Mountain Project Logo

A solution for a light-weight belayer and heavy leader while sport climbing


Original Post
John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 582

Since this is a perennial topic, hopefully, this will end up in a FAQ somewhere eventually.

This is the third bungee I've made and used, so I can tell you this: it works.   Both of the first ones I made kept me off the ground when I outweighed my belayer by up to 80lbs and she didn't get hurt either.   (Double-click on image to enlarge)



This year I'm using a 32" heavy duty bungee strap, about $2.50.  That's 5mm accessory cord and 8mm dynamic rope.  There are three O-rings: two to keep the biners from becoming cross-loaded and one to hold up the extra slack so it doesn't get caught on things.   The bungee stretches about 20" before you start worrying about it snapping, so I sized the rope to be 52" measured inside the knots.  

This clips to the back of the belayer's harness through the haul-loop or you can girth-hitch a runner.  The other end goes to any convenient anchor, including those in the gym.   Keeping a bit of slack in the system allows the belayer to move naturally to feed rope, adjust her stance, step away from the wall to see, etc.

When the leader takes a high fall-factor fall and the climbing rope goes taut, in addition to the energy being absorbed by the climbing rope, you get a sequence of events:
1) The belayer gets lifted, absorbing energy
2) The bungee cord gets stretched, absorbing energy
3) The 8mm rope gets stretched, absorbing energy
4) Then everyone comes to a gentle stop without the belayer being smashed into the wall, hitting her head on a roof, flipped upside-down or having her hand and/or belay device jammed into the first clip.

Edit: I hung 50lbs  (a very significant number if your belayer is around 120lbs) from the bungee and it didn't quite engage the 8mm rope.   So a 32" bungee is like gradually adding 50lbs to your belayer.

As always, if any member of your team is caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions.
Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0
John Byrnes wrote: Since this is a perennial topic, hopefully, this will end up in a FAQ somewhere eventually.

This is the third bungee I've made and used, so I can tell you this: it works.   Both of the first ones I made kept me off the ground when I outweighed my belayer by up to 80lbs and she didn't get hurt either.   (Double-click on image to enlarge)

I weigh 200, my wife is 110. We used to use an old back pack with locally sourced weights (rocks or sand) in it, clipped to the middle of a piece of 15' webbing that was attached to her haul loop, and anchored at the other end.  The total length of the webbing would not allow her to be sucked through the first bolt, and the weight in the middle would scrub off most of the energy as she was lifted in the air. Attaching the other end of the webbing is more so the backpack doesn't smack into her after she catches a fall than to prevent her from being lifted.  

She no longer climbs.
John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 582
Buck Rio wrote: I weigh 200, my wife is 110. We used to use an old back pack with locally sourced weights (rocks or sand) in it, clipped to the middle of a piece of 15' webbing that was attached to her haul loop, and anchored at the other end.  The total length of the webbing would not allow her to be sucked through the first bolt, and the weight in the middle would scrub off most of the energy as she was lifted in the air. Attaching the other end of the webbing is more so the backpack doesn't smack into her after she catches a fall than to prevent her from being lifted.  

I've used the rocks-in-the-pack method too.  It's not nearly as good, IMHO.

Edit:  First, you dump out her pack into the mud/cactus/talus/path.  Then you search, find, carry a bunch of rocks to the base of the route and put them in the pack.  All good for the first route.  Now, the second route is 200ft down the cliff.  Do you carry the 50lbs of rocks over there in the pack?  Or dump them out and find new rocks?  If you carry, how do you get all her stuff you dumped on the ground over to the base of the new route?    And do you just leave piles of rocks at the base of every route you do?    And that's only the first few drawbacks...
Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0

Don't like the "attached to haul loop" approach.  More awkward but ultimately safer to attach to belay loop.

Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0
Eric Engberg wrote: Don't like the "attached to haul loop" approach.  More awkward but ultimately safer to attach to belay loop.

We're talking single pitch sport climbing here, not wilderness multi-pitch. The falls aren't going to be gigantic. You can certainly accomplish the same thing using the belay loop.

 It causes less of a cluster-fuck to have it attached to a RATED haul loop in the rear. I personally would not attach anything to a non-rated haul loop other than a chalk bag.

Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0
John Byrnes wrote:

I've used the rocks-in-the-pack method too.  It's not nearly as good, IMHO.

