Preparing For The Pull Of A Fall

There are two general approaches to belaying, depending upon whether the forward pull of the fall goes first to your body, or directly to the anchor.

Belaying from the anchor: Belaying directly from the anchor (fig. 7-2a) requires, at a minimum, complete confidence that the anchor is bombproof; in short, it will not fail under any conceivable force. If you are using one of the many available belay devices for applying friction to the rope, you must be able to assume a specific brak

Fig. 7-2. Relaying: a, directly from an anchor; b, from the harness, with support from the anchor.

ing position for a fall. You need to be near the anchor, and of course you should be comfortable for the entire time or your attention will be divided and a poor belay will result. (In belaying from the anchor, there are unique advantages to the Miinter hitch as a way to apply friction. The Miinter hitch will be covered later in this chapter.)

Belaying from your body: In the other approach, the pull of the fall goes directly to your body (fig. 7-2b). You assume a belay stance by bracing against solid features of the mountain, and back this up with a snug attachment from you to the anchor. Friction on the rope comes from a belay device or Miinter hitch attached to the front of the seat harness, or from a wrap of the rope around your hips. Your body, supported by the stance, takes the initial pull of the fall and keeps the anchor—the ultimate line of defense—from being fully tested. The inevitable movement of the belayer a few inches under the force of the fall also helps reduce the forces. If the consequences of a fall have been correctly visualized ahead of time, the impact on the belayer is small. You may be surprised to discover how readily a small belayer can catch a big climber. Belaying from a stance, with the climbing rope running directly to your body, helps prevent "sleeping at the wheel" during the sometimes dreary duty of belaying.

Which method is most popular depends in part on both local tradition and geology. In some mountain ranges or on certain routes, you will find belay spots where every available anchor is suspect; here a stance is essential. In other situations there will be a bombproof anchor but poor stances. The belayer may still set up a stance to simplify rope handling, knowing full well that the pull of the fall goes directly to the anchor. The stance can be used almost anytime, even when the stance itself plays a minor role in controlling forces. Belaying directly from the anchor, however, is done only when the anchor is believed to be bombproof.

Parts of the setup, and the constant task of rope handling, are the same for every belay, whether it's from your body in a stance or directly from an anchor. All belays depend on applying friction to the rope, and all belays (with occasional exceptions) require an anchor, either to take the pull directly or as backup for a stance.

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