Thursday, March 15, 2012

Catching a Big One!

This is a post for my skinny and/or short climbing partners!

First... I know all of you are excellent belayers! If not... we wouldn't be friends. However I recently read an article from Climbing Magazine's Tech Tips that I thought I'd share. The topic is on how to lead-belay big and/or chunky folks!

Although the article suggests a 25 pound difference is significant... I'd bet that they're thinking about 'average' 150lb climbers. So let's say the ratio (1/6th) is what matters. That means that if you're less than 185 lbs than you are significantly lighter than me, wearing clothes, and a rack. I'd bet most of my partners weigh less than 185 lbs... many by a large margin.

I don't know if I've ever been in the situation of catching someone much larger than me (240+ lbs). They are few and far between. The closest I'd guess would be a fella that I'd ballpark at 225 who fell clipping the 3rd bolt at Gagetown. He pulled me off the ground to nearly the first bolt and he just barely missed decking. So it's hard for me to lecture from experience here.

I will say this... I think the article makes some good points.
  • Helmets are always a good idea!
  • Gloves might be a good idea... especially for really small folks (I won't laugh).
  • Standing in close under the 1st piece of gear is always, always, a good idea!
  • Being tied to a ground anchor isn't necessary... unless there's a real risk of decking
Not sure about their advice to unclip the first bolt though... maybe if it's 4 ft off the ground... 

It makes me think about the flip-side... I often have trouble giving a dynamic belay to really light climbers. When I catch the 'average' 150 lb climber I barely feel it. I certainly don't get launched upward. If I'm expecting a fall I often try to hop but that can be really hard to time correctly... especially if I don't anticipate your fall. If I don't catch you while I'm on the up-side of the hop... you'd better brace yourself. So if I've hard-caught you... sorry... I try my best. 


  1. what if the belayer wears a backpack or is clipped to a backpack lying on the ground? i think those are the most common tricks around here.

  2. Seems acceptable to me... But who's got 25 lbs of 'extra' gear in the pack not needed for the climb?

  3. Thanks for posting this, Chris. I don't get unclipping the 1st bolt either.
    @ foggy: I'd never considered clipping into a heavy, but moveable anchor (a few rocks in a pack), but that does seem reasonable. As a belayer who is often outweighed by his partner, I pay close attention to following these points, though I pretend to be too manly for gloves. One advantage of being mobile at the base is it allows alternating standing and crouching when paying out optimal rope for the leader. It takes practice, but this way excessive slack is out of the system in the case of a fall (less free fall therefore less momentum as the system gets loaded) and allows me to remain balanced and braced for impact.