I agree, but I am not nearly as inventive as you. This introduces another piece of shit I need to remember to bring to the crag...doesn't matter now, she quit climbing and all of my current partners are closer to my weight.


I am wondering if you took a piece of tubular webbing and incorporated the rubber inside of it, like an ice ax tether, if it wouldn't look so homemade. You would lose the dynamic nature of the rope, but maybe just beef up the rubber some.
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

I've done wilderness multi pitch and roadside sport. The falls in sport are much longer unless you're doing something wrong.

I'm too skinny to worry about this with my wife but it's a great idea.

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 582
Eric Engberg wrote: Don't like the "attached to haul loop" approach.  More awkward but ultimately safer to attach to belay loop.

If you don't like the haul loop approach, girth hitch a sling to the back of the harness.

Sorry, belay loop is not safer.  If you attach any anchor to the belay loop,  and it's not in the perfect position, it'll cause the belayer to flip upside down and/or "spin" around the rope totally out of control possibly hitting the wall, getting a leg caught in the anchor-webbing, etc.  

Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote: I've done wilderness multi pitch and roadside sport. The falls in sport are much longer unless you're doing something wrong.

I'm too skinny to worry about this with my wife but it's a great idea.

That is a great observation, I don't fall in the backcountry, so all of my sporty falls are longer by definition.  

Anything you can call a fall that I've taken trad climbing was more of a "skid" or a maybe a take with some slack or a slump onto the rope. I find I stay breathing longer doing that.

Redyns · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 80

or just feed them a sandwich.

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 582
Buck Rio wrote:


I am wondering if you took a piece of tubular webbing and incorporated the rubber inside of it, like an ice ax tether, if it wouldn't look so homemade. You would lose the dynamic nature of the rope, but maybe just beef up the rubber some.

Yes, if I had some stretchy tubular material, the bungee and rope would go inside it.   A commercial version would probably look like that, or perhaps even more sophisticated.   However, I just used materials I had around the house and ones that most other climbers would also have on hand.

Bobby Hutton · · Gold Country CA · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 819

Neat Idea, John. I will have to make one for my lighter weight climbing partners.  Having the bungie tacked inside a piece of Tubular webbing does seem like an improvement. Something like what they use on some simulated free fall devices. https://headrushtech.com/quickflight-free-fall/ 

Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0
John Byrnes wrote:

If you don't like the haul loop approach, girth hitch a sling to the back of the harness.

Sorry, belay loop is not safer.  If you attach any anchor to the belay loop,  and it's not in the perfect position, it'll cause the belayer to flip upside down and/or "spin" around the rope totally out of control possibly hitting the wall, getting a leg caught in the anchor-webbing, etc.  

Still disagree - yes you have to stand/sit in a more awkward position  but when you have the tie in on the back of your harness you are going to get ping-ponged back and forth between the yank on the belay loop and the yank in back.  Need to be very conscious of keeping all slack out of the system but that negates the advantages of giving an active belay.  And even after the initial yanking is done you will end up suspended off the ground with 50-100 pounds hanging off the back of your harness.  Try rapping that way.  You don't hang the haul bag off the haul loop when you rap with it do you?

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 582
Eric Engberg wrote:

Still disagree - yes you have to stand/sit in a more awkward position  but when you have the tie in on the back of your harness you are going to get ping-ponged back and forth between the yank on the belay loop and the yank in back.  Need to be very conscious of keeping all slack out of the system but that negates the advantages of giving an active belay.  And even after the initial yanking is done you will end up suspended off the ground with 50-100 pounds hanging off the back of your harness.  Try rapping that way.  You don't hang the haul bag off the haul loop when you rap with it do you?

Eric, I've got quite a bit of experience with this set-up, with three different belayers.  One of which was an AMGA guide who weighed 100lbs.  She had clients up to 250lbs, and she couldn't hold them without an anchor of some sort.  She tried the rocks-in-the pack and still got drug across the ground.  Her legs were a mess of cuts, gashed and bruises.  She hated having the anchor clipped to her belay loop.

So...


