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Not all who belay can belay


Original Post
Jon Powell · · LAWRENCEVILLE GEORGIA · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 110

Curious to others thoughts on this subject. I notice lots of post from people looking for partners to climb with both on post and in the partner finder. (I'm on the partner finder by the way) It shocks me how people are willing to climb with people they know nothing about. To be fair I use to be like this. If you will belay you can be my partner for the day. In the last 6 months I have witnessed or heard of about 5 people taking ground falls all of them belayer errors. Everything from taking their hand off the brake end to setting up the device incorrectly. I nearly took a ground fall when someone I meet on the partner finder almost dropped me when I reached the end of the route. I know we can all make mistakes but trusting your life to someone you know nothing about. What procations other than the obvious like checking knots and having good communications of commands do you take to insure your belayer is safe?

Jon Zucco · · Denver, CO · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 245

I usually try to meet people at the gym or crag after I've observed their belay technique, style, and attentiveness. If I meet up with someone I met on MP for the first time, I usually try to have a third person with me for the same observational purpose, or have someone I know and trust vouch for them.

Great topic, btw.

Ryan Nevius · · Estes Park, CO · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 904

I always make sure that my first few routes or pitches with a new partner are soloable. I treat these pitches as solos, while observing their attentiveness, technique, and apparent level of comfort. I have downclimbed (rather than lowering) from a climb due to belayer incompetence.

Jon Powell · · LAWRENCEVILLE GEORGIA · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 110

Good advice from both.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

I think there are about 8 people out of a few hundred members at my gym that I would let belay me on lead. about 20 for a tr belay. the rest I wouldn't let within 20 feet of my rope.

it is staggering to see the amount of people who think that because they have a belay device attached to a rope and are standing in the vicinity of the climb their partner is on that they are giving a good belay. I also find it amazing that people think they can learn everything about belaying in a day or two. I've been learning for over a decade and can still learn how to be a better belay.

I'm with Ryan on my technique for selecting a new partner. if at all possible, I try to climb with people who my primary partners can vouch for. I don't vouch for very many people, so when I do, I mean it.

1Eric Rhicard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 8,255

Everyone is in a big hurry to climb so they quickly teach their friend how to belay. I learned a long time ago and we practiced until we could do it with our eyes closed. I think we spent about 4 hours learning and practicing on the ground before we belayed a climber.

We had instructors watching us the rest of the day. We all lived and we had reliable belayers forever.

Take the time on the ground when you teach people.

Peter Jackson · · Rumney, NH · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 510

I count myself fortunate to live in an area with a lot of locals who are in to climbing with new folks. These days, I mostly climb with people I've met and know already, particularly if they're got a good reputation.

I have met a few folks from Partner Finder,though, and have been pretty lucky. The last couple folks I met are really good belayers and climbers. Generally, I start off on something short, slabby, and easy. My current "Getting to Know You" climb is Fat Man at the main cliff in Rumney.

I think spotting a shaky belay comes with experience. But beyond just the safe technique, there are a couple other points I cover when starting out with a new partner:

1) How much slack does your new partner need to clip? People are different. I usually throw out two armfuls and end up taking a bit back in after the clip, but for one recent partner this short-roped him a couple times (he has long arms). Make this something you pay attention to and adjust on your first route.

2) How soft of a catch do they need? Weight differences matter. Talk about this before you leave the ground.

I always tell my new partners that I expect them to tell me when something isn't the way they need it to be, then I do my best not to be offended when they take me up on it. :)

Jon Powell · · LAWRENCEVILLE GEORGIA · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 110

I have about 2 people I really trust. It is funny how much better I climb when I am not worried about what my belayer is doing. I might send down a watch me bro in the crux but I can make big moves and not have to get distracted with if my belayer is watching or not

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Apparently, a lot of people meet someone on MP for the first time to do multipitch. Never having met them before or seen them belay. Seems very sketchy to me. I'm with those of you that really want to check out a belayer, first. I'll watch their handwork, go a few feet off the ground (on a toprope), verify that they are doing it properly, etc.

I don't care if they know what a "soft catch" is.

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,490

There's also a difference between good belaying and safe belaying. Good belaying involves quite a bit of attentiveness, sometimes discomfort, and anticipation, as well as being able to employ techniques quickly and efficiently.

