/ Belay location question

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Harvey Bartholomew on 14 Feb 2013
Noob-ish question time, please be gentle with me!

Imagine if you will that you and your buddy are aiming to climb a Scottish grade II gully route. The snow in the gully consists of an inch or so of fresh with a fairly solid base, on which both climbers are comfortable soling. The walls of the gully are bare rock with some patches of good ice.

Half way up the gully is an icy steepening, only a narrowish section of which (half a metre wide max) is actually good, solid ice - the rest is extremely thin and/or hollow with water running behind it (a slight thaw has started to set in since you left the car).

The question is: if you were going to belay the leader over the steep, icy section, where would you take the belay stance?
a) At the foot of the ice step, anchored to ice screws set in to the narrow seam of good, thick ice and with the belayer standing on crampon points;
b) A ways back down the gully, in a position that's more comfortable for the belayer but which may not allow them to see or communicate with the leader as easily, with the possibility of anchoring using rock gear instead of/in addition to ice screws;
c) other options (not including both climbers soloing the icy step).
nniff - on 14 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:

A way back down the gully - use the good ice for the screws as a runner. Ideally a nice rock belay. Better to have a bit of rope out to provide some stretch and take the sting out of any mishap.

Chances are that any tumble (ill-advised - see AMD thread) will end in a landing in the snow below the steepening where a lower second will have an easy catch to take. Better that, than for the fall to come directly onto an ice screw belay.

Not always easy though, if you can't reverse a bit from the obstacle that stopped you.

JohnnyW - on 14 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:

It's a wee bit academic really mate, as you usually don't get much choice where to belay! Gear is very often hard to find, so my answer would be as soon as you get a good placement, as near as your rope-length will let you.

In your example, b is best imo, with the leader placing a screw runner as the start of the ice if it's good as you say.
Andy Nisbet - on 14 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:

If it's a Grade II gully, then the ice will probably be quite short. In which case ice screws in the ice but tie off so you're standing on the snow below, and comfortably. Sure if the leader falls off, then you'll be falling directly on to the belay (unless you have a third ice screw) but that's better than spending time making a snow belay lower down. All is slightly academic because most gullies have a rock belay somewhere on the walls, and which you would choose.
rossn - on 14 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew: I remember somebody saying to me 'never pass a belay in winter'. So I would say as soon as you see the icy crux coming start looking so a suitable belay. The other problem with belaying right at the foot of the narrow section is that the second will be directly in the fall line with no chance of escape where if a bit lower down he may be able to position himself to one side of the gully and perhaps able to dig out a comfortable stance rather than trying to balance on crampon points as you note in (a). Quite possibly somebody has suggested this already. Your theoretical route sounds a bit like The Runnel. It is a gradually steepening and narrowing snow gully with a short chimney at 3/4 height. On that route you could belay right at the foot of the chimney (about 1m wide) but slightly lower down to the right some useful rock gear can keep the second out of harms way, job done. Hope this helps. RN
panz - on 14 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:
Hi,
plz watch www.ukclimbing.com/videos/play.php?i=1139
Michael Gordon - on 14 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:

When winter climbing it's often best to belay in a place that isn't directly below the climber. This means the belayer is less likely to get hit by ice or continually covered in snow. If there's a steep bit then be wary of belaying directly under it as if the climber comes off they could crampon you - not nice!

To answer your question I'd say down the gully a bit at the comfortable stance on rock gear. Sometimes by stepping down and extending the rope a bit further in the belay you can get a good view of the climber but are still able to move sideways if they knock something down.
Harvey Bartholomew on 15 Feb 2013
Thanks all for your input & ideas.

This particular situation is not completely hypothetical, in that it happened to me the other week (not on The Runnel, though). I would have preferred taking option b), for reasons similar to those mentioned by a few responders above ie less risk of a fall directly on to the belay - or on to the belayer!

Unfortunately the leader didn't have any rock gear to speak of on their person, which tended to rule that option out, even though there was a lower stance which would have offered good belay anchors with the right gear. Looking back, I'm cross with myself that I hadn't been firmer on that point with the leader before we set off. So that's one lesson learned.

I think there's another lesson here, as well, which is that unless you know for sure that you're going to be climbing nothing but cascade ice then you need to be prepared to carry other gear. In other words: let your decision about what to take be guided by the mountain and the conditions, not by what you set out hoping to find.

I'm sure the uncomfortable recollection of watching the melt water dripping off those ice screws as I teetered on my crampon points will help me to remember these lessons.
unclesamsauntibess - on 15 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:
> Scottish grade II gully route.

The snow in the gully consists of an inch or so of fresh with a fairly solid base, on which both climbers are comfortable soloing.
>

You've answered your questions there. It's a grade II. You're both comfortable with the solo.

Grow some balls, get on with it, top out and do another route.
Michael Gordon - on 15 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:

Don't think I can think of a single route I haven't neeeded rock gear of some sort for! In contrast I've done ice routes when we haven't had screws with us.
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Paul035 - on 15 Feb 2013
In reply to Harvey Bartholomew:

As above, in this country particularly there are very few routes where the only gear you would carry is ice screws. The ice here can often be ok to climb but not so good for screws. For a gully, normal rock protection; wires, chocks and a friend or two, as well as pegs, warthog, bulldog and plenty slings would be my typical rack. Better to have it and not use it than to need it and not have it!!

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