Posts Tagged ‘belaying’

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Some useful tips on belaying

May 11, 2009

The other day I did an article on stupid mistakes to avoid when abseiling – today it’s belaying’s turn… With extreme sports such as rock climbing, there are so many things that can go wrong, so it is worth reminding oneself from time to time of some of the basic most logical rules which are all too easy to forget, or neglect to do, in your haste to get up there.

This article will be a bit like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs to some of you, but bear with me… it never hurts to be reminded of a thing or two.

Belaying is, of course, the technique of controlling the rope so that a falling climber does not fall very far. The term belay is also used to mean the place where the belayer is anchored; this would typically be a ledge, but may instead be a hanging belay, where the belayer is suspended from anchors in the rock. Control of the rope is achieved through applying friction, which allows control of the speed at which the rope slides past the belayer.

It is one of the most important of the climbing skills and is absolutely essential to all climbers.

So, enough about what belaying actually is. What are the mistakes to avoid?

  • Always pay attention to your climbing partner, and I mean ALWAYS
  • Always double check your harness buckles are double passed
  • Check the tie-in knot is properly tied
  • Check the belay device is properly rigged
  • Check that the locking carabiner is locked
  • Check the anchor set-up and tie-ins are rigged correctly
  • Check that the free end of the rope is knotted or tied into the belayer
  • NEVER take your brake hand off the rope – and don’t hold any other strand other than the brake strand in your brake hand. Thanks to teachmetoclimb for this video.
  • Always keep the rope taut when belaying someone – do not let it pass through the belay device while lowering someone. Tie a stopper knot in the end, or even better, get your belayer to tie in to the end.
  • Get acknowledgement before taking someone off belay. Don’t rush into things. Always get confirmation when taking someone off belay or committing to being lowered.
  • Stand close to the cliff when belaying. Put a helmet on if you’re worried about rock fall. If you are belaying from too far out from the cliff the leader could be slammed into the wall during a fall.
  • Forcing your panicked leader to take a fall because, down at the belay, you allowed a knot to creep into the slack rope. Flake the rope out before beginning belay duty, even if it looks neatly coiled.
  • Getting hit by loose rock or items dropped by your leader. Wear a helmet. Even something as simple as the movement of the rope above you can cause loose rock to come crashing down.

Then of course, there are the terms that are used between the leader and belayer, thank you to expertvillage for their simple but excellent short video.

Remember: “a bad anchor is a dead climber”. That’s a saying worth remembering wouldn’t you say?! And another thing worth remembering is that learning to belay is one of the most fundamental links to successful climbing, so learn it well, learn it right, and never never rush it.

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Mistakes to avoid when abseiling

April 27, 2009

Several months ago I did a couple of articles on abseiling, and imparted the little known fact (to me at the time) that most climbing accidents occur when abseiling.

Don't rap off the end of your ropes!

Having shinned up a few faces myself, it’s the abseiling bit that I’ve always loved and probably treated rather cavalierly as a result. Fortunately for me, I have always climbed with people who know what they’re doing, and it’s probably entirely due to them that I am still here happily tapping keys, and not crumbled up in a heap at the bottom of some face!

I love that feeling of almost floating down the face, bouncing off the wall with your feet and descending in whoops and swings. Actually, I can’t sufficiently describe it – better get back out there for another go and come back and describe it accurately! I can imagine that lovely sensation – but can’t put it in words…

There, you see, I take abseiling too lightly. Having begun this Blog, and learnt so many things I didn’t know before, I thought it would be an idea to highlight some of the mistakes you can avoid when abseiling.

A certain amount of abseil paranoia is healthy as it leads to a methodical and thorough checking process, which leaves nothing to chance. This is what keeps you alive in dangerous situations.

  • And the obvious one is to make sure your rope is long enough! Sounds utterly stupid that doesn’t it, but it is such an elementary error that has been known to happen again and again and again…
  • Avoid distractions when you are setting up the abseil. Check, check and check again: anchor, rope through anchor, knot, rope in device, device attached to harness, krab screwgate done up, harness done up…
  • Rapping off the end of your rope. Tie stopper knots in each end. Check they make the ground or next anchors if possible. This avoidable mistake still manages to take the lives of even experienced climbers.
  • Rapping off a single piece, only to have it pull. Never, never rap off a single piece, unless it’s a huge tree or bollard, and even then think carefully. Don’t be cheap with bail gear.
  • Taking a ground fall because the rope you abseiled off was not fixed directly to the anchors, but had slack caught around a hidden feature, which subsequently released when the line was weighted. Don’t rush! Make sure there is no slack between you and the anchors.
  • Getting hair or loose clothing caught in your abseil device. Tie hair back and tuck clothing in.
  • With in-situ abseils, check the anchors (look, feel, push-pull, twist etc). Check all parts of the system that link the anchors.
  • Don’t assume that just because everyone else uses the in-situ abseil or someone used it recently that it’s still OK. Make your own judgement on the reliability of the set-up each and every time you use it.
  • Back-up the anchors you’re going to abseil from by placing a separate bomber piece that’s linked to the abseil rope. This back-up should not be taking any of the load, when your weight comes on the ab rope, so you can check the in situ anchor is reliable. If you’re not returning to the same spot the last person down can remove the back-up if all looks good with the original anchors.

Don’t cut corners and don’t rush your decision-making.

And this is worth watching to clarify a few grey areas, with thanks to mikebarter387 for the video:

Please bear in mind that this is by no means a definitive list. Know what you’re doing before you do it and climb with others who know more than you. You can never be too careful. Remember, this is an extreme sport and has the inherent dangers that go with it.

