Belaying with the obedience of a monk and the vigilance of a gladiator

When I started climbing last May 2016, I took a four week course "just" to learn how to Belay.  Just before I started the course I hooked up with a meetup group of persons whereupon I climbed and belayed.  I had climbed twice before and had been shown how to belay.  I shared this information with the organiser and was duly assigned a safety 3rd person to hold the rope next to me as I belayed - which makes perfect sense.  As I showed myself to belay effectively, I came to belay by myself and concurrently started the course.  

As I went through the course I did wonder why it required 4 times 3 hours to learn how to belay. In fact I expressed this view to the organiser of the meetup group I was a part of at the time - as I did not find belaying difficult, even though I took it seriously.  That evening he sent me a back handed message via messenger taking the view that my statement suggested that I did not take belaying seriously and that I should not return to the group until I had finished my certificate.  I was to say the least incensed given I had effectively belayed up until then.  What is more I consider myself a serious person and and a dexterous one, which is not the case for everyone.  So that was my early experience of warm welcomes to the climbing world - but fair enough! 

Given the above I have myself come to have high expectations of my belay partner as everything I have seen or been taught informs me that it's a responsibly role.  In fact here's a reminder of the basics: and some extracts: 

The ultimate blasphemy in climbing is to break the trust of the climbing partnership and drop our partners. Yet … these accidents happen all the time. And these accidents will continue to happen. This is a reality, but it is not an excuse. This post is my friendly reminder to climbing community that we must continue, every day of our climbing careers, to regard our duties as belayers with the obedience of a monk and the vigilance of a gladiator.

Belaying is the most important, sacred job we have as climbers—yet it’s often the thing you witness climbers treat most casually. Also it’s often true that the more experienced you become as a climber, the more casually you begin to regard your duties as a belayer. After all, you’ve gotten away with years of no incidents or close calls—you must be doing something right. Right?

Yet why is it I see experienced climbers, act as if belaying was a trifle boring or mondane role they had/ve to endure just to get their turn to climb?  

For those who have regular partners I guess they've made what they consider appropriate choices. For those like me who climb with multiple partners and through groups such familiarity is more the exception to the rule. Therefore it falls on the organizer or instigator of the gathering to remind those of the basic and important consigns.  Personally, when I have someone belay, the most important thing is to make me feel they are there as a buddy (as in diving) and that I am the most important person with them. That means making me feel safe and not doing things that make me feel unsafe or that they don't care and/or are neglectful.  And that goes beyond any good/bad/indifferent belying technique but about their "attitude".  

The other day I had some let me down on belay using a standard ATC one handed, while the other was duly waving around while chatting to the young lady next to him.  This is an experienced climber and when I pulled him up on it (having pulled him up in the past for certain casualness) his surprise at being reprimanded resulted in total denial.  What does one do with that kind of response other than stop climbing and leave or continue not really trusting that person any more despite them being an experienced climber. 

More than a few, I feel, seem to act as if you're the thing that has them having to wait at the bottom of a wall patiently until you finish so they can take their turn. As if you were a necessary evil. So they chat, look around, basically do anything their attention deficit disorder may cause them to do.  But hey, they're experienced climbers and I'm let's say not, so who am I to give lessons.  The irony is that you need only look around you at how many experienced climbers simply act in ways which just through caution into the wind and don't set an example for beginners. I wonder how many also did belay courses.  

Personally, when I climb, I am there to climb, and not socialise - that's just me.  Socialising is something I am happy to do afterwards once the climbing is finished, until then I will have my climbing head on which means a degree of focus on my climbing and on the person I am climbing with and the dynamics of that tandem.  Any person external to that is of passing interest that I will not allow in as a welcome distraction, until we're at the bar or we've taken an agreed time out.  

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Interesting article. I do see some lax belaying around and I'm always a little cautious when climbing with someone I've not met before.

You can always hold my ropes :-)

Mmm, irrefutable central tenet rather diluted at the end by over-use of hyperbole?  So how CAN we solve these problems (apart from just walking away...)?

I'm not sure you'd come across any climber who would deny belaying is a crucial task to be carried out as if your own life depended on it (not sure whether I like the association with dogma and slaughter from the monks and gladiators comparison).

I think there are two issues: is the climber is at all times safe, but also does he perceives himself to be (not necessarily the same!).  The second issue is highly personal and as most people know if humans are good at something, it's splitting hairs.

I feel the crux is often, as in all relationships, GOOD COMMUNICATION.  In these days of wall dominated climbing, where you often start off with less knowledge about a new partner than on their dating app profile (not that I'd know), it's important to state your expectations and receive clear confirmation that they're happy with your requests, regardless of what they are if it's important to you.  Engage properly with each other, leave your ego at the door, explain if necessary, be firm and polite and it could be the start of something wonderful ...

It's certainly can be a quandary, people have learned their techniques in many different ways.  One person may like someone who follows a strict belaying "protocol" like they learned in a belaying course, another may feel that approach suggests unfamiliarity with rope and equipment handling and thus inexperience.  I tend to pay most attention to how well developed a person's rope skills are as a strong indicator (subjective!) and once I've been given a smooth lower (also a moment of truth, when sometimes my hand hovers near the lowering strand!) I relax more.

Top-roping belaying (unlike leader belaying, as shown in the video) is relatively simple and pretty much all belayers are happy to accommodate their climber's requests in belaying style.  I've never been asked for anything too outlandish so far ...


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