"French style" belay


Original Post
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

So I was at the gym the other day and saw what I perceived to be extremely sketchy belaying: the belayer was standing about 5' away from the wall (or more) with a huge loop of slack running about perpendicular to the wall.  This was at the 2nd or 3rd bolt indoors, mind you, so picture where the 1st bolt would be outside.  I pointed it out to a gym employee and asked if they were ok with this, and he said "yeah, he's ok...he's doing the 'French style' of belaying.  They do this all of the time there and it's safe."  I left it at that but am still fairly skeptical...has anyone heard of this as a legit technique?

NegativeK · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 0

I've seen a gym employee stop someone, tell the climber to lower down, and fail the belayer's lead test for that exact reason (standing back, droop of slack, before the fourth gym bolt.) Very likely at the same gym.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

simplyput · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 0

An old adage comes to mind... something about snitches...?

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45
simplyput wrote:

An old adage comes to mind... something about snitches...?

Except in this case, it would be his climber with the stitches...

Hey, I regularly climb with somebody who ties in with a bowline.  I'd agree that a lot of gyms' "safety" policies are bunk, but this one seemed genuinely dangerous...

Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 0

It´s a cliché,  the typical tanned French guy with a 5 day beard smoking Gauloise and chatting to a stunning 18yr old Mediteranean beauty while leaving a loop of slack touching the ground. He can probably climb 5.15 and never took a belay test in his life.

The reality is his buddy is working a 9a which only two Americans could ever climb, short-roping is shit, letting his partner fall an extra 3m is called incentivising and most important the French worked out years ago that holding the live rope tight with a GriGri is  guarantee that you will drop your partner one day. Being European I also don´t my belayer to be perpetually keeping the rope tight, I´ll accept the extra fall in preference to some dickhead always stopping me moving or clipping.

phylp · · Upland · Joined May 2015 · Points: 115

I have heard the phrase "french technique" about belaying but not referring to what you witnessed.  According to what some gym employee once told me, a belay where you never take your belay hand off the rope, but you do loosen it slightly and slide it up the rope, is called "french technique.  This is different than what the gym taught as the "proper" way to belay,  which is to do a two-handed gripping the rope technique, with one hand kind of leapfrogging over the other, so that there is always a hand gripping tightly on the belay side.

I will use the latter technique in a gym if they insist on it, but I have been belaying with the so-called "french technique" for close to 40 years, have caught plenty of falls and have never had rope slippage or loss of control over a rope at any time.

What you witnessed in the gym could have just been a "bad belay".  If that person had fallen at just that moment, they might have hit the ground, due to excess rope out at the wrong time and rope stretch.  Once the climber gets up a little higher, it is usually not an issue, and can be preferred. When I'm climbing, I ask my belayer to stay close and have very little slack for the first three bolts, then, they can move back and have more slack.

Eric Fjellanger · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2008 · Points: 830

Seriously, do we have to out ourselves as total internet climbing poseurs in stupid threads 5 times a day?

J. Albers · · Colorado · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 1,228
Jim Titt wrote:

It´s a cliché,  the typical tanned French guy with a 5 day beard smoking Gauloise and chatting to a stunning 18yr old Mediteranean beauty while leaving a loop of slack touching the ground. He can probably climb 5.15 and never took a belay test in his life.

The reality is his buddy is working a 9a which only two Americans could ever climb, short-roping is shit, letting his partner fall an extra 3m is called incentivising and most important the French worked out years ago that holding the live rope tight with a GriGri is  guarantee that you will drop your partner one day. Being European I also don´t my belayer to be perpetually keeping the rope tight, I´ll accept the extra fall in preference to some dickhead always stopping me moving or clipping.

Oh for f*cks sake Jim. You almost always have super useful stuff to say, but your above post is a gigantic pile of steamy, oversimplified horsesh*t (I'm guessing you had your tongue in your cheek as you wrote it, but still...). 

To the OP: Short roping your partner because you are keeping too taught a line versus leaving a 30 foot pile of rope on the ground all while smoking a cig and aimlessly yelling "alle!" are on opposite ends of the sh*tty belayer spectrum. Both can lead to annoyance and the leader getting hurt. That said, the "classical French" belay style is garbage and has the very real potential of decking your climber when they are close to the ground when/if they fall. And since the whole gym environment is close to the ground then a big loop is careless and counts as sh*tty and dangerous belaying. If the belayer had a big ass loop draped across the ground and you can add up the amount of slack in the system and it equals the climber hitting the ground when they fall, then well, if they fall, chances are they are going to hit the ground because the belayer simply won't be able to take in slack quick enough to change that fact. (Jim's comment that its "okay" only applies when you are 70 feet up some overhanging bullet limestone cliff at a cool kid sporto crag in the south of France.) 

But guess what...gym employees are typically clueless so don't expect safety enforcement in any real or rationally applied manner. So your best bet is to stay away from idiots at the gym, which includes both not letting them belay you and giving them a wide berth when they belay so that when they do drop their climber to the deck then at least you don't get hit by their falling corpse-y the clown leader. Make sense?

