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Belaying.... among other things..


Original Post
North Col · · Toronto, CA · Joined Jan 2018 · Points: 0

Hi guys,

This might be a mix of a rant and a question.

Usually when I climb at the gym, and I am belaying, I am using a Grigri. I still treat it as if it is a tube device with no autoblock feature, and always hold the rope in the braking position when not taking in rope. If my climber needs a break, I hold the brake strand down with 2 hands until they are ready to climb again, even though I know 99% of the time the Grigri will catch in the event of a fall. I feel that every belay should be treated this way and the belayer should never take their eyes of their climber, ready to hold a fall or adjust rope as needed to the climber. I figured this was common practice among climbers considering your holding the life of your climber in your hands.

I have found with various partners, and even observing in he gym - not many people take this seriously. I see belayers, and have even seen my own, looking around the gym, looking at the floor, looking anywhere but up at me or their climber.

I wonder why this seems so common? Is it faith in the latest climbing technology like the Grigri that makes some people a bit lax when it comes to belaying? Could it be that the gyms are not enforcing or should I say, actively advising the belayers on the gym floor to watch their climbers?

My main question is, have you encountered this in your climbing career, and have you ever been in a dicey situation caused by a bad belayer?

Thanks guys,

North Col 

Carolina · · Farmington, NC · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 75

North col,

Fantastic observation and questions.  The so called “distracted belaying” technique is common.  Use this technique to distinguish between people you will climb with again in the future and those that are better suited for your other friendly endeavors.

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 806
North Col wrote: Hi guys,

 If my climber needs a break, I hold the brake strand down with 2 hands until they are ready to climb again, even though I know 99% of the time the Grigri will catch in the event of a fall.
If your climber is already hanging, I.e. the rope is weighted and the gri-gri is completely locked, holding with two hands is completely unnecessary. One hand on the brake, lightly, will keep the system locked. And if your climber is leading, two hands on the brake isn’t even realistic, you need one hand to feed the rope out. 


I have found with various partners, and even observing in he gym - not many people take this seriously. I see belayers, and have even seen my own, looking around the gym, looking at the floor, looking anywhere but up at me or their climber.
Pick belayers who have the same attitude as you, ask your belayers to watch you when you climb, ask them not to talk with anyone when belaying, etc. Ssome people may not be your compatible partners because of the different attitude towards safety. 
Having said all that, there are people whom I trust to catch me even if they are looking around and talking to strangers and holding a sandwich in one hand, and there are people whom I barely trust even though they are looking up at me with both hands on the brake. 
As you get more experienced, you will discover that there are a lot of situations when things aren’t textbook. A competent belayer should be able to give a good catch even when the climber is out of sight. When the climber is working on a hard sport climb, they could he up there for an hour or more. The belayer needs to be able to relax and rest when the climber is hanging, and pay close attention when the actual climbing happens. Climber often would go in direct in this case, or the belayer might say, hey, I’m looking down, let me know before you start moving. 

My main question is, have you encountered this in your climbing career, and have you ever been in a dicey situation caused by a bad belayer?
Yes, and yes. One time of an outright incompetence, I was taken off belay midclimb.
I didn’t fall, and have never climbed with this person again.

Couple times of stiff catches, resulting in bruises. 
John Ryan · · Poncha Springs, CO · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 170

 There are many situations and climbs where the belayer will not have eyes on the climber.  Belaying by feel and awareness without having eyes on the climber is a necessary skill. I've climbed and belayed at least hundreds of pitches where the climber was out of sight for some or most of the pitch.  Think roofs, ledges, traverses, and full rope length pitches.   I think most people figure it out when needed but if my belayer thinks he needs to have eyes on me to give a safe belay I would find a different belayer.  Other than that I agree with you on poor/unsafe/lazy belays. 

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
John Ryan wrote:  There are many situations and climbs where the belayer will not have eyes on the climber.  Belaying by feel and awareness without having eyes on the climber is a necessary skill. I've climbed and belayed at least hundreds of pitches where the climber was out of sight for some or most of the pitch.  Think roofs, ledges, traverses, and full rope length pitches.   I think most people figure it out when needed but if my belayer thinks he needs to have eyes on me to give a safe belay I would find a different belayer.  Other than that I agree with you on poor/unsafe/lazy belays. 

