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So you have started climbing your first sport route, ... all is going well, ... you counted the bolts and took the correct number of quickdraws, ... you climbed steadily and clipped all the bolts, ... you did all the moves, including some pretty hard ones , ... then all of a sudden you are at the top staring at two bolts and wondering how you are going to get back down. You know this is sport climbing so you are aware that the practice is to lower off routes but this will require you to leave some gear on the belay surely?
A top quality belay but it has no clippable karabiner on it. You need to thread!
If you want to hang on to all your gear then you will need to learn to thread the belay. Sometimes you may be lucky and find that the belay has an opening karabiner on it. In this case no threading is necessary (although it is worth backing up while your partner climbs the route so that only the last person lowers off a single karabiner). However, the majority of outdoor sport routes have no opening clips in place and require threading unless you are prepared to sacrifice a karabiner or two each time you finish a climb.
Threading a belay
Belays come in all shapes and sizes. The one we have illustrated in the cartoons below is twin staples connected by a chain and the method described covers threading a belay like this. However, the basic method doesn't vary much from belay to belay. The thing to take care with is choosing which of the part(s) of the belay to thread. In a substantial belay like the one in the photo to the right you could thread virtually anything and be safe. The requirements are that whatever you thread is a part of the whole system and connected to both attachment points. It needs to be wide enough to allow the rope to slip through easily but also substantial enough. There is no point in threading a tiny ring connected to two solid bolts if you could thread the solid bolts. One thing to bear in mind when threading more than one part of the belay is that this may put twists into your rope when you lower off.
Before you thread the belay ask yourself whether you really need to thread it just yet. If you have just led a pitch, and your partner wants to lead it after you there is no need to thread the belay, simply clip it with a couple of quickdraws and lower-off. The last person to the belay can thread it.
Communication when lowering off is vital. Far too many people have been badly injured or killed following poor communication at the belay of a sport route. Some climbers, with a very traditional background, find the concept of lowering off from the belay unusual. It has been known for people to attempt to lower off from a belay only to find that their partners, assuming they intended to abseil down, had taken them off belay, with catastrophic results. Communicate plainly and simply with your partner - avoid just saying 'OK' - after all, what does this really mean?
With practice you will develop your own method. The important thing is to be rigourous about it, always try and use a familiar system and double check everything!
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.