Christian · · Casa do Cacete · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 915

But you look so much cooler belaying French style...

Priorities, people!

caughtinside · · Oakland CA · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,415

Also called a "sport loop" but you shouldn't run one close to the ground.

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 240
Ted Pinson wrote:

So I was at the gym the other day and saw what I perceived to be extremely sketchy belaying: the belayer was standing about 5' away from the wall (or more) with a huge loop of slack running about perpendicular to the wall.  This was at the 2nd or 3rd bolt indoors, mind you, so picture where the 1st bolt would be outside.  I pointed it out to a gym employee and asked if they were ok with this, and he said "yeah, he's ok...he's doing the 'French style' of belaying.  They do this all of the time there and it's safe."  I left it at that but am still fairly skeptical...has anyone heard of this as a legit technique?

I have to say, the terms "huge slack" and the rope "running about perpendicular to the wall" do not simultaneously make sense to me. 

A huge slack would have to be more like a loop of rope on the ground. Rope running perpendicular to the wall sounds more like a reasonable amount of slack... though not at the 2nd/3rd bolt. if the climber were higher up, and the route was overhanging, I would say that it was an absolutely correct way to belay. Being lightweight, I would much rather have my heavier belayer have a loop of slack on overhanging route, than get slammed into the wall.

I am assuming that the gym employee doesn't want to see an accident, because that comes with a huge amount of paperwork and headache, and at all the gyms I've ever been to the employees usually erred on the side of more caution, not less...  so if he wasn't concerned... Maybe he knew the climber/belayer and knew the chance of that climber falling on that particular route at 2nd bolt was miniscule, and if he did, it would be no different than a bouldering fall on padded floors?

Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 0
J. Albers wrote:

Oh for f*cks sake Jim. You almost always have super useful stuff to say, but your above post is a gigantic pile of steamy, oversimplified horsesh*t (I'm guessing you had your tongue in your cheek as you wrote it, but still...). 

To the OP: Short roping your partner because you are keeping too taught a line versus leaving a 30 foot pile of rope on the ground all while smoking a cig and aimlessly yelling "alle!" are on opposite ends of the sh*tty belayer spectrum. Both can lead to annoyance and the leader getting hurt. That said, the "classical French" belay style is garbage and has the very real potential of decking your climber when they are close to the ground when/if they fall. And since the whole gym environment is close to the ground then a big loop is careless and counts as sh*tty and dangerous belaying. If the belayer had a big ass loop draped across the ground and you can add up the amount of slack in the system and it equals the climber hitting the ground when they fall, then well, if they fall, chances are they are going to hit the ground because the belayer simply won't be able to take in slack quick enough to change that fact. (Jim's comment that its "okay" only applies when you are 70 feet up some overhanging bullet limestone cliff at a cool kid sporto crag in the south of France.) 

But guess what...gym employees are typically clueless so don't expect safety enforcement in any real or rationally applied manner. So your best bet is to stay away from idiots at the gym, which includes both not letting them belay you and giving them a wide berth when they belay so that when they do drop their climber to the deck then at least you don't get hit by their falling corpse-y the clown leader. Make sense?

Turned your humor detector off by any chance?

J. Albers · · Colorado · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 1,228
Jim Titt wrote:

Turned your humor detector off by any chance?

Hard to have humor when you're lorded over by a big orange colored monster with a twitter rage problem...but I digress. I figured you were being humorous and that's why I mentioned that I you likely wrote your post "tongue-in-cheek", but perhaps that colloquialism was lost in translation. :)

Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 0
J. Albers wrote:

Hard to have humor when you're lorded over by a big orange colored monster with a twitter rage problem...but I digress. I figured you were being humorous and that's why I mentioned that I you likely wrote your post "tongue-in-cheek", but perhaps that colloquialism was lost in translation. :)

Ha! I even spelt humour wrongly especially for you!

BigNobody · · all over, mostly Utah · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 0

Oh how I didn't miss J Albers dry ass sense of Humour.

Climb Germany · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 2,485

That belay doesnt sound bad necessarily. Depends a bit on the route and the climber too. Yeah if it's some rando I'd flag it, but standing 5 feet or so back is pretty common. Perhaps a little too much slack in your scenario but if it was already the 3rd bolt, not necessarily a uge deal. Again, sorta depends on how hard the climb is, how good the climber is etc.

J. Albers · · Colorado · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 1,228
Jim Titt wrote:

Ha! I even spelt humour wrongly especially for you!

Ha ha, well I guess even cynical jerks like me who can hardly speak without layers of sarcasm can miss the obvious fun hearted poke once in a while. :) 

Cheers.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120
Jim Titt wrote:

Ha! I even spelt humour wrongly especially for you!

Based on the use of the word spelt, I am suspicious Mr. Titt is a cereal prankster.

Adrien G. · · Fontainebleau, France · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 0

Frankly I don't see what the fuss is about, in fact as I'm typing this there's a 10m loop of slack hanging at the base of this sick line in Céüse while my climber is about to skip his third bolt, allez gars.

Russ Keane · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 90

Leaders who want the rope kept tight are planning to hang-dog at each bolt.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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