When leading (not over a ledge or something where the belayer can't see me), I want my belayer to keep his eyes on me. For me, it's that simple. If you are comfortable with a belayer that doesn't watch you while leading, that's OK, too. For you.

Andy Eiter · · Madison, WI · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 25

I usually assume my belayer isn't looking, so when I get to a spot I think I may fall I'll give em one or more of the following:

"Heads up"
"Watch me"
"May fall"
"DANGER ZONE!"
"I'M GUNNA DIE!"

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 806
FrankPS wrote:

When leading (not over a ledge or something where the belayer can't see me), I want my belayer to keep his eyes on me. For me, it's that simple. If you are comfortable with a belayer that doesn't watch you, that's OK, too. For you.

North Col was specifically talking about holding the rope in both hands and looking up continuously even when the climber is hanging. That is not realistic for any length of time in real life. Watching the climber when the climber is actually leading is something i expect. Watching a climber when s/he is hanging is optional, and I certainly don't expect my belayer to attentively watch we while I hang.

But as with all things that feed into compatibility of two partners, you do you, and find people who will do it with you.

Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,033

I might quibble with the Grigri being called the “latest technology,” but the point of inattentiveness is a good one.

Different climbers have different expectations of belayers. Your expectations will likely evolve with time and you’ll settle into some firm non-negotiable behaviors.

You may encounter potential partners whose feelings are hurt when you won’t let them belay you, but only you get to decide into whose hands you’re going to entrust your life.

Edit to add: if a belayer can watch the rope well, it doesn’t matter to me if their eyes are on me. It’s a rare alpine pitch where this is possible, anyway. I’d rather they practice this on gym/single-pitch climbs before heading to the hills.

Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 490
North Col wrote: Hi guys,

This might be a mix of a rant and a question.

Usually when I climb at the gym, and I am belaying, I am using a Grigri. I still treat it as if it is a tube device with no autoblock feature, and always hold the rope in the braking position when not taking in rope. If my climber needs a break, I hold the brake strand down with 2 hands until they are ready to climb again, even though I know 99% of the time the Grigri will catch in the event of a fall. I feel that every belay should be treated this way and the belayer should never take their eyes of their climber, ready to hold a fall or adjust rope as needed to the climber. I figured this was common practice among climbers considering your holding the life of your climber in your hands.

I have found with various partners, and even observing in he gym - not many people take this seriously. I see belayers, and have even seen my own, looking around the gym, looking at the floor, looking anywhere but up at me or their climber.

I wonder why this seems so common? Is it faith in the latest climbing technology like the Grigri that makes some people a bit lax when it comes to belaying? Could it be that the gyms are not enforcing or should I say, actively advising the belayers on the gym floor to watch their climbers?

My main question is, have you encountered this in your climbing career, and have you ever been in a dicey situation caused by a bad belayer?

Thanks guys,

North Col 

Well yeah! Maybe no-one has told you yet but what you learn (or read from books) as a beginner is specifically aimed at people with no skills, no practice and no technical skills whatsoever. The rest of the world does it differently and sees things differently (as you may have noticed from your Matterhorn belay thread, you were concerned about the belay but I´m betting you didn´t notice that he wasn´t using the plate properly and for sure didn´t notice one leashed tool or wonder where his other one was).

I use  GriGri for both belaying and bolting routes and after maybe 100,000 metres of rapping and jugging on it I´m reasonably confident it locks without me holding the brake strand, most experts feel it is less likely to lock if a belayer is holding it because they can screw it up (the previous owner of an American company manufacturing a similar device once said the safest thing to do if the leader fell was let go  of the device.) The "French" style of belaying with a loop of slack hanging on the ground is far safer than a noob perpetually keeping the lead rope tight and gripping the whole issue to grim death.

