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Universal Belay Standard
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Apr 12, 2016


Pretty well put together resource. Addresses some of the fruitless discussions I've read here by people losing their minds over slight variants to belay technique that ultimately are plenty safe.

Narration by John Long or am I mistaken?
Nathanael
From Riverside, CA
Joined May 27, 2011
257 points
Apr 12, 2016
Good video. Sounds like Largo. FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Joined Nov 19, 2009
284 points
Apr 12, 2016
On Facebook they say it was narrated by John Long amarius
Joined Feb 23, 2012
23 points
Apr 12, 2016
Careful or you might rekindle the argument about the safety of the shuffle method. jkw
Joined Apr 30, 2015
13 points
Apr 12, 2016
Pretty good video for top rope belaying.

Best method for paying out slack to a leader that complies with these standards:



When paying out slack:
-brake strand stays in brake position at all times
-brake hand has always has a firm grip on brake strand
-fast and easy to execute

One way for a "competent" belayer to drop a climber is bringing the brake strand above a tube device while paying slack to a leader:
earthworksclimbing.blogspot.co...

"A case in point is an accident that happened here on the central coast in 2008. An inexperienced belayer was belaying an experienced climber up a 5.11 sport climb, using a tube-style belay device. Without any warning, the climber fell from a point 60 feet up on the route. At the time of the fall, the belayer was situated with both the guide-hand and the brake-hand out in front of the device (the break hand was NOT in the brake position). As the climber's weight came onto the rope, the belayer's intuition was NOT to pull down on the brake hand, applying friction to the rope and locking the tube-style device. Instead the belayer's intuition was to grip the rope as tightly as possible with both hands in their current orientations (out in front). The belayer gripped the rope and never applied the brake. Miraculously, the belayer arrested the fall after 40 feet of rope fed through the device. Very sadly, the rope did serious damage to both of the belayer's hands (and permanent nerve damage to the belayer's guide-hand)."

It's completely unnecessary to bring the brake strand up for paying out slack, and if you do it necessitates a much larger and less natural/instinctive reaction to stop a fall.

Plus in a surprise fall your hand can quickly get sucked into/against the tube device whether you like it or not, and nothing good is going to happen after that point.

Keep that hand below the device at all times except for briefly when taking in slack.
JKzxcv
Joined Oct 12, 2011
10 points
Apr 12, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: Red Rock
One big red flag in that video is sliding the hand all the way up to the belay device you should never have your hand close to it. I have seen more than one person dropped from an unexpected fall and their hand getting pinched against it causing them to let go. ViperScale
Joined Dec 22, 2013
201 points
Apr 12, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: The traverse out to the Yellow Ridge on the Dogsti...
JKzxcv wrote:
It's completely unnecessary to bring the brake strand up for paying out slack, and if you do it necessitates a much larger and less natural/instinctive reaction to stop a fall. Plus in a surprise fall your hand can quickly get sucked into/against the tube device whether you like it or not, and nothing good is going to happen after that point. Keep that hand below the device at all times except for briefly when taking in slack.


A belayer has to know how to brake. The gym accident occurred to someone who apparently hadn't properly trained their reactions and perhaps kept the brake hand high as in the discredited pinch 'n side method. For such people, who have yet to become competent, keeping the brake hand low is probably a good temporary idea, but they really do need to learn how to react when the brake hand is not low.

Not bringing the brake hand above the device when rapidly pumping slack to the leader for a clip will short-rope the leader much of the time, because some of the time the device is going to lock up, so personally I disagree with the pronouncement about the brake hand having to be low at all times. The point is that you don't keep it high, you pump the slack with a sweeping motion that feeds the device from above and immediately returns the hand to a lower position. Done this way, by the time the leader falls after blowing the clip, the braking hand is already back down where it needs to be.

Learn to do things right rather than instituting faulty procedures that cause other problems in order to compensate for incompetence.

