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Light climber, heavier partner


Original Post
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

This always gets covered from the angle of the light person belaying the refrigerator, but, slow learner that I am sometimes, I only just realized that I need to know more about being on the sharp end of the equation.

I top out at under 135 (likely going down) so, with one notable exception, my partners have all been heavier. Right from the start, I worked out the belay end, and talk to my climbers about it. I'm solid on that end.

The question now, as I start into lead climbing, is this: how serious is a hard catch? Are we talking just not fun, or worse? What should I be asking my burly partners? I've already run into very experienced climbers who are not well informed on heavy/light dynamics, so I need to know.

Does climbing on gear change this, or just (obviously) up the ante? "Don't fall" is about up there with relying on blind good luck as a safety go to for me. Yes, I understand don't fall, and for me, that means careful consideration of mitigating those situations.

Anything else, that a lighter climber should be aware of?

Thanks as always, MP! Immediate feedback and all the point, counterpoint is so much more useful than internet searches could ever be.

Besides, a whole heap of you have been watching my back for awhile now. You know who you are, and I am deeply grateful!

Best, Helen

(Yes, I now have a whopping two sport leads/attempts. Some of you will be pleased to know trad apparently is going to happen concurrently. Surprised the helloutta me!)

pat a · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 10

At the more extreme end, I climb with my 10 year old son a lot, and outweigh him by more than 100lbs (70 vs 175lbs).  The usual "soft catch" techniqes are worthless.

Giving him a soft catch on lead is fairly straightforward.  I can hold 2-3 couple feet of slack in front of the belay device with a gloved hand.  When he falls, it slides through the glove and gives him a nice catch.  Up to about ~100lbs I can provide enough friction with a glove to control the fall and the belay device doesn't even come into play except as a backup.

For climbers in that 100-120lb range I use a regular ATC instead of an assisted braking device.  Goal is to allow some extra rope to slide through the device when they fall.  Hold the brake strand waaaay low on the rope the device and allow some to pull through on the catch.  Again, I wear gloves because anything other than "grab hard and don't let the rope move"  is playing with fire a bit.  Don't want to get your hand pinched in the device, or let the rope slip through your hand, etc.  

At 135lbs you should be fine with a belayer in the <200lb range if they know how to provide a dynamic catch, though.  

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
pat a wrote:

At the more extreme end, I climb with my 10 year old son a lot, and outweigh him by more than 100lbs (70 vs 175lbs).  The usual "soft catch" techniqes are worthless.

Giving him a soft catch on lead is fairly straightforward.  I can hold 2-3 couple feet of slack in front of the belay device with a gloved hand.  When he falls, it slides through the glove and gives him a nice catch.  Up to about ~100lbs I can provide enough friction with a glove to control the fall and the belay device doesn't even come into play except as a backup.

For climbers in that 100-120lb range I use a regular ATC instead of an assisted braking device.  Goal is to allow some extra rope to slide through the device when they fall.  Hold the brake strand waaaay low on the rope the device and allow some to pull through on the catch.  Again, I wear gloves because anything other than "grab hard and don't let the rope move"  is playing with fire a bit.  Don't want to get your hand pinched in the device, or let the rope slip through your hand, etc.  

At 135lbs you should be fine with a belayer in the <200lb range if they know how to provide a dynamic catch, though.  

Wow, sorry! I totally forgot about kids, which is particularly stupid as they are who I am sometimes setting routes for at the gym!

This is helpful, thanks!

Best, Helen

Edit to add: I came across weightlifting gloves for a belay glove for small hands. At a good sporting goods store, I found leather ones, and not very expensive. No fingertips and Velcro closure made the fit great.

S. Neoh · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 0

As a lighter climber, I am acutely aware of the said issue and have been 'slammed' by unaware heavier belayers.  Sometimes they 'sit into' a catch even when there is no danger of a ledge or ground fall.   I do not like that.  

One of my regular climbing partners is 30# lighter than I am, at a shade under 100.  I still use a Gri Gri to lead belay her.  Just with a heightened sense of awareness and ready to do a little skip when she weighs the rope in a fall (that does not happen very often).  I am not good enough to give a sliding catch/belay with an ATC but there are quite a number of people who are.

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

At 135, you should be okay with most average climbers giving you a normal to dynamic belay.

How serious is a hard catch for a lighter climber? Broken bones are definitely possible- I've had friends at your weight receive broken ankles from a hard catch. 

Lena Chita · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

At 105 lb, I'm usually lighter than all my climbing partners. And hard catch, while only "not fun" in most cases, can be a lot more damaging. On overhanging terrain that means getting slammed into the wall, and sometimes legs/knees/ankles snap when that happens... I know people who had been on the receiving end. 

 The worst catch Ive ever had was from a lady who was maybe 125lb. She was a very experienced climber, but used to always being the lighter belayer, and didn't think to change her belay. I had a palm sized bruise on my hip for weeks! 

I do not agree that you need an ATC to combat the issue though. Pretty much all of my partners use a Gri-Gri and provide a perfectly soft catch with it. They do keep more slack in the system, to avoid slamming me into the wall. And then they jump, on top of it. 

