber falls and by tying into the end of the rope it becomes impossible to pay out more rope than you have to the leader.

The leader then climbs the route, placing runners along the way.

At the top of the pitch the leader needs to place the rst anchor in the belay and clip it as a runner whilst they place at least one other anchor. Only when they have tied into the anchors and adjusted them to get into a good position to look down the pitch they have just climbed should they shout

“SAFE” down towards the belayer.

Then the belayer takes the rope out of the belay device, and when the rope is free shouts “OFF BELAY”.

This is the cue for the leader to pull the slack rope up hand over hand, until it goes tight on the belayer. When the belayer feels the rope go tight on them they let the leader know by shouting “THAT’S ME”.

The leader then places the belayer (now the ‘second’) on belay, and shouts down “ON BELAY, CLIMB WHEN READY”.

Now the second can unclip from their anchor (if they are on a multipitch route) and shout up “CLIMBNG” as they start to climb, the leader then con rms this by shouting “OK”.

At crags by the sea or on windy days it becomes very hard to communicate between leader and second. Here you might have to create you own series of communications based on a number of tugs on the rope, or alternatively small radios are become popular.

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Trad Climbing Belay

When you are trad climbing, you won’t have an extra rope with you to rig a trad climbing belay. As such you need to use the rope you are climbing with to make a belay and then bring up the climber(s).

This system is one of the most pratical in terms of ‘real’ climbing – using the rope tied to us to rig a belay as we would if we had just lead a pitch. It also has the advantage early on that you don’t need both a rigging rope and a rope for climbing on.

The Clove Hitch Exercise

Before we move onto how to tie into an anchor with a clove hitch, we are first going to experiment with this versatile hitch. So tie a clove hitch to a carabiner, with practice you can get very slick at this.

Now tie the clove hitch to a single anchor, and adjust it so you are snug, now try and pay some rope out and move further away from the anchor, again make sure the rope is snug. Then move back in and take in the slack.

Tying a clove hitch
Tying a clove hitch

Now clip a loop of rope through anchor and tie it off to a clove hitch on your belay loop, again try adjusting the length away from the anchor and back towards it. With this method you can easily adjust the tension on the rope when out of reach of the anchors.

Clove Hitch back to a HMS screwgate karabiner.
Clove Hitch back to a HMS screwgate karabiner.

Practice moving back and forwards at least a couple of feet with each method. As adjusting the clove hitch is a key skill in making belays at the top of a pitch of crag.

Tad climbing Belays – In reach/out of reach

Often we are either in reach or out of reach of the anchors we want to tie into,either way you need to work systematically, decide first where you need to stand to belay, then clip the first rope in and adjust the clove hitch so you are snug, only then go on and clip the rope into the second anchor and adjust the clove hitch.

Below shows the in reach method of making a belay on two anchors.

Start tied into the rope like you are climbing. Then attach the clove hitch to the first anchor.
Start tied into the rope like you are climbing. Then attach the clove hitch to the first anchor.
Then clove hitch the rope into the second anchor leaving some slack between the first and second anchor.
Then clove hitch the rope into the second anchor leaving some slack between the first and second anchor.
Finally clove hitch the rope back to your tie in loop.
Finally clove hitch the rope back to your tie in loop.

Next the out of reach belay method is a lot easier and works in most situations both in and out of reach. It is best to use a HMS karabiner to tie the clove hitches back to.

Again start tied into the rope like you were climbing. Then clip a loop of rope through the first anchor and tie it back to your tie in rope loop with a clove hitch.
Again start tied into the rope like you were climbing. Then clip a loop of rope through the first anchor and tie it back to your tie in rope loop with a clove hitch.
Now clip another loop through the second anchor and clove hitch this back to the same HMS karabiner that you tied the first anchor back to.
Now clip another loop through the second anchor and clove hitch this back to the same HMS karabiner that you tied the first anchor back to.

Warning

When rigging at the top of the crag you are at times unroped at the top of a substantial drop. Therefore employing some form of control may be necessary. If setting up a bottom rope this may include clove hitching into one anchor as you approach the edge, this is not a bombproof system so don’t deliberately weight it, but it may prevent a slip becoming a fall. If it is a top roping system, consider having one anchor a reasonable distance back and tie into this, again don’t weight the system until all points are equalised and under tension.