As for the AAC movie, it is pretty good. (I imagine John Long wasn't going to be pressed into narrating the kind of nonsense one reads in the forums about brake hand positions.) I agree that a warning about getting the brake hand pinched is worthwhile, though this would not be so much of a concern if the belayer is wearing gloves, as anyone climbing multipitch outdoors really should. That still leaves the gym and single-pitch climbs, where gloves are very rare indeed.

The biggest problem in this regard is with kids, who will definitely let go if their hands get pinched---I've seen it several times in the gym.
rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Joined Feb 15, 2008
544 points
Apr 12, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: girl40
Sigh. 'Universal' in this context is more like 'lowest common denominator'. I would never belay like that, but the world being what it is today, that's probably as good a message to get out as any. Healyje
From PDX
Joined Jan 31, 2006
225 points
Apr 12, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: Triple Jeopardy starting from 1/3 of the way up.  ...
"Universal standard in American belaying"; sounds wrong when I hear it and looks wrong when I read it. Bill Czajkowski
From Albuquerque, NM
Joined Oct 6, 2008
42 points
Apr 12, 2016
Healyje wrote:
Sigh. 'Universal' in this context is more like 'lowest common denominator'. I would never belay like that, but the world being what it is today, that's probably as good a message to get out as any.


Never?

What aspects of the techniques in the video do you take issue with? Or, in other words, what would a technique for higher common denominators look like from your perspective?
Kent Richards
Joined Jan 10, 2009
81 points
Apr 12, 2016
ViperScale wrote:
One big red flag in that video is sliding the hand all the way up to the belay device you should never have your hand close to it. I have seen more than one person dropped from an unexpected fall and their hand getting pinched against it causing them to let go.

If you're referring to the video in my post then it's kind of an illusion. Realize that when the climbers strand is loaded the belay loop pulls upward, the harness shifts, and the atc moves up in alignment with the loading.

Even though my hand is level with the the slack atc in the video at some points, in an actual loading scenario the atc moves up a few inches inches at least, and there's a good 3-6 inches of brake strand between my brake hand and the device minimum. Even more in reality because I pull my hand down to forcefully lock off. Makes for a great braking angle. Pinching is not a problem.

In any case it's got to be much better to get a slight pinch from the side of the device than to get your hand sucked into/onto the device from above.

rgold wrote:
A belayer has to know how to brake. The gym accident occurred to someone who apparently hadn't properly trained their reactions and perhaps kept the brake hand high as in the discredited pinch 'n side method. For such people, who have yet to become competent, keeping the brake hand low is probably a good temporary idea, but they really do need to learn how to react when the brake hand is not low.

Of course a belayer should know how to react when the brake hand isn't low. One of the first things you should learn in TR belaying where the hand comes above the device. A good lock off is important!

rgold wrote:
Not bringing the brake hand above the device when rapidly pumping slack to the leader for a clip will short-rope the leader much of the time, because some of the time the device is going to lock up, so personally I disagree with the pronouncement about the brake hand having to be low at all times.

My mistake, I should have made it more clear that my post was about paying out slack with a standard tube device (ATC, Reverso, Toucan etc.).

Obviously if you try to pump slack like in my video using a grigri or other device that is not a standard tube, then it isn't going to go to well, and you will likely shortrope your leader.* But with auto assisted devices having the brake hand above the device momentarily isn't nearly as dangerous.

*(There is a safe way to belay with a grigri utilizing my tube technique while not shortroping the leader. I use it for bigass ropes that don't feed well in a gri.)

If you are saying that standard tube devices can "lock up" from pumping slack with a hand below the device, I certainly have never experienced this despite wearing out several ropes while belaying primarily with an ATC and Reverso.

Consequently shortroping hasn't been a problem for me or the partners of mine who use this technique. I personally can't really remember the last time I shortroped someone on a clip with a tube.

rgold wrote:
The point is that you don't keep it high, you pump the slack with a sweeping motion that feeds the device from above and immediately returns the hand to a lower position. Done this way, by the time the leader falls after blowing the clip, the braking hand is already back down where it needs to be.

