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Heavy climber, light belayer
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By KaraFinch
Jun 14, 2011

So I'm about 115 lbs and my climbing partner is around 175 lbs. Oftentimes when he falls, I'll get pulled up to the first clip (or to the second, depending on the type of climb), but we've never had a problem past that before; until last night. We were sport climbing in the gym and he was pulling out slack when he slipped. He'd skipped the first clip to prevent me from slamming into the wall if he fell, so when he fell I got pulled up all the way to the second bolt, and when the chaos was over, he had decked. I had caught him, but we assume the weight difference and the angle of the wall lead to the decking. Does anyone have any tips on how to prevent this? We've been thinking of making a weighted vest or a big fattie weight to clip to my harness when he's climbing. Any suggestions would be really helpful. Thanks!


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By Steve0
Jun 14, 2011
Forest fires seen from the top of the Grand. I think they were in the Bridger Teton NF, end of August, 2011.

I can't say I've ever been in this dilemma, but have you tried any kind of ground anchor? I'm sure you gym has them and outside you just have to get creative. I seem to recall that that kind of upward pull anchor is what seems to be stated in most climbing literature (FOTH, etc.) It does ruin your ability to give a dynamic belay and a soft catch. I'm not sure of your weight idea, if you're climbing outside it's a bear to bring along. Maybe leave your pack on when belaying?


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By Kris Holub
From Boulder, Colorado
Jun 14, 2011
Climbing the Ridge Direct Route (Capitol Peak)

KaraFinch wrote:
He'd skipped the first clip to prevent me from slamming into the wall if he fell, so when he fell I got pulled up all the way to the second bolt, and when the chaos was over, he had decked.


There's your problem right there. If he didn't skip that first clip, you would have stopped getting pulled up higher once you reached it. The first clip is as much for the belayer/anchor as it is for the leader. Many gyms have floor anchors or rolling weights you can clip into to resist an upward pull. Clip into those to keep yourself on the ground. If you are outside, build an upward pull anchor to clip into.

Because you are much lighter, it is not necessary to provide an intentionally dynamic belay (it happens as you get lifted off the ground anyway). You can avoid being lifted off the ground by allowing some slack to slip through, but he will fall even further. Pay attention to where you stand while belaying. If he falls, will he pendulum into or land on you? Stand close to the wall/underneath the first bolt/piece of protection so you get pulled up rather than into the wall. Get your feet up and onto the wall like in a lead fall so you don't get dragged along the wall.


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By JonnyGreenlee
From Evergreen, CO
Jun 14, 2011
Delicate Arch, Sturdy Arch.

I've been at the opposite end of this problem, and had a few much lighter buddies get tossed around/thrown into stuff belaying me. An anchor really helps (especially when a climb is not overhung and the belayer would go into the wall instead of just up), as does adding weight in any way and of course good belay technique. If I'm in a group I generally try and have a person within 50lbs of my weight belay me, but that often isn't an option. If I really think I'm going to throw my belayer, I just try to avoid taking whippers.
Maybe try getting up to 175lbs to level the playing field?..


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By KDog
Jun 14, 2011

Kris Holub wrote:
There's your problem right there. If he didn't skip that first clip, you would have stopped getting pulled up higher once you reached it. The first clip is as much for the belayer/anchor as it is for the leader. Many gyms have floor anchors or rolling weights you can clip into to resist an upward pull. Clip into those to keep yourself on the ground. If you are outside, build an upward pull anchor to clip into. Because you are much lighter, it is not necessary to provide an intentionally dynamic belay (it happens as you get lifted off the ground anyway). You can avoid being lifted off the ground by allowing some slack to slip through, but he will fall even further. Pay attention to where you stand while belaying. If he falls, will he pendulum into or land on you? Stand close to the wall/underneath the first bolt/piece of protection so you get pulled up rather than into the wall. Get your feet up and onto the wall like in a lead fall so you don't get dragged along the wall.


+1

I'm the same size as you and my main climbing partner is also about 175lbs. He's taken some huge falls with me belaying, and I'll always go flying! But it's good practice to try and stand as close to the 1st bolt as possible, be attentive with how much slack you have out (not too much but not too little) and always have him clip that 1st bolt. Each situation & climb are different though, but those are at least little things that'll always help :)


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By Brent Apgar
From Out of the Loop
Jun 14, 2011
Me and Spearhead

As a climber that usually outweighs most of my partners, sometimes significantly (by 70lbs) I'll throw in my 2cents.

