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Ethic on addressing questionable belaying


Original Post
Josh Gates · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

What's the community standard on when you should say something to another climber about questionable (or just bad) belay practices? There's certainly potential for backlash, and everyone has the responsibility to know what they're doing. We're all good with spraying YGD on MP - what about in the real world?

Edit: in a gym, this is pretty easy - just tell the staff and let them deal. Outside, though?  This wasn't as bad as no device (facepalm), but the climber strand was on the bottom, climber-side hand clutching both strands while the brake-side hand came off when pulling in, and lowering was sometimes two hands on the climber side. Not. Good.

Kyle Taylor · · Atlanta Ga · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

If they are belaying poorly definitely not while they're belaying but I would directly after. An example- I saw a dude belaying at the gym without a belay device, period. He was just using his hands(this was top rope). Watching the climber descend down was guy wrenching. The entire gym was quiet and just watched. Granted this isn't bad technique, it's purely incorrect but still. Looking  back idk, perhaps if the climber was experienced he could have stalled and someone could have setup a belay device super quick. Def breaking all the gyms rules.

Tony Monbetsu · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 560
Kyle Taylor wrote:

If they are belaying poorly definitely not while they're belaying but I would directly after. An example- I saw a dude belaying at the gym without a belay device, period. He was just using his hands(this was top rope). Watching the climber descend down was guy wrenching. The entire gym was quiet and just watched. Granted this isn't bad technique, it's purely incorrect but still. Looking  back idk, perhaps if the climber was experienced he could have stalled and someone could have setup a belay device super quick. Def breaking all the gyms rules.


Tell the gym staff in a really bad situation like this. They have training for how to take over so that nobody gets dropped.


Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 350

What's the situation? Other people in a gym? Your potential new partner? Immediate death if the climber falls?

Same old answer, "it depends".

Personally, I am on record that I want to know about it if you think I'm doing anything questionable, suboptimal, or simply not as you would like to be belayed (too tight, too loose, whatever). You can do so without being a jerk. That's how we learn.

But, be prepared for that to go both ways. 

Best, OLH

Chris Fedorczak · · Portland, OR · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 0
Kyle Taylor wrote:

I saw a dude belaying at the gym without a belay device, period. He was just using his hands(this was top rope). 

Wait, what? Like, he was using a hip belay or he was literally just holding onto the rope end over end?! 

hip belay=breaking the rules but not necessarily unsafe for an old-school experienced climber... so maybe just give the staff a heads up if you are concerned. (Edit: I don't know how this would work on TR...)

hand over hands (or some other schnanigans)=stop immediately and throw a belay device onto the brake side of the rope. 


Kyle Taylor · · Atlanta Ga · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0
Chris Fedorczak wrote:

Wait, what? Like, he was using a hip belay or he was literally just holding onto the rope end over end?! 

hip belay=breaking the rules but not necessarily unsafe for an old-school experienced climber... so maybe just give the staff a heads up if you are concerned.

hand over hands (or some other schnanigans)=stop immediately and throw a belay device onto the brake side of the rope. 




Yea dude, just using his hands. It was terrifying. This wasn't someone lighter than him either. Two grown adults.

Chris Fedorczak · · Portland, OR · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 0

Kyle, that's crazy. In that situation, I would have thrown a belay device on the brake side and be prepared for the backlash.

I once saw two kids lead climbing. Belayer had an ATC and would take both hands off the brake strand to page out slack. We said something to them. They said, "Yeah yeah, we do this all the time." We told the staff too. 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 350
Chris Fedorczak wrote:

Kyle, that's crazy. In that situation, I would have thrown a belay device on the brake side and be prepared for the backlash.

I once saw two kids lead climbing. Belayer had an ATC and would take both hands off the brake strand to page out slack. We said something to them. They said, "Yeah yeah, we do this all the time." We told the staff too. 

Wow, yeah! I would have had hold of their rope and been after a belay device pronto myself.

And yelling for a staffer.

Good for you, on the second one. I've done the same.

Hands only in a gym? Even if it's a really little kid, you would still need to not set a hands free example, or give someone who didn't know better a heart attack. Better to be push/pulling the rope through a device than to have someone else copy you without knowing what they were doing.

