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How to Hip Belay   

Tagged in: Alpine Climbing, Belaying, Skills
by Christian Santelices
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Move efficiently in the alpine with this device-free technique  

Long before the invention of belay devices, the hip belay provided security for the second and saved time in the mountains. When used correctly, a bomber stance can replace a traditional anchor, or you can back up a marginal anchor with a solid stance. It’s best in lower-angled and broken terrain, where a fall by the second is easily recovered, and there is little danger of a pendulum swing. Proper gear placement or redirection of the rope with natural features (e.g., trees and immovable rocks) by the leader is essential to keep the second from taking a big swing, which could pull the belayer out of position. The biggest benefit of the hip belay is moving methodically and speedily through the alpine and covering more ground. Speed is safety in the mountains.

A good hip belay is all about stance. Brace your feet on something solid and immovable, like a large boulder or natural ledge, that wouldn’t move even if you applied the force of a fall against it. Find a place to sit so your legs are fully extended and your skeletal structure is supporting you—not just your leg muscles. Be sure that you cannot be pulled out of your stance. Use an anchor to improve the stance if you are unsure of your position by placing gear behind you and clipping directly into it. Be aware of your environment: In broken and lower-angled terrain, the rope runs over more rock, which provides more friction for your belay. In steeper terrain, where there is less friction, more weight will be loaded onto you. Possibility of a pendulum swing? Any chance of getting pulled out of position? Take the time to back yourself up with gear, or set up an anchor and use a belay device.

Rock Climbing Photo: How to Hip Belay by Supercorn

How to Hip Belay
by Supercorn
Once you have a solid position, thread the rope around your waist. In a fall, the rope will try to rotate you in the direction of the fall. It’s extremely important that your primary anchored leg is on the same side as the climber’s rope, so that the force of a fall does not rotate you out of position. (Improve your stance by putting your hip against a ledge or other immovable object.) With the climber’s rope running between your hip and the ledge, the force of a fall will rotate your body against the ledge, making your position more solid. Pay attention to how high the rope runs over your body. If it is too high—just below shoulder blades—a fall will lever your upper body forward, pivoting at your hips. This can pull you out of position or pull the rope over your head, leading to disastrous consequences. Don’t be tempted to run the rope over your pack; the correct way is to wrap the rope low, down around your hips and below your pack, if you are wearing one. To protect yourself from rope burn or the rope pinching you, tuck your shirt in and run the rope over the waistbelt of your harness. Keeping your pack on prevents the rope from slipping up higher on your back. With the rope threaded properly, the force of a fall is directly in line with your legs—putting that power and energy into your stance.

Hold the rope with your palms up, and as the climber moves up, pull slack into your body with the guide hand. At the same time, pull slack around and away from your body with the brake hand. Now, reach outside your brake hand with your guide hand so that you can slide your brake hand back into the ready position closer into your body without letting go of the rope. In the case of a fall, extend your brake arm fully down into your lap so that the brake rope wraps over the top of your thigh and your arm is locked off. Keep your legs fully extended and sit up straight. Leaning back too far can allow the rope to slide under your backside.

Note: A standing hip belay is the most unstable form of this technique. The force of a fall could easily pull you off your feet. If you need to stand, brace a foot out in front of you, lean against the rock, and consider using an anchor.

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Comments on How to Hip Belay Add Comment
By rgold
From: Poughkeepsie, NY
Apr 25, 2014
Those of us who grew up with hip belays for all belaying of both leader and second found it useful to clip the rope from belayer to climber into a carabiner that nowadays would be on the belay loop of the harness. This is very important if the hip belay is for the leader, but is useful even if the hip belay is for a second. In this case the carabiner adds a bit of friction by putting a bend in the rope path, and it makes it impossible for the rope to slip down the belayer's butt if the belayer takes or is forced into a position leaning back too far.
By Bradclymber
Jan 1, 2015
Cool but I hope to never do this?
By Robert Hall
From: North Conway, NH
Mar 23, 2015
I would think just about ALL belays should be from a good tie-in. In the Mnts this can often be quickly done with a sling or rope-loop (butterfly or figure-8) around a boulder or a horn (for downward pulls); or one or two "bomber" cams/nuts quickly placed in a "bomber" crack. It is very rare that one can fully anticipate ALL the possible directions of the forces that can act on the belayer, forces which change depending on how and where the fall occurs. A fall that involves the second swinging ("pendulum") is especially hard to control.

And yes, having learned the hip-belay in the 1960's, and demonstrated it throughout the 1970's and into the '80s, I agree with the comment above about adding a biner to the system, especially if belaying a leader. It is too easy lose control of the rope as it flys UP into your armpit, or DOWN by your knees. Should you ever be unfortunate enough to have a leader climb above you, then fall below you with no protection between you, it is nearly impossible to control the belay without said biner.

By AuburnClimber
Jun 5, 2015
I learned to climb in the early 80s using a swami belt and hips belays. I caught a 40-60 foot fall in a hanging belay. It pulled me about 4 feet tight above my bolted anchor and left a nice rash on my back. I was hurt more than my buddy, but he was more shaken up from the fall. I thank God for belay devices:) I still use a hip belay sometimes while top roping with my kids, but I would not use it for lead climbing unless I had too. It is good to know the old school stuff in case you needed too use the techniques.
By Chris Walden
From: Soldotna, Alaska
Jul 20, 2015
If you are going to add a biner to the system just throw in a munter and belay from that...
By Chris N
From: Loveland, Co
Aug 28, 2015
I used the hip belay forever. It really worked great with a carabiner on one side and a quick draw on the other. I took a fall once that would have been a death fall onto a nasty flake but my partner was super quick and reeled the rope in saving my ass (thanks Larry). That would have never happened with an ATC device.
By Craig Childre
From: Lubbock, Texas
Aug 2, 2017
Hip is where it's at... I like to use it to bring up a 2nd. Having just climbed the pitch, it's easy to judge. Typically I use it if I'm confident my 2nd is gonna walk the pitch no problem. I've never used it clipping bolts, perm anchors render the technique pointless.

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