The skill of belaying is one of the cornerstones of climbing safety. Belaying is simply the technique for holding the climbing rope for a climber so that they are safe if they fall off the rock and that they won’t hit the ground if they do take a leader fall or a fall while top-roping.
Belaying is an Essential Skill
The belayer, the person who establishes a belay by holding the rope, turns a climbing rope into a safety tool rather than what the great climber Royal Robbins once called “a lethal weapon.” Belaying, while sounding rather complicated, is actually an easy climbing skill to learn and to become a good belayer mostly requires lots of practice.
Be a Good Safe Belayer
Belaying is the most critical part of your climbing safety chain. It’s also a part that can go badly wrong with belayer error or inattention. A good and conscientious belayer can and will save your life if you fall. A bad and inattentive belayer can drop you to the ground and kill or maim you. Be a good belayer and expect your climbing partner to be the same.
Belaying Comes From Sailing
The word belay was originally a nautical term that described a technique for securing a sailing rope to a post or spar on a ship. The same word was applied to the climbing technique of one person securing a safety rope for another person climbing, with the post being either the belayer’s body or a belay device and locking carabiner.
The Belayer Holds the Rope
The simplest belay is a climbing rope that runs from a belayer, the person holding the rope securely, to another person who climbs a rock face. The belayer either gives out or takes in rope, keeping it snug on the climber. If the climber falls, the belayer applies friction to the rope and stops the fall. There are many ways to apply friction, including running the rope around your waist in an old-style hip belay, using a Münter hitch knot, or using a belay device with the rope running through it.
3 Essential Belay Factors
Three important factors make a belay work:
- A skilled belayer to manage the rope and apply friction on it in the event of a fall.
- An anchor to secure the belayer to the cliff and to absorb some of the energy of a fall.
- A belay device to magnify the friction applied on the rope by the belayer.