Gyms stopped having any relevance to outdoor climbing about twenty years ago.
Cory F · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 25

Ha, an old climbing partner would rarely look at me when I'm leading at a gym.  He had a GriGri....  to say the least, I would take falls on him to "wake him up".  He eventually got better at watching me climb.  (Not recommended)

Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0

I recently got my license and have started to drive by myself.  I always keep both hands on the wheel at 10 and 2PM.  Eyes are always on the road ahead except for an occasional scan of the rear views and gauges.  I always keep 1 car length back of the car in from for every 10mph.  Even at a stop I make sure my foot is firmly on the brake and I am monitoring the surrounding traffic.  I buckle up before starting the engine.  Yet I occasionally observe other drivers driving with one hand, fiddling with their phones and tailgating.  Once I saw a driver without a seatbelt on....

I'm also aware that some people don't floss after every meal.

Welcome to the real world.  You get to choose who you climb with.  The good news is that the accident to the adjacent climbers probably won't impact you.  Unlike the accident to the adjacent car.

Harold Sutton · · Syracuse NY · Joined Jun 2018 · Points: 1

I have full faith in a GriGri locking up on a fall, however this gives no pass to the people i see in the gym acting irresponsible when belaying.  There is one instance i am ok with a Lax belayer with a GriGri..  

That being: If the person demonstrates a higher understanding of the system and therefore making this choice.  

Yes, its "ok" to be a little more lazy with your brake hand when using a GriGri, but in my opinion only if you know what the heck your doing.  I once saw a girl at a gym messing around with her friends on a climb,  she was belaying and was completely off her feet trying to play tag mid air with her climber.  This girl clearly knew the device would lock, however her actions demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the system..  not ok.

Dan Gozdz · · Louisville, CO · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 0
North Col wrote: 
I have found with various partners, and even observing in he gym - not many people take this seriously. I see belayers, and have even seen my own, looking around the gym, looking at the floor, looking anywhere but up at me or their climber.

It depends on the situation. If we're TRing I rarely watch the climber if they're experienced. There aren't significant forces involved. Outside, I'll sit down if I'm TR belaying. My gym frowns upon sitting though. 

Outdoor lead belaying I'll watch the climber as much as is reasonable, which is most of the time that they're in view and actively climbing. Occasionally I'll look down if the rope seems to be twisting or getting tangled. My primary concerns are keeping hands in braking position for unexpected falls and not short roping the leader.

Indoor lead belaying I'll have eyes on while they're actively climbing unless they've gone over the roof on the overhanging wall. This is mostly to provide a softer catch and see when they're clipping. Slack is minimal for the first 3-4 bolts and then I'll start leaving a larger loop out as preventing a clean clip is more likely to create a bad fall than the few extra feet of rope. I don't talk with others while the climber is active. If they're hanging I'll chitchat, look around, take off my shoes if I'm so inclined, etc.
Connor Dobson · · Waterloo, ON · Joined Dec 2017 · Points: 95

Yeah I mean you can tr belay by feel if you have any sense of feeling left in your hands.

Lead belaying can also be done by feel but you should ideally be watching your climber (if possible).

If my partner is running laps on TR, I can def talk and belay, as I would allow my partner to do if it were me climbing. I think you are over reacting.

That being said all that matters is what you are comfortable with. If someone wants me to pay lots of attention to them tring I will.

Let's climb sometime dude. 

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456
Lena chita wrote:

North Col was specifically talking about holding the rope in both hands and looking up continuously even when the climber is hanging. That is not realistic for any length of time in real life.

Really? Hmmm, I'm guessing this limitation must have been discovered shortly after grigris were introduced - startling.
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,455
North Col wrote: Hi guys,

This might be a mix of a rant and a question.

Usually when I climb at the gym, and I am belaying, I am using a Grigri. I still treat it as if it is a tube device with no autoblock feature, and always hold the rope in the braking position when not taking in rope. If my climber needs a break, I hold the brake strand down with 2 hands until they are ready to climb again, even though I know 99% of the time the Grigri will catch in the event of a fall. I feel that every belay should be treated this way and the belayer should never take their eyes of their climber, ready to hold a fall or adjust rope as needed to the climber. I figured this was common practice among climbers considering your holding the life of your climber in your hands.

I have found with various partners, and even observing in he gym - not many people take this seriously. I see belayers, and have even seen my own, looking around the gym, looking at the floor, looking anywhere but up at me or their climber.