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Rock climbing can be as extreme as you want it

February 12, 2009

“The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.” – Alex Lowe

We have done many articles on rock climbing, places to rock climb, rock climbing equipment, etc, so I thought today I would do a simplistic breakdown of the 5 main types of rock climbing – from the most simple climb to the most dangerous and I start with full-safety climbing…

Full-safety climbing

This is the safest way to climb, but it’s also the least exciting. With full-safety climbing, you are tied to all kinds of ropes and you climb up a surface by grabbing onto pre-installed grips. Furthermore, someone on the ground will be pulling on the rope  to help you haul your body up to the top, just in case you’re not strong enough to do it yourself.  It is a good way to start as you feel so safe.

Bouldering

This is another popular first-time climbing option unaided by equipment. Bouldering is done on a low, freestanding rock or at the base of a larger rock where falls aren’t very steep or dangerous. However, no matter how simple a climb looks you should always climb with someone – you never know when you might need help.

Free climbing

“Maybe true. Maybe not true. Better you believe.” – Sherpa saying.

From full-safety climbing and bouldering you will inevitably gravitate to free climbing. It is considered to be the “essence” of the sport. Equipment is used only for safety, not for creating holds, and need not be used at all. You know all those fabulous pictures of climbers hanging from an overhang with one hand and a small safety rope – well you, too, can do this with some practice! The following video from  agujan, follows a group of Austrians – one the 14 year old son of a sherpa, free climbing in Thailand.

Aid (or artificial) climbing

This should be left to pros. Used mainly when free climbing becomes impossible, aid climbing uses equipment (like hand-held suction cups) to create artificial holds in the rock. Complicated and scary and definitely only for the professionals.

There is, of course, another type of  Artificial climbing:  this is the “knack of appearing to climb by talking about it. This technique is best employed far from actual climbing areas, which tend to be hazardous. Small taverns and pizza parlors with an impressionable clientele are excellent sites for artificial climbing”… just kidding!

Solo Climbing

And last but not least – soloing. This is dangerous. It is a longer climb unaided by any safety equipment and many professionals refuse to do it. Dean Potter, who I have written about several times before, is a master at this. The video above was equivalent to solo climbing but their safety feature was the water they could fall into…

Safety Precautions

Within these types of climbing, there are various safety features you can use. The most popular being belaying. This is where two people climb together while hooked up to each other. Used in free and aid climbing, belaying prevents long falls (definitely a good thing!). The “leader” climbs first, and the “second” follows. While one is climbing, the other belays – that is, releases enough rope for him to climb. The rope is anchored to some fixed point on the rock (like a nice strong root or tree) while the belayer stays steady at that point to attend to the rope. Should you fall, you will only fall as far as the amount of rope that has been anchored. The belayer must always be alert, watching the leader at all times and with enough tension in the rope to feel the connection between him and the leader.

“I think climbers should get credit just for remembering what their jobs are on Mondays.” – Gary Clark

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Rock Climbing continued:

April 25, 2008

Here are the five main types of rock climbing – from the most simple to the most … dangerous:

Full-safety climbing

Full-safety climbing is the safest way to climb, but it’s also the least exciting. With full-safety climbing, you are tied to all kinds of ropes and you climb up a surface by grabbing onto pre-installed grips. Furthermore, someone on the ground will be pulling on the rope (if you need it) to help you haul your body up to the top, just in case you’re not strong enough to do it yourself. Basically, it’s just like rock climbing on one of those walls in the mall. You can do it, but it’s not nearly as fun.
This is the extent of my climbing at the moment and I love it … you have the feeling, possibly false but hopefully not!, that nothing can possibly go wrong. You have faith in the person at the bottom holding the rope, and although I like to look for the cracks on the rock face it’s nice to know that the pre-installed grips are there. The children, of course, have long since outgrown this stage, and are up cliff faces like monkeys.

This video, taken in China, shows you, a little, what it’s like when you first start.

Free climbing

Free climbing is the most common type of rock climbing out there, and is considered to be the “essence” of the sport. Equipment is used only for safety, not for creating holds (the places where you grip the rock). Your first climbing experience will consist of quite a bit more safety, but this will still most likely be the type of rock climbing that you will do as a first-timer. In your own good time, you, too, can hang off a cliff face with only one hand and one small safety rope between you and disaster!

Bouldering

Another popular first-time climbing option is bouldering, or a short climb unaided by equipment. This style is used on a low, freestanding rock or at the base of a larger rock (where falls aren’t very steep or dangerous). Nevertheless, a spotter should always be present.

Aid (or artificial) climbing

This should be left to pros. Used mainly when free climbing becomes impossible, aid climbing uses equipment (like hand-held suction cups) to create artificial holds in the rock. Complicated and scary and definitely only for the professionals.

Soloing

Soloing should be left to those with a death wish. It is a longer climb unaided by safety equipment. This style is very dangerous, and even many professionals refuse to do it. Dean Potter, who I have shown a couple of times before, is a master at this – but this isn’t him!

Within these types of climbing, there are other safety features you can use. A very
popular safety feature is belaying: when two people climb together while hooked up to each other. Used in free and aid climbing, belaying prevents long falls (definitely a good thing!). The “leader” climbs first, and the “second” follows. While one is climbing, the other belays him/her — that is, releases enough rope for him/her to climb. The rope is anchored to some fixed point on the rock (like a crack or a tree) while the belayer stays steady at that point to attend to the rope. Should you fall, you will only fall as far as the amount of rope that has been anchored.