/ Why did practising belaying with dead weight stop?
Every now and again, an old (relatively) timer around UKC will mention back in their day, they practised belaying catching a big dead weight of some sort.
Now days, that seems to have died off. We still learn with live people taking falls (that's not so much practising belaying as actually belaying, possibly with a backup belayer).
That's good and all, but I feel we've lost part of the learning experience.
For a start, no one wants (rightfully so) want to take high FF falls, yet in climbing we may be expected to catch a ~FF2, though with little idea of what forces may be involved (there's a lot to be said about whether belayers should use assisted locking devices, or wear gloves).
Second, a lot of variations of the one critical question become hard to answer:
- Would a belayer be able to catch a hard fall in that circumstance?
(Where circumstance could be using a certain device, rope, technique, lack of technique, hand position, persons physical characteristics etc...)
I don't believe myself nor any of my regular partners has ever caught a high impact fall, and we're lesser experienced as a result.
If it seemed like a good idea in the past to practice with dead weight, what changed? Did dropping an 80kg mass of weights fall afoul of health and safety considerations? Was it thought not worth the effort any more?
Go do it then youth....what's stopping you? Answer your own question. Just don't use my rope.
Well, that's the plan!
(My ropes are disposable anyway.)
Not wanting to detract from your general point but I'd imagine that 99% of climbers, or at least users of this forum, will never, at any point in their climbing lives, have to hold a FF2.
Never practised but held several big falls on the crags.
Vague memories of seeing test rig towers at Plas Y B or Glenmore.
Held a factor 2 (30 m ) and a factor 1.6 (35 m ) fall on old style Salewa plates ( quite grappy ). No gloves, no burns, partial belay failures, you just have to hold on and do your ( belay ) duty.
With slicker plates ( eg ATC ) even a factor one fall can lift the belayer, so upwards belay advised if deck out is possible, though I like the idea of uplift (or a jump) helping to reduce the loads in the system without having to try to slip the rope.
Dynamic (or soft catch) belaying is very hard to do without practice.
Just hold the rope and at most move forward or jump slightly. IMHO belayers either hold the fall or drop the leader, there is little middle ground.
As you say, there were rigs at outdoor centres but I suspect the only climbers who used them were students on courses (& their instructors). Like you, I've held falls, some quite big, on crags but never 'practised'
I've been climbing 25 years plus and never seen anyone practice with a dead weight,nor indeed with gloves. This seems like a hangover from the days of body belays to me, that's been reinvented by people who would be better served by actually going climbing.
I doubt the % of people who hold a ff2 fall is nearly as high as 1%. I'd be curious what % have held a 10m fall, while recognizing that getting that number is near impossible
Ah Rick, Jamie Holding and I built that one (if it's the one you're thinking of) in 1985 or 86. If I remember correctly it was just next to the entrance to the stores. It was a fearsome bit of equipment and highly dangerous! It taught me immediately that holding ANY fall - not just a FF2 - using a big lump of concrete as a weight was nothing like holding a falling human. Don't know if it ever got replaced with something less lethal...
It's sort of coming back to me now... It was positioned at the end of a balcony. For a FF2 the belayer was placed on the balcony, belayed back to something in the wall of the building. Then the executioner then pulled a pin out of the contraption holding the weight, the usual result was that the belayer was immediately pulled to their knees and lots of rope flew through the belay plate. For holding a regular leader fall, the belayer was positioned on the ground and ended up getting rocketed into the air. I bet you wouldn't be allowed to do that now... Glory days indeed!
> catching a big dead weight of some sort.
Was that because they were using a waist belay, which I imagine (never having tried it) involves some technique and experience?
With modern belay devices there is not much to "practise", once you have held a couple of mild falls. For a severe fall you just do the same.
Be aware that the peak force on the top pro piece is not reduced by doing this. It mearly serves to give a slightly softer (and longer) fall. Given that the peak force limit on all ropes is considerablly less than what the body breaks at, I'd avoid giving longer falls unless there's good reason to do so.
Also I would imagine most people climb with someone of a similar ability. Not too much likelihood of a FF2 on a VDiff, and by the time you're belaying an E9, chances are you've held a few whippers.
That's not a rule, and people obviously belay more experienced friends, but I doubt a novice belayer will be catching their friends climbing miles above gear. If they are new leaders, and their gear is bad, well... that's a whole other discussion.
