January 27, 2022

What is Belaying in Rock Climbing?

by Kevin

What Does Belaying Mean in Climbing? 

Belaying is an important skill in climbing, and thus, it takes a lot of time and energy to become a proficient belayer. While many individuals start climbing and take belaying classes in fitness clubs, understanding what is belaying in rock climbing is essential.

It is a process used while climbing that generally uses a rope system to protect the climber if he falls. The process involves specific equipment dedicated to this function and varies depending on the belay technique being used.

Ascending a high wall or learning to hang around on the edge of a cliff is the best possible way of defying gravity. But learning the basics of rock climbing is essential for this. The term “belaying” originates in ancient nautical terms meant to stop or desist from. When it comes to climbing, refers to controlling the rope while a person climbs to prevent falling from a height. The term belaying is part of our huge guide on rappelling and rock climbing terms.

How Does Belaying Work? 

Belaying works through control of friction and tension on the climbing rope to maximize the support on the climber’s weight. And this is achieved without compelling the belayer into the hard surface. It is a process where the climber manages the rope that prevents them from falling.

Climbing harnesses come with belay loops that attach to the belay device through a locking carabiner. While the climber ascends, the climbing harness allows the rope to pass through as a friction brake for catching the climber in case of an accident.

The belayer helps guide the bight of the rope or somewhere in the middle of the rope between both ends. The primary function is to ensure that the climber has adequate slack for proceeding upward while also providing enough tension to catch when the climber falls.


Table of Contents

Why Is Belaying Important in Rock Climbing? 

As you understand what is belaying in rock climbing, the next step is to learn why it’s essential. Consider a typical climbing scent where an end of the rope is fastened to the climber’s harness. There are other bends or knots as well. And these are used for tying in the climber to the climbing rope. But this is not very safe for beginners.

Bolts that are permanently fixed on the rock can be used for attaching to the rocks. Alternatively, conventional protection can also be used that is placed and later removed by the climber rather than altering the rock.

The climbing rope runs through this protection to the second climber who’s referred to as the belayer. This person wears the harness, which is attached to the belay device. And this is where the importance of belaying comes in rock climbing.

What Do You Do When You’re Belayed? 

Belaying means a variety of techniques dedicated to keeping up the tension on the climbing rope so that when the climber loses balance, they don’t fall too far and are held by the rope. When you are belayed, you will have to stand at the base of the route’s first pitch. It’s your responsibility to let your partner know that you are ready and it is safe for him to climb by loudly giving the command “on belay.”

This implies that you will have to uncoil the rope at the base of the cliff and tie yourself to an anchor-like cam. You will also have to hold the rope securely tied to your partner by using the figure 8 knot threaded through the belay device. In the rappelling exercise, you may be placed at the top of the wall or cliff, mainly if it is a one-way descent in place of descending after a successful climbing.

What are the Benefits of Using a Belay Device? 

When you think of what is belaying in rock climbing, you will see that of all the devices used in climbing; the belay device is one of the most crucial support equipment. The belay device offers hordes of benefits to the climber. In the first place, these devices are required for supporting the belayer to manage any mishap and accident with the slightest physical effort.

Moreover, belay devices also allow the climber to lower the climber safely to the ground gradually. Buy belays are also used to their fullest extent when climbers have technical knowledge. These include understanding how to operate the belay device, when to engage the device, types of belays for various work, and sizes that you will need for smooth climbing.

Does My Partner Need to be Using a Belay Device? 

The answer to this question is both yes and no. In general, belaying is considered a two-individual task where the first climber ascends, and the belayer takes the rope in by slacking it, always ready to catch and prevent the climber from falling. But when you are climbing alone, you will have to play both roles.

If you are belaying someone heavier than you, it’s better for both the climbers to use a belay device. This is because the difference in weight can even lift the belayer from the ground. This may bring about unwanted injuries for the climber and the belayer.

What is the Difference Between Belaying and Bouldering? 

Bouldering refers to the means of low climbing without using ropes or harnesses. The climber can do it independently and doesn’t require any preliminary training. A spotter is highly recommended for bouldering.

On the flip side, it is the act of managing the rope for the partner to ensure their safety. Whenever the climber goes beyond 10 feet, it’s imperative to have a belaying partner with proper certification and training. On the top rope, the work of the belayer is to take the slack in the rope while the climber moves further up. This helps lower them safely and eventually back to the ground after completion of the climb.

What are the Skills You Need to Apply to Make Belaying Work? 

To understand belaying in rock climbing, you need to know the basic skills used for belaying. These are pulled, brake, under, and finally, slide.

