If you belay from your harness or body rather than directly from the anchor, you usually will brace against the forward pull of a fall with a solid stance. The stance can help keep the anchor from being fully tested. You will usually support the stance with a short, tight rope to a strong anchor to greatly increase your stability. But for the moment we will consider the strength of the stance alone, based in part upon studies by the Sierra Club. Although the club's experiments used the hip wrap, the results apply to stances with modem belay devices (though perhaps a little on the conservative side). They give a good picture of the comparative value of different stances (fig. 7-9).
Located behind a solid object: In unusually fortunate situations, you can assume the strongest stance of all, directly behind an immovable object, such as a rock protrusion. Don't count on this luck often.
Sitting stances: The most common and versatile is the sitting stance, in which your feet and seat make three solid contacts with the mountain. It is most stable if the rope passes between your feet or legs, for it then resembles a tripod. The tripod's apex is the attachment of the belay to the front of your harness; one leg is your pelvic bones and seat, the other two your own legs. In that configuration, the average person can hold 350 pounds of tension on the rope for several seconds, or an impact about twice as great. Knees are strongest when the angle at the joint is nearly straight (180 to 140 degrees). The stance is only about half as strong if the knees are bent at an angle below 100 degrees, or if the rope runs over the foot support (directed slightly outside the tripod). The stance is suitable for rock, snow, or brush.
Standing stances: In the standing position there are only two points of contact with the rock. With one foot well forward, the average belaycr can hold 200 pounds from below, but less than half as much with a pull to the side or with the feet together. Belaying a leader from a standing position ("slingshot" belay) is extremely weak if the pull is forward. It should be done only with a short tight
rope to the anchor, which will take most of the force, or when standing just below the first protection, so that you cannot be pulled over.
Even if your stance fails and you are pulled out of position, you must keep control of the rope. If you don't, it means loss of the belay and a disastrous plunge for the climber. Before tying in, visualize the consequences if you are pulled out of what you thought was a solid stance. Ask yourself if you will be able to keep charge of the rope and maintain the belay. The force on you will come from a new direction, pulling you into the straight line between the anchor and where the rope goes over the edge, or between the anchor and the first protection. The momentum of your body will carry you even farther; look to see whether you would strike something.
Imagine the results of being pulled in various directions, sideways or up or down, particularly if you are standing. There is less chance you will be jerked about, and you will be moved less, if you have a short tie-in from you to the anchor. This short tie-in is necessary if the direction of pull will change as the climber ascends. The longer the anchor tie-in, the more powerful and dangerous the pull. You must not be dragged, lifted into the air, or strike anything. It's OK to risk some movement in order to take advantage of a strong rock feature for a stance. But think it through. Visualize the possible consequences if you are pulled from the stance. If a loss of control of the rope is possible, find another solution.
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