Dynamic Belaying for Sport Climbs
by Adrian Berry May/2009
This article has been read 33,093 times
The following article is based on text from the book Sport CLIMBING + published by Rockfax. This article version was written by Adrian Berry, and the illustrations are by Ray Eckermann.
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The dynamic belay
First of all, just to clear-up a few myths, the following is not dynamic belaying:
1) Dynamic belaying involves giving lots of slack - FALSE!
The more slack there is in the system, the further the climber will fall before the rope can start to do its job and the more force will need to be absorbed. Unless there is an obvious hazard that you need to steer the falling climber away from, give only enough slack to allow freedom of movement.
2) Dynamic belaying is about letting the rope slide through the belay device a bit - FALSE!
Arresting a fall requires an almost instinctive response, there isn't enough time for the fine motor skill required to allow for controlled rope slippage, the risk is you will drop them altogether (note: this can be done but requires gloves, a figure of eight as a belay device, and preferably a back-up belayer.)
The principle shock absorbing element in the system is your rope. The more rope that is available to absorb the fall, the softer the fall will be. It is also worth noting that thinner ropes stretch more than thicker ones. You might feel very safe at the first bolt when clipped into a nice fat 11mm rope, and less safe when sixty meters up a pitch with a skinny 9.7mm winding its way back to your distant belayer, however, counter to intuition, the opposite is true.
After a rope has taken a fall, a degree of its elasticity will have been temporarily compromised, and it is wise to switch to using the other end – or another rope if both ends have been fallen on.
Dynamic belaying illustration
© Ray Eckermann
How to give a dynamic belay
A dynamic belay is dynamic because the belayer moves. How it is given depends entirely on the weight difference between the belayer and the falling climber.
A lighter belayer will naturally give a dynamic belay because they are automatically pulled into the air.
A heavier belayer needs to be more alert and should aim to adopt a position a couple of meters away from the base of the route - 1. To dynamically hold a fall, the belayer must anticipate the split-second before the rope goes tight and at that moment, lock off the belay device and move quickly to the base of the route - 2. As the belayer moves, the rope will be tight, but the full force will have more time to be dissipated, resulting in a soft fall with less risk of slamming - 3.
A dynamic belay will result in the climber falling further than they would otherwise. The important thing is that the fall is arrested slowly, not that the distance of the fall is minimised.
Avoiding creating hazards
For the first few clips of a route, the proximity of the ground makes standing well back less desirable. Ironically, this is where the risk of slamming is at its greatest. If the start of a route is hard, consider pre-clipping the first one or two bolts (maybe with a with a clip-stick) to reduce the risk of injury. For the first clip the priorities for a belayer are to keep the rope out of the climber's way and to keep the climber away from the ground. When the leader moves above the first bolt, the belayer needs to be careful not to turn the rope leading from them to the first bolt into a hazard, as the climber could easily fall onto the rope with painful consequences in the groin region! One way around this is to stand to the side of the first clip allowing a degree of dynamism in the belay whilst keeping the rope out of the way. Another way is to crouch down allowing more rope to be 'in play'. Once above the third clip, the belayer can move out from the base; this will also serve to give a better view of what is going on.
When using this technique, be sure that you first clear obstacles like sacks out of the way. The last thing you want to do is trip over when you're belaying.
If a Grigri is being used to belay with, the problem with paying out slack quickly without letting go of the dead rope can be solved by standing a few metres away from the base of the route. When slack is urgently required the belayer can simply walk into the base, immediately freeing up slack. The belayer can then pay out slack at a more leisurely pace whilst walking back into their position away from the base of the route.
Sport CLIMBING +
The Rockfax book Sport Climbing + includes many more useful tips like this which will help you climb better and safer. For example, have you ever wished to know how to get down from mid-route by abseiling off a single bolt without threading it or losing any gear?
The book is not just about rope techniques though. There are chapters on technique, onsighting, redpointing, the mind, training, mutli-pitching, self-care and destinations.