No sensible person would even bother to pick up a piece of paper and start writing the risk assesment for a drop-test setup. Even the most optomistic insurance assesor would take one look and laugh.
Either one reduces the parameters so that there is no risk and then there would be no point or you make the impact realistic where there would be a real risk of injury which is going to be illegal.
The DAV removed the one they had up in the Franken, it was terrifying and an accident waiting to happen.
Then why don't all trad climbers use Gri Gris and ground anchors? Comfort?
Yes, and the fact that they are heavy and can't easily be used with double ropes.
A dynamic belay obviously reduces impact force on the climber and pro, otherwise why use things like screamers to reduce impact force on questionable placements? Less force on the climber means less force on the gear. If you drop a dead weight on a static rope and catch it with a grigri connected to a ground anchor the force would almost certainly rip the piece. Now imagine as it falls, you jump and reduce the speed that the weight is slowing down. The energy is helped to dissipate. Make sense?
The point I am making is that If the belayer doesn't allow any rope through and jumps to 'absorb' the fall all they are doing is giving the climber a bigger arc of trajectory into the rock. The amount of rope available is what's doing the absorption not the jumping.
It's all to do with the speed that the climbers mass loses kinetic energy. One extreme is a immediate stop (high impact force), the other extreme is falling to the ground (near zero impact force). Letting the climber fall further as he slows down makes that process closer to the latter extreme. Yes, it's definitely not always advisable, but to say that the amount of rope out is the only factor in how much impact is taken on the highest pro isn't correct.
If you give me your email, I'll send you a document that demonstrates what I'm trying to get across. Currently typing on my phone and trying to recall exactly what it said regarding this but currently travelling home
This is incorrect as has been shown both theoretically and in practical tests.
I remember using "falling climber" machines at PyB and Ullswater OB in the 1970s. I also used to practice escaping the system on them.
They certainly seemed to give a more violent pull than any real fall, with the exception of a 12m free-fall FF2 I once held.
I believe Rowland Edwards severely injured his ankle on the one at PyB.
All this was in the days of waist belaying.
Contrary to modern myth, IMHO waist belaying isn't harder to learn, or do, than plate belaying. I remember being very suspicious of Sticht plates when they first came along, and having a right old faff converting, because the braking action is the opposite way round. It's down to what you've been brought up on.
It is probably more complicated than this but my (extra) 2P
There is a certain amount of energy that needs absorbing to stop the falling climber.
This will be increased if the belayer sits down rather than jumping slightly ( ideally as the rope starts to get tight).
The peak force will be reduced by being absorbed over a longer period of time, helped mainly by rope stretch, slight slippage thro the plate, belayer moving in a sympathetic direction and a myriad of other factors.
Reducing the impact forces may be good for the top runner but only if the ground doesn't stop the fall first :-(
As Jim says, this has been proven incorrect (more than once) by actual testing. As for theory, lifting the belayer will generally lower the peak impact force for, I think, two reasons. (1) The falling climber does some work accelerating the belayer up to the falling climber's speed, and (2) the rope that runs through the system while the belayer is being lifted is running against the total frictional force of the system and so the falling climber does work there as well. So these are two mechanisms that absorb fall energy, neither of which involves stretching the rope and so neither of which have anything to do with "the amount of rope available."
The system may have enough friction that the force transmitted to the belayer is insufficient to lift the belayer. In that case, jumping can initiate a lifting process that otherwise would not have occurred. You wouldn't get as much from accelerating the belayer, because some of that was caused by the jump and not the falling climber, but you still get some work done against system friction.
Thank you for clarifying. Do you know of any good online sources for these tests?
Jim will probably know far more than I do. I searched my hard drive for some references---unfortunately I lost a bunch when I changed computers. Here is one. All the links I had to Leeds are now coming up as dead.
1st International Conference on Science and Technology in
Climbing and Mountaineering 7th-9th April 1999
University of Leeds, UK
FORCES ON THE FALLING CLIMBER DEPENDING ON DIFFERENT BELAYING
TECHNIQUES R. Messner, G. Meraner, T. Schliernzauer, B. Knuenz, W.
Traumatic and overuse injuries to the spine were observed with climbers falling in the rope. The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of different belaying behaviours and devices on the force measured between rope and harness of a falling climber.