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Intro To Trad Climbing Course

Our intro to trad climbing course are a great way to get to know loads about basic trad belays. You’ll also get a load of chance to make them yourself under the watchful eye of our coaches, before you belay off them.

We will also teach you all you need to know to leave the course ready to trad lead climb on your own.

eMail us to find out more.

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Belaying from the Top of the Crag

As well as belaying from the bottom of the crag like we do when someone is top roping a route, we can also belay from the top of the crag. This takes a little more practice than bottom belaying as everything in essence feels upside down. In fact if you image belaying stood on your head that is a pretty good description of how belaying from the top of the crag feels.

There is more to belaying at the top of the crag as well. Dependent on what way you stand or sit, one of you hips or shoulders will be closer to the belay. Whatever side this is, it it this hand that you should use as the break hand. As such you now need to potentially be ambidextrous. As the dead rope now needs to be facing back towards the belay not to the ground.

A correctly aligned belay plate for belaying from the top of the crag or pitch
A correctly aligned belay plate for belaying from the top of the crag or pitch
An incorrectly aligned belay plate for top roping. As you can see the body gets in the way of locking the rope off properly, making it extremely likely that you will drop the climber it they fall.
An incorrectly aligned belay plate for top roping. As you can see the body gets in the way of locking the rope off properly, making it extremely likely that you will drop the climber it they fall.

Attaching the belay device to the rope loop adds a small amount of extra dynamic stretch into the system as the knot tightens. This will reduce the impact force on trad runners or when sport climbing. When belaying a lead climber being tied into the end of the rope makes it impossible to lower the climber of the end of the rope, a common mistake when sport climbing on long routes.

Belaying Top Rope

Having established the correct stance and aligned the belay plate correctly the pattern of belaying is similar to that of when belay a bottom roping system, but instead of point up the whole pattern points down. The simplify version is to 1) take the rope in. 2) lock the rope off. 3) hand swap. 4) back to the beginning.

Belaying top rope. Notice how the taking in is going down and locking off is now going up.
Belaying top rope. Notice how the taking in is going down and locking off is now going up.

Remember that the rst time you do this just like the belaying a top rope you need someone to tail the dead rope as a back up. Preferable someone experienced and sitting down back from the edge.

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Gear Placements – General

Placing good runners and anchors is the foundation of the safe ropework. Poor placements will make your other efforts futile if the anchors are all going to fail. A placement will only be as good as the rock it’s in, loose rock and super cial akes will be poor placements. Follow the three S’s when placing gear:

Solid – is the rock integral to the placement solid?
Shape – is the shape of the placement suitable for the gear choice? Size – is the gear the right size for the placement?

As a general rule of thumb as well there is a hierarchy of gear placements. Although this is often over-ruled by what you can place and how good it is, but if there is a choice.

  1. Spikes, Threads and Trees
  2. Nuts and Hexes
  3. Cams

Gear placement exercise

After reading the skills for placing all different types of gear walk round the bottom of a crag, practicing gear placements, and discuss with friends how you rate them using the following system 1 to 6 numerical system.

  1. You would hang your worse enemy’s jacket on it
  2. You would hang your jacket on it
  3. You would hang your enemy on it
  4. You would hang off it
  5. You would hang your enemy’s car off it
  6. You would hang your car off it

Advanced Gear Placement Exercise

To practice gear placements for trad lead climbing, stand back from the cliff and choose three places where you think you can place gear.  Walk to the first and try to anticipate what gear will fit before you get there. You are going to try and make the first placement fit. This first placement fitting will safe you so much energy on lead rather than hanging around attempt to get half you rack to fit before you find the right sized piece. 

Judge yourself on the time and how few goes it took to place each runner. Under three minutes with first time placements is a good point to aim for in the long run.

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Gear Placements – Camming Devices

Camming Devices are the most complicated piece of gear to place well, if mastered they can offer solid protection in places that otherwise would be impossible to use. The reason being that cams can be used in parallel sided cracks.

One of the most important consideration in placing cams is that when loaded the device will produce a large force (about 3 to 4 times the load placed on them) that will try and force the placement apart, as such they may well lever off a superficial flake, so the intergrity of the rock is even more paramount then with any other piece of climbing equipment.

