How Belays Are Used In Climbing

Before we move into the details of belay setups and procedures, it might be helpful to get a general feel of how belays are used on a climb (fig. 7-1). For the moment, picture just the essentials of a belay. There are two climbers, each tied into an end of a 150-foot rope. As one climbs, the other belays. The belay is connected to an anchor, a point of secure attachment to the rock or snow. The belayer pays out or takes in rope as the climber ascends, ready to use one of the methods of applying friction in case the climber falls.

Belay setups are usually established on the ground or on a ledge that is reasonably comfortable. One climber takes the lead, belayed from below, and moves up the route to the next desirable spot and sets up a new belay. The climber at the bottom then takes apart the belay and climbs up, belayed from above. The distance between belays is known as a pitch, or a lead. The climbers typically leapfrog their way up so that the one who goes first leads all of the odd-numbered pitches, and follows second on all of the even-numbered pitches. Each climber belays at the top of every pitch he leads, which allows a rest before following the next pitch.

The climber belayed from above—known as the follower, or the second—can climb aggressively, confident that any fall will be held easily by the belayer and will be very short, typically involving only a slight stretching of the rope.

It's a different matter for the leader of a pitch, who is belayed from below and will drop some distance before the rope begins to stop the fall. To reduce the distance of a potential fall, the leader attaches pieces of climbers' hardware—called protection—to the rock on the way up. The leader

HOW BELAYS ARE USED IN CLIMBING ♦ 109

Leader tage to pushing the first lead as far as possible, and you can just pick the most convenient intermediate belay spot.

The minimum belay location should have two attributes: good placement for anchors and reasonable comfort. Belayers also try to find a position where they can see the partner they are belaying. And they keep an eye out for rockfall if the climber is above. If there is significant rockfall danger, you might belay from the shelter of an overhang or bulge, or perhaps have your pack ready to hold above you, and wear a hard hat.

Leader

Belayer for second pitch

Tensionless Anchor

Fig. 7-1. The belay system for two pitches of a climb

Protection placed by leader while climbing

Fig. 7-1. The belay system for two pitches of a climb attaches a carabiner to each piece of protection and clips the rope inside the carabiner so the rope is free to be pulled through as the ascent continues. Now, a fall can be no more than double whatever the distance the leader is above the highest piece of protection (plus some rope stretch and sometimes belayer movement or a bit of rope slippage at the belay).

The length of each pitch is usually determined by the location of a comfortable, convenient spot to establish the next belay. Being the belayer can be tough work—long, awkward and boring, but requiring nearly constant vigilance—making it essential to find a secure belay spot that is as comfortable as possible. Longer leads are more efficient, so if there are several nice belay ledges within reach of the rope, go for the highest one. The conditions of the moment can change this general rule. You may decide to set up the next belay somewhat early because the drag of the rope through pieces of protection and over rock is becoming too annoying. Or if a huge, enticing ledge is only l'/2 rope lengths away, there is no advan

Belayer for second pitch o

Belayer for first pitch

Protection removed by follower while climbing

How Belay Follower

Belayer for first pitch

Follower with upper belay

Protection removed by follower while climbing

Follower with upper belay

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Responses

  • pia
    How do i belay from top of the first pitch?
    7 years ago
  • danait kinfe
    What is climbers hardware called?
    7 years ago

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