The timing of the jump is critical though. Another "memorable" catch, my belayer mistimed the jump and jumped too late, as I was swinging in and reaching to grab the rope. Rope burn on my wrist was the result. 

Lena Chita · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

At 135lb, you are within the range of skinny sport climbing guys, and there is no need to overthink it.  A little extra slack and a hop on their part will get you a soft catch

sadie slocum · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 0

I'm about 120 and one of my regular partners is about 85 lbs.  It's super important to give a soft catch. I leave out a couple extra feet but I also try to give a little hop when she falls, too, so that it's a bit more dynamic. She recently suffered a sprained ankle because her much larger partner gave a really hard catch.  I've seen plenty of children in the gym get slammed into the wall by their well-meaning parent as well. That being said, I don't usually worry at my weight about by male partners but I prefer to climb with other women for a variety of reasons. 

Beware: This advice is NOT applicable to trad. 

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Thanks, all! Having gone airborne routinely (and appropriately) I have had the opportunity to practice that, whether it's a surprise or planned. 

A jump has been on my repetoire for a couple years now, too. For that matter, so has intentionally shorting the rope in a fall. Being aware of pendulum falls has been there from almost the start, unfortunately. Our cliffs locally, ledges and roofs are a constant consideration.

I really appreciate it! Bruises I'm okay with, broken anything I'm not.

Best, Helen

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
sadie slocum wrote:

I'm about 120 and one of my regular partners is about 85 lbs.  It's super important to give a soft catch. I leave out a couple extra feet but I also try to give a little hop when she falls, too, so that it's a bit more dynamic. She recently suffered a sprained ankle because her much larger partner gave a really hard catch.  I've seen plenty of children in the gym get slammed into the wall by their well-meaning parent as well. That being said, I don't usually worry at my weight about by male partners but I prefer to climb with other women for a variety of reasons. 

Beware: This advice is NOT applicable to trad. 

My notable exception to always heavier was a wonderful lady from Malaysia, at the University gym for only the one summer I started there. She used a weight bag for belaying me, and was so happy and proud the day she "beefed up" enough to tip the scales at 100, and they would let her belay without the weight. I still miss her!

So, not applicable to trad, how so? I'm not sure what you were trying to say. Thanks!

OLH

Buddy Smith · · GA · Joined May 2017 · Points: 40

OLH, and I love you by the way, on trad the belay variances are a tad more delicate, because your falls are less likely to be into space, and more likely onto some ankle wrenching ledges that felt so great earlier when you stood there to place gear. Gotta keep em tight. With slack. And watch. And all the other...

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

A good dynamic belay applies to trad just as it does to sport. Plenty of gear lines are on dead vertical or overhanging terrain, which is no different than vert or steep sport climbs. A shorter (harder catch) fall is preferable on low angle terrain with ledges or other outcropping features, but this isn't solely a trad issue - similar terrain happens with sport climbing all the time.

Granted, it's harder to give a soft dynamic catch from a hanging belay than it is when belaying from the ground, but the concept still holds in the correct context. 

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Thanks, guys, much appreciated!

Wasn't there some long debate about slack vs jumping as the rope comes tight? I think the argument was that the former just made the fall longer, the latter softened the catch?

Best, H

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,480
Old lady H wrote:

Thanks, guys, much appreciated!

Wasn't there some long debate about slack vs jumping as the rope comes tight? I think the argument was that the former just made the fall longer, the latter softened the catch?

Best, H

There's always been a debate about that and I don't know why.  If you examine how fall factor works, then the answer that physics gives us is that assuming an anchor is static (heavier belayer that either refuses to "hop" into the fall, or simply doesn't know how, or gets the timing wrong, etc.) falling further will only increase the forces felt on the climber, the protection that holds the fall, and the belayer.  Having been anywhere from 175 to 200 lbs the entirety of my climbing career, and with most partners being smaller and stronger than me (not to mention more bold most times) I've had to become an expert in timing.  This not only requires being super attentive, but also paying attention to things like how the line and rope drag will affect the climber in the event of a fall as well.  It also forces you to really "feel" the belay when trying to pinpoint the timing that often makes the difference between giving a good, soft catch, and spiking your climber.

To those that just shrug it off and say "meh- soft catch, schmoft catch" when referring to a lighter climber/heavier belayer scenario- I assure you it can be done.  I routinely climb with folks marginally to significantly lighter than me, and they prefer my belay because I can and will make every effort to give a soft catch.

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,480
Buddy Smith wrote:

OLH, and I love you by the way, on trad the belay variances are a tad more delicate, because your falls are less likely to be into space, and more likely onto some ankle wrenching ledges that felt so great earlier when you stood there to place gear. 

The type of protection on a route does not define how the belay should be conducted- unless we're referring to marginal gear or runouts- which we're not.  You're assuming that by "trad" people are climbing ledgy, blocky routes.  This is certainly true some of the time, on easier routes, but the same can be said on easy bolt-protected routes.  There are plenty of gear-protected routes that are perfectly vertical and/or overhanging in which a soft catch can and should be performed- especially when small gear is employed.

