Preparing to belay the leader

Belaying the leader is a big change from belaying the follower because the pull is from a new direction, usually above. A new stance is often necessary.

The anchor for belaying the leader must hold a pull toward the first piece of protection, possibly straight up, so your existing anchor may have to be revised or augmented. Fortunately the follower has brought up all the hardware from the pitch below, so you should have plenty of gear to work with. Before setting up your belay, pull in all the slack rope, and pile it neatly to avoid snarls later.

The difference between a strong and weak stance is the direction of the expected pull in comparison with how your legs are placed. By putting in a piece of protection near you that the climber's rope will travel through, you can aim this pull to provide a stronger stance.

Aiming the pull is particularly useful with standing stances. If you are facing the anchor, a simple method is to add another carabiner to the anchor and clip the climbing rope through that. Later, after the climber has put in other protection higher up, this link becomes unnecessary, and you can remove it to reduce rope friction and increase your "feel" of the climber.

The belayer needs to be extra alert when the climbing is difficult right off a ledge because the leader may not be able to get in enough protection to prevent hitting the ledge in case of a fall. In fact, broken ankles are among the most common rock-climbing injuries. Of course, the climber should land with knees bent. Head injuries can be reduced by the belayer "spotting" the climber, preferably while tied in and otherwise ready to belay. Spotting does not mean cushioning the climber's weight with your body, but simply helping the falling climber land upright or preventing his head from hitting the ground.

The "zipper effect" is a concern for both belayer and climber. Whenever possible, the climber should position the lowest piece of protection to prevent this phenomenon, in which the bottom protection pulls out under the forces of a fall, and succeeding pieces up the route are yanked out one by one like the opening of a zippered jacket. To avoid it, the lowest protection should be multidirectional; that is, able to hold a pull from any direction, including outward or upward. If a zipper starts opening, you can only hope that a multidirectional piece of protection has been placed higher up that can put a stop to it. (Chapter 10 includes an illustration of the zipper effect.)

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