Good and bad placements of camming devices. Over cammed, just right and under cammed.
Good and bad placements of camming devices. Over cammed, just right and under cammed.

There are other important considerations when placing cams. Firstly how they are placed in the rock, the direction of pull should be along the shaft of the camming device. All the cams should also be in contact with the rock, and the cams should be somewhere between 25% and 75% between the maximum and minimum width the camming device can achieve.

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Gear Placements – Trees

Trees like spikes, are great placements but not many climbers are experienced tree surgeons so it is difficult to be sure of them. First look up, the tree should look alive, with either leaves or in the mist of winter some fresh buds or healthy looking branches. Then look down to see if the roots look healthy and strong. As a rule of thumb the thinnest diameter of trunk that is suitable for using as a anchor is roughly the thickness of you thigh, If it as thick as your waist then it could be used as a single point anchor. Just like metal spikes tying around a tree low down will reduce the leverage on it.

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Gear Placements – Metal Spikes, Pegs and Bolts

Back up in situ metal protection like spikes, pegs and bolts where possible with other protection. Metal spikes and pegs will be most corroded below the surface and whilst you can test to see if it’s wobbly there is little more you can do to check how sound it may be. Rust may appear superficial but hidden below it may have taken hold. Tying off the spike or peg as low as possible will minimise the leverage on it.

A metal spike tied off low down to reduce the leverage on the spike. You can either clove hitch the sling to the spike or wrap the sling round the spike so it prevents the sling sliding upwards.
A metal spike tied off low down to reduce the leverage on the spike. You can either clove hitch the sling to the spike or wrap the sling round the spike so it prevents the sling sliding upwards.

Bolts are a little different as there may be notes on their history in a guidebook. Knowing when the bolt was placed and what type it is will help your judgement. Stainless Steel is less likely to corrode than plain steel. Resin bolts have a longer lifespan than simple expansion bolts. Some of the bolts on crags are little more than 8mm thick and 30mm long and may have been in place for over thirty years. If the bolts are subject to the salty conditions of a maritime environment, treat them with further caution.

Using different metals for the bolt, nut and hanger can cause an electrolytic reaction which will rapidly corrode one part or other. If the bolt has signs of rust and the hanger doesn’t its an indication of mixed metals reacting with each other. Some aluminium hangers react with the bolt, resulting in oxidisation.

Top: A modern long 10mm bolts versus the old 30mm long 8mm wide bolt. What would you prefer to fall on? Bottom Left: A aluminium hanger that has corroded probably due to mixed metal issues. Bottom Right: A stainless ring and rusty steel hanger, this was only paced for a few month before the corrosion was spotted, such is the effect of mixed metals.
Top: A modern long 10mm bolts versus the old 30mm long 8mm wide bolt. What would you prefer to fall on? Bottom Left: A aluminium hanger that has corroded probably due to mixed metal issues. Bottom Right: A stainless ring and rusty steel hanger, this was only paced for a few month before the corrosion was spotted, such is the effect of mixed metals.

Abandoned Equipment

One way to lookout all fixed metal equipment in a cliff is that is is essentially abandon equipment with a dubious history of use and abuse. Whilst in many sports climbing areas there are voluntary groups that check the bolts and re-equip the routes from time to time. This is not always the case.

Even if some bolts are not that old, there are other issues, some bolts have failed as they have been overused and in soft rock. This has lead to bolts pulling out almost by hand after only 5 years of heavy use.

So look at bolts carefully, do they look OK? Do they feel OK? Do they move?

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Gear Placements – Hexes and Tri Cams

The judgement we need to select a placements for Hexes and Tri cams is very similar to selecting a nut placement. First off is the rock secure than then you need to look at how well the device sits in the shape of crack.

How they are placed is slightly different, as both Hexes and Tri-cams can be placed as passive nuts, however they are designed to cam into placement and become more secure the greater the load placed on them. It is also important to seat them in the placement by applying a shock load by jerking down on the tape.

How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.
How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.
Good tricam placements rely on the device to pivot or cam into the crack. They are particular good in quarried shot-holes.
Good tricam placements rely on the device to pivot or cam into the crack. They are particular good in quarried shot-holes.
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