One subject (m = 70 kg) performed standardised falls with a fall factor of z = 0.375. The following situations were tested: static belay at a bolt (1 trail), static belay at the body using a Grigri (1 trial), belay with backward movement of the belayer using a Grigri (1 trial), dynamic belay by a jump using a Grigri (10 trials), dynamic belay using a figure of eight (10 trials), dynamic belay using a HMS-karabiner (10 trials). The force between rope and seat harness was measured by a strain gauge. From the recorded force curves the peak force was determined and compared for the different situations.
For the single static belay at a bolt an about two times higher peak force (4006 N) than the mean peak force of the 10 dynamic trials using the Grigri occurred (2083 N, s = 175.7 N). The differences between different belaying behaviours using the Grigri were as follows: in case of a backward movement of the belayer the peak force was 3887 N which is close to the static trial, in case of no movement of the belayer the peak force was 3267 N, and with a jump of the belayer in rope direction it was 2083 N. The comparison of the belaying devices showed mean peak forces of 2368 N (s = 172.5 N) for the HMS-karabiner, 2197 N (s = 234.0 N) for the figure of eight, and 2083 N (s = 175.7 N) for the Grigri. The difference between HMS-karabiner and Grigri is statistically significant.
> If it seemed like a good idea in the past to practice with dead weight, what changed? Did dropping an 80kg mass of weights fall afoul of health and safety considerations? Was it thought not worth the effort any more?
Dunno but the only story I've heard from the good old days about belaying a dead weight came from my friend who's hand was shattered first time he was given a rope and told to 'catch this' as part of his training. Not a great or very safe intro to climbing.
Seems pointless to me. I suspect it's died out as equipment and techniques have gotten both better and more expensive. Good belay plates behave predictably and are easy to use plus nobody wants to drop their expensive rucksack full of rocks off a cliff.
Tradition in part. The choices we make while climbing often aren't really informed choices at all, we tend to just do what we always did which is what we were taught, sometimes with small modifications and gradual changes but real innovation driven by analysis seems rare.
I use a griGri for trad if that's what works for what we're doing. Likewise with ground anchors but only as a last resort.
Also that bigger arc into the rock can make a big difference to the state your feet/ankles are in after a few falls!
Indeed. But I think the "bigger arc" is often confused with the "soft catch," although in principle different concerns are at play. The ankle-shattering short fall happens when the climber swings into the rock at relatively high velocity because if the short pendulum arm. If (and this is critical) the rock is continually overhanging, then lengthening the fall will allow the climber to be at a point in the swing past the low point of the pendulum arc, a point where they will be moving up and slowing down. If the rock overhangs enough and/or enough rope is let out, they won't hit the wall at all. All this happens as a result of more rope in the system, but is not directly related to belayer behaviors such as jumping, whose primary goal is not to lengthen the fall (although that is a consequence) but to engage energy-absorbing mechanisms other than rope stretch.
I can also offer an old-timey perspective on belay testing with dead weights. It was very common in the US in the late fifties and early sixties when I learned to climb. I think the primary reason was a booklet published by the Sierra Club in 1956 (the year before I started climbing), "Belaying the Leader---An Omnibus on Climbing Safety," by Richard M. Leonard, Arnold Wexler, William Siri, Charles Wilts, David Brower, Morgan Harris, and May Pridham. The lead article, by Leornard and Wexler , was a reprint of one they wrote for the Sierra Club Bulletin ten years earlier (Sierra Club Bulletin 32 (7) (December 1946). Four years later, Leonard wrote an article for the 1950 American Alpine Journal entitled “The Theory of Belaying” that contained a mathematical account of his approach to belaying. At that time the first kernmantel rope (by Edelrid) was still three years away. Laid nylon climbing ropes were first employed in the US by the military in the early 1940’s for the 10th Mountain Division troops, after testing virtually every possible fiber. But in 1946, climbers were still transitioning from manila to laid nylon ropes and the idea that a leader fall might break a rope was still in the air.
In the introduction to the mathematics in the AAJ article, Leornard says, “The methods of rope-handling that serve to absorb this energy can be used to classify the belay into three fundamental types: the rigid or static belay, the resilient or indirect belay, and the dynamic or sliding belay. The static belay is one in which the kinetic energy of a fall is absorbed by the rope alone, one end of which is fixed to a rigid support, such as a tree or horn of rock. In the resilient belay, the support as well as the rope absorbs energy by yielding or “giving” under load, as in the case of the belayer snubbing the rope around his body. In the dynamic belay, the rope is allowed to slide over the support so that the friction of the sliding rope absorbs energy in addition to the energy absorbed by the rope in stretching. It will be shown that the dynamic belay is the most efficacious for it is capable of fully absorbing the energy under loads easily tolerated by men and equipment.” You can read the text of the AAJ article at http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12195037900/print but the transfer to the web has obliterated all the mathematics.