I appreciate the concept of primarily keeping the brake hand in a lower position.
Myself and others are able to always keep it in a lower position on a tube without any negative consequences, so why not do so?

rgold wrote:
Done this way, by the time the leader falls after blowing the clip, the braking hand is already back down where it needs to be.

Keep in mind you can't always see your climber when giving slack, nor can you always tell when they have enough slack, nor can you always tell when they are done clipping.Plus most people aren't perfectly attentive 100% of the time, including me.


rgold wrote:
Learn to do things right rather than instituting faulty procedures that cause other problems in order to compensate for incompetence.

The only issue you mentioned was feeding slack. Faulty procedure that causes other problems? In terms of usability or safety?

As someone who actually belays and is often belayed like this, I haven't encountered problems with usability (bad feeding for clips, too much energy, etc.) for a tube or gri(special technique with gri).

Safety? Seems to be safer to me and others by critical thinking and some evidence.
Of course teaching belaying like this shouldn't leave out or discourage the concept/action of locking off (braking), and it doesn't have to.

I like gloves for belaying, safer and you can flake the rope really fast without worrying about burning yourself. Also if your rope if rough your hand skin gets less worn down from belaying.
----------------------------------------------------------------
Check out the gal belaying with a tube in this video. Her brake hand is nearly always either level with the horizontal plane of the belay device or above the horizontal plane of the belay device. Perhaps 1/4 of the time or more the brake hand is clearly above the horizontal plane of the belay device, and sometimes it rests above the device doing not doing much for a full second or more.

That is not really my idea of optimal with regard to safety.

I have caught more falls than I could ever remember and feel like I have an ingrained lock off/braking response. However, I'd rather be a bit more conservative and humble about my ability to react in unexpected high speed high pressure situations, rather than falling into this sort of mentality: "Oh look at that noob beginner BS. Good thing I'm so experienced, so much more competent than beginners, and I was birthed to a mongoose lovin cat so my reflexes are instantaneous and completely infallible."

JKzxcv
Joined Oct 12, 2011
10 points
Apr 12, 2016
JKzxcv wrote:
Best method for paying out slack to a leader that complies with these standards: ...Consequently shortroping hasn't been a problem for me or the partners of mine who use this technique.

You statement would've been a bit more convincing if the belayer in the video wasn't feeding the rope in a molasses pace. At least the gal in the second video could feed fast.
reboot
From Westminster, CO
Joined Jul 17, 2006
163 points
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: The traverse out to the Yellow Ridge on the Dogsti...
All I can say is JKzxcv lives in a different world than I do. I've accidentally locked up tube plates and so has everyone I've climbed with. The sweeping hands-above method I described evolved as a solution to the problem, but even so I occasionally have a plate catch.

I agree with reboot that you can keep your hand low if you never have to pump slack fast, but the noobs I climb with sometimes pull up a lot of rope in a hurry, so I'm sticking with my comments.

JKzxcv finishes by characterizing those comments as the egotistical ravings of someone deluded about the speed of their reflexes and ignorant of possibility of error. Another possibility is that the entire hand elevation thing is an example of the misplaced focus on minutiae that has plagued discussions of belay technique forever.

Whose reality is more, um, realistic I'm gonna leave to the reader.
rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Joined Feb 15, 2008
544 points
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: girl40
JKzxcv wrote:
Video


Yes, that conforms to the 'standard' and looks just as awkward.

JKzxcv wrote:
I like gloves for belaying, safer and you can flake the rope really fast without worrying about burning yourself.


Have never used gloves and - if there's anything about your belaying where gloves would make it 'safer' or prevent a burn - then, seriously, you're doing something wrong.
Healyje
From PDX
Joined Jan 31, 2006
225 points
Apr 13, 2016
reboot wrote:
You statement would've been a bit more convincing if the belayer in the video wasn't feeding the rope in a molasses pace. At least the gal in the second video could feed fast.

