Other Techniques


Climbers don't rope up and belay for every exposed place. There are occasions when it may be safer not to, even though you might wish you could. Rubble-strewn slopes are much more hazardous when dragging a rope. Some terrain has no suitable points for anchors. If you must pass through an area subject to rockfall or avalanche, roping is usually secondary to speed. Very experienced climbers may climb on solid rock well below their limit, "third-classing" what may nominally be a fifth-class route.

Anyone in the party may ask for a belay at any time, and must receive it immediately and without complaint from other members of the party. The primary exception is when roping up would significantly decrease the safety of the entire party. As difficulty and exposure increase on an alpine climb, natural differences in ability tend to spread the party out. It is just then, as the anticipated limit of the weakest member is approached, that the party must concentrate on keeping together, to enable roping up easily.


There's at least one aspect of belaying you hope you'll never have to use: tying off the belay in order to help an injured partner. If your climbing partner is seriously injured and other climbers are nearby, it is usually best to let them help while you continue to belay. By staying there you could also help in raising or lowering the victim, if necessary. But if the two of you are alone, it is rare but conceivable that you may want to tie off the climbing rope to remove yourself from the belay system, so you can investigate, help your partner, or go for help.

If you are using a belay device or Miinter hitch attached directly to the anchor, you need only to prevent rope from sliding through the belay. Simply form a knot such as the clove hitch in the braking rope and clip it to another carabiner on the anchor. You can now take your hand off the braking rope and it will be held by the knot.

If you are using a stance, with a belay device or Miinter hitch attached to your harness, it is possible to tie off using one hand. However, it is easier and safer to put a clove hitch in the braking rope and clip it temporarily to your harness. Then while the clove hitch is doing the job of holding the belay rope, attach a normal sling to the climbing rope with a friction knot (prusik or Klemheist). Clip the sling into the anchor, chaining slings if necessary to make the connection long enough. If you can't reach the anchor, attach another sling with a friction knot to the rope that is holding you to the anchor, and join the slings with a carabiner. Transfer tension from the belay to the anchor by letting rope slip through the belay. But first tell the climber to expect being lowered a few inches, and not to worry.

With the hip wrap it may be impossible to tie off with one hand while in the braking position, so the first step may be to free yourself from holding the weight. Wrap the rope coming from your braking hand around the foot opposite the braking hand, keeping your knee locked (fig. 7-22). You can then proceed with both hands, attaching a sling to the climbing rope with a friction knot and clipping the sling to the anchor.

In any case, you should eventually back up the arrangement by tying the climbing rope itself directly to the anchor, with a figure-8 knot on a separate carabiner (fig. 7-21).


Self-belay devices, which allow roped solo climbing, have begun to appear. It is worn by the climber, and works like a ratchet, sliding up the rope during the climb, but not down it in a fall. To lead a pitch, the rope is first anchored at the bot-

Roped Solo Climbing
Fig. 7-21. Tying off a fallen climber
Fig. 7-22. Freeing the hands before tying off the climber when using the hip wrap

the rope is anchored at the top, and the climber rappels. Finally, the climber removes the bottom anchor and climbs the pitch a second time, retrieving the protection as he goes.

This is not just another belaying alternative to be chosen on occasion. It is a different form of climbing, requiring a commitment to relearn many fundamentals. Shortcomings compared to a belay by a live partner are almost inevitable. Read the manufacturer's literature critically, and practice in a safe situation. Is the belay static? Does it work if you fall in a horizontal or head-down position? When climbing, does the rope feed automatically, without producing extra slack or drag, especially at the top of a pitch, or on a traverse? Can you clip into protection above your waist without trouble? To fully evaluate the device, you should understand the basic physics of belaying, as described in the next section.

Solo Climbing Belay

Fig. 7-23. If the topmost protection fails, the climber will fall an additional distance, which is twice the distance to the next protection down.

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