So what Leonard proposed, demonstrated mathematically, and verified by belay tests with steel weights was that climbing loads could be kept within “reasonable” limits by allowing rope to side under tension through the belay. (The UIAA’s 12 kN limit was, of course, not known then, but it would have been regarded as too much for the equipment of the day.) Leonard calculated how much rope should be allowed to slide, and with those guidelines advocated for belay practice to learn how to do this.
Subsequent development of climbing ropes made Leonard’s dynamic belay seem less relevant. Although belay device engineering (until the Gri-gri) included explicit “safety-valve” considerations that would allow the rope to slip through the device when loads reached a certain level, it is no longer deemed necessary to practice what to do if such extreme circumstances occur. But back in the fifties and sixties, almost everyone getting into climbing in the US learned the dynamic belay by catching steel weights. It was obvious that you had to practice this to achieve Leonard’s ideal rope runs. As college undergraduates, my friends and I set up a system on a stadium catwalk that provided UIAA-level falls, with the weight plummeting past the belayer. Almost no one could stop these falls the first time they tried, which made the practice seem like it meant something. In my case, the experience seemed to pay off, as I have had to catch one factor-2 fall and one factor 1.7 or so fall, both of which were accomplished without a hitch and with no rope burns or injuries to the me as the belayer. (The leader wasn’t so lucky on the factor 1.7 fall.)
Perhaps this rather universal US belay practice leaked over to the UK, although maybe not accompanied by all the theory justifying the practice?
Very interesting post, cheers.
Interesting, how'd his hand shatter?
RE other replies:
- It certainly could be a health and safety nightmare, there's a lot of things in climbing that are ill suited to the legal environment within most of the worlds climbing centres
- An 80kg hunk of iron may be far too harsh a fall, its feasible an enterprising individual develops something that loads the rope a bit more like a skinbag of flesh and a bit of bones does, or we use a smaller hunk of iron, or a few truck tires perhaps
- Body belays are still a thing, and seem to still have a place in some folks opinions. The later generations of climbers are probably lacking in practice in that style of belaying.
- The rope market seems to be engaging in a race to the skinniest. With the simpler devices like a regular ATC, it's probably getting harder to catch falls. We can probably expect a few incidents to unfold just due to bad device+rope choices.
- I agree, to pick a number at random, 99% of climbers probably never have been involved in a high fall factor event. None the less, we should endeavour to be the best belayers, and be able to catch even the unlikely falls.
Right now, in my opinion at least, you show you're worth your salt as a belayer by catching falls of people. Through your climbing career you progress to catching bigger and bigger falls - hopefully, there's no guarantee of this. Most belayers are fine, but every now and again, some screw up and someone hits the deck.
It's a difficult thing to know of someone, when they are being flung upwards into a roof, do they grip tighter or do they let go and save themselves? When they have a sharp pain in their hand, do they recoil and let go? Or hold tighter? Admittedly catching artificial falls won't help much there as no sane person is going to deliberately induce rope burn to find out, but it might accustom people to the at times violent movement that follows a fall. It'll certainly help reinforce good practice, in the ATC case keeping your hand low when catching falls, not too close to the device, for instance.
Climbers can often a tactile sort of bunch, often favouring experiential learning. And the very occasional time, potentially arrogant ("I've always belayed like that and never dropped anyone").
Overall seems more sensible to practice on something that isn't a falling person. Though having never used dead weight, I think there still might be a place for it, even if only to practice body belays.
Body belaying, the rope tangled around his hand. As it pulled him over the edge of the quarry the tangle pulled tight and crushed his hand, from the way he tells the story it was nearly ripped off.
Why bother though and really, who'd lug 80 kilos of tyres up to the crag then hoist and drop, hoist and drop... for a bit of training?
More like impossible with slick old-school tubes and new coated ropes. New devices work much better.
The rope market seems to be engaging in a race to the skinniest. With the simpler devices like a regular ATC, it's probably getting harder to catch falls. We can probably expect a few incidents to unfold just due to bad device+rope choices.
