Believe it or not, Rock Climbing is one of the safest activities that I guide. It is nearly the exact opposite of what many people think. Most people think that it is dangerous, risky, and downright scary. In reality, it has the lowest rates of injury of any activity we offer and is hands down the safest. In today’s blog we will discuss how to belay. I frequently share with beginner climbers on any of our White Pine Touring’s Rock Climbing Tours that: “The approach to the base of the climb is the most dangerous part of the day- the climbing is the easy part”. While it can be incredibly safe, it takes the proper technique, knowledge and experience to do so.
So lets cover the basics of belaying on top rope with a Black Diamond ATC. This is only one skill set of many that is required to climb safely. Climbing is inherently dangerous and this is not meant as a substitution for proper training and site-specific instruction. The author and JANS LTD assume no liability for any individual who takes reliance on this information.
Once the rope is properly hung thru the anchors and the climber has tied in with the figure 8 knot, we begin.
Step 1: Insert Rope Into Belay Device
Take a bight of rope (a U shaped bend of the rope) and insert it into the belay device. Take note of which end of the bight the climber is on, and what side of the rope will become your brake hand. The BD ATC has helpful diagrams on the body of the device to help remind you the proper technique. Shown here.
Step 2: Lock the Locking Carabiner
Clip both the bight of rope and gear wire thru your locking Carabiner to your belay loop on your harness. LOCK THE LOCKING CARABINER.
STEP 3: Double Check Good Harness’s and Good Knots
Redundancy is the key to safety in rock climbing. Now is when the climber checks that the belayer has locked their carabiner, has their helmet on, double backed their harness (if applicable) and has a good anchor (if applicable). The belayer then checks the climber for a good knot, good harness and helmet.
Step 4: Starting Commands
Commands/communication is one of the most important aspects of top rope belay. Communication between the climber and the belayer is critical.
CLIMBER: “On Belay?”
BELAYER: “Belay is on.”
BELAYER: “Climb on.”
Step 5: Taking In Slack
Taking slack in as the climber ascends is essential so that the climber descends as little as possible when/if they fall (this is especially true the first 15ft of the climb due to rope stretch). In order to do this you pull down with your guide hand (my left hand for me since I am right handed) and pull up with your brake hand. Then throw your right hand into the brake position, down low by your thigh. Take your left hand and grasp above your right hand, remove your right hand and place by the ATC. Repeat this process and remember that THE BRAKE LINE MUST ALWAYS HAVE A HAND ON IT NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCE. For a visual description of this process go here.
Step 6: Lowering Commands
When the climber is at the top or feels as if they are going to fall another set of commands ensues.
The belayer quickly takes up slack and braces in the braking position. Once the belayer can feel the weight of the climber on the rope
CLIMBER: “Ready to lower”
Step 7: How to Lower
Lowering using the BD ATC is done by changing the angle of the rope. By moving from the braking position (down by your thigh at about 180°), to waist level (approx. 120°-90°) you can control the rate of descent. Again, and this cannot be over emphasized, NEVER take your hand off the brake line.
By Weston Deutschlander White Pine Touring Guide & JANS Athlete Team Member