I know guys that will definitely keep me off the ground and will lower me safely. Then I know guys that will never short rope me, give the softest catches, and seem to somehow be able to read what you're going to say or do next. Never too much slack in the line, and never pulling you off the wall. Ropework is part of belaying too, and is often overlooked. One would think that ropes would be treated better and that stacking and flaking would be important- to correlate with the rope's importance.

Then there's the people that John mentioned, that I will not let anywhere near my rope.

It amazes me the % of climbers that don't view belaying as a necessary skill that needs to be honed as much as various climbing skills. I pride myself on being a great belayer, and it does take lots of practice and work to become really proficient, and stay that way. I might as well be good at something.

Woodchuck ATC · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 3,110

Too many gym trained half assed belayers, with mixed instructions per each gym, and questionable in real rock situation in outdoors. I'd think you need a few HUNDRED hours of good belay practice in all situations over several years of climbing to even consider yourself a true master of the belay, of various belay devices and technique. It's not all about pulling rope two handed through a grigri.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,091

I think there are about 8 people out of a few hundred members at my gym that I would let belay me on lead. about 20 for a tr belay. the rest I wouldn't let within 20 feet of my rope. it is staggering to see the amount of people who think that because they have a belay device attached to a rope and are standing in the vicinity of the climb their partner is on that they are giving a good belay. I also find it amazing that people think they can learn everything about belaying in a day or two. I've been learning for over a decade and can still learn how to be a better belay. I'm with Ryan on my technique for selecting a new partner. if at all possible, I try to climb with people who my primary partners can vouch for. I don't vouch for very many people, so when I do, I mean it.

amen.
Mannamedstan Smith · · Carpinteria, CA · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 35

It amazes me the % of climbers that don't view belaying as a necessary skill that needs to be honed as much as various climbing skills. I pride myself on being a great belayer, and it does take lots of practice and work to become really proficient, and stay that way. I might as well be good at something.

^^^ very true. I partly point the finger at the climbing gyms. I have been certified to lead at gyms across CA, CO, TX and MD. There is a huge variance in what it takes to get the lead card. My experience is that people are done honing their belay skills once they get the card, even if they maybe shouldn't have gotten it in the first place. Somehow a small laminated piece of paper gives a false sense of confidence.

I really like climbing with new people, it's fun, but in the past 3 months I've been shuffling through partners. I guess I'm a belay slut, but three strikes your out (excessive slack, repeated short ropes, or lack of attentiveness). It's my life, I figure it's my responsibility to protect it. My dad's old partner was dropped in the valley by a guy he met at Camp 4 earlier in the day, back in the late 70s. I remind myself of this when I tie in, with someone new.

Kind of on the same note, I don't climb trad with people that overcam gear. That scares me about as bad, and surprisingly this is more common than I've thought.

J. Hickok · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2001 · Points: 585

Some people here are suggesting that they might be able to tell if the person belaying them (on the ground) is doing a good job or not. Chances are you can't really tell if they are being safe or not when you are leading a climb.

Ryan Nevius · · Estes Park, CO · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 904

...people that overcam gear. That scares me about as bad...

Sure it's a pain as a second...but why would it scare you as bad as a poor belay?
Ryan Nevius · · Estes Park, CO · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 904

If you cant teach someone how to belay maybe you should reevaluate your own belay skills.

Deep breath...this thread has nothing to do with teaching people technique; it has to do with evaluating someone who claims with confidence that they can give a good belay. I'm sure most, if not all, of the people replying to the OP would be able to recognize and teach a safe belay.
FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Deep breath...this thread has nothing to do with teaching people technique; it has to do with evaluating someone who claims with confidence that they can give a good belay. I'm sure most, if not all, of the people replying to the OP would be able to recognize and teach a safe belay.

Funny, I was thinking the same thing when I read those comments.
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

Give them a gri and relax.

Jon Zucco · · Denver, CO · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 245

Give them a gri and relax.

I've actually heard of people getting dropped by n00bs using a gri because the belayer thought they should pull the "brake lever thingy" when the climber falls. If you're going to belay, you should know how to belay. If you're going to climb, you should know that your belay is solid (regardless of the device being used).
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

Sarcasm fail?

Jon Zucco · · Denver, CO · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 245

Sarcasm fail?

:( mah bad. I should have checked the moniker before shooting off a reply.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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