An enterprising company along with the UIAA actually developed it the other way back when the first harnesses appeared, they used a 100kg real live climber and tested to get the solid weight which gave the same impact, hence the 80kg.
Not only are the rope companies racing for the thinnest rope possible they are determined to smear and impregnate them with the slipperiest muck known to man to be completely sure nobody can stop a fall! I test (and climb) with non-treated ropes and if you insist on using treated ones then all bets are off!
Belay practice would be useful - I have very little experience of catching falls on trad gear, I've probably done it about 3 to 5 times over about 8 years of trad climbing, and they were nearly all slumps. My only thought is that setting up an 80kg deadweight drop could be pretty difficult and potential dangerous or damaging to gear, rock, people etc. unless some sort of purpose built rig was used.
Going back to the original post. Why not any more?
Because most belay device's do it for you. Snatch almost any and the bloody things lock up to some extent. Getting a waist belay right was less automatic.
I feel that all the suppositions about forces etc. don't actually answer the question.
I'm not at all sure that's right. First of all, nothing is simpler than a waist belay; using tubes have various complications, most especially in regard to factor-2 falls, that were not issues with the waist belay.
Secondly, I think there is an assumption that the devices do it all for you that was never true, and is becoming less and less true as ropes get thinner and slicker.
Modern climbing has a lot of short falls that are easily held. BITD, climbers fell a lot less, but when they did, the falls were likely to be more severe, because gear was worse and it was often much more widely spaced. So practicing for severe impacts made more sense. Nowadays such severe impacts are rare and it is easy and conventional to assume no special practice is needed; certainly orginal concept of the controlled slide has vanished, so what exactly is left to practice?
One possibility is better use of what the CAI calls the "inertial phase" of the belay. This is the part of the belay in which the belayer's hand is drawn to the belay device, before any rope runs through the hand. Keeping the brake hand far away from the device allows for more energy absorbtion for this phase, and current belay practice seems to me to ignore this optimizing strategy. I also wish someone would find a way to test whether actually adding slack on the brake hand side of the device, slack that would have to be pulled through the device by a fall, would have any mitigating effect on peak loads. Part of the reason for mentioning this is that the technique of jumping depends too much on fine timing and an appropriate belayer position to be a viable general technique for anything beyond single-pitch sport climbs.
So there are two items that might be practiced by the modern belayer.
You clearly don't climb with the right sort of people... I got my "best" experience on a very early outing, my leader, who was as inexperienced as I was, got off route and when he fell his gear stripped and the rope luckily jammed behind a flake, he was heavier than me so I went up as he came down and we both ended up dangling a few feet above the chunky scree. About 100 foot fall on single 9mm perlon onto a waist belay...
I don't think he ever went climbing again but it gave me confidence in the strength of rope and belays. The sheath was completely stripped off the rope leaving the plaited core visible and very fragile looking. It just went automatically, no need to think, just a slight burn on the lower hand if I remember correctly. It would have been in '68 or early '69, the sort of thing that sticks in your mind despite the years.
I´m not so convinced by the inertial phase stuff (in fact it´s claptrap IMO). If you replace the belayers hand with an inertia free-belayers hand you still see exactly the same force curve so the part they label as the inertial phase is still there but the explanation is false. Subsequent work by both the CAI and the DAV/UIAA just ignore the idea altogether and I do as well.
Since you get the same force curve even using a Grigri and no belayer at all it´s a dubious concept at best.
Fundamentally it appears they saw something and invented a theory to cover it BUT forgot to set up an experiment to prove or disprove the theory, Randelshofer showed exactly the same effect without any inertia being involved as did Manin.
It´s also the case that when I do pull-tests not using a weight but holding the rope as a belayer (and I´ve done plenty)I´m physically strong enough to hold the rope until it slips through my hand in nearly every case, wearing gloves as the CAI belayer did he´d have been lucky to hold 20kg on a single rope and most of us can hold against that anyway.
Back in the day no-one fell off...so there was no point practising holding falls...aye.
A perfect example of a good energy absorbing belay then, Bruce.
Does this phase really exist? Which is stronger my grip on the rope or the muscle in my arm that keeps my hand where it was when the leader fell? And what happens when hand meets belay plate at speed? Do people just hang on, or let go? I'm not trying to disagree, but just wondering.
> I´m not so convinced by the inertial phase stuff (in fact it´s claptrap IMO)....
