Kneeling while belaying the leader


Original Post
delly84 · · Golden, Co · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 154

What is the consensus on belaying the leader from a kneeling position? 

My thought is that it's only really good for protecting the belayer from getting slammed in the head on the first few bolts then it doesn't matter. 

I have heard that because your center of mass is lower the leader will not fall as far which is critical in a decking situation, but that doesn't seem to make sense to me. 

I feel like the distance the leader falls will be a function of how much rope the belayer has out and how much the belayer "jumps up" at the fall and not how close the belayer's center of mass is to the ground. 

It seems like kneeling might be a good idea while the leader is at the first few bolts to protect the belayer but then it seems more advantageous to be standing so the belayer can react to the dynamic situation of the climb (rocks, leader fall, feeding slack, etc). 

Kthx mp, you're the best

Jon Rhoderick · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 850

You are correct.  I would imagine a kneeling belayer will provide a hard catch, if needed  

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Kneeling offers a few (very contextual) advantages:

1. Increases the distance between leader and belayer for the first two bolts. Only really necessary if the climbing is cruxy early on. If risk of falls is low, kneeling really doesn't make a difference.

2. Allows for a soft catch on low bolts. Standing up to absorb the fall impact, rather than hopping, can help to keep the leader's ankles safe from spiking or groundfall.

3. Allows anchored belayers to soften their catch by standing up from the kneeling position, without feeding out additional slack.

In most situations, it really isn't necessary. I find it to be useful occasionally in the gym that I go to, simply because the setters have a bad habit of putting hard climbing right off the deck without good stances for the first few clips. But if that's the case, I generally prefer partners to pre-clip and toprope to the second bolt. For similar situations outdoors, we just stick clip.

Mike Womack · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 1,486

I like to do that only when belaying someone between the first and second bolts if its really cruxy.  I also get very close to the wall and to the left or right depending on the fall zone.  

Abbie R · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 5

Glad to see this question posted - how timely! RE: a kneeling belay, can someone explain it like I'm 5? 

I was watching a few people do this at my gym yesterday and trying to figure out what the point is. It seems like kneeling would provide you with fewer options if your climber falls around the second bolt, for example. Maybe this is because I'm usually lighter than the climbers I'm belaying on lead, but I always sit down and back in my harness when they fall, to take up as much slack as possible, and being in a kneeling position would take away that extra room I have to catch the fall. So, why kneel? 

In terms of protecting the belayer, I understand that to an extent, but if the bolts are stacked directly on top of each other vertically (like they very often are in a gym, esp. at the start of a climb), when your climber falls, you're going to be pulled up pretty much right underneath them anyway, right? I always stand slightly to the side when my climber is clipping the first ~3 bolts, but I've had climbers fall at the second, and we definitely made contact regardless.

Apologies if any of these are dumb questions! Looking forward to replies from those more experienced :)

Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 115

It makes it more difficult to switch positions, and it makes it way more difficult to move closer to the wall to quickly pay out slack.

The COM should not make a difference for the belayer, since the mass of the belayer is what matters.  Sure, kneeling will lower the COM, bringing is slightly closer to your harness, but not by enough to make a difference, and even if it did, what would it matter?

Mike Womack · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 1,486

One of the main reasons why I do kneel (with one knee) is because it's easier to give out slack. Just stand up from the kneel and blam-O!  It's all about personal preference though.

Paul Hutton · · Dirtbaggin' western US · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 701

This is pointless. Forget it. You need to have ground control. If your leader blows an overhead clip low on the route and is at risk of ground fall, you need to be able to take in slack and lunge backwards. I just saw my coworker at the gym we work at catch someone in this situation. He did brilliantly. Just bend at the knees and be ready to jump for a leader that needs a soft catch to fall past a roof that they're climbing above. Rope drag can really hinder a soft catch when the rope is going around corners.

AndrewArroz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

I suppose if you're religious and like to pray for your leader while belaying them this makes sense. Otherwise, forget it.

Eric D · · Gnarnia · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 230

The consensus is that there is zero reason to kneel.  Take a look at any crag of experienced climbers and see how many people are belaying on their knees.

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871

This is silly in most situations.  If there is a chance of leader decking, belayer needs to be able to react lightning fast.  A quick step back or drop to the knees.  Sure, it adds a minute amount of rope to the system, which lessens impact a tiny bit.  But, if you are trying to keep your partner off the deck, more rope means more likely one will deck.  

Standing up to lessen impact????  What?  The impact takes a fraction of a second.  Are you a kangaroo? 

Dropping down to one's knees may be necessary to prevent decking.  This will increase the impact.  But, if decking is the alternative?

But, lowering one's center of mass does nothing to keep a leader off the deck.  

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Standing from kneeling gives a softer catch than reeling in slack and siting in your harness. It's doable, and I've pulled it off many times in the gym and when belaying while anchored on multi pitch climbs.

