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Belaying from above with masterpoint at feet


Original Post
Conway Yao · · Washington, District of Col… · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 47

I was climbing at Otter Cliffs in Acadia last week. The norm here is to build anchors in cracks running along the ground (see Jonathan Steitzer's photo below for an example). Then, the climber is either lowered or rapps to the base and climbs back up on a top belay, with the belayer sitting at the cliff edge to see the climber.

My partner and I were uncomfortable with the situation. The masterpoint is lying at feet level, a few feet away from the edge of the cliff.

Belaying directly off the anchor with a GriGri would lead to horrendous rope drag over the cliff edge, or worse, getting cut on the edge. We didn't have any padding to protect the edge. And we didn't like the GriGri being only an inch or two above the rock-- Petzl specifically warns against possible rock contact due to it defeating the camming action. Under weight, the GriGri would get pinned to the rock. Even if it cammed properly, it'd be difficult to pull the lever to lower because the GriGri would be jammed on the rock.

There's no good series of ledges below the cliff face for the belayer to stand on where he would be below the masterpoint.

I tried an indirect belay while sitting facing outwards from the cliff edge, with my end of the climbing rope clove-hitched to the masterpoint to anchor me in. The GriGri was situated between my legs over the cliff edge, below waist level. Belaying this way is awkward because you have to bend and reach below you to reach the climber and brake strands. Under weight, my leg was pinned by the rope, and I was being pulled downwards and off the edge, which was very uncomfortable. And just like in the direct belay scenario, the GriGri jammed against the rock, which was dangerous both because it could defeat the device, and because it was very difficult to pull the lever.

All of the local guides from Atlantic Climbing School were belaying direct off the anchor with a GriGri at the masterpoint. One guide said that as long as the handle of the GriGri was pointing up, it'd be OK. I guess that solves the problem of the lever being pinned to the rock and preventing lowering, but it still seems risky to have the GriGri basically lying on the rock.

Would a hanging belay over the cliff edge be the best way to do this? That was the conclusion my friend and I reached. That would get the belayer below the cliff edge and the masterpoint. It seemed silly and overkill to do that, though.

Alternatively we could switch to belaying with an ATC-Guide, which won't have the GriGri's rock contact problems.

Julian H · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2017 · Points: 5

Look up some videos of climbing from Scotland they have a lot of sea cliffs there. They belay  of the harness at the edge of the cliff


Glowering · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 5

If top roping rap down and self belay with a minitrax or similar. Setup two ropes and race your friend. Fun.

Rope protectors that wrap around the rope are great. Or make one out of 4 feet of garden hose cut lengthwise held with tape. 

Spencer Ringwood · · Somerville, MA · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 0

Make your tether long enough so you can sit with your legs over the edge and belay with munter from the master point. That way you can pull slack without dragging the rope over the edge, and the Munter allows you to pull in full arm lengths without having to worry about defeating the cam on the Grigri.

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65

Or anchor yourself, sit on the edge, and just belay directly off of your harness. No masterpoint, no redirects. 

Conway Yao · · Washington, District of Col… · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 47
Marc801 C wrote: Or anchor yourself, sit on the edge, and just belay directly off of your harness. No masterpoint, no redirects. 

"Belay directly off of your harness" is also called an "indirect belay", which I described doing above. The problem was that the rope anchoring me to the masterpoint would pin my thigh to the ground once loaded. Under load, it would also pull the belay device downwards into the rock.

Conway Yao · · Washington, District of Col… · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 47
Julian H wrote: Look up some videos of climbing from Scotland they have a lot of sea cliffs there. They belay  of the harness at the edge of the cliff

Nice production quality of the video, but it doesn't address any of the concerns I had. I was belaying off the harness (an indirect belay) while sitting over the edge, facing outwards, connected to the anchor with the climbing rope clove-hitched, just like they are at 4:25 in the video. 


If the second were to fall, the load would pull the belay device downwards, probably to his knees or below. The load would also transfer to the rope running across his left thigh, pinning his left thigh. Both are problems with this setup.
Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Conway Yao wrote:

If the second were to fall, the load would pull the belay device downwards, probably to his knees or below.

Actually, it doesn't, to any great extent. It's a non-issue.

 The load would also transfer to the rope running across his left thigh, pinning his left thigh.

Nope. Look closely - the tie in, belay device, and climber's rope are all to the left of his left thigh, precisely to avoid those issues.
Jon Browher · · Wolfeboro, NH · Joined Jul 2018 · Points: 50

Headed to Acadia next weekend. Would love to see some insights on managing this stance. Unlike most of what you see in NH. Would be using a GriGri. 

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

I think you might be overstating the concerns about the Gri Gri being pinned or rubbing against the rock.  As long as you are treating it as an assisted braking device and managing the brake strand like you would an ATC, and you are able to monitor it's position and movement during the belay, I don't think it is cause for concern.  That being said, in this scenario I would probably sit at the edge with my legs dangling over so I can watch my partner and be comfortable, and then just belay directly off my harness with an ATC.  If you situate yourself with some forethought, you should be able to avoid getting pinned under the rope or running into any issues.