Wow Jim, thanks for the that info. I'll have to update all my thinking about this now.
I'm still interested in whether you get any significant energy absorbtion if you put some slack in the brake hand side and just let the fall pull it through the device.
I never understood why the CAI didn´t just do the obvious and change the inertia to see what happened but probably it was a theory they developed after they had done the tests and didn´t go back. If the first phase is inertial then tying a weight to the guys wrist would have shown a difference.
Clearly one can test a non-inertial system or one with infinite inertia. Randelhofer developed a special clutch to remove any inertial effects and the CAI subsequently a braked drum to do the same Once the GriGri appeared with effectively infinite inertia and gave the same curve I´d guess the paper was just left to fade away.
The other aspect which the paper ignores is a historic/cultural feature, the CAI tested with the belay device fixed to the belay and the belayer below which was de-rigeur for Italian mountaineers back then but most of us belay off the harness. You don´t need much hand force on the rope before the belayer starts to lift off, in fact we are all strong enough to do this since we can abseil so the inertial effect on peak force should be examining this. And so we are back to jumping!
Adding slack before the plate just makes the fall longer as the braking resistance is minimal without a braking hand (for most plates we are talking sub 5 kg) and the climber would accelerate. Abseiling tells us this.
Thanks again Jim; I'm not having much luck here. I guess after all that practice I would really like to find a way to resurrect the original dynamic belay in a way that didn't risk losing control as much as the old-fashioned one did.
Actually, I think the Tre Sirius pretty much accomplished that. Although "auto-locking" it fed perhaps a meter through the device (1/4 sec slip) under increasing tension before locking off if the fall was of UIAA-test severity. Unfortunately, it had wear issues that rendered it less and less effective over relatively short time periods---at least that was my experience.
Edelrid took over the patent and produced the ugly spawn the Zapomat, which more or less immediately fell into well-deserved obscurity.
One hand always below the device. Pull down if the leader falls.
Not much to practise.
Body belaying? Not for leading... Ever.
I'm not sure what the "inertial phase" is? I was taught to lead and lead belay by an instructor who taught various ways of holding a fall (so anyone who says this stuff isn't taught any more is wrong!).
With an ATC, your normal way to hold a fall is just not to let go of the rope. Cdunk, wheeee, fall held.
If you want to bring the climber to a stop as quickly as possible, you move your brake hand backwards to/behind your hip. This increases the friction around the ATC?
If you want to do a soft catch, you wait until you get pulled up .... wait ..... wait ...... and jump at the last minute, and at the same time push your hand forward as if you're about to punch someone. This allows for limited additional rope slip through the device.
Now I don't know what this does to the top anchor, but having been the flesh, water and bones on the other end of the rope when practicing (backed up!), the force on the climber varies massively. In particular the soft catch feels like you're falling onto a pile of feather mattresses, so something can be influenced at the jumping stage. But then this was with low FF (0.1?) and in a FF2 the ATC is probably upside down, which is probably the hardest thing about catching these falls today?
Lots of questions, no answers.
Interestingly at 5:45 they mention and show a gym environment with a falling weight for practice.
When I did a winter climbing course (admittedly a good many years ago) we were advised to use a body belay - easier with frozen ropes and easier to give a dynamic belay on doubtful anchors.
As many will attest, a body belay can hold a falling leader perfectly well, but the belayer needs to be well protected to avoid injury.
Why? Have you ever tried it yourself? I have and it works perfectly well, preferably with gloves but a sleeve will do. Where it is problematic is in hot countries when climbing in a tee-shirt and short sleeves but in normal British clothes ie. at least a pullover and shirt, it's fine. In the S of France you discover why the French have used other methods for a long time! The same is true for a classic abseil.
***"Why? Have you ever tried it [Body belaying] yourself? I have and it works perfectly well, preferably with gloves but a sleeve will do."***
I have used the technique upon accasion for belaying seconds and even once for a leader on a traverse (so effectively same as seconding)
I was informed by three seperate older members of my club, whose opinions I respect, that they gave up body belaying after personally witnessing or experiencing dropping of a leader and hearing of others who had a similar experience using this technique. I'm quite sure it is perfectly feasible to hold a fall with a body belay (that is not in doubt) but all the people I knew who had problems with it were highly experienced mountaineers who would have taken some persuasion to switch to a new device if they didn't think it a definitive improvement. At least one of them persisted with body belaying well after common usage of the belay plate.