If you're referring to the video in my first post you should skip to near the end where the belayer feeds out about 10 feet of rope in around 2.5 seconds. I find this to be adequate for clipping.
If the climber leans down, grabs the rope at their feet, and then immediately stands up and yanks the rope to head level then I agree it can be too slow. However I don't think most belayers in general would appreciate that kind of slack pulling without a warning.

If for some reason I had to use a different technique for feeding a clipping climber I would do so for those moments, but it wouldn't change my preference of technique for paying out slack in general. (With a tube)
healyje wrote:
Have never used gloves and - if there's anything about your belaying where gloves would make it 'safer' or prevent a burn - then, seriously, you're doing something wrong.

Hmmm... Makes me think of mongooses and cats.
rgold wrote:
All I can say is JKzxcv lives in a different world than I do. I've accidentally locked up tube plates and so has everyone I've climbed with. The sweeping hands-above method I described evolved as a solution to the problem, but even so I occasionally have a plate catch.

This confuses me. Admittedly the only tube devices I have belayed with are a Reverso, ATC guide, and two other ATC variants, and although I have climbed on about 15-20 different ropes, none of them have been under about 9.5mm.

Perhaps my ropes have been stiffer than yours by some unlikely chance? Or perhaps my hand movement varies in some small way that makes a difference?
I think I will try feeding slack quickly with some soft 8mm cord and see if I have a problem.
rgold wrote:
JKzxcv finishes by characterizing those comments as the egotistical ravings of someone deluded about the speed of their reflexes and ignorant of possibility of error. Another possibility is that the entire hand elevation thing is an example of the misplaced focus on minutiae that has plagued discussions of belay technique forever.

I apologize for coming off that way. From what I've seen on this forum it's pretty clear that you are a climber with exemplary understanding of safety, a pretty incredible amount of experience and knowledge, and the willingness to share this information with others. Still, discourse spreads new thoughts and considerations.
As I said before I appreciate the concept of primarily keeping the brake hand in a lower position, rather than carelessly resting it elevated over the device out of the brake position as many climber do.
While I personally may not consider the tube belay method you describe optimal, I consider it adequate in a practical sense and readily accept such belays from attentive partners who understand belaying.

My bottom line is that belayers are real people, many of whom are not 'competent' in terms of rgolds standards and these sorts of people will continue to belay in the future. And should being 'competent' mean you're allowed to just trust your natural reactions and not worry about it?

Multiple belayers drop their climber on tube devices every year and my point is that its Much harder ( if not impossible)to drop your climber when the device is always in a locked off position and your brake hand is always gripping the rope.

EDIT : edit to remove excessive rambling.
JKzxcv
Joined Oct 12, 2011
10 points
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: girl40
JKzxcv wrote:
Hmmm... Makes me think of mongooses and cats.


No doubt it might make you think of almost anything, but it's a statement of fact and borne of holding way more long and hard falls then most climbers will ever see in a lifetime of climbing.
Healyje
From PDX
Joined Jan 31, 2006
225 points
Apr 13, 2016
I agree with rgold about accidently locking up when required to feed rope out or take in rope too fast. It happens to me and every other climber I know too. I suspect either you do not actually belay the way you believe you belay or you spend all your time on harder routes where the leader is not moving very fast for a sustained period of time.

Optimal conditions for locking up the belay plate include thick, non-dry ropes that are kinky over very easy terrian.

I am relieved that "Universal Belay Standard" includes several methods rather than saying one size fits all.
climber pat
From Las Cruces, NM
Joined Feb 5, 2006
161 points
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: girl40
Belay plates locking up was why spring plates were invented and are still a great way to introduce beginners to atc belaying.



Kent Richards wrote:
Never? What aspects of the techniques in the video do you take issue with? Or, in other words, what would a technique for higher common denominators look like from your perspective?


Never - it's slow, awkward and inefficient. That said, it's a fairly simple way to teach people to belay regardless, and with the explosion of the demographic that necessity would seem unavoidable.

