Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Snow Climbing Techniques: The Stomper Belay

You pull up over the final crest and you're off the steep terrain. Time to build a belay. But what to do? What would be the fastest and effective?

One very quick technique is the stomper belay, also known as the carabiner/ice-axe belay. This technique takes mere moments to employ and is very effective in places where it is easy and safe to stand.

To set-up this belay, stomp your ice axe into the snow. Clip a carabiner to the head of the axe and then clip the rope to the carabiner. Step on top of the axe to hold it in and then belay off your body using a hip belay, a shoulder belay or a device off your harness.

In the following photo, IFMGA guide and AAI lead guide trainer, Mike Powers, demonstrates a stomper belay on low-angle snow for a guide training. Note that he is using a hip belay, with the rope to the climber redirected off the top of the ice axe.



In this second photo, Mike demonstrates a stomper belay with a shoulder belay. Shoulder belays are almost never as effective as hip belays and indeed, it is a bit painful to hold a fall on a shoulder belay with a stomper belay, whereas one barely feels it when set-up on a hip belay.



The stomper belay is very effective when it comes to belaying high-angle snow from a low-angle position. In other words if you're on rolly terrain or at the top of the technical climbing, this technique is appropriate. It is not appropriate to do a stomper belay in the middle of a high angle section. This is primarily because the leader would not have a lot of security while standing in such terrain. A hip belay from a snow seat, or a sitting axe belay would be more appropriate.

One note of caution, the rope should always be clipped cleanly through a carabiner on the head of the axe. The rope should NEVER be set-up on the carabiner as a munter-hitch. There was a major accident in Canada when this was done inappropriately, and the rope ran from the climber to a munter-hitch on the head of the axe and then up to the hip-belay. And unfortunately, there were fatalities as a result of this mistake.

As with any new technique, it's good to practice in terrain where there are no consequences. Try the stomper belay with a partner on low angle terrain. Have your partner take mock falls and see how it feels. Try each of the different belay styles, off the hip, off the shoulder and off the harness and see what works best for you.

The stomper belay is a very nice little technique to have in your toolbox. When used correctly it is fast, efficient and very effective...

--Jason D. Martin

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