A good way to learn about trad climbing belays is to book on one of our courses if you are getting into trad climbing for the first time,. You will get the opportunity to learn theory and practice, and understand how to make the best use of your equipment. You will also pick up a whole host of useful tips.
Recently, I have taken bookings from quite a few climbers who are really keen to get started climbing outdoors. They are highly motivated and excited, not least because they can’t go to the indoor walls, which were closed due to Covid. However, typically they have only a limited amount of knowledge about rope work and belaying based on indoor top-roping.
Over the last few weeks I have been running a number of similar climbing courses for clients with similar backgrounds. This has really highlighted to me three main areas where people are on a very steep learning curve. This is all stuff that they absolutely will need to get right, but yet it’s stuff that they didn’t realise was even going to be relevant to them. Fortunately, it’s all content that we cover in detail and give plenty of practice during our courses.
The first thing to learn about trad climbing belays is how to choose the anchors that you will attach yourself to at the top of the climb. This is crucial, because potentially your partner will pull you downwards in the event of a fall. The anchors will need to withstand the forces generated in such a fall. They need to be in line with the anticipated load of your partner facing. But they also need to provide an element of stability so that the belayer isn’t pulled sideways.
Do you know what options you have open to you for anchors and therefore where to look? Where they should be in relation to your climb? Do you know how to make a judgement call as to whether each anchor is good enough? What about collectively – is one anchor good enough or should you have 3, 4, 5 or more?
Attaching to Anchors
Next comes the question of how to attach yourself to these anchors, in such a way that it is quick and easy to set up but also totally safe.
Is there only one way of doing this or are there lots of options? Which bits of your equipment should you use? What knots might be best for doing this? Which karabiner should you use? Which way should you clip the karabiner? If you are using slings how could you equalise them? How can you assess whether you have come up with something that is safe or dangerous? What are the pros and cons of some the ideas you may have?
Organising the Belay
Once you done all this, the third thing to learn about about trad climbing belays is how to organise the belay stance to bring up your second.
What things are important to get right? Is it all pretty obvious what you should do? Or are there hidden ‘pooh traps’ that you hadn’t considered? Where is the best place for you to belay from (though you should have considered this while you were attaching yourself in the previous step)? Can you always belay with the same hand, the one you always use in the climbing wall? If not, why not? What do you attach the belay plate’s karabiner to? Which way should it face? Where will you store the dead rope as you take it in?