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,480
sadie slocum wrote:

I'm about 120 and one of my regular partners is about 85 lbs.  It's super important to give a soft catch. I leave out a couple extra feet but I also try to give a little hop when she falls, too, so that it's a bit more dynamic. She recently suffered a sprained ankle because her much larger partner gave a really hard catch.  I've seen plenty of children in the gym get slammed into the wall by their well-meaning parent as well. That being said, I don't usually worry at my weight about by male partners but I prefer to climb with other women for a variety of reasons. 

Beware: This advice is NOT applicable to trad. 

Why not?

S. Neoh · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 0
Old lady H wrote:

Wasn't there some long debate about slack vs jumping as the rope comes tight? I think the argument was that the former just made the fall longer, the latter softened the catch?

BITD, there was the thought that extra slack was 'required' for the execution of a soft catch.  A lot of people fell for that.  It probably came about because everyone noticed that if the belayer takes up all the slack quickly or sits into the catch, the impact is higher than otherwise.  It (lots more slack = soft catch) is now widely viewed as a misconception. 

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
Jake Jones wrote:

There's always been a debate about that and I don't know why.  If you examine how fall factor works, then the answer that physics gives us is that assuming an anchor is static (heavier belayer that either refuses to "hop" into the fall, or simply doesn't know how, or gets the timing wrong, etc.) falling further will only increase the forces felt on the climber, the protection that holds the fall, and the belayer.  Having been anywhere from 175 to 200 lbs the entirety of my climbing career, and with most partners being smaller and stronger than me (not to mention more bold most times) I've had to become an expert in timing.  This not only requires being super attentive, but also paying attention to things like how the line and rope drag will affect the climber in the event of a fall as well.  It also forces you to really "feel" the belay when trying to pinpoint the timing that often makes the difference between giving a good, soft catch, and spiking your climber.

To those that just shrug it off and say "meh- soft catch, schmoft catch" when referring to a lighter climber/heavier belayer scenario- I assure you it can be done.  I routinely climb with folks marginally to significantly lighter than me, and they prefer my belay because I can and will make every effort to give a soft catch.

Thanks, sir!

Other than a roof, or other special circumstances where you might want to lengthen a fall, would most similar weight climbers aim for a hop on a lead fall? I can, and have, but most of the time I'm going airborne anyway and haven't worried about it. Is that good enough?

I'm only starting lead myself, but I've been belaying leaders almost from the start, of course. My son has been my partner most of this time, and it is only very recently that he has beefed up, and I have slimmed down, where he just barely can start to pull on me with his weight. But, we were just hanging from a tree branch trying out our new gear when this happened and almost no rope was out. 

What got this thread going, was a potential partner was concerned I wouldn't be able to catch them in a lead fall, particularly as I don't use a grigri. That's what made me realize I might need to be vetting heavier partners more carefully myself. Up until this, I hadn't been thinking the other way, but I haven't been leading, either, until now.

Thanks! Helen

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
S. Neoh wrote:

BITD, there was the thought that extra slack was 'required' for the execution of a soft catch.  A lot of people fell for that.  It probably came about because everyone noticed that if the belayer takes up all the slack quickly or sits into the catch, the impact is higher than otherwise.  It (lots more slack = soft catch) is now widely viewed as a misconception. 

I usually aim for not much slack, but no noticeable pull on the climber end, unless they want that.  I think having my son on the sharp end made me really pay attention.

We do have a lot of roofs and ledges both here, so paying attention to slack matters. It's actually super fun, to me, belaying when my climber is on something challenging, with a lot of attempts on hard bits. It's a great gift my son has given me also. Much more memorable!

Best, OLH

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 250
S. Neoh wrote:

BITD, there was the thought that extra slack was 'required' for the execution of a soft catch.  A lot of people fell for that.  It probably came about because everyone noticed that if the belayer takes up all the slack quickly or sits into the catch, the impact is higher than otherwise.  It (lots more slack = soft catch) is now widely viewed as a misconception. 

Slack doesn't make the catch "softer", if the measure of softness is the force that is put on your top piece... if anything, extra slack makes that force greater.

But slack does prevent you from swinging into the wall on overhanging routes.

And in common practice, when people (on sport routes) are talking about soft catch, they are not particularly worried about a little extra force that is exerted on the bolt due to there being extra 3 feet of slack in the system. They ARE, however, talking about how the fall feels for them. And on overhanging sport route I would go for extra 10 feet of fall, rather than a rough slam into the wall, 99% of the time.

S. Neoh · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 0
Lena chita wrote:


But slack does prevent you from swinging into the wall on overhanging routes.

And in common practice, when people (on sport routes) are talking about soft catch, they are not particularly worried about a little extra force that is exerted on the bolt due to there being extra 3 feet of slack in the system. They ARE, however, talking about how the fall feels for them. And on overhanging sport route I would go for extra 10 feet of fall, rather than a rough slam into the wall, 99% of the time.

If the belayer end of the rope is anchored to a block, no slack will result in a hard, quick slam into the wall in this case (possibly breaking ankles).  More slack is not likely to result in a noticeable softer catch to the climber but it should cause the pendulum of the climber towards the wall slower and hence more time for the climber to react.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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