> When I did a winter climbing course (admittedly a good many years ago) we were advised to use a body belay - easier with frozen ropes and easier to give a dynamic belay on doubtful anchors.
> As many will attest, a body belay can hold a falling leader perfectly well, but the belayer needs to be well protected to avoid injury.
Probably not on steep terrain?
It's a wonder we survived all those years isn't it?
All I can say is that, whenever I've held a fall on a waist belay (and I must have held dozens and dozens), I've just hung on for grim death, even when, as in one case, I was pulled upside-down off the stance. No thought of deliberate dynamic belaying. There's plenty of natural "give" in a waist belay, just as there is in the semi-indirect set-up with a device.
On a different note, the original hawser laid "No.4" nylon ropes, equivalent to 11mm kernmantel, were chosen as the standard size for climbing not on the basis of strength but because they were considered the thinnest ropes that could be adequately held in the hand for waist belaying.
So you haven't tried yourself, thought not, don't believe everything people tell you :-)
Belaying a "dead weight", you must have met my climbing partner then!
> It's a wonder we survived all those years isn't it?
> All I can say is that, whenever I've held a fall on a waist belay (and I must have held dozens and dozens), I've just hung on for grim death, even when, as in one case, I was pulled upside-down off the stance. No thought of deliberate dynamic belaying. There's plenty of natural "give" in a waist belay, just as there is in the semi-indirect set-up with a device.
I don't doubt it. Personally I would sooner just pull down on a rope feeling in control and not feel I had to hang on 'for grim death'. More importantly I would want to know that my belayer didn't have to do any more than that to save my neck.
> So you haven't tried yourself, thought not, don't believe everything people tell you :-)
Tried what? I said I had used a body belay.
You haven't held any big falls on a body (I suppose you mean a waist) belay or you wouldn't say: "Body belaying? Not for leading... Ever." If you said "I don't fancy using a body belay" or something like that then fair enough but to speak as if an authority just from hearsay isn't reasonable.
In many ways a waist belay is better than a device, one less thing to go wrong, the ease with which tension can be given and so on so it's silly to tell newcomers that it's a total no no. Using hemp ropes is a no no for example for a leader who might fall but a waist belay is still worth knowing about, IMO.
I haven't had a big crash in a car without a seat belt on either.
So would I, which is why I was happy when Sticht Plates came along. It was just the idea, implicit in your post, that waist belays are inherently dangerous. They're part of the skill set, and not difficult to do.
Actually, what quickly converted me to belay plates wasn't the ease of holding falls so much as the ease of lowering off.
It also made escaping from the system easier.
For those that don´t know we´re having an obscure discussion by about a paper on belaying written by a guy called Carlo Zantoni on behalf of the Italian Alpine Club ((CAI). At the time they had a new toy to play with, a high speed camera. So they used this to analyse belaying in falls and came out with a theory that catching a fall could be split into various phases; the inertial, the sliding and the stretch/rebound.
The inertial phase was the inertia in the gripping hand and arm as it was pulled toward the belay device, the sliding phase as the rope slid through the belayers hand and the last phase the streetch in the rope and subsequent rebound.
The paper was convincing enough that it was unanimously accepted by the UIAA annual congress, widely promoted by a couple of Americans like Dave Custer and was even presented to something like the Canadian conference on Biomechanics.
History and a modicum of thought shows it was perhaps not quite as scientifically rigorous as it could have been and the whole concept has been quietly buried and no researcher has mentioned it since.
There was a guy in Japan a few years back working on belaying systems where the dynamic part from the rope would be replaced by the belay device, a reasonable concept in a lot of ways because at the moment we wobble between both the rope and the belay device/belayer. Outside of climbing and in the rope access/special forces intervention and life saving scenes there is a need to move from the vagueness of rope dynamics to something more accurate.
The problem with dynamic belay devices in a climbing situation is control, sometimes you want a really soft catch and other times it´s really not desirable so one needs something where the belayer has absolute control over the power at any moment. Preferably in a package that is cheap, reliable, obvious and easy to use, light and fail safe if the belayer lets go of the rope.
Send your ideas to me and we´ll split the revenues!
> So would I, which is why I was happy when Sticht Plates came along. It was just the idea, implicit in your post, that waist belays are inherently dangerous. They're part of the skill set, and not difficult to do.
> Actually, what quickly converted me to belay plates wasn't the ease of holding falls so much as the ease of lowering off.
