Rant #2: Belayer Etiquette
Novermber 16, 2010
You're flying solo and
need a belay. Anyone will do; you are that desperate. Then, when you
have your new partner and find yourself at the cliff together, you
realize maybe you should have been more selective. Instead of sending
your projects, your belayer has you on the wall dancing like Elvis.
From time to time I'm reminded of the importance of a good Belay. I've
thrown caution to the wind in the desperate hopes of getting on my
project one more time, possibly for the 'send.' Then, I'm at the
cliff sketched out of my mind as my belayer lights up a cigarette
and chats on the phone underneath me. The smoldering stick hangs limp out of the corner of his lip
as he mumbles something that sounds like 'you got this.' I bag the idea of
even attempting my project that day. No need to be scared out of your
mind that your belayer isn't paying attention. Better to wait until
another day with a more attentive belayer.
Some might think this is a minor infraction, but I've had a variety of
poor belay situations, not all of them specifically about the actual
belay. I've come to suspect and even mistrust inattentiveness because of
my past experiences. This rant is borne from such an experience where
the very nature of the belay relationship made for a very trying
climbing day. To help others think twice before embarking in
unknown belayer territory, I've created some guidelines that could help
weed out the sketch and seek out the best. The guidelines are also good
for those wanting to be a 'good' belayer. These are all off the
top of my head so if you feel compelled to contribute, drop me a line!
1. Belayer must have prior outdoor belay experience.
2. Belayer must have belayed a lead climber to qualify as a belayer
for a lead climb
3. Belayer must have belayed something respectable or equivalent to
the grade the climber wishes to be belayed on
4. Any previous belays by potential belayer did not result in injury or death
of their climbing partner
6. Belayer is recommended by their friends
Some etiquett every climber should know.
1. Unless you are someone's belay biatch, there's a rotation for
belaying and climbing. Respect the rotation, unless terms were
agreed upon beforehand.
2. When it's cold out, keep the rotation moving. Don't hang dog the
route, no matter how close you think you are to making that move;
don't lollygag, procrastinate, overly socialize, or in any other way
take more time than necessary to transition; DO help your partner by
assisting with logistics that would otherwise take time and could
potentially impact the party's ability to get warm, stay warm, or
otherwise have perfect conditions for getting on route.
3. As a courtesy, if the climbs require stick clipping, then help
your buddy out by setting the climb up for them. Don't sit around
eating an apple while your buddy is getting ready to climb only for
the climber to find out they have to set the line, too! This means
move the rope if necessary. Give your pal the best service to help
them focus and have energy for their climb. I'm sure they would do
the same for you.
4. When you are done belaying, pull the rope. Unless you are top
roping, then there is no reason the rope needs to stay hanging. You
were the last one managing it, so pull it. It's simply annoying when
a climber finishes a route and has to worry about pulling the rope
off of a line, sometimes even before they can take off their shoes off.
Remember there may be other people waiting in line for the climb.
5. Just because you are on a mileage day, does not mean your partner
is. Check with them, first, before assuming they will go crag
hopping and potentially forego any possibility for them to climb by
making sure you get your pitches in. Same goes for lapping lines. If
people are in line to climb, respect the queue, find another line to
lap, or wait your turn.
6. Do encourage the climber as they climb. Not only does it let them
know you are 'with them,' it feels good to have encouragement.
7. Do have patience. We've all been there, when we have an agenda
but our climbing partner decides they need to epic on a climb or on
each climb they attempt. Give them their due and they'll return the
favor. Exception, see point #2.
And now for a story about a great belay!
Regardless of all of the above pleasentries that make the
climbing experience flow and enjoyable, the best belayers are those that
inspire with their mad belay skills.
Climbing solo means at times meeting random people,
which leads to jumping on climbs with people whom you've never climbed
with before. I've already ranted on my really disappointing experience,
but here's a gem of a story about a partner who blew me away.
It was at Left Flank on one of the sharp 11's
warmup. I'd met a crew and was paired up with one of their guys, Zach.
The warm ups are a great way to test your belay partner because you have
high confidence in completing the route without falling and therefore,
leaves you open to observing your partner's belay techinques. Zach had
passed or at least not done anything to cause me alarm so I was happy to
continue climbing with him.
On the 2nd warmup, I chose the furthest right route
on the wall. It starts on the ramp to the left and traverses across the
other 2 or 3 climbs before starting upwards. I stick clipped the first
bolt and noted the ramp approach as being a bit sketch. I climbed the
traverse completely the wrong way and, above the first bolt, I fumbled
for good clipping holds. I settled on a sidepull for my left hand.
I placed the draw with my right, then went for the rope. As I was
reaching for the biner to clip the line, the sidepull lip snapped away
under my fingers. It was an 'oh shit' moment where ground potential was
The moment the rock broke out from under my
fingers, I dropped the rope that was in my right hand not quite in the
biner. Zach had heard a crack and saw the rope drop. He must have been
pulling in rope like mad when I came flying off the rock, my fingers no
longer having a perch to hold them. I looked down at the ground, bracing
for impact, when the rope caught and I found myself hovering several
inchesabove the ground. It was an amazing catch and I have to thank
Zach's attentiveness and quick reaction to the situation. That guy can
catch me anytime! And that's what you call a great belay. Thanks,