Ground anchors for the belayer: Overall a bad idea, if your climber really takes a whipper your back and ribs are not going to like the crushing forces generated on you by your harness being pulled between your climber and a fixed ground anchor.

I'll routinely skip the first draw in the gym and/or stick clip the second draw (this applies outside as well). I'm sure you'll get opinions both ways on this. My personal feeling is that it's safer overall to have the belayer get pulled a little further up the route... the rationale being that I've seen climbers dropped after the belayer was slammed into the first draw and then dropped the belay or the biner on the first draw locked out the gri-gri and then the climber decked. This isn't to mention crushed fingers and rope burns that I've seen the belayer receive.

Though Chris is right on w/ his suggestion of being super aware of where you're standing in relation to the first piece of pro. As a lighter belayer the more direct line you can create between the belay and the first piece of pro the less rope you'll have out at any given time.
Just as a heavier partner learns to give a lighter climber a "soft" catch; a lighter climber will learn to leave as little extra rope out as possible so that they can start slowing their climber down as soon as possible in a fall.
The other aspect of where you place yourself as the belayer is the fact that if your climber falls early in the route, especially with only one point of protection between y'all, you're going to have to not only catch them but also deal w/ the fact that the two of you are going to pass each other somewhere along the line and you'll have to protect yourself from being hit.
So aside from the convenience aspect I actually think that for working single pitch routes at your limit (as the heavier climber) a gri-gri is a fantastic tool for a lighter belayer.

I guess that the bottom line is that a lighter climber will never have the advantage of pulling a heavier climber up short and giving them a little harder catch. Of all your ideas IMO the best would be to add some weight to yourself somehow, either a vest or wearing your pack seems like a reasonable solution. That being said, as a heavier climber I'm certainly more critical of just going for it when I'm starting a route and close to the ground. In most gyms I don't feel comfortable going all out until I'm about half way up the wall, the reality is that physics is against the belaying system and the ground is just too close.


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By Eddie Brown
From Tempe, Arizona
Jun 14, 2011

I'm at the opposite end of this spectrum too. I am 170 and my partners range from 110 to 120. We've never had an issue though. I do not like to use ground anchors because it takes too long to set up outside, I have seen belayers “squashed” and “pummeled” because they were anchored, and there are no problems (in my opinion) with the belayer being lifted off the ground. Here are a few things to think about:

•Stay under the bolt instead of 10 feet away from the wall to avoid getting yanked into the wall and losing balance. Standing away from the wall also introduces more line into the system.
•Have your climber clip the first piece so you will only be lifted 10 or so feet max.
•Pay attention to slack in the line because any extra out is gonna make your leader that much closer to the ground.
•If the leader is in ground/ledge fall potential, don’t be afraid to sit or jump off of a ledge while he is falling to take out as much slack as possible before you start to catch the fall. Be aware that this will add force to the system though and may cause a piece to fail if you don't have good pro.

As stated earlier, every climbing situation is different though, so you have to assess each climb differently.


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By Rick Blair
From Denver
Jun 14, 2011
This is a novel auto blocking belay device.  I think it works quite well, depending on rope thickness and sheath quality, it belays very smooth.  Great to lower with.  You gotta love over engineering.  $3 at a gear swap!

Brent Apgar wrote:
Ground anchors for the belayer: Overall a bad idea, if your climber really takes a whipper your back and ribs are not going to like the crushing forces generated on you by your harness being pulled between your climber and a fixed ground anchor.

If you are using the hard points of the harness to tie in how does this happen?


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By Kris Holub
From Boulder, Colorado
Jun 14, 2011
Climbing the Ridge Direct Route (Capitol Peak)

Rick Blair wrote:
If you are using the hard points of the harness to tie in how does this happen?


If you have a full strength haul loop that you clip the ground anchor into and belay off the harness, the opposing forces will tend to squeeze you. If you tie the ground anchor into the belay loop this shouldn't happen - though you do need to be aware of which side the ground anchor and rope are on so you don't get twisted around.


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By JoeValley
Jun 14, 2011

When getting sucked up to the first bolt make sure nothing is getting pinched by the draw on the first bolt. Getting a hand between the belay device and the draw would hurt. Also when using a Gri gri the draw could prevent the Gri gr from engaging. This could result in the leader decking.