I wonder why this seems so common? Is it faith in the latest climbing technology like the Grigri that makes some people a bit lax when it comes to belaying? Could it be that the gyms are not enforcing or should I say, actively advising the belayers on the gym floor to watch their climbers?

My main question is, have you encountered this in your climbing career, and have you ever been in a dicey situation caused by a bad belayer?

Thanks guys,

North Col 

Eyes don't have to be on the climber at all times and it's impossible to expect them to be. As the climber you need to communicate with your belayor if you feel you may fall, most people say "watch me".

As long as thier hands are on the brake side at all times you will be fine.
Gabe Schwartz · · Hope Valley · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 0

I use an ATC and often don't have my eyes on the climber if they are on top rope.  I'm always ready to break and can feel when the fall comes due to the tension in the rope.  Leading is a different story, since belaying is much more dynamic there, and there are actual consequences to a fall.  Lead belaying, my eyes are on the climber as long as I can see him.

Mobes Mobesely · · MDI · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 865
Jim Titt wrote:

Well yeah! Maybe no-one has told you yet but what you learn (or read from books) as a beginner is specifically aimed at people with no skills, no practice and no technical skills whatsoever. The rest of the world does it differently and sees things differently (as you may have noticed from your Matterhorn belay thread, you were concerned about the belay but I´m betting you didn´t notice that he wasn´t using the plate properly and for sure didn´t notice one leashed tool or wonder where his other one was).

I use  GriGri for both belaying and bolting routes and after maybe 100,000 metres of rapping and jugging on it I´m reasonably confident it locks without me holding the brake strand, most experts feel it is less likely to lock if a belayer is holding it because they can screw it up (the previous owner of an American company manufacturing a similar device once said the safest thing to do if the leader fell was let go  of the device.) The "French" style of belaying with a loop of slack hanging on the ground is far safer than a noob perpetually keeping the lead rope tight and gripping the whole issue to grim death.

Gyms stopped having any relevance to outdoor climbing about twenty years ago.

Bearbreeder is having a stroke right now,  nice work

;)
North Col · · Toronto, CA · Joined Jan 2018 · Points: 0
Connor Dobson wrote: Yeah I mean you can tr belay by feel if you have any sense of feeling left in your hands.

Lead belaying can also be done by feel but you should ideally be watching your climber (if possible).

If my partner is running laps on TR, I can def talk and belay, as I would allow my partner to do if it were me climbing. I think you are over reacting.

That being said all that matters is what you are comfortable with. If someone wants me to pay lots of attention to them tring I will.

Let's climb sometime dude. 

Connor im down to climb anytime - your only about an hour and a half away! 

Jeremy R · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 25
Gyms stopped having any relevance to outdoor climbing about twenty years ago. 
Couldn't agree more. It baffles me in my gym that everyone goes to train for climbing and there isn't a single person smoking weed at the base of any of the routes
phylp · · Upland · Joined May 2015 · Points: 617

Many people are careless and/or clueless about belaying these days.  Don't be one of them and don't let your partners be that way.  It is very painful to keep your head cocked back to watch the lead climber, but before belay glasses were invented, people just sucked it up and did it.  Belay glasses are a great tool for the gym and at the sport crags and make the process painless.

As others have said, there are plenty of times outside when the leader is out of sight.  In those cases, I belay by watching the slack in the rope.  Experienced leaders know not to quickly yank the rope up to clip when they are out of sight (or 95% of the time when they are in sight too).

Here's a sight from the gym last week that had me shaking my head:  The young gym employee/instructor was giving a private class on leading and lead belaying and catching falls to a pair of climbers.  They were at the point in the class where one partner was going up on lead and taking lead falls.  Three times, I saw the belayer take her eyes off her leading partner in order to make eye contact with the instructor while he and she were talking. Not just glancing at him and then looking back up, which in itself is not optimal, but full on conversational eye contact. Three times, I did NOT see the instructor tell her that she could talk to someone BUT keep her eyes on her partner at the same time.  Sadly, I see this habit with belayers all the time, inside and outside.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Beginning Climbers
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