Best, OLH

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

So...your question is: what are the ethics on letting someone kill themselves and/or their partner?

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

If someone's life is in immediate danger, you should absolutely do something, consequences be damned. 

If it's on the fence, speak up. 

If it's weird, or iffy, or you're not sure, feel free to ask. Maybe you'll learn something. 

Seth Cohen · · Concord, NH · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 50

My usual line in situations like this is the break side of the rope: if at any point during the person's belaying movement, NO hand is on the break side, jump in immediately, grab the break side of the rope, and say something. Because that is rule #1, and absolutely no one should be screwing that up, period. For other rules -- like when exactly to bring the break side back down after pulling in slack on toprope, or something like that -- I just keep a close eye on the belayer in case they do something worse.

So for the situation you mentioned, I would say something. Especially during lowering. If I saw someone lowering with both hands above the device, I would be SPRINTING over to them and grabbing that break hand (which I did once at a gym).

Dustin Stotser · · Springfield, MO · Joined May 2014 · Points: 361
Seth Cohen wrote:

My usual line in situations like this is the break side of the rope: if at any point during the person's belaying movement, NO hand is on the break side, jump in immediately, grab the break side of the rope, and say something. 

Not all belay situations are as cut and dry as you would think.  I have committed the apparent atrocity of taking both hands off the brake strand in order to give slack as fast as I possibly could, hand over hand.  I did so because my partner was in sight and a long way out from his last piece on easy slab moving very quickly.  Had he fallen I would have had more than enough time to grab the brake strand before he loaded the system and pulled rope through the device.  Had I not given slack as quickly as I did, I would very likely have short roped him off his footing causing the above mentioned slab "whipper".  He would not have been pleased.  Would I recommend this type of belay to any climbing team?  No, but it worked for us.  If you were to rush over and grab the brake strand while I was in the middle of this, you'd better hope you are quicker than I am.

Alan Emery · · Lebanon, NH · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 249

I would much rather speak up when I know something is wrong then say nothing and watch someone get hurt, even if they get upset and tell me to take a hike.  Don't let pride get in the way of doing right.

Jason Kim · · Encinitas, CA · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 255
Dustin Stotser wrote:

Not all belay situations are as cut and dry as you would think.  I have committed the apparent atrocity of taking both hands off the brake strand in order to give slack as fast as I possibly could, hand over hand.  I did so because my partner was in sight and a long way out from his last piece on easy slab moving very quickly.  Had he fallen I would have had more than enough time to grab the brake strand before he loaded the system and pulled rope through the device.  Had I not given slack as quickly as I did, I would very likely have short roped him off his footing causing the above mentioned slab "whipper".  He would not have been pleased.  Would I recommend this type of belay to any climbing team?  No, but it worked for us.  If you were to rush over and grab the brake strand while I was in the middle of this, you'd better hope you are quicker than I am.

Your partner in this case was a stupid leader and no you still shouldn't have taken your hand off the brake. This is ridiculous. You're not short roping someone if they are literally running up low angle slab like a moron. You are just partnered with a moron.

baffledsloth · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 5
Dustin Stotser wrote:

Not all belay situations are as cut and dry as you would think.  I have committed the apparent atrocity of taking both hands off the brake strand in order to give slack as fast as I possibly could, hand over hand.  I did so because my partner was in sight and a long way out from his last piece on easy slab moving very quickly.  Had he fallen I would have had more than enough time to grab the brake strand before he loaded the system and pulled rope through the device.  Had I not given slack as quickly as I did, I would very likely have short roped him off his footing causing the above mentioned slab "whipper".  He would not have been pleased.  Would I recommend this type of belay to any climbing team?  No, but it worked for us.  If you were to rush over and grab the brake strand while I was in the middle of this, you'd better hope you are quicker than I am.

whelp here we go... 