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By robb macgregor
From Point of Rocks, MD
Jun 14, 2011
Start of 3rd pitch of Ecstasy at Seneca Rocks, WV

Anchoring is smart if their is a significant weight difference between climber and belayer. Ground anchors should be attached to the belay loop only! The belayer should always be follow the ABC's (anchor, belayer and climber rule) which means to form a straight line between ABC. Never anchor to the back of the harness or you will get crushed and abused by the harness. Use an auto locking device if not anchored, because being slammed into the wall may result in loss of control of the brake strand.


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By Alicia Sokolowski
From Brooklyn, NY
Jun 14, 2011
Hanging out waiting for Die Antwoord to come on stage

My regular partner has about 100 lbs on me, and I generally use ground anchors. I have never caught a lead fall of his from the ground, but I have from a gear anchor at an intermediate belay. I use a plain old atc, and I experienced no rope burn, undue body stress from my harness, or any other negative outcome mentioned in the other posts. I mean, I certainly feel him when he falls, but it is quite manageable.

I have also belayed him without the ground anchor on routes where the direction of pull would be cleanly upward, but I have never had to catch a true fall that way, so I can't really say if it is better or worse.


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By KaraFinch
Jun 14, 2011

Thank you all so much for your comments! Upon reviewing this incident in my mind and with others, I was using the proper belay techniques, ie standing close to the wall, keeping minimal slack out, etc. I was also using a grigri. However, after reading this article
www.thebmc.co.uk/Feature.aspx?id=1547, I think it was my grigri technique that was the problem! I had always been taught when using a grigri that if you want to give out slack quickly you press down the lowering barrel. From this article, this is a no no. Apparently it can prevent the cam inside the grigri from engaging...So from that I figure that since he was pulling rope up when he fell, there was no heavy "force" to lock the cam, and therefore extra rope was pulled out upon falling. He said that just before he decked he felt my catch, leading me to believe extra line had run through before I fully locked the cam. To me that sounds pretty logical. What do you guys think?


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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Jun 14, 2011
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.

And maybe you big, beefy guys should stop falling on your feather-weight belayers, hmmm? It's called climbing, not falling.


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By Mike Best
From Charlotte, NC
Jun 14, 2011
Edge of a Dream

As a climber that weights 215 lbs and frequently climbs with much lighter climbers in the 115-140 lb range I'll offer up the following suggestion. If I'm leading at or near my max I have my partner take their pack (or mine) and throw a couple of rocks in the bottom to add extra weight. Not so much as to actually lock them to the ground, but just enough to lessen the difference, so they don't go on a worse ride than you (and you don't deck). We then clip the pack using a nylon runner to the belay loop on the belayers harness. If we're at the gym, I can just leave my rack and a rope in my pack and that's usually enough. It's a good comprimise between dynamic and static.


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By Derek Schroeder
From Flagstaff, AZ
Jun 14, 2011
Bowling Pin, Bishop CA

I had always been taught when using a grigri that if you want to give out slack quickly you press down the lowering barrel. From this article, this is a no no. Apparently it can prevent the cam inside the grigri from engaging...So from that I figure that since he was pulling rope up when he fell, there was no heavy "force" to lock the cam"

Did you depress the lowering barrel without taking your hand of the brake side of the rope? I think that is the point that your article glazes over. Sure depressing the cam will keep it from engaging if your partners falls at a clip, but you should never remove your hand from the brake side of the rope. petzl has a video illustrating how to safely let out a lot of slack for your partner. I've used their method without failure. You just have to be sure to catch the lip on the grigri with your index finger, and let the rope run through your hands.


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By Keith H. North
From Englewood, CO
Jun 14, 2011
A short M4 climb in the School Room @ Ouray

I learned to belay with a guy twice my weight. Belay with very little slack, and stay directly below the first or second draw respectively. I have never let anyone deck, and almost always have my climbers skip the first draw.


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By ChillFancy
From Chattanooga, TN
Feb 18, 2012
Chilling on a hammock anchored with nuts made from tied rope.

Just an idea.. Use really dynamic rope or even bungee cord for to anchor the lighter climber to the ground. It'd be interesting to watch too, so take a video for youtube.


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By Ksween
From Wakefield, RI
Feb 18, 2012

Kris Holub wrote:
If you have a full strength haul loop that you clip the ground anchor into and belay off the harness, the opposing forces will tend to squeeze you. If you tie the ground anchor into the belay loop this shouldn't happen - though you do need to be aware of which side the ground anchor and rope are on so you don't get twisted around.


I 6'3 and weigh 215 pounds I have several climbing partner that weigh less than 130 pounds that catch me with no problem.

