Belaying in rock climbing involves securing the climber to a rope using a belay device, which is attached to the climbing rope and controlled by the belayer. Belaying is usually done in pairs, and self-belaying is possible but only for experienced climbers. Belay systems come in various sizes and designs, with self-locking devices being the most popular and preferred choice for beginners.
Belaying is a critical technique used in rock climbing. It consists of securing the climber to a rope, or insurer, so that he does not fall very far in the event of slipping from the rock. In the past, belaying was done simply by tying a rope around the climber’s waist. While fundamentally effective, this technique also carried a greater risk of injury to the climber.
Modern belaying techniques use a belay device, a simple system consisting of a climbing harness, automatic pulley and belay ring, all attached to the climbing rope. Depending on the weight difference between the climbers, an equalized anchor can also be used for stability. This system is known as semi-direct belaying, as most of the load is taken by the belayer rather than the climber.
Belaying is done in pairs most of the time. The rope is controlled by the lead climber or a designated partner who remains on the ground. Known as the belayer, this person is in control of the rope and can easily support the full weight of the falling partner without much effort. Self-belaying is possible, but only experienced climbers should attempt it. By installing a series of top rope anchors during the descent, a self-belaying climber can ascend the route with a mechanical ascender device that slides the rope.
Belaying is relatively simple once all the equipment is set up correctly. The end of the rope that goes to the climber is known as the live end. The opposite end is known as the brake. Both ends are operated by the belayer, who maintains control of the brake via the belay device. To communicate, climbers use a series of commands or climbing calls, such as “slacken” for “I need extra rope” and “belay,” which means the climber has reached the top and can now descend the rope.
Belay systems come in a variety of sizes and designs and can be purchased for as little as US$200. High-end equipment, however, can run into thousands of dollars. Self-locking belay devices are the most popular type in use today. They work with a system similar to a car’s seat belt, locking up when a sudden force is applied. This safety feature makes the self-locking the preferred choice for beginners and for indoor belaying including gyms and climbing schools.