I can think of a caveat - if this is a hard climb and there's going to be a lot of hanging and falling, I might assume the same position but belay using the Gri Gri off my harness, redirected up through the masterpoint.  

Also, be careful how you lower the climber.  You don't want to be lowering directly off your harness with a Gri Gri without some sort of backup or redirect on the brake strand, IMO.  It would be easy for the rope to get away from you if you just crank open the lever.  If using an ATC, I would strongly consider wearing gloves.

Fran M · · Germany · Joined Feb 2019 · Points: 0
Fran M · · Germany · Joined Feb 2019 · Points: 0

Master point to my left, rope around the base of a tree.. The munter hitch is purposely above the edge. Consider rope stretch, the munter brakes in any direction.

Suburban Roadside · · Abovetraffic on Hudson · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 2,104
Conway Yao Wrote:
. . . .  a hanging belay over the cliff edge be the best way to do this? That was the conclusion my friend and I reached. That would get the belayer below the cliff edge and the masterpoint. It seemed silly and overkill to do that, though.

Alternatively we could switch to belaying with an ATC-Guide, which won't have the GriGri's rock contact problems.
Yes this, If you can't find a way to equalize the forces/ direction of pull (by being slightly to one side)
I would extend everything.
The master point/shelf to over the edge, then using  the rope, extend your anchor so that you are set up just under the masterpoint facing the wall, looking down between your legs & the wall with your stance braced feet at shoulder-width apart.
 Either belaying off  the masterP  in guide mode or a "re-direct, equalized between belayer & the anchor, to the GriGri off your belay loop.
JaredG · · Tucson, AZ · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0

I would have belayed off my harness as you did, but with an atc. Just find the most comfortable situation for the ropes. Munter is probably even better. 
Two other options are to move the master point to the edge (use the rope!) or to do a semi-direct (?) belay off your tie-in rope loop. mountainproject.com/forum/t…

m Mobes · · MDI, ME · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 905

Ha ha, guides being risky with customers is hilarious. Once you establish a good belay position there is no way possible for the grigri to flip over. Its the best tool for the cliff. Plus you may notice the edges aren't sharp, some may have even been "comfortized" for the rope

Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,676

My configuration for this is usually to (some repeat of above) ...

  • sit with lower legs dangling over the cliff edge, 
  • my tie in to the masterpoint is snug enough to keep me from being pulled over the cliff edge.
  • ATC is on belay loop with rope to climber running straight down between my legs and so down the cliff face.
Climber weighting the rope seems ok for my fat a$$.

Climber waiting the rope does sort of pin me to the cliff edge. In an emergency, weight can be transferred to master point using common procedures with careful routing of the to-be-loaded strand.  Bring edge padding and configure the master point to be within reach?
David K · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 145
Conway Yao wrote:

Nice production quality of the video, but it doesn't address any of the concerns I had. I was belaying off the harness (an indirect belay) while sitting over the edge, facing outwards, connected to the anchor with the climbing rope clove-hitched, just like they are at 4:25 in the video. 

I use this setup frequently, have caught lots of falls with it. It's often the only way to sit next to the edge and communicate with my climber when I'm using a tree anchor far back from the edge.

If the second were to fall, the load would pull the belay device downwards, probably to his knees or below. The load would also transfer to the rope running across his left thigh, pinning his left thigh. Both are problems with this setup.

I don't think they are problems.

If you're tied into the rope and your belay device is clipped to your belay loop, there's not that much slack in the system that it will drag it to your knees. I've caught quite a few falls this way and never had the rope go close to my knees.

With care you can usually position yourself so that your thigh wouldn't be pinned in a fall, but I've been careless a few times and gotten my leg pinned. It wasn't the end of the world.
Brandon Fields · · Boulder · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 500

I'm partial to building a bomb anchor using the rope, extend the masterpoint over the edge and just do a hanging belay over the cliff edge. It's more fun for me to belay that way anyway. Depending on how it's set up i'll switch between direct and indirect belays in this position, but most often can manage a direct belay. Of course, YGD, but we all know that.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 210

Yeah, clearly that’s the safer option than the dreaded harness belay!

Nick Boccia · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2019 · Points: 0

Your climbing the chimney, which does have a bit if an edge to it so an edge protector is nice. If your at otter you should have one. Your anchor it's nice but you want your matter point or a second matter point within arms reach of you during in the ledge. Stuff you bag under the master point to pick the grigri up when it's loaded and redirect the brake strand to another carabineer for the lower. Unclip it for the belay. Make sure the black with the lever is orientated up. This configuration allows for seamless transition to hauling if need be, but if you end up hauling you done fucked already somewhere.
This is how the spi course in Acadia teaches top rope system management

revans90 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 50
Fran M wrote:

Fuck yeah

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Trad Climbing
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