> It also made escaping from the system easier.
Inherantly dangerous is a strong way of putting it but it is fair to say I think there is a greater risk in using a waist belay (if only because a greater expertise in operation is required). I believe the waist belay has its place and can be useful in certain circumstances (usually where speed is required and faff can be reduced). I personally wouldn't waist-belay a leader on steep ground and would not want anyone waist-belaying me under those conditions. I am sure capable individuals could do so.
I was quick to adopt the sticht plate when it came out, and I'm not disputing that belaying with a device is easier and safer for all concerned. I haven't used a waist belay in years, except for winter (when 'the leader never falls' rule applies) and occasionally for a quick belay in the Alps or when scrambling.
The point that I and others are making is that the waist belay is fully capable of holding big falls and there are countless examples of this. The biggest fall I have held on one was a mere 20-footer but there are examples of much bigger falls being held.
I quite agree that in modern rock climbing there is no place for the waist belay except in very unusual circumstances.
I think we basically agree.
Don't know how to break this to you, Jon. It is gone. All that remains is a sign fastened to the eaves of the balcony saying something like 'this equipment is absolutely lethal and you shouldn't go near it'. I paraphrase of course :-) And the remains of the brick base. Tried to post a photo of the sign on UKC but its probably not climbing related enough to be accepted.
Oh and there is still a strip of Karrimat tacked to the edge of the same beam - presumably that is where the belayers' heads impacted?
Given that this was the only way of belaying in Britain for decades of the most explosive period of British climbing, when numerous crags were developed and most of today's classics, including many very hard ones, were first done then I'd say this was a slight understatement!
By all means use modern belay devices but why pretend there is anything wrong with a waist belay for normal climbing? Not the best choice for yoyoing a technical rock climb but still quite usable if you forget your gear, just feel like being relaxed or take someone climbing who may need a tug from time to time. No one's every explained to me how you help a struggling second using a belay gadget... especially if he's not a thin as he used to be.
Take in the slack, lock off the device and heave. Repeat until the second stops gibbering. Not much different from a waist belay, except that you're heaving with your harness.
I'm not sure I share your enthusiasm for the waist belay, especially with relatively slippery (compared with hawser-laid) kernmantle ropes. However, like the classic and semi-classic abseil, it's a useful skill to have in reserve provided you have confidence in it. It is often my preferred choice when winter climbing.
I have pretty well only climbed with kernmantle ropes, hawsers were on their way out when I started. As for hawling your method's not as good as heaving with your whole body as you can with a waist belay, I've tried :-)
Well thank god for that!
I noted it's absence when I strolled through the PyB courtyard yesterday. From what I remember we dismantled an aging contraption from behind the old 'Rock Room' and rebuilt an 'improved version' in front of the stores balcony. Keeping the audience dry under the balcony did nothing to improve it's popularity. Hardly surprising as the first nonchalant victim from any rock course lucky enough to get a go would buckle, their balls on stalks, and nervous laughter would ripple through the awaiting ranks.
Health and Safety was seriously considered in the rebuild, we were given strict instructions, "Get it done whilst the site manager is on leave".
Glory days indeed!
I remember the Ullswater OBMS one. A big weight got hoisted into a tree through a pulley and a rather crude brake held it in place until the student was ready. The belayer stood on the ground (with a belay for an upward pull). The first test was just to hold the weight static, the second involved about 8 foot of slack so the weight was moving. It wasn't a set up for holding FF2 falls but it did replicate what it felt like to hold a leader falling onto gear or onto a top rope held from below. Since FF2s were not possible there was no danger of crushed spines, broken ankles etc - the worst that could happen was the belayer got pulled upwards until stopped by the ground belay. I used it for body belaying with gloves and later with sticht plates when they were introduced.
I thought it was a very useful tool for helping novices to understand what it felt like to lock a rope and hold a fall. Occasionally someone flapped at their first attempt and the weight hit the floor. They got several opportunities to practice and invariably got it right on subsequent attempts. At the end of the session I felt the students in my group could be trusted to belay each other - without the test rig practice I wouldn't have been so sure.
I'm surprised so many comments about test drop belaying on this thread have been so negative. IMO, done properly it was/is/should be something all beginners are encouraged to do.
The remains of your enterprise enshrined on the stores balcony at PyB -
Perfectly safe with a warning like that. See also Jamie's post above.
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