Seth Cohen · · Concord, NH · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 50
Dustin Stotser wrote:

Not all belay situations are as cut and dry as you would think.  I have committed the apparent atrocity of taking both hands off the brake strand in order to give slack as fast as I possibly could, hand over hand.  I did so because my partner was in sight and a long way out from his last piece on easy slab moving very quickly.  Had he fallen I would have had more than enough time to grab the brake strand before he loaded the system and pulled rope through the device.  Had I not given slack as quickly as I did, I would very likely have short roped him off his footing causing the above mentioned slab "whipper".  He would not have been pleased.  Would I recommend this type of belay to any climbing team?  No, but it worked for us.  If you were to rush over and grab the brake strand while I was in the middle of this, you'd better hope you are quicker than I am.

Yeah, Dustin, I completely disagree. You absolutely NEVER take your hand off the break side. Like, ever. You might think you'll have time to reach down and grab the break, but you could miss, or trip, or the rope could just start moving earlier than you expect, or a million other things.

If your partner is moving so fast that you can't give slack fast enough, tell him to slow down a little. Or learn better technique for giving slack fast. But again: you NEVER EVER take both hands off the break side. That's how people die.

Jef Anstey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 144
Tony Monbetsu wrote:


Tell the gym staff in a really bad situation like this. They have training for how to take over so that nobody gets dropped.


lol I've never heard of this being a part of training :P

we've prefered to ensure belayers are certified and are supervised after any break of more than 3 months between visits, and or of new belayers

this situation is just straigt up not possible to occur in a responsible facility

let alone the fact that the climber somehow left the ground with this person belaying??

like are safety checks not mandatory...

Robert Michael · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 152
Dustin Stotser wrote:

Not all belay situations are as cut and dry as you would think.  I have committed the apparent atrocity of taking both hands off the brake strand in order to give slack as fast as I possibly could, hand over hand.  I did so because my partner was in sight and a long way out from his last piece on easy slab moving very quickly.  Had he fallen I would have had more than enough time to grab the brake strand before he loaded the system and pulled rope through the device.  Had I not given slack as quickly as I did, I would very likely have short roped him off his footing causing the above mentioned slab "whipper".  He would not have been pleased.  Would I recommend this type of belay to any climbing team?  No, but it worked for us.  If you were to rush over and grab the brake strand while I was in the middle of this, you'd better hope you are quicker than I am.

Maybe we do need a thumbs-down icon here.

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 375
Seth Cohen wrote:

You absolutely NEVER take your hand off the break side. Like, ever. You might think you'll have time to reach down and grab the break, but you could miss, or trip, or the rope could just start moving earlier than you expect, or a million other things.


See, this is the problem with having dogmatic, absolute rules in climbing.  


Some new climber will read this on mountainproject, and then decide it's all right to address their idea of "questionable belaying" when they see someone belaying a climber, who has gone in direct, who takes his brake (not break) hand off a grigri for a couple seconds to do some micro-adjustment.

Tony Monbetsu · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 560
Jef Anstey wrote:

lol I've never heard of this being a part of training :P

we've prefered to ensure belayers are certified and are supervised after any break of more than 3 months between visits, and or of new belayers

this situation is just straigt up not possible to occur in a responsible facility

let alone the fact that the climber somehow left the ground with this person belaying??

like are safety checks not mandatory...

If you spend much time in a gym, you know that preventing stupidity is nearly impossible. All gym workers should know how to perform belay takeovers and what to do in the idiotic situations that people inevitably put themselves in.

Jason Kim · · Encinitas, CA · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 255
Pnelson wrote:

See, this is the problem with having dogmatic, absolute rules in climbing.  


Some new climber will read this on mountainproject, and then decide it's all right to address their idea of "questionable belaying" when they see someone belaying a climber, who has gone in direct, who takes his brake (not break) hand off a grigri for a couple seconds to do some micro-adjustment.

I agree with the general sentiment that there should be no dogmatic or absolute rules in climbing, but this is the one rule that is called for and should be drilled into every climber's brain, especially beginners.  If I'm going in direct for a few seconds at the top of a climb and a beginner is belaying me, I want them to keep me on belay.  In this example, you're concerned that this new climber will learn this dogmatic rule and then harass people at the gym or crag?  I dont really see that happening but even if it does, who cares? The consequences of treating the belay/brake hand as if it's a nuanced issue are far more dire. If anything, it's the lack of a dogmatic approach to this issue that contributes to the frequent deckings that you read about on this forum every few weeks, which is pretty horrifying IMO.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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