That being said, kneeling belays have more of a place in the gym than at the crag. I've seen the more injuries in the gym due to hard catches than from decking low on a route.

Most folks who I see giving kneeling belays generally do so unnecessarily or improperly, and are generally inexperienced. I chalk this up to gym lead classes, the same ones that tell folks it's safer to clip at your waist than above your head.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

It won't really make any significant difference. It falls under the same category of people talking about running away when someone falls. Nice thought but unless you start running before they fall you aren't fast enough to make any significant difference in the catch.

If you are laying on your back, standing, kneeling, etc and have to catch an unexpected fall you really won't get much of a difference in the catch. The only way to really make a better catch is to be aware of what you are doing and prepare for the catch before the person falls.

Mike Womack · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 1,486
ViperScale wrote:

It won't really make any significant difference. It falls under the same category of people talking about running away when someone falls. Nice thought but unless you start running before they fall you aren't fast enough to make any significant difference in the catch.

If you are laying on your back, standing, kneeling, etc and have to catch an unexpected fall you really won't get much of a difference in the catch. The only way to really make a better catch is to be aware of what you are doing and prepare for the catch before the person falls.

Word to this

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871
BrianWS wrote:

Standing from kneeling gives a softer catch than reeling in slack and siting in your harness.

True ish.  Nobody is arguing against that.  The kneeling idea proposed above was to reduce chances of decking, not reduce hard catches.

 It's doable, and I've pulled it off many times in the gym and when belaying while anchored on multi pitch climbs.

I highly doubt you accomplished anything meaningful, though you may believe you did.  I'd put 100 bucks that shows you can't with a better than 25% success rate with proper test equipment to show the loads.  There were some tests many years ago regarding jumping to reduce peak loads.  This was with people super alert and trying to accomplish the goal.  The success rate was very low.  It requires near perfect timing.  Not that it can't be done.  It can.  But, from a kneeling position?  No way.  Way to slow to time an event that takes a fraction of a second.  

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053

If I kneel when belaying one of you will have to help me back up......... ;)

Bill C. · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 110

I've caught someone at the first bolt from a kneeling position.

In this case there was some thin climbing right off the first bolt, and the first bolt was pretty low off the deck. When my climber peeled off my first instinct was to keep him off the deck, "soft catches" be damned. The fall pulled me from a kneeling position to a standing position on the tips of my toes and my climber's feet were about 2 feet off the ground. I would suspect that if I was standing he would be looking at some injured ankles at the least.

I feel like this is an instance where the belayer (in this case, me) getting as close to ground as possible could save some ankles/knees. When he reattempted the climb I did the same thing until he got high enough where I felt that standing was more appropriate. 

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790
Greg D wrote:

True ish.  Nobody is arguing against that.  The kneeling idea proposed above was to reduce chances of decking, not reduce hard catches.

I highly doubt you accomplished anything meaningful, though you may believe you did.  I'd put 100 bucks that shows you can't with a better than 25% success rate with proper test equipment to show the loads.  There were some tests many years ago regarding jumping to reduce peak loads.  This was with people super alert and trying to accomplish the goal.  The success rate was very low.  It requires near perfect timing.  Not that it can't be done.  It can.  But, from a kneeling position?  No way.  Way to slow to time an event that takes a fraction of a second.  

So I take it you spike the shit out of your partners in a regular basis. Jumping or standing into a catch is really easy to accomplish. It just takes practice to nail the timing. It makes a huge difference, maybe not in terms of load reduction, but in terms of not spiking your partners into the wall. Simple.

I don't care much for the academic load analyses that people love citing here to back up their shitty belay habits or antiquated belay devices of choice. I've caught and taken thousands of falls on gear, bolts, and in the gym -- I've seen what works and what doesn't, and I've never had a partner injured from hard catches or groundfalls while on my belay.

Josh S · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2011 · Points: 680

As my ole friend Jim always says, the shit apple never falls far from the shit tree.

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871
BrianWS wrote:

So I take it you spike the shit out of your partners in a regular basis. Jumping or standing into a catch is really easy to accomplish. It just takes practice to nail the timing. It makes a huge difference, maybe not in terms of load reduction, but in terms of not spiking your partners into the wall. Simple.

Umm.  No.  Stepping into the fall or giving with the body is quite easy.  I have no problem giving a soft catch, even when I outweigh my partner by 100 lbs.  But, the op was regarding preventing decking.

Ryan Surface · · Kansas City · Joined May 2014 · Points: 375

I kneel when the climber outweighs me by 20-30 lbs and there are hard moves or sketchy clips before the 3rd bolt (20-25ft) is clipped, I almost exclusively use this technique in the gym and I believe it has saved me from getting kicked in the face several times.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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