1) they always stand directly below the first piece (bolt/draw)

2) I always have them anchor to the ground, closing the system by tying into the other end of the climbing rope through their normal tie in points and anchoring with a clove hitch.

3) Always have them keep the anchor on the same side as their brake hand to avoid twisting.

The dynamic properties of the rope keep them from being jostled too much and the anchoring keeps them from hitting the carabiner on the first draw which could easily cause hand injuries/ dropping your partner.


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By S. Neoh
Feb 18, 2012

KaraFinch wrote:
However, after reading this article www.thebmc.co.uk/Feature.aspx?id=1547, I think it was my grigri technique that was the problem! I had always been taught when using a grigri that if you want to give out slack quickly you press down the lowering barrel.

Please politely inform those people who have taught you the wrong way to learn the right way to use a Gri Gri, especially before 'educating' others. This is a common mistake that has resulted in several bad accidents in recent years.

JasonJNSmith wrote:
When getting sucked up to the first bolt make sure nothing is getting pinched by the draw on the first bolt. Getting a hand between the belay device and the draw would hurt. Also when using a Gri gri the draw could prevent the Gri gr from engaging. This could result in the leader decking.

This is definitely something to be aware of; I have seen it happen so many times indoors. To the OP, this might have happened to you without you realizing it at the time. Or, as you said, you were holding down the cam as he pulled up rope to clip, resulting in rope running thru the device unchecked before you let go of the cam.

To the OP - If you know you are going to get yanked up as the result of a fall - for the second and third and maybe fourth bolt/piece, ask the leader to clip more at the neck/chest level instead of pulling up a whole armful of rope to clip from far below the draw/biner. This will slightly reduce the amount of slack in the system thereby (maybe) saving him from hitting the deck. Be safe.


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By Rob Gordon
From Hollywood, CA
Feb 18, 2012
Tough Mantle Problem.  Haven't sent yet...

Drink more beer.


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By Tzilla Rapdrilla
Feb 18, 2012

Like everyone said, anchor the belayer to the ground, sling boulders, etc. My 12 year old belays me quite well this way & uses a Gri Gri. It's a lot easier to manage a big load and lower it with a Gri Gri than an ATC. A well trained belayer that doesn't lock the Gri Gri open also gives you more confidence when you're leading with this configuration. Furthermore, the leader should think about their first clip's distance from the ground being how far they're willing to fall before stopping.


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By logan johnson
From West Copper, Co
Feb 19, 2012
Flakey Pull Roof v5

I have read books that recommend a ground anchor for every single climb you do regardless of climbers/belayers weight or type of climb. Prolly overkill to do for every climb,but still really good advice. Not just in situations with a drastic weight difference (strange line of pull, belaying on a ledge or near boulders etc...)
Skipping clips is never a good idea (especially in the gym where other climbers are in close proximity.)
ALWAYS think about the worst case scenario when setting up a belay stance.


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By Lou C
Feb 24, 2012
The view from GT Ledge in the Gunks

I have a similar issue. A person in my group is 95 lbs and I am 175. We have been hooking her to a ground anchor with good success. We hook the anchor into the belay loop so it is almost a direct connection. We anchor to the ground using it's own biner so we do not cross load the biner that holds the belay device. We will be exploring a backpack with rocks when we come to a point where a ground anchor is not possible.
Good luck!


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By fat cow
From Salinas, CA
Feb 24, 2012
perfect seam

Ksween wrote:
2) I always have them anchor to the ground, closing the system by tying into the other end of the climbing rope through their normal tie in points and anchoring with a clove hitch. 3) The dynamic properties of the rope keep them from being jostled too much and the anchoring keeps them from hitting the carabiner on the first draw which could easily cause hand injuries/ dropping your partner.


i cant believe no one had mentioned this yet, tie into the other end and use the rope, its stretchy, gasp!?!?


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By Dr. Rocktopolus
From Chattanooga, TN
Apr 4, 2012
Whipping on the redpoint crux of " The Theater Of Pain " 5.13b Cooks Wall, NC

Im going through this right now because I take decent size falls sometimes ( over 20 feet ) and I have 80 pounds on my belayer. I use the ABC rule and have her anchored to the ground to her belay loop. I have her belay me off of a gri gri. I have her stay static on the anchor at all times. I have often wondered if the forces generated from opposing pull are harmful to her loop. I really dont think it would be, I understand how belay loops are rated and tested. Anybody have any input on this?


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