1) No "ping-ponging" happens
2) No, you don't need to keep all the slack out of the system, the belayer is free to move around.  Clipping behind also means the anchor, such as a  girth-hitched tree, can be a good distance behind her.    
3) There is no weight suspended off her harness; completely different than rappelling.   (I wouldn't hang the pig off my harness to begin with.)  All she needs to do is lower herself to the ground as she normally would.
4) All three belayers loved this system compared to every other way of doing it.  That alone is good enough for me.

I once tried it myself with a guy of 230lbs, so I know what happens when you clip to the belay loop; you get pulled into the wall, spinning, back-first, and end up suspended upside down facing away from the wall.  The only way to prevent that is to have an anchor in the base of the wall, such as a bolt, and there's a good possibility you'd be smacked into the wall face first, smashing your hands and belay device as well.   Clipping the back of the harness keeps the belayer upright and facing the wall.  Of course, as always, you're free to do whatever you like.

Tradgic Yogurt · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 55

I've done ground tethers, rope belayer to a tree, hang weight bags off end belayer, backpack full of rocks. Eventually you'll stop having belayers willing to deal with belaying you as a leader if you keep using solutions that are on the belayer end of the safety chain. They all fall somewhere from very physically demanding on the belayer to extremely painful. Good luck. 

Colin J · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

Edelrid Ohm? 

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 582
Colin J wrote: Edelrid Ohm? 

I use it a lot in my local gym.    It works fairly well, but has drawbacks for both the climber and belayer, mostly to do with it grabbing when you don't want it to.   My belayers all like the bungee-tether better.

Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0
John Byrnes wrote:

Eric, I've got quite a bit of experience with this set-up, with three different belayers.  One of which was an AMGA guide who weighed 100lbs.  She had clients up to 250lbs, and she couldn't hold them without an anchor of some sort.  She tried the rocks-in-the pack and still got drug across the ground.  Her legs were a mess of cuts, gashed and bruises.  She hated having the anchor clipped to her belay loop.

So...


1) No "ping-ponging" happens
2) No, you don't need to keep all the slack out of the system, the belayer is free to move around.  Clipping behind also means the anchor, such as a  girth-hitched tree, can be a good distance behind her.    
3) There is no weight suspended off her harness; completely different than rappelling.   (I wouldn't hang the pig off my harness to begin with.)  All she needs to do is lower herself to the ground as she normally would.
4) All three belayers loved this system compared to every other way of doing it.  That alone is good enough for me.

I once tried it myself with a guy of 230lbs, so I know what happens when you clip to the belay loop; you get pulled into the wall, spinning, back-first, and end up suspended upside down facing away from the wall.  The only way to prevent that is to have an anchor in the base of the wall, such as a bolt, and there's a good possibility you'd be smacked into the wall face first, smashing your hands and belay device as well.   Clipping the back of the harness keeps the belayer upright and facing the wall.  Of course, as always, you're free to do whatever you like.

As the heavy partner, it behooved me to have the belayer (my wife) safe at all times. A heavy backpack is used to scrub some of the energy off before being caught by the tether. I figured we could get her up to about 150 lbs, I weigh 200. Using the backpack and a springy tether would have been ideal.   

You need to make sure the tether is long enough to let the backpack take the energy without being so long they hit the wall. I also make sure she had her belay gloves on. We never had a GriGri.

The fear based musings are funny. Haul loop is much preferred to gear loop, for the reasons stated above. It's not like I am 1000 lbs. and she was never dumped on her head or anything like that.
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,460

Fat guys must not fall!

But seriously folks, anchor the belay (not the belayor) directly so that weight goes to the ground and not the belayor.

Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0
Tradiban wrote: Fat guys must not fall!

But seriously folks, anchor the belay (not the belayor) directly so that weight goes to the ground and not the belayor.

Lol...I don't climb in a gym   .  That is rarely even possible where I climb, and never convenient. But I agree it would be optimal for making sure you get a hard fall. 

Seriously, I did try this once on a 5.4 route that I could solo to see how it would work. There is a 4 ton boulder I slung, attached a tuber directly to it and then had my wife attached with a locker to the webbing. It isn't great, she couldn't move around and it was harder for her to control the device, since she needed to pay out slack.  For top roping it would work better, where you are keeping the system taut. I fear it may produce an apathetic belayer though, since they are not in the system.  
Jaren Watson · · Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 2,395

Cool idea, John! Thanks for sharing.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
Post a Reply to "A solution for a light-weight belayer and heavy…"

Log In to Reply