  • Pull: This skill is used to pull the guiding hand down and lift the gripped brake rope on the outer side. Pull allows you to absorb more rope slacking. 
  • Brake: As the guiding hand comes close to the belaying device, the climber can lock in the rope using the belay device. This is achieved by flipping down the rope. 
  • Under: Now, you are slowly moving the guiding hand to the brake rope, and you will have to place the sand underneath the brake hand. At this point, you can use the guiding hand to function as the new brake while allowing the other hand to slide down. 
  • Slide: Then, you can gradually loosen the grip of the brake hand while sliding it up till it comes six inches from the belay device. At this juncture, you must grip the rope very tightly. 

What are the Different Types of Belaying Systems? 

Belaying devices are generally found in three styles: tube, lock-assisted, and 8-figure. Each of these styles comes with its pros and cons. The most fundamental and widespread belaying system is the tube style, and it is used widely in rock climbing and gyms. Tubular devices are also used for sport climbing, gym climbing, and multi-pitch trad climbing. They are compact and straightforward to use.

The assisted braking belay devices are devised to lock the rope down as a sudden force or pressure is exerted on it. Some of these belaying systems offer assisted braking, whether you are a top-rope climber or a lead climber. Other assisted braking belays provide support to a single or two followers.

The third one is the figure-8 belay device used for rock climbing, caving, rappelling, and rescue missions. They are highly efficient and smooth. These devices can also dissipate heat effectively from friction and work well in almost all rope diameters.

What are the Different Types of Ropes and Knots Used in Belaying? 

When it comes to rock climbing, there are two primary rope variants: dynamic and static. The first kind is devised for stretching and absorbing the impact when a climber loses balance and falls. On the other hand, static ropes cannot stretch much and are used for rappelling down the climber.

Several types of knots are used for belaying, such as alpine butterfly knot, alpine butterfly loop, Blake’s hitch, bowline knot, chain sinnet, water knot, figure 8 bend, and many others. Each of these knots comes with its pros and cons and is best suited for varying situations in belaying.

What are the Most Common Mistakes that Climbers Make When Belaying? 

The most common error that beginner climbers need to avoid is climbing with bent arms. This will stress the muscles excessively, and you will soon run out of energy. Another common mistake climbers commit while belaying is giving more importance to strength than technique. First, you need to understand the proper technique and build more strength surrounding it.

The last common mistake that most climbers make, whether belaying or not, is to warm up by only climbing a pretty straightforward route. You may think that it’s relatively easy to get dressed, put on the harness, get the belay and try yourself on the easiest possible route. The function of warming up is to help you become a better performer and prevent all possible injuries.

How Can I Avoid These Mistakes When I’m not Belaying? 

It is a common tendency to climb with the arms bent and, you should aim to outstretch your arms to the fullest extent. You can bend the legs to transfer the weight.

When you are not belaying, you must learn the various proven techniques that can make your task smoother while boosting your potential. It’s not surprising why the most excellent climbers around the globe are working on improving their techniques. When you work on bettering the techniques, you will also build your physical strength.

Lastly, when not belaying, you should do several warm-ups along with stretching. Many climbers tend to practice climbing indoors since it is easier and more convenient.

How Does a Climber Know if They are Ready to Lead a Route Without a Belayer? 

The first climber who climbs the route for the first time is the lead climber. The lead climber is shielded by the rope attached to the harness when an individual is climbing. The second climber secures the other end of the rope, more commonly called the belayer, is secured by the second climber. But you can also climb up and lead a route without a belayer.

It is entirely possible to rock climb alone even though it is never recommended. When you are ready to rope yourself without any backup, the climbing style is called rope soloing. This type of climbing without any additional support is very dangerous and primarily used in rescue situations and high walls. The climber is equipped with a self-locking device meant to arrest a fall.

What is Belaying Pin Used for? 

A belaying pin refers to a solid wood or metal device conventionally used in rigged sailing vessels to secure rigging lines. Rigging is also used in rappelling. The shaft is then inserted into the hole in several strategically placed wooden pin rails till the base of the handle. In climbing, this pin or a metal spike is driven to the seam or crack in the climbing surface using a climbing hammer.

And this acts as an anchor for protecting the climber from the consequences of falling or helping in the climbing progress. Belaying pins are armed with a ring or an eye hole for attaching the carabiner. The carabiner can also be indirectly or directly attached to the climbing rope.

Pins are considered the original forms of protection and are still used when no other alternative can be used. Repeated hammering along with the extraction of pins damages the rock, thus many climbers use passive climbing protection devices if the climbing style allows it.

And climbers prone to use clean climbing ethics from the 1970s, belaying pins came to be replaced by easier to use devices like the nuts and camming equipment. Belaying pins are still used as fixed pins on some free climbing routes, such as fixed belay anchors where nuts and cams are ineffective.

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About the author 

Kevin

Kevin loves bouldering. Mainly because he can practice it alone without considering other people. Although he rediscovered this hobby in the last three years, the boulders turned out to be his most visited landmarks.

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