And that goes for the endless back and forth on figure 8 vs bowline and hand up or down as well - the demographic explosion requires the simplest, lowest common denominator techniques which are easily taught, checked and verified. By definition that means requisite skill development and efficiency are not the prime concern or objective and rightfully so.
Healyje
From PDX
Joined Jan 31, 2006
225 points
Apr 13, 2016
Healyje wrote:
Belay plates locking up was why spring plates were invented and are still a great way to introduce beginners to atc belaying. Never - it's slow, awkward and inefficient. That said, it's a fairly simple way to teach people to belay regardless, and with the explosion of the demographic that necessity would seem unavoidable. And that goes for the endless back and forth on figure 8 vs bowline and hand up or down as well - the demographic explosion requires the simplest, lowest common denominator techniques which are easily taught, checked and verified. By definition that means requisite skill development and efficiency are not the prime concern or objective and rightfully so.


So, out of curiosity, how DO you belay? You kind of ignored that part of the question.


Also, not sure if you're intending this, but your posts come off as pretty pretentious.
Brian L.
Joined Feb 19, 2016
81 points
Administrator
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: Me and the offspring walking back to the car after...
Jesus. Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Joined Jul 30, 2011
1,216 points
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: yukon
Brian L. wrote:
So, out of curiosity, how DO you belay? You kind of ignored that part of the question.


You do you know who you are talking to right? He uses a hip belay, of course :)

JK Healy, you have been around the block 1000 times more than I have. I am curious to hear your preferred method of belaying though.
Seth Jones
Joined Feb 17, 2015
39 points
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: Red Rock
JKzxcv wrote:
If you're referring to the video in my post then it's kind of an illusion. Realize that when the climbers strand is loaded the belay loop pulls upward, the harness shifts, and the atc moves up in alignment with the loading.


Didn't even look at yours was referring to the first one.
ViperScale
Joined Dec 22, 2013
201 points
Apr 13, 2016
Healyje wrote:
Never - it's slow, awkward and inefficient.


I now wonder if we're talking about the same thing. I missed the second video and was thinking of the third, with the woman (you can see her technique at ~1:50).
Kent Richards
Joined Jan 10, 2009
81 points
Apr 13, 2016
JKzxcv wrote:
is what happens when a belayer using a standard tube device with their hand above the device is caught unaware by a problematic fall...A clean fall of 10m means the climber is falling downwards around 14m/s...I understand that this kind of fall and bad timing is obscenely rare.

It's not rare, it's impossible with an attentive belayer. To be free falling @ 14m/s means you've been falling for 1.42 seconds. Even if the belayer can't see the climber, they'll start seeing/feeling the rope becoming slack. That's an eternity to adjust the brake hand position (swing it around the hip instead of just below the device, which may not be adequate by itself).
reboot
From Westminster, CO
Joined Jul 17, 2006
163 points
Apr 13, 2016
rgold wrote:
... if the belayer is wearing gloves, as anyone climbing multipitch outdoors really should. That still leaves the gym and single-pitch climbs, where gloves are very rare indeed.


First of all, I would like to thank you for all your comments that I see around here. Very precise, detailed, thoughtful, and accurate.

A wondering about the above statement. "Climbing multipitch outdoors" generally means trad, which most often gives more friction in the rope system than gym and single-pitch (most often sport), where bolts are placed in a straight line. In my experience, this friction tend to reduce the forces on the belayer at a fall. So, in my mind it would be more useful to have gloves on sport and gym lines than an outdoor multi-pitch trad. Is there anything I'm overlooking? Or is there an underlying assumption that belaying "gym and single-pitch climbs" is done with an assist-lock device?
Patrik
Joined Jun 14, 2010
44 points
Apr 13, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: Killis Howard?
Healyje wrote:
Sigh. 'Universal' in this context is more like 'lowest common denominator'. I would never belay like that, but the world being what it is today, that's probably as good a message to get out as any.


Tim Lutz
Joined Aug 9, 2012
43 points


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